Meet the Innovator: Nikhil Panu of Squadz
Squadz is part of Social Innovation Lab’s 2016–17 Cohort. To learn more about SIL and the cohort, click here.
SIL: Tell us about Squadz in just a few sentences.
Nikhil: Squadz is a social activity platform that connects people to play recreational sports and discover local underutilized sports venues through mobile bookings and data analytics. Athletes, sports groups, and coaches can all find and book facilities to host pickup games, events, training sessions, and practices. When people create public games on the mobile app, all other users in the area are notified and can subsequently join if they wish. Essentially, it is the OpenTable or Airbnb for sports facilities with an added social element to help organize games as well.
SIL: Why did you decide to start this? Where did the idea come from?
Nikhil: As a lifelong athlete myself, I have constantly asked myself the questions: Are there any games in the area? Who’s able to play? Where can we play? There has never been a way to answer any of these questions. I have faced these issues firsthand throughout my life and felt that I could use my experiences to create a solution that benefits all parties involved. I envisioned a one-stop community platform that can keep people aware of the sports activities and opportunities around them. The growing shared economy and overall increased participation in health, fitness, and sports have provided me with the necessary window of opportunity to pursue this.
SIL: What would you consider success for your venture and how would the world be different if it is successful?
Nikhil: Ultimately, my goal is to enable and foster more active communities wherever I can by breaking down any barriers that prevent people from getting out and playing. In addition, I want to give venues the opportunity to increase traffic to their individual spaces in an effective manner. If Squadz can become the de facto way venues manage their facilities and players organize events, I would consider that a major success.
We’ve seen in Baltimore and other communities the effect that closing recreation centers can have on a neighborhood and its young people. With Squadz, recreation centers and community venues can use the platform to market and book their spaces, increasing their revenue and in turn remaining a vital part of the community. Sports have the unique ability to bring together so many people from different backgrounds. Ultimately, our goal is to make communities stronger and more active.
SIL: What have you accomplished so far?
Nikhil: We have successfully soft launched the initial mobile app in both Baltimore and the San Francisco Bay Area. The mobile app is available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and we will be launching a web platform for sports venues in Spring 2017. Currently, we have over 3,000 users with very limited marketing and are looking to further grow our user base in both of these regions. In addition, we have 52 venues, including schools, community recreation centers, and private sports complexes, signed up in both locations that will make their spaces available upon launching the bookings feature this Spring.
SIL: Tell us about yourself? What got you interested in this issue? Any work experience or past professional/life experience that informs your work now?
Nikhil: I am currently a graduate Computer Science student at Johns Hopkins University and am also one of the captains of the varsity basketball team here. I grew up in the Bay Area out in California, but I have spent my last four years here in Baltimore for school. Evidently, I have a strong interest in both sports and technology and found a unique opportunity combining the two that can impact a large community of people around the world.
My previous software engineering and product management internships have helped give me insight from a technical and business standpoint, but my extensive personal experiences as an athlete both recreationally and competitively have really shaped the company’s vision as a whole.
SIL: What’s your favorite place or thing to do in Baltimore?
Nikhil: I have really enjoyed exploring the different neighborhoods around Baltimore and experiencing each one’s culture. My work has inherently given me the opportunity to visit many of the recreation centers and even interact with the people there through pickup basketball games and volunteering opportunities. I also like trying new food spots whenever I get the chance.
SIL: What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?
Nikhil: Find something you are passionate about and that you have firsthand experience with that you think can be improved. As you go through the grind of the startup process, your closeness with the subject will help you stay motivated and give you insight to build a better solution.