Craig Bewley is no stranger to the challenges of the start-up world, having set up his first business while still at school. Since then he has co-founded four more businesses, the latest of which is Bookapitch, a cloud-based solution that advertises and manages bookings for pitches and other sports facilities.
"Bookapitch has two aspects," says Bewley, who co-founded the company with long-time business partner Andrew Flood last November. "The first is our sports booking management system that enables sports clubs, schools and other academic institutions to manage all aspects of bookings related to their facilities; for example, internal and external bookings, online bookings, finance, and management reports. Secondly, the website enables the public to search for and book local sports facilities in a few simple clicks.
“The idea for the ‘marketplace’ aspect of Bookapitch came from my own struggles to identify venues for sporting events. I was also amazed to see that paying in cash was so prevalent.
“Similarly, from my prior experience, I knew that the majority of sports clubs and academic institutions are still using Excel spreadsheets to manage their bookings. This means people have to ring up or email to check availability. That’s fine if there is someone to take the call, but with many people browsing at night it’s far more convenient if they can book online and it also means the facility is not losing out on after-hours bookings.
“To address the cash-on-the-night issue, we have developed a unique syndicated payments scheme that enables players to spread the cost of a booking among the different players in their team. This helps eliminate the cash culture and is proven to increase bookings.”
Bewley is a business studies graduate from NUI Galway. He also studied marketing practice at the Smurfit Graduate Business School. His first business was renting videos to schoolmates at a cheaper rate than Xtravision was offering at the time.
His second was Prodigy Learning, which provides IT learning and certification solutions for Adobe, Autodesk, Microsoft and other technologies throughout the UK and Ireland.
With his third, he got to marry his passion for sport with that for business when he co-founded the Irish Tag Rugby Association, which now has more than 20,000 adults playing in its leagues.
Business number four was the outdoor sports events company Alive Outside, which is the driving force behind the mental and physical endurance challenge Hell & Back.
According to figures from Sport England, Bewley says, only 20 per cent of sports facilities in the UK are booked online. Comparable figures are not available for Ireland, but Bewley believes the figure is even lower. There are booking apps for sports facilities, but their main focus is soccer, whereas bookapitch embraces all sports. Bookapitch charges facilities €100 to licence its software and a 5 per cent commission on sales.
First staff member
The company has just taken on its first staff member to fill the role of chief commercial officer.
“Brian [Cashman] has an MSc in sports management from UCD and over seven years’ experience of managing the biggest sports facility in the country, and he has been instrumental in the design of our product,” Bewley says.
The investment in Bookapitch to date is around €100,000, between founders' equity and support from Enterprise Ireland through its Competitive Start Fund. The company's official launch is in April and Bewley estimates that staff numbers will be about 15 by the end of the year.
“The Irish market is our initial target, followed by the UK, and we will be pushing forward as fast as we can,” he says. “With a business like this, whoever gets there first becomes the market leader, so you really have to go for it. Our aim is to become the go-to booking and management system for sports facilities worldwide.”