The Techstars Minnesota team recently sat down with Chris Iles, Senior Director of Innovation and Growth for the Minnesota Twins. Chris shared his feedback about the Minnesota Twins' involvement with the Minnesota Twins Accelerator by Techstars.
Why are The Minnesota Twins interested in partnering with Techstars, and why is this something you continue to prioritize?
We are thrilled to partner with Techstars and tap into the vast network of the largest early stage investor in the world. We’re in the process of building the most innovative brand in sports and entertainment and leveraging Techstars’ experience in the tech and VC space has been invaluable as we pursue this lofty goal.
Why do The Minnesota Twins consider investing in sustainability, venue tech, and fan engagement important?
Anything that can improve our fan experience while reducing our overall impact on the environment is extremely interesting for a community focused brand like the Minnesota Twins.
Chris, personally, why do you continue to be involved in the program?
It has been incredibly rewarding to help founders succeed and watch the new and creative ways they poke at the boundaries of the human experience. And to witness the levels of collaboration between founder teams has been truly inspiring and something I’ve tried to carry forward into my day to day routine.
From your perspective as a sports leader, what advice would you give startups in the space?
Patience is crucial as the more traditional sports industry moves at a much slower pace than that of many startups. Persistence is equally as important as you try to break into a very crowded and sometimes antiquated marketplace. But the platform provided by professional sports franchises can prove extremely valuable as startups seek to test and refine products that can shape the future of how we experience sport.
What trends are you seeing in the market? And which ones excite you?
Obviously, the rise of AI enabled technology has been impossible to overlook. Advancements in venue technology that enable a seamless fan experience will continue to gain traction as fans come to expect a more coherent, convenient, and thoughtful trip to the ballpark or stadium. And blending novel immersive technology, data visualization, and digital overlays at location based events has the potential to change how we engage with the game we love.
To learn more about the Minnesota Twins Accelerator by Techstars and hear from other Minnesota Twins staff watch this video!
About Chris Iles:
Iles uses sport as a platform to expand human possibility while pushing the Minnesota Twins to be the most innovative brand in sports and entertainment. His areas of interest/expertise include venue technology, fan engagement, new product, process improvement, sustainability and human performance.
He helped launch, and currently provides oversight for, the Minnesota Twins Accelerator by Techstars, a collaborative venture that invests in 10 early stage tech startups on an annual basis. The program – the first of its kind in Minnesota sports and just the second such venture to be operated and funded by a Major League Baseball club – is designed to expand the Twins brand beyond baseball, infuse innovation across the organization’s culture, and create a new long term revenue stream for the club.
Iles has long been instrumental in introducing and integrating new fan engagement technologies, including the first metaverse activation in professional sports (“Twins XR” with REM5 Studios in 2021) and the world’s first shared, stadium scale augmented reality application (“The Twiniverse” with ARound in 2022). He also introduced Twins fans to embodied audio technology in 2022 through Target Field’s ResonX Sound Lounge, developed in partnership with EDGE Sound Research (Minnesota Twins Accelerator class of 2022). He has pioneered mobile applications for nearly a decade, helping the Twins set the industry standard for free to play gaming and related sponsorship in partnership with MLB, Sideline Sports, SportsDigita, Satisfi Labs, and Tally.
He has also been crucial in bringing gaming, esports, and virtual reality activations to Twins fans at Target Field. Activations include the Twins Gaming Dugout with Wisdom Gaming in 2018 and 2022, Home Run Derby VR with MLB in 2018 and 2019, Mascot VR with Wallride Games/PixelFarm in 2019, and Twins Tiles/Twins Trivia with LiveFront in 2016 and 2017.
In addition to innovation, his experience in sports spans all disciplines of marketing and communications, having overseen the creation of the Minnesota Twins’ social media presence, digital marketing capabilities, and in house creative team. Iles began his career at the Twins in corporate communications, overseeing media relations related to the team’s move from the Metrodome to Target Field. A communicator at heart, he seeks to tell relevant stories that engage key audiences and inspire meaningful action resulting in significant business impact.
Before joining the Twins, Iles worked in corporate communications at Minnesota based HealthPartners and Padilla.