An Australian company called Ida Sports, led by co-founders Laura Youngson and Ben Sandhu with a mission to make the best sports shoes in the world for female athletes, recently won the Sports and Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA)  2022 Start-Up Challenge for its female-specific soccer shoes.

The winner was selected after a several-month selection process, culminating in a live session with nine finalist companies answering questions from more than 100 judges.

The Ida story is unique: After setting a world record with Equal Playing Field Initiative for the highest altitude soccer game to highlight gender inequality in sport, Youngson realized this group of women from all over the world had a common problem – soccer cleats were extremely uncomfortable. Ida Sports spent the next two-and-a-half years working with podiatrists, physical therapists, coaches and more than 800 female players to develop their first product — a soccer cleat designed specifically for women.

However, at its core, Ida Sports is more than a cleat. It is a company dedicated to gender equality, empowering women and girls, and ensuring everyone has the right to enjoy sport. Female-specific running shoes would be a natural next product step.

“To be voted the SFIA Start-Up Challenge winner is such an honor given how knowledgeable and esteemed the judges all are. We were grateful to be able to share our journey delivering a better experience for female athletes on a soccer field,” says Sandhu. “I’d like to thank … the whole Ida Sports team for working so hard to change the game for women and girls.”

“Ida Sports made a compelling pitch with a timely and intriguing product focus and a plan for addressable market and business growth. Given the intense competition, Ida Sports really stepped up to win this year’s SFIA Start-Up Challenge,” said Tom Cove, President & CEO, SFIA.

In preparation for this event, finalist entrepreneurs submitted pitch videos developed in conjunction with Spark Inc. to be evaluated by the judges, as well as investment profiles. The finalists each received 15 minutes of live Q&A, moderated by Mike Dill from Holland & Hart LLP, allowing the judges to better understand each company and make their final evaluations. The more than 100 judges included executives from leading sports and fitness companies, leagues, and investors such as New Balance, NFL, Athleta, Gildan, Rawlings, U.S. Soccer, Implus, Baird, KB Partners, MLB, and more.

As the grand prize winner, Ida Sports will receive an exclusive prize package including free registration to SFIA’s largest C-level industry conference, the Industry Leaders Summit (ILS) in October, a panel speaking opportunity at ILS, and public recognition at the dinner reception. Additionally, they will receive national media coverage, a spotlight in one of SFIA’s annual research reports, and a judge seat for the 2023 SFIA Start-Up Challenge. All nine finalists who participated will be given personal introductions to industry decision-makers and executives as well as one year of SFIA membership.

Cove states, “Our judges had a huge job to pick a winner amongst a terrific pool of entrepreneurs and innovative products. I fully believe we will see several of these companies having future success.”

The other finalists were: Altis, Caliber Fitness, OWN IT, Playfinity, Revolin Sports, Samon’s Grip, Scorched Ice, SynergySvn.

In 2023, SFIA will continue hosting the Start-Up Challenge and give the next generation of innovators an opportunity to shine. As was done prior to 2020, the Start-Up Challenge will return to in-person for 2023, taking place in conjunction with the 2023 Industry Leaders Summit. Entrepreneurs and interested start-ups