Innovation is critical to keeping lotteries profitable, and finding new ways to innovate is just as important. Finland’s Veikkaus tackled the challenge head-on by inviting collaboration through their new Innovation Challenge Week.

Earlier this year, Finnish lottery operator, Veikkaus, announced their intention to host Innovation Challenge Week, during which chosen startups would have the opportunity to develop, produce and present ideas and solutions around esports betting. Following a scanning process of hundreds of startups globally and a follow-up interview with seventeen shortlisted candidates, seven finalists were selected to participate.

The world of sports is no longer limited to playing fields and stadia, and the growing global interest in esports means lotteries are looking closely at esports betting options (see "The esports opportunity" feature in the WLA blog). Veikkaus took matters into their own hands during May with the launch of Innovation Challenge Week, a startup-focused project aimed at finding innovative, collaborative gaming solutions for esports players, teams and fans.

Worldwide, lotteries have made limited inroads into the esports betting arena; however, Veikkaus was among the first five operators to embrace this new and exciting gaming opportunity. Offering legal esports betting options since 2014, the lottery has taken such forward-looking steps as organizing their own hosted StarCraft II tournament, broadcasting esports on their channel, VeikkausTV, and making betting options available on a staggering 13,000 esports matches in 2018 alone.

Nevertheless, Veikkaus felt there was room to grow and broaden their esports offerings and solutions, and chose to open the playing field to startups, with the grand prize being the chance to collaborate with Veikkaus on developing the solution. The contest was opened to both Finnish and non-Finnish startups, and the seven selected participants were Finland’s 8-bit-Sheep, Reason Solutions, and Bono Health, Finnish-U.S. Evasyst, Finnish-Canadian Fandom Sports, GameBuddy from Germany, and the Belgian startup Zender.

Heidi Ioannidou, VP of Business Development and Innovation at Veikkaus, speaking on the startups chosen: “We picked a very heterogeneous group of startups that complement each other in terms of both their size and ideas. The chosen companies are developing products that are associated with esports, or they are otherwise strongly connected to esports. While some of the companies already have products that are nearly finalized, others are still working on their initial ideas.”

From May 20–24, 2019, the seven startups participated in the challenge week at Veikkaus’ head offices in Helsinki. Working alongside specialists from Veikkaus, the startups developed their ideas. The individual works were judged by a seven-member jury comprising: Timo Kiiskinen, SVP of Business Operations, Veikkaus; Heidi Ioannidou, VP of Business Development and Innovation, Veikkaus; Jani Karjalainen, Esports Specialist, Veikkaus; Olli-Pekka Villa, CEO, Starsquad Event; Lasse Salminen, CEO and Co-founder, Havu Gaming; Kenneth Lehtinen, Founder and Owner, NHLGamer; and JP Virtanen, Founder and Managing Partner, Avanto Ventures. At the end of the week the jury unanimously selected German contenders, GameBuddy as winners.

The duo of Niklas Hatje and Julian Suttner proposed a social community platform that allows users to search game buddies, gather data on their gaming, and bet on how they and their buddies play.

“GameBuddy’s idea has a strong social dimension, and it has potential of going viral. They have a clear vision of how they could offer something extra to the players’ gaming. The entire jury found this idea thrilling,” says Olli-Pekka Villa, CEO, Starsquad Event.

“I am very excited and very happy as well; this is such an honor. We had a different approach to esports betting than anyone else ever had so far. I think that this may turn out a completely new way of betting on esports games,” says GameBuddy’s CEO and co-founder Niklas Hatje.

GameBuddy receives EUR 30,000 to further develop their platform and will be supported by Veikkaus in this endeavor.

Many innovative ideas were also found among the submission of the other competing companies. Veikkaus is very satisfied with the outcome of the Innovation Challenge Week and will continue to strengthen its networking with startups.

Shown in photo above: Niklas Hatje (left) and Julian Suttner (right) of GameBuddy, Germany took the grand prize at the end of the Veikkaus Innovation Challenge Week.