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Female-Specific Soccer Shoe Design Wins SFIA Start-up Challenge


Ida Sports, a sports footwear company based in Melbourne, Australia, led by co-founders Laura Youngson and Ben Sandhu with a mission to make the best shoes in the world for female athletes, has won The Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2022 Start-Up Challenge. The winner was selected after a several-month selection process, culminating in a live session on July 26 with nine finalist companies answering questions from more than 100 judges.

The Ida Sports story is interesting and typical of today’s innovative companies. 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 had a common problem — their soccer cleats were 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.

“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. 

“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,” adds Tom Cove, SFIA president and CEO.

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 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.

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 should check back in early 2023 at for more information.

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