Last updated: 07 Nov, 2018

Victoria may be on its way to becoming the Silicon Valley of sports and recreation, as VicHealth’s pioneering seed-funding program for innovative sports organisations launches a second round of investment.

Six sporting groups have shared in $354,000 for VicHealth’s second Physical Activity Innovation Challenge, whose focus is on encouraging people to become active in ways that are more social, flexible and less-structured than traditional sport.

The six groups offer an eclectic mix of fun and inventive approaches to getting fit and target a range of age groups.

Initiatives include Pop-up Squash Shop, which transforms empty retail spaces into temporary squash courts; Stride Basketball, a low-impact form of walking basketball for women; Pumped for BMX, which uses under-utilised BMX tracks to get young people cycling, and Active Families Playing Together, a recreation program for playgroups.

Stefan Grun, VicHealth’s Manager, Physical Activity, Sport and Healthy Eating, said the idea to fund alternative sporting programs emerged in the wake of an Australian Sports Commission study which found people’s attitudes to sport have dramatically changed. “People want sport to fit in with their lifestyle rather than their lifestyle fitting around sport,” he said.

“We want to work with sports to get ahead of the participation trends and develop some new offerings so that sport can still be appealing to those people who might not be considering it at the moment.”

Mr Grun said while there were many new physical activity options for active people, such as fun runs, mass participation bike rides and extreme obstacle events, there were fewer options to entice less active people – the primary audience for all of VicHealth’s physical activity programs including the Innovation Challenge.

Just as seed funding for technology companies focuses on enabling rapid growth, Mr Grun said one of the key priorities for the initiative was to encourage the funding recipients, many of whom already have a grassroots connection with the community, to develop and test their ideas quickly.

“We’re encouraging our partners to pilot their ideas quickly with real people from their target audience and let this feedback guide any pivots or refinements they make to the product offering or how it’s promoted.”

One recent recipient was City in the Community, an offshoot of Melbourne City Football Club. It received $100,000 to develop City Strikers, a walking football program with a focus on passing the ball rather than running speed. City in the Community spokesman, George Halkias, said City Strikers was aimed at older people who may no longer to be able to run, people with disabilities, and those from culturally and diverse language backgrounds who face barriers to fitness. 

“We hope that through walking football we can see improved physical health and social connectedness in participants.”

There are six City Strikers locations being piloted, including the Collingwood Seniors Club, Fawkner Italian Womens’ Health Group and the Salvation Army’s Foley House. Mr Halkias said the VicHealth funding is enabling walking football to be systematically piloted, and will allow time to refine the program, engage with stakeholders and examine how to make it sustainable. He said participants really enjoyed getting active again, adding, “It has been a massive hit with women.”

Mr Grun said the Innovation Challenge sought ideas that had potential to be scaled up, yet might not be prioritised without this funding. 

“Many sporting organisations are quite lean and have many competing priorities for budget and resources. We hope this seed funding provides the opportunity for ideas to receive the critical focus they need to be successful.”

One such idea that may never have seen the light of day is Bumpa Ball, a variation of water polo where players float in inflatable inner tubes, allowing less contact and a lower level of swimming ability than normal. The group behind it, Water Polo Victoria, received $50,000 to develop and pilot Bumpa Ball across a range of community groups.

Tom Madden, sport development officer at Water Polo Victoria, said the funding will enable the organisation to test whether Bumpa Ball would be appealing to people across the community, many of whom either wouldn’t have heard of water polo or had preconceived ideas about its physical nature. 

“Bumpa Ball takes all of that away and offers an enjoyable and fun experience for all ages and abilities to increase their weekly physical activity.”

He said Water Polo Victoria would like to franchise Bumpa Ball to community groups and facilities and expand into other states and territories. 

“Changing behaviours is not easy, but offering an enjoyable activity which is hard to turn down simply because of the laughs had whilst in the tubes can go a long way in achieving broader behaviour change when it comes to being physically active,” Mr Madden said.

iPhone with app displayed on screen

Pulseraiser

The Innovation Challenge’s first investment round is delivering results: Pulseraiser, a mobile platform developed by John Emmerson and Duncan Ion, received funding in late 2014 and launched to the public last November after a successful trial. Pulseraiser enables users to raise money for a charity every time they go for a run. Donations are given by a user’s employer or via a 50-50 split between an individual and their company. Mr Emmerson said: “There are running challenges for any fitness level so anyone can get involved and get running.”

Since launching, Pulseraiser has signed charities and not-for-profits to the platform including the Jodi Lee Foundation and Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Research Institute. It has also signed up a number of companies and is running a pilot with Suncorp Group. Mr Emmerson said one of Pulseraiser’s users had said: “Running for a charity I care about gives me motivation and makes me happy.”