18 Jan IU Angel Network makes major investment in live interactive streaming platform HotMic
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — … eight seconds to go …. out to Smart … baseline jump shot in the air … goooooooood!
— Radio call of Don Fischer, 1987 NCAA men’s basketball championship game, Indiana vs. Syracuse
Sean Longworth had just turned 16 and received his driver’s license, in early March 1987, when he somehow convinced his father to let him drive down from Chicago to Bloomington and Indiana University to visit his sister, then an IU sophomore, for the NCAA Final Four. He was part of the collective roar across city and campus as Keith Smart drilled his now-iconic baseline jumper to send the Hoosiers to their fifth national men’s basketball championship.
“Needless to say, I had the time of my life celebrating with my sister,” Longworth says. “I knew right then and there that I was going to go to IU. Later, I came to IU and became a huge sports and college basketball fan. I also had a wonderful academic experience and made lifelong friends who are still my best friends. My IU experience definitely shaped who I am today and the career path I’ve taken.”
Longworth’s time at IU, love of sports and passion for building community have all been central to the success of his first-ever founding venture, HotMic, a real-time interactive streaming platform designed to enable watch parties, live shopping, esports and other virtual events to which fans — seeking a shared online experience — are increasingly flocking. The Chicago-based company is also the latest addition to the investment portfolio of the IU Angel Network, one of several major investment programs managed by IU Ventures, IU’s early-stage venture and angel investment arm. The network will invest $250,000 in HotMic, which was recently named as one of San Francisco’s top sports companies and startups.
Longworth earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and sociology from IU Bloomington’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1993 and has since amassed more than 20 years of experience working in the media software industry. He launched HotMic in 2019, just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cancelation of sporting events because of COVID-19 posed a difficult challenge to the company’s early development, he says, but it also underscored the viewing public’s burgeoning interest in streaming communities and connecting online. According to the company’s research, 96% of media consumers prefer watch parties — where they can watch and talk about sporting and other entertainment events together in real time — to traditional broadcasts.
“I’m a huge believer in the content creator revolution, and I personally follow a lot of content creators,” Longworth says. “I’ve always loved engaging in live streams and being connected to communities. I also love sports and wanted to be involved in sports, so bringing those two interests of mine is what led to my launching this new venture.”
Though HotMic proved to be immediately successful in drawing users and investors (within six months, the company had 450 content creators using its platform), it adjusted its focus during the pandemic to provide interested companies with the ability to deliver engaging interactive live streams in their online apps through HotMic’s innovative software development kit. The kit is available to test for free on iOS, Android and the web.
“What we’ve really become passionate about here is helping people create communities,” Longworth says. “Almost all communities — 99% of them — are on social platforms. We personally believe that people and organizations spend too much time trying to build community on social platforms, but it’s actually not that difficult to build that community in your own app. In other words, community-building is not just the domain of the Facebooks and the Twitches, which, for some, can be overwhelming. With HotMic, there’s now a tool to help you create your own in-app communities, whether you want to offer watch parties, live shopping or gaming streams.
Longworth says HotMic is currently working with large media providers — several of which are already offering alternatives to their live TV broadcasts — to enable more real-time fan engagement and interactivity. For example, in fall 2021, ESPN launched its popular “Manningcast,” an alternate presentation of Monday Night Football hosted by former NFL stars Peyton and Eli Manning.
“The ‘Manningcast’ is a hint to where things are going,” Longworth says. “It’s been very popular because it’s a casual way of watching a game. Viewers feel like they’re watching a game with the Manning brothers in a more informal setting. But what’s missing from the ‘Manningcast’ is that there’s no chat room, no audience interaction, no opportunity for the audience to get involved and engage in a back-and-forth. It’s still a somewhat traditional broadcast. HotMic can help change that.”
As HotMic seeks to integrate its platform into live TV broadcasting, it will have the financial and other support of the IU Angel Network. The network facilitates connections between startup companies and prospective investors among IU’s global community of alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends.
“HotMic offers an innovative software solution to the public’s increasing demand for viewing sports and other live events with a community of hosts, friends and fans who can gather together online from anywhere in the world,” said Jason Whitney, chief venture officer at IU Ventures and executive director of the IU Angel Network. “We’re extremely pleased to work with Sean and his team as they continue to develop and enhance their technology and seek to scale their business into large markets, including live TV sports, as well as live shopping, live betting and live esports.”
Longworth says the support of the IU Angel Network and IU Ventures has allowed him to “reconnect” with his IU roots. It’s also reminded him of another time that another talented IU team — with the support of a loyal Hoosier following — achieved the pinnacle of success nearly 35 years ago in Bloomington.
Cue Don Fischer’s call.
“Anytime you’re an early-stage startup like we are, you recognize you’re only as good as the team that’s around you. You need a lot of support to get to the promised land,” Longworth says.
“For me, it’s extremely exciting to be connected with great, successful people out of IU who want to be part of our journey. To be affiliated with the university — and have the support of the growing community of IU Angels who want to help us succeed — feels incredibly motivating and invigorating.”
About IU Ventures:
IU Ventures invests in and supports IU-affiliated early-stage companies. Its investment programs include the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, Shoebox Fund and Innovate Indiana Fund. It further supports IU founders through the Executive in Residence Program and IU Founders and Funders Network. Student support is provided through a variety of engagements, including the new IU Venture Fellows Program. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. IU Ventures is a recognized leader in increasing opportunities for diverse and historically underserved entrepreneurs and investing in Indiana startups with a shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.