Cast your mind back six years. The 2012 Summer Olympics had just come to a close.

The UK was buoyant having just won a total of 65 medals at the games, giving it a ranking of third worldwide, beaten only by the United States and China.

© MyLocalPitch
© MyLocalPitch

One of the main aims of the UK's 2012 bid was to increase participation in sports. Unfortunately there isn't any evidence this has happened. In fact, the number of people participating in sports on a weekly basis is almost exactly the same today as it was in 2012: 15.9 million of the UK's 66.6 million population.

One blocker identified by Sport England, a public body promoting community sports, is access to facilities. That is where startup MyLocalPitch comes in.

Its app allows users to find and book sports facilities in cities around the UK and Ireland.

"The booking process for sports is a big barrier, even though booking was sorted in other industries ages ago," CEO and cofounder Jamie Foale tells Techworld

MyLocalPitch launched in 2014, the brainchild of Foale and his friend Sandford Loudon (who is the CFO). It was borne out of their own frustrations with organising football matches with friends after leaving university. Like so many startup ideas, it was created over pints in the pub, just after the 2012 Olympics when participation in sports was a big topic in the news.

"We grew very slowly in the first two years, building trust and running a shoestring operation. But now the industry is changing quickly and we are in a great place to benefit," Foale says.

MyLocalPitch is currently available in London, Dublin, Brighton and Manchester, but it has ambitious expansion plans, with Leeds and Birmingham set to be added before the end of 2018.

The startup was initially self-funded, with a £40,000 seed round from friends and family, but has since gone on to raise almost £2 million from a range of investors. It has been worth ceding a little control over their startup, according to Foale.

"We try and get as much advice and contacts from investors as possible. You need breathing space as the owner, but the reporting process to investors of monthly updates, KPIs and annual meetings is very healthy for a startup," he says.

The biggest challenge MyLocalPitch has faced has been convincing venues to sign up. They are often owned by schools or local councils - organisations that are not profit driven.

In fact, some organisations even want to discourage usage so they can sell buildings for housing development, Foale says.

"There is a lot of scepticism," he adds. "But we've proven we can cut costs and increase revenue. Sport England wants to prioritise digitally accessible venues for funding, so it is in venues' interests."

It has contracts with councils such as Islington and Waltham Forest, but is working hard to increase access to more facilities (or ‘inventory' in startup-speak).

In four years MyLocalPitch has gone from a team of two to 18, almost half of which are developers.

The company made a slightly radical decision a couple of years ago: it decided to rebuild all of its outsourced technology in-house, from scratch.

"We raised £800,000 to try and hire developers. It was hard. It took six months to build a team capable of making something from the ground up. But having that control over our own stack helped a huge amount," Foale says.

Foale sees MyLocalPitch's ambition as more than just helping people book sports venues. He hopes it will help to rebuild people's frayed relationships with traditional sports, and help improve the UK population's health.

Reassuringly, Foale takes his own advice. He's a keen sports player himself.

"I've been playing the same footy game at 9pm every Thursday for seven years," he laughs.