Sports Stars Who Backed Startups In 2023

The allure of India’s thriving startup ecosystem extends beyond traditional investors, as individuals from the sports fraternity are increasingly making substantial investments in the realm

Esteemed names like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, and others have taken their place in the investors’ realm, while current players including Neeraj Chopra, Hardik Pandya, and more are following suit

The startup investment bug has not only bit retired players but also the ones who are active on the field

With 111 unicorns, the Indian startup ecosystem stands as an enticing arena for investments from diverse industries. According to Inc42’s State Of Indian Startup Ecosystem Report 2023, the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem has successfully garnered funding exceeding $141 Bn.

The allure of this thriving ecosystem extends beyond traditional investors, as individuals from the sports fraternity are increasingly making substantial investments. According to Inc42’s data, several sports stars invested in Indian startups this year. 

Interestingly, the startup investment fever has not only infected retired players but also the ones who are active on the field. 

Esteemed names like Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, and others have taken their place in the investors’ realm, while current players including Neeraj Chopra, Hardik Pandya, and more are following suit.

Adding an interesting twist to the narrative, cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle has also embraced the role of an investor. 

In 2023, he contributed to the funding of, an online fantasy gaming startup that appointed him as a leader on the board, alongside other international cricketers.

As we approach the conclusion of 2023, let’s delve into the noteworthy list of sports stars who ventured into startup investments this year.

Editor’s Note: This compilation is not a ranking of any kind. Celebrity sports stars are listed alphabetically.

Sports Stars Who Backed Startups In 2023

Ajinkya Rahane Backed Dairy Alternatives Startup OATEY

In August, cricketer Ajinkya Rahane made an undisclosed investment in dairy alternative startup OTEY and concurrently assumed the role of its brand ambassador. 

The startup had plans to deploy the capital to boost awareness about its plant-based dairy alternatives, fortify its brand presence, scale hiring, expand into the offline channel, and launch new products. 

Back then, Rahane highlighted OTEY’s commitment to quality products and its brand values aligned with his principles. 

Launched in 2021 by Jamadagni and Prashant Chauhan, OTEY sells plant-based dairy alternatives like oat milk, millet milk and chocolate oat milk. The startup generates revenue through its website and other ecommerce marketplaces. 

OTEY claims to have grown steadily over the past two quarters. It attributes the growth to the changing preferences of people in leaning towards sustainable plant-based products. 

Hardik Pandya Made Strategic Bets On Kids’ Footwear Brand Arreto, D2C Food Startup Yu

Hardik Pandya has made undisclosed investments in two startups, Arreto and Yu, so far this year. 

In April, the cricketer announced to have backed D2C food startup Yu and joined the startup as its brand ambassador. Yuand Hardik had inked an agreement to promote the brand in India and across the globe.

Founded by Bharat Bhalla and Varun Kapur in 2020, Yu offers breakfast meal bowls, lunch and dinner. It sells instant noodles, different kinds of pasta, and desserts.

“Hardik Pandya has participated with a minority investment in the company to create long-term value. Funds from the investment will be used towards launching the brand’s maiden campaign during the ongoing IPL season as well as the upcoming ICC World Cup in India later this year,” its cofounders had then said. 

Four months after investing in Yu, Pandya backed Arreto, a kids’ footwear startup. The USP of the company’s shoes is that they grow in size as children age.

Launched in 2019 by Krutika Lal and Satyajit Mittal, the startup raised $550K from a number of investors, including Pandya, in August this year. It had raised funds to expand its market presence, strengthen its workforce and ramp up R&D for new products.

Aretto also had plans to launch its first retail store in Pune and partner with multi-brand outlets in key metropolitan cities to cater to a wide customer base in India. 

Aretto operates in the kids’ fashion industry, which is estimated to become a $24.5 Bn market opportunity by 2028.

From The Field To Boardrooms: Sports Stars Who Backed Startups In 2023

Mahendra Singh Dhoni Picked Up Equity In Rigi, Tagda Raho

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former captain and wicketkeeper of the Indian cricket team, recently made strategic investments in two startups — Rigi and Tagda Raho.

On January 25, Rigi, which is a platform for content creators to monetise their communities, announced that it raised INR 100 Cr (about $12.5 Mn) in a funding round led by venture capital firm Elevation Capital. 

Dhoni was one of the investors in the funding round. Other notable investors included names like CRED’s Kunal Shah, NoBroker’s Amit Kumar Agarwal, Country Delight’s Chakradhar Gade, and social media influencer Sharan Hegde.

Founded in October 2021 by BITS Pilani graduates Swapnil Saurav and Ananya Singhal, Rigi helps creators, influencers, and celebrities grow, manage, and monetise their community. 

It offers a suite of services to knowledge-based creators such as subscription-management tools for monetising via WhatsApp and Telegram. 

The platform also helps creators offer paid one-to-one sessions, pre-recorded courses, and live webinars to their audience.

Meanwhile, the former cricketer’s last startup investment was in Tagda Raho in November this year. Dhoni had invested an undisclosed amount in the fitness startup to help it expand its footprint across the country. 

Launched in 2020 by Rishabh Malhotra, Tagda Raho provides fitness programmes that combine traditional Indian equipment such as Gada, Mudgars, Vajra, and Sumtola with modern training applications.

It claimed that its equipment and training programmes have been used by Lucknow SuperGiants, Haryana Steelers and the National Cricket Academy (NCA).

It is pertinent to note that Dhoni is an active investor in the Indian startup ecosystem and has backed several startups, including Shaka Harry, Garuda Aerospace, and HomeLane to date.

Olympian Neeraj Chopra Infused Funds Into Shark Tank Participant Stage 

Last month, Javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra, who won a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020, invested an undisclosed sum in the regional OTT platform Stage

Founded in 2019 by former executives of digital content platform WittyFeed – Vinay Singhal, Parveen Singhal and Shashank Vaishnav – Stage is an online entertainment startup, which caters to the regional language-speaking audience of Haryana and Rajasthan.

Speaking about his investment in Stage, javelin thrower Chopra said he had always wanted to revive the flames of India’s diverse regional dialects.

“We will embark on a journey together to reawaken dormant languages and empower every voice, ensuring that our cultural heritage thrives in its true form through this platform,” Chopra had then said.

The Shark Tank Season 2 participant has raised money in three rounds of funding so far. Stage is backed by Blume Ventures and was last valued at INR 286 Cr during its INR 36 Cr Series A funding round earlier this year.

The startup claims to have more than 6 Mn downloads and over 5,50,000 paying subscribers on the platform. It charges INR 400 for a year’s subscription.

Sachin Tendulkar Helped AZAD Engineering Fuel India Vision

Also known as the ‘Master Blaster’ of Indian cricket, Sachin Tendulkar stands out as an active investor in the startup ecosystem. 

In May, the former cricketer made an undisclosed investment in Hyderabad-based AZAD Engineering.

Founded in 2008, AZAD offers technology solutions for global OEMs in the clean energy, aerospace, defence, oil & gas and SPS industries.

The company plans to use the funding to fuel its Atmanirbhar Bharat and Make In India goals.

Prior to bagging Tendulkar’s investment, the company secured $20 Mn from DMI Management in 2021. 

In the same year, the startup announced to set up its third manufacturing plant in Telangana at an investment of over INR 500 Cr.

The company counts Boeing, GE, Mitsubishi, Siemens Energy, Honeywell, Eaton, GE Aerospace, Baker Hughes, and domestic giants such as HAL, Godrej, TATA and Mahindra Aerospace, among others as its clients. 

TagZ Foods Roped In Shikhar Dhawan To Promote Healthy Snacking

In June, former Indian cricketer Shikhar Dhawan backed TagZ Foods by pumping an undisclosed amount into the D2C snack brand. Dhawan was also roped in as the brand ambassador. 

The startup had plans to deploy the capital to build a range of advertising campaigns to cater to more customers and promote the brand. Besides, TagZ wanted to leverage Dhawan’s brand persona to scale the brand.

Launched in 2019 by Anish Basu Roy and Sagar Bhalotia, the omnichannel snacks brand offers popped potato chips, gourmet dips and cookies through its website, quick commerce platforms, and offline retail stores.

According to Dhawan, the brand’s philosophy aligns with his interest of eating healthy. The funding from Dhawan comes days after the startup raised $2 Mn in a pre-Series A funding round led by 9 Unicorns. 

Backed by names such as Dexter Angels, Agility Ventures, Venture Catalysts, Klub and Indifi, TagZ competes with the likes of Happilo, Nourish You and others.  

Sourav Ganguly Bought A Minority Stake In Food Delivery Startup JustMyRoots

Former Indian cricket team skipper Sourav Ganguly snapped up a minority stake in food delivery startup JustMyRoots this year for an undisclosed sum.

Alongwith the investment, the former president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) also partnered the startup as the brand ambassador.

According to media reports at that time, the startup was also in talks with a clutch of investors to raise up to INR 150 Cr to expand its footprint. 

Launched in 2016 by Samiran Sengupta, Rajan Sachdeva and Promita Sengupta, JustMyRoots serves as an intercity food delivery provider. The startup said it clocked a revenue of INR 208 Cr in FY23 and was aiming to hit INR 350 Cr mark in the next fiscal year.

Talking about his investment, Ganguly said he prefers to order food and eat at home. “Nowadays, most people have long working hours, so going to a restaurant is not always possible. Therefore, I have decided to pick up a strategic stake as a personal investment.”

Currently, Ganguly has stakes in four businesses, out of which he encashed one recently. 

Virender Sehwag Became An Angel Investor To Back Two Brothers Organic Farm 

Former cricketer Virender Sehwag joined other investors, including actor Akshay Kumar, to back Two Brothers Organic Farm (TBOF). 

Sehwag invested an undisclosed amount in the startup, which said it would use the capital to expand its business both in India and overseas. It was also aiming to use the funds to scale up its manufacturing capacity and train farmers.

Launched by Ajinkya Hange and Satyajit Hange in 2012, Pune-based TBOF sells farm produce at the farmers’ market of Mumbai every weekend to shorten the supply chain between the farmers and the consumers.

Sehwag said it was heartening to see the positive impact that the startup has brought to the lives of farmers and people’s health across India and beyond.

Yuvraj Singh Forayed Into The F&B Space With Greto 

Former Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh ventured into the F&B industry through an undisclosed amount of investment in Greto in October. 

As part of the deal, Singh was also to support the startup in its promotional activities.

Delhi NCR-based Greto, owned by Mahu Tasty Foods, was launched by Sanchit Tyagi, Divyanshu Rao and Abhishek Rao this year. It has 40 products in its portfolio, including probiotic drinks, natural ice cream, fruit yoghurt, and snacks.

Greto said the funds would be used to set up a franchise network across the country. At the time of investment, it said it was aiming to set up 100 Greto franchises in the next 6-12 months across major cities in the country, starting with Delhi NCR. 

Talking about his interest in the startup, Singh said that his journey as a sportsman has taught him the importance of dedication, perseverance, and teamwork, and he could see all these values resonating with what Greto represents.

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