Green-Sports Startups, Part 5: Mark Cleveland and Hytch; Rewarding Friends Who Share Rides to Sports Events

Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports, for now, represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.

Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.

We’ve featured Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms in the U.S.A from American fabrics; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as important testing grounds for its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions, and Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens.

Today, we feature Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards from corporate sponsors like Nissan to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games and elsewhere. Hytch’s co-founder and CEO is the irrepressible Mark Cleveland. 

 

If GreenSportsPreneur was a word in the dictionary, the definition could well look like this:

GreenSportsPreneur (n)Mark Cleveland, CEO and co-founder, Hytch.

 

MAC_headshot - credit Eric England

Mark Cleveland, co-founder and CEO of Hytch (Photo credit: Eric England)

 

Cleveland has the sports side covered: He recently completed a half ironman.

He’s got the entrepreneur part down, too: “I’ve been an entrepreneur most of my life,” Cleveland told GreenSportsBlog. “I’ve started companies, acquired them. I’ve run startups for other organizations. My businesses have been in the transportation, information systems, and business processing sectors.”

And Cleveland’s entrepreneurial career has, at times, been tinted deep green. He launched:

  • Carbon Angel, a carbon trading company. Per Cleveland, “Even though I lost money, I learned a ton about the inefficiencies of the carbon markets.”
  • SeaBridge Freight, a short sea shipping company that was named a SmartWay Partner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Swiftwick, an environmentally friendly, long-lasting (Cleveland: “it never wears out!”), Made in the USA athletic sock – including a cut-resistant hockey sock first worn by the 2014 US Olympic team in Sochi.

Yet it could be that Hytch will be Cleveland’s sustainability startup piece de resistance. 

And, if that comes to pass, sports will play a key role.

 

HYTCH: HELPING TO SOLVE NASHVILLE’S TRAFFIC MESS

Traffic congestion is a huge problem in Nashville.

The metro area is growing rapidly and existing roads just can’t handle it. A recent referendum to build a 26-mile light rail system went down in a 2-to-1 defeat.

Meanwhile, Cleveland and telecom visionary Robert Hartline have been working on a different, much less costly solution.

“Robert and I wanted to bring a solution to the table that could help reduce traffic congestion in the Nashville area,” offered Cleveland. “There are so many cars on the highways with only one person in them. So we thought, ‘if we can put two and three people in those cars, that will mean far fewer cars on the road.’ And we wanted to do it in a way that was politically palatable across the board and in a way that would democratize (with a small ‘d’) transit.”

And so Hytch was born.

 

MC at Hytch Launch Nissan

Mark Cleveland, rockin’ and rollin’ at the Hytch launch event at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

The essence of Hytch is the free app for iPhone and Android that helps members who have GPS capability track shared rides with their contacts, earning them “Trees Saved” points. Which is nice, as far as that goes.

But what makes Hytch a potential ride sharing market disruptor of the first order is its corporate sponsorship model.

Sponsor funds are passed along to Hytch drivers and riders. That’s right: Nashville Hytch members, no matter whether they are the driver or passenger, get cash for hitching up  — or, shall I say, Hytching up — on a shared car trip.

 

NISSAN SPONSORS HYTCH TO REDUCE EMPLOYEES’ TRAVEL TIME TO-FROM WORK

Nissan North America is headquartered in Franklin, TN, a 21-mile drive from downtown Nashville along I-65.

And they have a parking lot problem.

That’s where Hytch has come in.

“Nissan was looking to relieve parking lot stress,” said Cleveland. “They don’t have enough spaces for the number of employees’ cars. HR was actually looking to build an app to connect employees for ride sharing when someone told them ‘Hytch is already doing that.’ So we talked with them. Our key insight? Matching people to share rides is not the thing. Getting them excited about it is the thing!”

Nissan North America got so excited about the potential for their employees to get excited about getting paid to share rides, that they quickly became an early Hytch sponsor.

According to an article by Doug Newcomb in the February 5 issue of PC Magazine, “Nissan North America pays Hytch users 1¢ per mile anywhere in Tennessee and 5¢ per mile within the 10-county Middle Tennessee area. With other sponsors^ adding their own rewards to Nissan’s, Hytch said users can earn up to 12¢ or more per mile in some areas. If [a driver or a passenger has] a 20-mile roundtrip commute and drives 100 miles a week, this means he/she can earn $12 a week by using Hytch.”

 

 

Screenshot - Lets+Hytch App

The Hytch app, featuring early sponsor Nissan, along with other partner logos (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

Cleveland says the impact on the environment of the Nissan-Hytch partnership, along with other Nashville area Hytch sponsors not affiliated with the auto maker, was immediate and significant: “In our first six months of existence, Hytch helped to track and reward over 3 million miles of shared rides.”

 

Hytching NissanTour3

Nashville-area Hytch members registering their ride (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

PREDATORS PILOT HYTCH CARPOOL PROGRAM DURING PLAYOFFS 

Delmar Smith, a 12-year veteran of the Nashville Predators front office and the NHL club’s VP of corporate partnerships since 2013, expressed interest when Mark Cleveland approached the team in February about a partnership with Hytch.

“Traffic is the biggest issue in Nashville and parking at our games is tight,” recalled Smith. “So, when our CEO, Sean Henry and I met with Mark in March, the Nissan-Hytch relationship got our attention. With Nissan being one of our top two corporate partners, that really intrigued us and we thought about doing something during the Stanley Cup playoffs.”

The main hitch (sorry!) was timing: Nissan-Hytch discussions took place in March, only a month before the playoffs would begin. Smith was understandably concerned about rushing into a promotional program and it not going smoothly. Then he called Nissan.

More Smith: “Nissan gave me such positive feedback about Hytch and the employee program that it changed my thinking. We actually had the time to construct a ride sharing pilot program during the playoffs that would work logistically and be a benefit to our fans and the environment.”

When the Stanley Cup playoffs started in April, Hytch members who carpooled to Predators home games received 5¢ per mile, funded by Nissan. The team promoted the Hytch partnership on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard, via social media and through street teams.

 

Hytch at Bridgestone Arena

The Hytch-Predators ride-sharing partnership was promoted on the Bridgestone Arena scoreboard during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs (Photo credit: Hytch)

 

“Hundreds of Preds fans participated in the pilot,” reported Cleveland. “Their reactions were very positive.”

“While results were hard to measure with such a small sample of games, we felt good about the test,” added Smith.

The Predators, Hytch and Nissan intend to expand the program during the 2018-19 regular season.*

 

GREENSPORTSBLOG’S TAKE: HYTCH CAN BE A FORCE FOR GREEN IN THE SPORTS WORLD

With the company already expanding beyond its Nashville home base (it embarked on a partnership with the Vans Warped nationwide cross-country concert tour this summer), it is easy to envision a wide swath of pro and college sports teams using the Hytch platform. Hytch Green-Sports partnerships:

  • May encourage fans to attend games they’d ordinarily watch on TV
  • Can be a source of additional sponsorship revenue
  • Will enhance the team’s reputation with its fans and the broader community

It seems appropriate to let Mark Cleveland provide one last reason why Hytch makes sense for sports teams (and more), and to close to this story: “Every shared mile with Hytch is a zero-emissions mile. Together we save the planet, one shared ride at a time.”

 

 

 


 

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