Thinking spring, Practice Gigs readying app to connect you with tennis partners

PracticeGigs co-founders Matt Neary and Toni Oloko.
PracticeGigs co-founders Matt Neary and Toni Oloko.

This time last year, Toni Oloko was captain of the tennis team at Boston Trinity Academy, a small prep school in Hyde Park. While he got accepted by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Oloko decided not to start college last fall. Instead, he has been working on a startup called PracticeGigs — and raising a seed round of funding from investors like Andy Miller of Constant Contact and Jeff Fagnan at FKA (the tech venture capital firm Formerly Known as Atlas.)

Oloko describes PracticeGigs as a “peer-to-peer learning marketplace” intended to help people improve their skills at tennis — and eventually, other sports and practice-oriented activities like music. “If you can play with people better than you, you’ll get better faster,” he says. “We’re launching with tennis to build our density in Boston initially.” PracticeGigs began beta-testing its iOS app this month; the company plans to start promoting it in March. If you use the app to find someone at your own skill level to play with, you pay nothing. But playing with more advanced players costs between $10 and $25 per session. (The app uses the United States Tennis Association’s rating system, from 1.5 to 7.0.) A portion of the payment is passed on to the player, and PracticeGigs takes a cut.

Oloko says his own experience demonstrated the value of hitting with better players. He started playing tennis at age 12. “I would hit with college kids, and pay ’em $15 or $20 a session. It took my game to a national level,” he says. He began testing the PracticeGigs concept last April with friends. He later connected with Harvard undergrad student Matt Neary, who became his technical co-founder.

Oloko has participated in the YouthCities entrepreneurial education program, and the Smarter in the City accelerator program in Roxbury.

My neighborhood’s tennis court is currently buried to the top of the net with snow… but once the surface is showing again, I’m eager to try out PracticeGigs.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
Follow Scott on Twitter - Facebook - Google+