Starting It Up
5 Companies Putting their Own Spin on Sports + Tech.
Here, we put five emerging sport brands under the spotlight. A common theme among all five? Technology, technology, technology. Each of these companies — Slinger, Miro AI, Emblem Athletic, Perch and Tau — were selected by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) as finalists in the 2019 SFIA Start-Up Challenge. They each showcase innovation in unique ways, ranging from training tools to AI-powered accessories to hard good products and equipment.
Miro is a tech company that identifies shoes and gear in event photos, delivering insights to brands. For example, the company’s Athlete ID looks at the bodies an bib numbers in every event image to link athletes with their photos/videos almost instantly. AthleteID tells brands “who” it is (name, age, gender, run time, etc.), while Miro’s ShoeID tech is able to tell which shoe brand is being worn by that runner using the existing event images. GearID Identifies apparel by color, type, and brand.
Elevator Pitch: Miro AI uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to analyze visual content in sports. Miro instantly identifies athletes, athletic gear, and brands inside images and videos. Beginning in endurance sports, Miro’s AI has been used by over 600 events around the world to identify athletes and their gear. Miro has begun applying their tech into the adjacent fitness market and additional sports verticals, as well.
Need to Know: Miro has developed a number of firsts within AI for Sport via a large dataset and engineering-focused team, according to the company’s COO Evan Kroft. For example, Kroft tells us, Miro is “the only company in the world who can recognize shoe brands in the wild with AI.”
How it’s a Gamechanger: “Wearables have driven the last 10 years of sports and fitness data collection,” says Kroft. “With the rapid adoption of cameras in/around the sports world, visual analysis can provide a more complete story and is poised dominate this next phase in sports performance measurement and analysis. Frictionless analysis is both an advantage and disadvantage, as vision solutions can present issues in privacy, data ownership and consumer rights.”
And Then Some: Prior to Miro AI, the company’s founders and management team worked together delivering computer vision solutions and mobile platforms used by millions of McDonald’s consumers. “Together, we know how to deliver innovation at scale and our shift from moving Big Macs at a large corporation to moving bodies in a small startup has been a very exciting journey,” says Kroft.
Slinger is bringing to market what it describes as the most portable tennis ball launcher “ever.” The product is a tennis ball launching machine in a portable bag on wheels. It runs on a battery that can be recharged by plugging the bag in.
Elevator Pitch: Slinger is a brand focused on innovating game-improvement equipment for all ball sports, allowing players to play better and therefore, gain more enjoyment from their chosen sport. Slinger has been designed to be housed inside a feature and function rich trolley bag and is a 24/7 tennis partner for players of any level.
Need to Know: Slinger’s pre-order crowdfunding campaign resulted in 3,500 ball launchers being sold in 90 days, giving the company belief that Slinger will disrupt the market and become a key brand for players of all abilities. It is set to debut in November, priced at approximately $499. Retail distribution is a future possibility, as is expansion into other sports. Tennis is the first global market that Slinger aims to disrupt, but the team also has initial designs and new innovations planned for pickleball, racquetball, paddle, squash, and baseball/softball.
How it’s a Gamechanger: Tennis has many latent players, notes Slinger CEO Mike Ballardie, because finding a playing partner of a similar standard is often difficult. Having Slinger, a 24/7 practice partner, in your car’s trunk alleviates that issue to a major extent, allowing players to take to the court and work out whenever they want.
And Then Some: Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri gives Slinger his endorsement: “The key to being successful in tennis is consistency. Consistency is built on repetition. Slinger Bag is so easy to transport and set up that it’s available 24/7 for practice and drills. It’s the first ball launcher to appeal to the masses and is the perfect tennis partner to build consistency and improve your game.”
Perch is designed to change the way athletes interact with fitness technology, a market the company sees as being fraught with over-hyped devices that don’t deliver the value they promise. Perch has created a module which can be attached to the top of a weight rack, and uses 3D cameras to passively capture complex movements in the weight room in order to create connected strength training workouts. Perch gathers information that aims to optimize performance and prevent injury.
Elevator Pitch: “Perch uses computer vision and machine learning to enhance the motivation, safety and effectiveness of exercise, solving the problems of those strength training today and creating the gym of the future tomorrow,” says founder Jacob Rothman.
Need to Know: Perch’s goal is to change how athletes “quantify quality of movement and performance in the gym.” Strength training is one area of fitness that still remains unquantified, says Rothman. Counting sets and reps is measuring “what you did” but now “how well you did it.” Going to the gym and counting sets and reps is equivalent to going to a track and running around it without something as basic as a stop watch. But Perch’s tech can quantify complex multi-joint movements, providing data and value for gym workouts.
How it’s a Gamechanger: Perch moves away from wearable devices to capture a complete picture of the athlete. Cameras used by Perch make it possible to quantity exercise without having to change routine, workflow, or wardrobe.
And Then Some: Perch measures velocity based workouts, a big buzzword right now in strength and conditioning circles. Velocity training combines both strength workouts and speed workouts with an emphasis on increased power. The Perch device — which can be perched atop a weight rack — measures and records movement during a workout and produces instant data that makes velocity-based training more efficient.
The team at TAU is working to create what it calls “a new category of wearable technology.” The initial product, expected to launch in 2020, will incorporate both fitness data tracking and resistance capabilities into athletic pants (tights) and shorts. TAU’s patent-protected wearable resistance technology is most easily explained as a garment with a pod attached to the hip that is capable of not only calculating more and better data than a wrist or chest-based fitness tracker, but is also capable of dialing up resistance to amp up a workout.
Elevator Pitch: TAU execs believe they have created a new category of wearable technology that enhances fitness by elevating physiological loading on the stride, with diagnostic monitoring of performance to enable the design of deficit specific training protocols. TAU’s product is “at the intersection of fitness, fashion and technology.”
Need to Know: Set to be priced at an estimated $700-$900 when it launches, the TAU product will first target the tech and fitness savvy triathlon market. A second launch will be directed to the wellness and fitness market — people who may be attracted to the product’s ability to elevate calorie burn. A third target will be the team sports market, where a coach can see streaming data from different athletes at the same time and make judgments on the fly based on data provided by TAU.
How it’s a Gamechanger: The TAU team explains that the benefit of locating its device/technology along the rotational axis of the hip is that the data capture function enables collection and analysis of a variety of biomechanical data of types and accuracy not available today. By directly measuring femoral angulation rates and limits of the range of travel, metrics like stride length, rate and distance travelled can be directly measured with what is believed to be greater accuracy than possible with many of the current accelerometer / gyroscope / GPS based technologies.
And Then Some: The actual product at launch is expected to include a highly-engineered garment (tight), a pair of data tracking pods with a charger station, and the ability to offer two different levels of resistance via a disc like device inside the pod. (A blank pod is also an option so that a user can track data with zero resistance.) Cloud-based analytics will be provided.
TAU execs admit they are not the first to think of a garment that provides resistance. The company intends to come to market backed up by independent testing that will show that it does what it says. This will be crucial to success for a high-end product that users could be skeptical of as a “magic pill.”
Emblem Athletic is a gear and apparel customization company using machine learning algorithms and robotic manufacturing to automate the process of designing and delivering a professional personalized look for every team. In short, Emblem aims to make it easy for teams to create, order and buy their own custom apparel.
Elevator Pitch: Through its network of Emblem Design Reps, the company designs and delivers athletic gear that is completely customized. Each customer gets personal service through a simple system that eliminates the time and hassle of ordering custom team gear. Emblem offers free design and free store setup.
Need to Know: The Emblem process is simple — just submit a request and connect with an Emblem rep. Emblem’s in-house graphic design team will begin to work on the team’s free custom gear design. Teams receive an exclusive custom web-store to order from. Emblem Athletic works with a range of organizations and teams, from local youth sports to NCAA schools and national brands. Its offerings range from moisture-wicking workout tees to game uniforms.
And Then Some: Each custom uniform exclusively features the logo and style that each team requests. All apparel is sold through Emblem Design Representatives who earn commissions that can support other team expenses.