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Boston's AA cluster: Athletic analytics start-ups aim to improve performance for pros and amateurs

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 11, 2011 08:24 AM

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I'm a fan of watching new clusters develop in Boston's innovation economy, and a few weeks ago, Zeo co-founder Ben Rubin called my attention to a cool one: start-ups working on ways to help professional and amateur athletes train smarter and perform better. I think of it as the "athletic analytics" cluster.

Here are four of the most interesting companies.

swingreader_display.png- UberSense made it this week into the final round of the MassChallenge start-up competition, and the company is already selling three apps in the iTunes Store. Among them are SwingReader Golf and SwingReader Baseball, which allow instructors and coaches to shoot videos and break down the mechanics of a swing. Co-founder Krishna Ramchandran says UberSense's apps have been installed 400,000 times. The company has four employees on the payroll, and is already sustaining itself from revenue. (Free versions of the apps are available, but a premium app with more features costs $2.99.) "We will be raising our first round of money in a few months to further expand our team," Ramchandran says. Here's a video demo of the SwingReader Golf app, produced by the company:

SwingReader Golf Preview Video from UberSense Inc. on Vimeo.

- Segterra offers two kinds of blood tests, with Web-based reporting of the results, to tell you whether your diet and exercise are putting you on the path to good health and peak athletic performance. "The way most people manage their health is sort of like driving a car without the speedometer," says chief executive Lee Gartley. "It's hard to know if the things you're doing are optimal."

For $169 or $249 — the higher price offers a more elaborate look at your body's chemistry — Segterra's "Inside Tracker" service gives you a laboratory slip that you can take into a clinic to have blood drawn. (In Massachusetts, the company will also send someone to your home or office to poke you.) Delivered within three days, the online test results "show you your levels on a set of biomarkers that we've identified as being important for overall health and fitness, like glucose, cholesterol, calcium, and vitamin D," says Gartley. Your levels of creatine kinase, for instance, can tell you whether you have muscle damage from biking too far or bench-pressing a few too many pounds. The report can also suggest foods that can counteract low levels of a particular vitamin or mineral, or ways to vary your exercise regimen for the best results.

Gartley says that Inside Tracker, an upgraded version of the company's first analytics service, will launch sometime this month. The company raised roughly $500,000 in funding this year from the state-backed Massachusetts Technology Development Corp., as well as "friends and family" of Segterra's founders.

- RestWise is working with university sports departments, professional teams, and individual athletes to help them understand how much recovery time they need in between games or workouts. Already, world champions and Olympic competitors in rowing, cycling, and triathlon have been using RestWise, as have the All-Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, and the Springboks of South Africa. RestWise co-founder Jeff Hunt says the company is working with an NBA team, too, but they haven't signed on as a customer yet.

oximeter_medium_OLED.jpgRestWise sells a monthly subscription to its analytics software (and includes a free pulse oximeter, pictured at right, which tracks your pulse and the level of oxygen in your blood). The software runs on any Web-connected computer, as well as iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry mobile devices. It collects data about 11 different parameters, like your resting heart rate, how much and how well you slept, your mood state, and the tint of your urine.

"It's a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures, like how sore your muscles are," says Hunt. "The output is a score on a 1-100 scale. If you're below 40, you know you're pushing yourself too hard. A score of 100 would mean that your body is really well-positioned to absorb whatever workload you subject it to." The score, he says, is "really a measure of how much you can expect to benefit from the work you're doing." Serious athletes, after all, know that exercise isn't totally responsible for getting you in top shape, he says. "In order for the process to work, there's an optimal recovery time for each person, which depends on things going on in your life, like sleep, travel and stress."

Hunt says that when American marathoner Ryan Hall set a new record by running the Boston Marathon in 2:04:59 earlier this year, he'd used RestWise as part of his training regimen.

RestWise scraped together money to develop the product initially, and "started getting revenue in the door pretty quickly," Hunt says. The company raised about $300,000 in funding earlier this year from individual investors.

- Cambridge-based Neuroscouting hasn't said much about what they're doing, but I tried to collect what we know about the start-up in this post from last year. It seems they're using videogame-like software to evaluate — and ideally improve — the way baseball players' brains react to stimuli. "We basically create brain-training software for athletes," co-founder Wesley Clapp says in this video interview conducted by gaming entrepreneur Chris Allen. (NeuroScouting was part of the MassChallenge in both 2010 and 2011, but didn't make the final cut either year.)

The company's founders spoke at the MIT Sports Analytics conference earlier this year; here's some video.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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