In the spirit of March Madness (and our own Tech Madness bracket challenge), we wanted to take a look at some of the sports startups making moves in Chicago.
Chicago has a history of producing strong sports technology companies. Television graphics company Sportsvision, which is responsible for inventing the yellow first down marker you see during football games, raised over $40 million since launching in 1998. Last year it was acquired by rival SMT for an undisclosed amount. Vivid Seats, a secondary marketplace for sports tickets, recently landed a deal to be the official ticketing partner of ESPN. Publicly traded Zebra Technologies is the official on-field player tracking provider for the NFL. Chicago sports tech company STATS works with FIFA and the NBA to track player performance. And sporting good retailer Wilson has a Chicago innovation center where it makes new products like the connected football, which measures things like distance, speed and spiral efficiency of each throw.
Along with these established companies, the city also has emerging startups that are looking to disrupt different areas of the sports industry. Here are eight startups to keep an eye on.
Bait is a legal sports betting app that lets you wager against people you know. Players can bet their friends on the spread, the over/under, or who’s going to win, and Bait automatically notifies the winner and loser once the game ends. The loser then clicks the “pay” button, and they pay the winner via Venmo. The app doesn’t deduct anything from your account; the loser has to actively pay up after losing (that’s how Bait gets around illegal betting issues).
Rise Science began as a research project by Northwestern University undergrads who were studying the effects of sleep and athletic performance. They found that sleep is the “most potent performance enhancing activity that exists,” more than any drug or exercise routine. They built technology that tailors sleep schedules to individual athletes, using things like a player’s genetic information and lifestyle to determine when a player should go to sleep, and how long he should sleep. After launching a pilot with the NU football team in 2013, Rise Science has brought its technology to the Chicago Bulls, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars.
Swingbyte is a small, one-ounce device that attaches to a golf club and records a variety of elements of a person’s swing, including speed, tempo, club face angle, and the angle of attack. It then sends an interactive 3D visual of your swing to your mobile device, and golfers can use the Swingbyte app to analyze their swing and identify common traits that may be effecting their game.
Zcruit is a startup born out of Northwestern University that uses predictive analytics to determine how likely a football recruit is to commit to a university. Zcruit partners with university recruiting offices to create custom algorithms that take into account qualitative and quantitative factors that would influence a player’s likelihood to commit to that school. It creates a “Z-Score” from 1 to 10 on how likely a player is to end up at that school. They began testing it with Northwestern’s football program in 2015, and they said it was able to predict whether a player would commit to Northwestern’s football team with 94% accuracy.
Beat Box is a boutique boxing franchise that taking a new approach to the boxing gym (think SoulCycle, but for boxing). It wants to reinvention boxing gyms by focusing on empowerment, self-confidence, and a female-friendly atmosphere. The first studio is planning to open soon in Old Town, and the startup recently won $10,000 from UChicago’s New Venture Challenge to get the first location off the ground.
NWTN (pronounced “newton”) is a concussion detection startup that built a tracking device that’s placed in football helmets, which gives coaches real-time data on hits that could result in a concussion. The device can show how a player’s head moved as a result of the hit, and it sends that information to a coach’s mobile device. Coaches can track a player’s hits to the head over time, and use the technology to help diagnose concussions. The startup was recently on the TBS show “America’s Greatest Makers,” where it won $100,000.
Powwful is a line of colorful sports bras inspired by Chicago’s architecture and famous landmarks. Its designs include an orange and pink bra with V-shaped straps inspired by Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” statue in Federal Plaza, and a thick-strapped blue and yellow bra inspired by the “wide boulevard” of Michigan Avenue. The bras are made with flatlock seams that prevent chafing, and come with high-performance breathable, sweat-wicking fabric with four-way stretch.
Box Score Games is a maker of mobile games for sports fans to play during live events. Fans compete against each other to win prizes in real-time. Its games include Fantasy Pizza, an app that rewards you with a pizza if a series of scenarios you’re given take place during a live football game, and Jump Ball, a game that MillerCoors has agreed to promote at Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants during March Madness.