Nike, TechStars Unveil Startup Accelerator Winners

Gaming apps, fantasy sports leagues, corporate wellness programs: Welcome to the future of Nike+.

Nike is undergoing a digital revolution. The FuelBand indicates that the shoe giant can compete in the consumer electronics space. Meanwhile, its digital platform Nike+ is proving that the company can have a presence on a range of devices, from the iPhone to Xbox. And today, the company is taking that digital revolution one step further with the Nike+ Accelerator.

Announced in December with support from startup mentoring firm TechStars, the Nike+ Accelerator offers select startups the opportunity to enter a three-month program at a Nike space in Portland, Oregon, where they'll build products on top of the Nike+ and NikeFuel platforms. "We've been excited for quite some time to open up our ecosystem and invite more talent in," says Stefan Olander, VP of Nike's Digital Sport group. Such a push toward digital is one reason why we just named Nike the world's Most Innovative Company. Today Nike gives us another hint at where its digital future lies: with third-party developers like the 10 startups Nike selected for its inaugural Nike+ Accelerator class.

After receiving hundreds of applications to join the program, Nike narrowed the entries down to 10 new companies, which include startups specializing in everything from health and wellness to gamification. The startups will each receive $20,000 in funding (in exchange for giving TechStars 6% equity), plus mentorship from leaders at Nike as well as industry stars such as Foursquare cofounder Naveen Selvadurai. Says Olander, "I think we picked a good balance in terms of things that are close to our core and some companies that are pushing a little further out." Here's a quick rundown of the companies selected:

  • FitDeck: Digital decks of exercise playing cards that deliver ever-changing workouts for fitness and sports.
  • GoRecess: Helps users find, book, and review fitness activities.
  • Chroma Games: An indie game studio that creates virtual worlds tied to real-world activity.
  • CoachBase: Provides a digital sports coaching platform.
  • GoFitCause.com: Leverages fitness data as a means of raising money for charities.
  • HighFive: Ad network for health and fitness apps that helps people achieve their goals by rewarding them along their journey.
  • Sprout At Work: Provider of corporate wellness solutions leveraging social and gamification tools to inspire employees and empower employers.
  • GeoPalz: An interactive gaming and rewards platform for kids and families.
  • Incomparable Things: Creates activity-driven fantasy sports leagues.
  • RecBob: Offers a platform that makes rec sports easy by organizing play.

The companies selected underscore the accelerator's goal of "helping people lead more active lives." Training and coaching services are part of this, as are gaming applications. Some of the startups even mirror ideas that were once internally batted around at Nike, but later cut, such as earning rewards for performance or raising funds for charities based on fitness data. "You have the whole Nike+ portfolio at your disposal basically: GPS data, distance, pace, Fuel, all the running data," Olander says.

There are also a few surprises, such as the activity-driven fantasy sports league service and the corporate wellness startup. Each signal potential future revenue streams at Nike. "Our starting point for this wasn't primarily revenue," says Olander. "[But] since the day we launched the FuelBand, we've been asked: What are we going to do about health? What are we going to do about corporate wellness? What are we going to do around the whole insurance sector? For us, it's just a good test to see what will come out when you leverage social and gamification tools to inspire employees."

Like most accelerators, including TechStars, the program will culminate in a demo day, where the startups will have the opportunity to pitch angel investors, VCs, and even Nike executives. The first Nike+ Accelerator demo day will take place in mid-June, with a day spent in Silicon Valley and another day spent at Nike's headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.

"We provide the APIs, and it's pretty much up to them whether they want to create web applications or downloadable apps, though my suspicion is that these services are predominantly going to be manifesting themselves as apps," Olander says. "It's going to be a very intense 90 days out in Portland."

[Image: Flickr user Mecki Mac]

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