First Look at the Nike+ Fuel Lab in San Francisco

Nike opens its doors to Silicon Valley companies whose products have strong potential to integrate with Nike's digital platform.

With its Apple partnership that began in 2006, and development of the Nike+ system and wearable FuelBand SE, Nike has evolved from a shoe and apparel company to a leader in digital platforms for athletes. Today, Nike opens its Nike+ Fuel Lab in San Francisco, a collaborative work and testing space in the city's SOMA neighborhood designed for selected partner companies to develop products that integrate the NikeFuel system for tracking and measuring activity.

The Fuel Lab grew out of last year's Nike+ Accelerator, in which 10 startups were given $20,000 and the opportunity to work in Portland for three months to develop apps and products connected to the Nike+ platform. The Fuel Lab, on the other hand, is a permanent (or at least indefinite) space in the nation's tech epicenter, created for more established Silicon Valley companies who already have user bases in the millions and a track record for popular products that have strong potential to integrate with Nike's digital platform. The inaugural partners include running app RunKeeper, cycling and running tracking platform Strava, and weight loss app MyFitnessPal.

"People will ask me 'aren't you and your partners competing?' if we have a running app, and this other company Strava has a running app," says Nike vice president of digital sport Stefan Olander. "But we really don't see it that way. We're serving athletes wherever they come from, whatever they do." The Nike+ "ecosystem" revolves around the NikeFuel measurement system and currently includes the wearable activity tracker Nike+ FuelBand SE and Nike training apps Nike+ Running, Nike+ Training Club, and Nike+ Move. Nike+ users currently total 28 million, but Olander says that the partner companies with their existing users will bring that number to over 100 million.

"When Nike developed the FuelBand SE, people asked if we were becoming a technology company," says Olander. "But that was never the intention. We weren't so much excited about the thing as what the thing enabled, which is motivating people because they have a way to measure how active they are—we have a saying that you can't improve what you can't measure."

Billed as a "universal currency" for measuring all types of activity, NikeFuel awards points to users for active movement, from dedicated workouts to dancing or housecleaning. Points are determined by an algorithm that includes factors like type of activity, speed, distance, or elevation, and how much oxygen consumption is required to complete a given activity, independent of age, gender, or weight. It's like a standardized index for measuring overall activity that can be compared among people or activities—which is why Olander says there's value in integrating it with a wide range of fitness products.

For example, an athlete who uses Strava to manage and measure cycling workouts and RunKeeper for running would have the results of both types of workouts translated to NikeFuel points, which would then generate in the user's Nike+ apps for a seamless experience. And then, says Olander, "if you have a friend who plays basketball wearing a FuelBand to generate NikeFuel, the two of you can compare and compete."

The Fuel Lab's new physical space combines bright, active hues with unfinished wood frames, and includes a number of areas designed for collaboration as well as a wall designed by Bay Area artist The Chalk Chica highlighting Nike's corporate mantra "to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world."

Then there's the "lab" itself—a testing room with athletic equipment to enable scientists, developers, and athletes to put current and potential products to real use. "It's a microcosm that brings together the best of all those worlds to refine and improve what we do," says Olander. During our preview, an athlete was measuring her resting heart rate on an iPhone before starting a workout that would use her heart rate increase to help determine how much NikeFuel she could earn.

Olander says the company hopes to start announcing Fuel Lab-developed products in the next few months, and by the fall, Nike plans to publish the Nike+ API, making it available to any developer who has a relevant product idea using the NikeFuel currency.

"The spirit of it all is really taking 40 years of working with athletes and understanding athletes, and translating it into a simple understandable way to be more active and more aware of how their activity impacts their performance," says Olander. "That's why this space is here and why we're so excited."

[Photos courtesy of NIke]

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