Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on the City of Carlsbad’s Life in Action blog.
The economic impact of San Diego County’s sports and active lifestyle industry was valued at $6.3 billion in 2017. Carlsbad has long been considered a key player in this industry, with action sports manufacturing employment in Carlsbad being over 30 times the national average.
Mostly known as the capital of the world golf industry, Carlsbad is also home to some of the most innovative companies in cycling, skateboarding, surfing, and fitness. Combine this ecosystem with the city’s fastest growing sector – technology – and you get a hotbed of emerging sports tech companies that are making sports safer, helping athletes improve their performance, and connecting fans with their favorite sporting events from virtually anywhere in the world.
According to the Center for American Entrepreneurship, San Diego and Carlsbad were among the top 10 cities for technology startups between 2016 and 2017, with 134 first financings secured between the two cities. A new breed of collaborative co-working spaces has emerged to provide these startups the facilities and infrastructure needed to hit the ground running.
Jeran Fraser is a local entrepreneur with a string of real estate and tech investments and a mentor at San Diego Sports Innovators. Over the years, he has witnessed how early stage companies can be both stifled by operational challenges and empowered by strong networks and support systems. In 2017 he launched Incubate Ventures to provide entrepreneurs and their companies with plug and play workspaces, and to build a local startup community focused on helping one another succeed.
“A lot of early stage companies fail simply because they are not in the right space or working with the right community,” said Fraser. “I wanted to build a collaborative space that provides startups with opportunities to network with investors and mentors and tap into a shared ecosystem of partners and service providers that are vital to early stage growth.”
Incubate Ventures currently houses 65 people from 17 different companies, with about 50 percent in technology or sports technology. The co-working space is also home to STACT, Fraser’s newest joint venture with partner Michael Jegat, an entrepreneur and software engineer who moved to the U.S. from France.
STACT Powers Tier 2 Sporting Events Around the Globe
STACT was born out of Jegat’s frustration with not being able to access live streams or scoring for a surf competition the same way he enjoyed watching SDSU basketball from his mobile phone. After meeting Fraser through San Diego Sports Innovators, the two joined forces to provide an end to end solution for event organizers, athletes and fans. With one big customer in hand, STACT launched the first generation of its event management platform in April 2017 and began running World Tour surfing events from start to finish.
For organizers, the platform runs everything from event registration and scoring to video replay and live streaming. On the consumer-facing side, it maintains athlete profiles and stats and allows fans to track athletes’ careers and watch live events.
“Everyone with the event – from registration, judges, commentators and live replay – run their part of the event on the app on a tablet, so it eliminates pen and paper from the process and makes it all digital,” noted Fraser. “Athletes have a profile with all of their stats, and fans can follow athletes’ careers and live stream their favorite sporting events.”
STACT charges event organizers a per event fee and takes a small six percent premium on event registrations. Having established a strong foothold in surf events and competitions, STACT has ramped up to support other sporting events like skateboarding, snowboarding, and stand up paddling as well as team sports like amateur soccer and basketball.
For the STACT team, many of whom are avid surfers, a location in Carlsbad having direct access to the beach is a huge perk.
“Real estate in Carlsbad is plentiful and I love that you are always 5 or 10 minutes from the beach,” said Fraser. “North County is really central, so I can be in LA in an hour and 15 minutes or in San Diego in 30 minutes. Plus, I live here, which makes the location pretty perfect.”
To date, more than 11,000 athletes have established profiles on the STACT platform, and it has been used to produce over 325 events worldwide. While STACT operates lean with only eight full-time employees, the platform has been translated into four different languages and already has a global presence.
Now, the company is focusing on “dumbing down” the process and cost of live webcasting, so virtually anyone with a camera and access to the Internet can live stream over its platform. With this capability, even the smallest amateur events can stream live and produce top-notch, professional-looking events. Fans can subscribe to get premium data insights on athletes and additional event-related content such as video replays, behind the scenes, and live streaming.
Blast Motion Helps Golfers, Baseball, and Softball Players Improve Swing Performance
A serial entrepreneur, Michael Fitzpatrick has spent his entire career in tech. After taking Silicon Valley-based E-Tek from upstart to IPO and through its $15 billion acquisition, Fitzpatrick had planned to take a year off with only two goals on his horizon: to treat golf as though it was his full-time job and to qualify for the first round of either the U.S. Mid-Amateur or Senior Mid-Amateur Golf Championship. After a competitive game with friends, one of whom spent 11 years on the Pro Tour and the other was a number one ranked player from USC, it was pretty clear to Fitzpatrick that his golf game needed a little outside help.
Fitzpatrick searched for advanced technology that would help him improve his golf game but to his disappointment, there was none. Foreseeing an intersection between sports and tech, Fitzpatrick founded Blast Motion to build a total technology solution that would help golfers, baseball and softball players improve their swing performance. Today, his Carlsbad-based company provides the number one swing analyzer on the market, which is used by hundreds of pros, colleges, elite academies, and high schools nationwide.
“If you look at the pros in baseball, every team that made the playoffs last year uses Blast,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, CEO and President of Blast Motion. “We worked with the Houston Astros who were struggling a bit in the hitting department and in a little over a year they finished first in 9 of 11 batting categories and went on to win the World Series in 2017. And the Red Sox, another user, won the World Series last year. It has really been a lot of fun to watch our vision come to life.”
Blast Motion’s total improvement solution consists of a very small, powerful motion capture sensor along with mobile applications and cloud-based software that is powered by data mining and artificial intelligence. The extremely lightweight sensor is placed onto the bat or club and records metrics for every swing. Mobile software provides players and coaches with automatic swing analysis, data-driven insights, and training drills about how they can improve.
This year alone, Blast Motion has recorded more than 50 million swings. The company analyzes all of that data for deeper insights across all three sports and sells that premium content back to colleges, professional teams, and elite academies for player development and recruiting. These analytics provide coaches with benchmarks as to where players should be performing at various levels of a sport, and it provides colleges and the pros with highly accurate performance data about athletes, both in practice and in the game, for scouting and recruiting. The mobile app is also a valuable collaboration tool that allows players to share swing data and video with coaches who in return provide feedback using in-app annotations and voice over instruction to help players further hone their skills.
“I had previously launched a successful startup in Silicon Valley, so I was looking for a better environment and location to start Blast Motion,” said Fitzpatrick. “Ultimately, I selected Carlsbad because I knew the coastal location and lifestyle would be attractive to employees, and it put us in close proximity to some of the world’s largest golf equipment manufacturers like TaylorMade and Callaway. I knew the location would also provide Blast with access to top engineering talent from universities in the area.”
Today, Blast’s complete solution is used by 80 percent of all MLB teams and 300 top collegiate programs, and it has been approved for in-game use for more than 120,000 teams at USA Softball-sanctioned events. Blast is also used by more than 250 professional golfers in the PGA and LPGA Tours, primarily to help improve putting performance.
True to Carlsbad company cross-collaboration, Blast technology has also been embraced by neighbors Callaway and TaylorMade. Callaway utilizes Blast in its research and development of new products and TaylorMade’s first tech-enabled golf putter is powered by Blast Motion.
“Our number one mission is to help players at all levels of baseball, softball, and golf improve their performance, and we love to interact with the community and watch that vision unfold,” said Fitzpatrick. “It is our hope that Blast technology will help grow the games, keep players in the game longer, and most importantly, enable players to have more fun.”
Below are some other Carlsbad companies that are innovating in the city’s emerging sports tech sector:
Athelytix brings real-time precision analytics to all levels of athletes that play baseball, softball and other object-based sports, providing them with personalized, prescriptive training feedback.
Evolve Skateboards manufactures premium electric skateboards that combine the best in longboard design with the most advanced electrical components.
Exchange Collective provides software that bridges the online and in-store gap by connecting small to medium sized retailers with an online channel of specialty products from action sports and lifestyle brands.
EXOS is a gym and physical fitness center that combines in-person coaching with mobile tools and online content to deliver personalized training plans for athletes at any point in their career.
GoPro provides the world’s most popular and versatile action cameras, mobile apps and video-editing software. The company that has sold over 26 million GoPro cameras in more than 100 countries.
LIGHT Helmets uses advanced technologies and materials to develop the lightest and safest football helmets for players from Pop Warner to the NFL.
RinseKit provides portable, pressurized shower technology used by campers, fishermen, surfers, mountain bikers, and distance riders who need to clean up on the go.
Victorise provides wearable, smart goggle technology for amateur and professional bike riders that provides real-time, visual displays and custom alerts for racing speed, time, and navigation.