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the sportstech development race

Sportstech products and systems vastly improve the way sports are played. They enhance and support audience participation, well-being and a healthy lifestyle. New sports technologies are improving enjoyment, accessibility, athletic performance, safety and gameplay in sport and recreation.

Product development in sportstech can be as (seemingly) simple as designing the best jump rope for crossfit, or as complex as engineering wearable tracking devices and underwater streaming headsets for swimmers.

From developing an apparatus to help train Olympic divers, to designing a system to allow wheelchair athletes easy access to a beach, product development for sport has broad applications.

Sports ‘tech’ has always been around. People have been working to improve sporting equipment and performance since organized sport began. The difference today is the acceleration and rapid pace of product development, often paired with the technologies and expertise that make this possible.

We now have more access to design thinking, engineering, miniaturized sensors and electronics, new battery technologies, computing power and data, at a lower cost than ever before. Significantly, recreation and sport as a pastime has grown and opened up profitable opportunities for businesses to find loyal followers through product differentiation.

Product differentiation in sportstech is almost always aimed at improving a person’s performance in a sport. No one wants to be left behind. Who would pay more for a golf club that doesn’t perform better or look as cool as the current model?

Where there are people aspiring to do their best in a sport, there are financial incentives for founders and companies to improve the performance and appeal of sporting goods, technologies and systems to meet these aspirations.

trends driving desire in sportstech 

Sportstech development is driven by increased access to data and computing power; lower costs of exotic materials (think titanium and carbon fiber) and lifestyle trends feeding a desire to improve personal sporting performance including at an amateur level.

2020 was a massive year for investment in sportstech. The COVID19 pandemic disrupted many norms, and startups have found more investors are looking to find and develop the next Peloton or to reposition themselves in an altered and favorable consumer market.

Equipment, hardware and wearable technology for athletes is hot. Product development in sportstech received a high proportion of funding in 2020. This continues into 2021. Investment in sportstech is accelerating. (Source: North American Sportstech Report 2021, sportstech.com)

Sportstech investment is big globally, and over the period 2015 to 2020 the United States dominated investment. At close to $3.5b over that time period, the United States accounted for around 64 per cent of the total investment. (Source: Sportstechx Fitnesstech Report 2020)

In the US from 2016 to 2020, California, New York and Massachusetts dominated sportstech investment, followed by Utah, District of Columbia, Washington, Ontario, Texas, Florida and Colorado.

In California, the combination of a large population, a thriving technology industry, entrepreneurial spirit and favorable climate, combine to create many opportunities for product development in sportstech.

passion and experience in sportstech

We share a passion for sport and the development of innovative products for sportstech. The focus on keeping ourselves fit and our participation in sport translates directly to create winning results for our clients in sportstech.

We couple our enthusiasm for participation in sport and keeping fit, with proven design and engineering expertise in the development of wearables for sport, ruggedized sport and fitness products and electronic sportstech products.

Our sportstech clients have a deep experience and passion for the sports-related problems they’re looking to solve. They are often successful tech founders, established companies seeking to reinvent their product line-up, professional sports people, medical professionals or amateur enthusiasts with years of experience in a sport.

They provide the passion, expertise and insight for projects. We work with this passion and provide the skills and technical expertise to make their products happen. We partner with our clients, working closely with them as their design, engineering, manufacturing and launch team.

When clients reach out to us they have either started to develop their own prototype or have developed a sportstech product before. They’re at a stage where they understand what they want to create, but need a team to take on the development or refinement of their idea. They need a team to bring their idea to a level where they can seek more investment or take it directly to market. 

providing clarity with a minimum viable product

We start sportstech projects with an exploration and architecture phase to make sure we understand the problems we’re trying to solve and any unmet needs. We clarify the technologies and materials required, and the strategies we need to follow to successfully develop the product. This establishes the architecture we use, the parameters we need and the timelines required to build a product

Understanding and agreeing on these aspects early in a project, means less rework and heartache later on. I often say the first phase allows us to “effectively measure twice so we only cut once”.

Clarifying what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) will be or developing a product Version 1.0 is the next important step. We define the key elements that will set a product apart from its competitors. A clear brief is key here, to focus on the most important elements of a product. An MVP answers the question, “What does my product need to be successful in the market?” versus adding every nice-to-have product feature in the first release.

partnering design and engineering capability ensures efficiency

Sportstech device development can get complex – fast. Development often requires expertise across industrial design, mechanical engineering, electronics, firmware, software development and systems.

At outerspace we provide efficiency across all these requirements by providing and managing all development capabilities to complete required tasks in-house. This ensures an efficient and coordinated development approach, with clear and open communication channels, resulting in less rework and lost time.

developing the right product and launching at the right time

In sportstech product development, the challenge of timing is paramount. Our sportstech clients often say, “We have to be ready for Summer this year!”.  Don’t get me wrong, we love a challenge, but allowing appropriate development time to get to market with a quality product is key to creating a lasting product and brand.

A well-structured development time frame allows you to develop a product that addresses all customer requirements, works well, feels good and allows enough time for testing and ramp-up to volume production.

The time it takes to develop a sportstech product varies depending on its complexity, the size and experience of the team assigned to the project, the technology involved, the testing and validation required and the supply chains needed to establish manufacturing. Broadly speaking, for simpler products, a time frame of 6 to 12 months can be achieved. More complex, connected devices can require from 12 to 24 months.

futureproofing your sportstech product

We recently designed a suite of connected sports accessories and while the MVP featured plug-in charging, we engineered it for wireless charging, to prevent tearing up the architecture in the near future.

Technology foresight and understanding the inherent risks of redundancy eases the pressure on sportstech product development. Rapid rates of product development and changes in technologies mean a product designed today can quickly become outmoded and superceded. To prevent product redundancy, it’s important to research and monitor market and societal trends and understand how to future proof a design.

personalization and sports-therapeutic devices

Technology is allowing fitness to move away from traditional gym environments to become more personalized, portable and suitable for home use. Sports and fitness lovers are looking for products that are easy to use, intuitive, engaging and easy to set-up at home.

In 2020 the COVID19 pandemic accelerated a step change in the desire for and acceptance of high quality sports equipment for the home.

Sportstech gear is often paired with digital apps or training programs (think Wahoo fitness) including connected programs to improve individual sports performance or provide engaging workouts 24/7. Peloton and Zwift give users the ability to train, race and engage with others.

Much like boutique exercise equipment for the home, the need for traditional recovery techniques and classes are feeding a rise in development of devices designed to deliver treatments for compression therapy, heat therapy, releasing muscle tension, improving circulation and boosting overall physical performance. Sports related therapeutic devices are ripe to be designed for in-home use, while providing a high level of connectivity and feedback.

feature image – Flexline Drive Trainer concept designed for at-home use by outerspace

authors

Robert Thorpe

VP USA Operations and Marketing Director

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