The District is shaping up to be a hot spot for fitness-related tech

August 19, 2014
fittech

James Norris has been tracking every aspect of his life for six years. Collecting as much data as possible — and analyzing the heck out of it — isn’t merely an obsession, but a profession. He’s CEO of Self Spark, a company dedicated to promoting health, happiness and productivity through the latest advances in behavioral science and technology.

So what did his research about potential office locations tell him? Set up shop in the D.C. area.

“It’s a well-educated, fit city,” says Norris, who moved the company from Seattle this year to be part of the Conscious Venture Lab in Columbia, Md. His team’s current focus is developing Spark Weekend, a series of life-hacking boot camps that Norris hopes to put on in 250 cities over the next five years.

That makes the District, which hosts a Spark Weekend next month, an early adopter. The TEDx-style talks and the discussions of apps and motivational techniques are geared to anyone looking to eat better, exercise more and stress less, Norris says.

For techies, there are two other events coming to the area this fall focused on life-improvement innovation: Design for Action 2014 and Wearables + Things 2014. The latter will feature Noble Ackerson, the local developer behind LynxFit, a Google Glass exercise app that’s generating big buzz.

It’s no surprise that D.C. has become a hot spot for health tech, says C.J. Cross, founder of Fitbase (see below). The city has welcomed dozens of new gyms, studios and nutrition-related businesses over the past decade. Cross, a personal trainer, asked himself, “What’s the next step?” And he dove into creating new online resources.

Cross invited other fitness entrepreneurs to a happy hour last Thursday at WeWork Chinatown to share beers, contacts and ideas. The guest list included Andrew Conklin from Routeam (which partners clients with wellness pros to help them achieve health goals) and Hameto Benkreira of Drop In (see below).

Get-togethers like these “let us support each other,” says Benkreira, who held a similar event this year. So their businesses, like their clients, will only get stronger.

Checking up on D.C.’s startups

The area’s fitness entrepreneurs have worked out tech-based solutions to make exercise more effective. Here’s a sampling.

Connect with pros
Most fitness instructors know a whole lot more about kettlebells than coding, and you can tell by looking at their websites. Fitbase (thefitbase.com) simplifies the process of establishing an online presence with easy-to-use templates and content suggestions (weekly schedules, videos, recipes, etc.). The team also offers marketing assistance geared specifically to folks in the fitness biz. Use the code FITNESSTECH by August 30 for a $50 discount off the annual website plan.

Find the right gym
Hameto Benkreira was overwhelmed by D.C.’s abundance of gym choices. The experience inspired him to launch Drop In (trydropin.com), which sells discounted gym passes. Bring a buddy to save even more. (Cycle studio Ride DC was just added to the site.) There’s a similar story behind GymLion (gymlion.com), says co-founder Davison Westmoreland. That site’s negotiated deals nationwide are available to individuals as well as corporate wellness programs.

Optimize playlists
Grant Hill was a drummer before he began teaching his popular boot camps and cycling classes. So he’s been attuned to how music can boost athletic performance. His big idea is Amplifi (amplifi.biz), an app that compares fitness tracker data with song info to pick a playlist designed to make you work as hard as possible. Look out for a Kickstarter campaign for the project.

Visualize your progress
In a few months, Washingtonians may be greeted at the gym by a VFit scanner (virtualu.co). Developed by a Blacksburg, Va.-based team, that’s a booth you walk into for 10 seconds and emerge from with data on your body fat, resting heart rate, the circumference of any body part and more — for a fee. Athletes and people looking to lose a significant amount of weight are the most obvious candidates for the service, but it’s for anybody who wants to monitor the results of a fitness program, says co-founder and COO Caroline Pugh.

 

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Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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