Toronto-based Sport Testing Inc. has taken an early lead in the field of establishing benchmark physical testing standards for professional athletes, while plans to grow into other markets and verticals seem inevitable as the company continues to define its business.
Talking with Jamie Hollins, the company’s co-founder, what’s apparent is that Sport Testing has established a dominance in the field over the past couple of years using technology that has widespread possible applications in other walks of life, from measuring obesity in schools to testing the physical fitness of policemen to checking your own health against a variety of benchmarks using fitness trackers.
And while analytics and the use of Big Data have become hot-button issues in recent years, beginning during the Moneyball era and its transformation of baseball’s scouting industry, slowly but surely, the use of analytics to establish benchmarks for testing athletes has worked its way into other sports, too.
Given that the basis of the technology involves measuring physical performance, the potential applications for the company’s cloud-based platform go well beyond the sports realm and into healthcare, education, the public service and the military.
First, though, the ambition of Sport Testing Inc. is to establish what co-founder Jamie Hollins refers to as “the SAT of sport”, or a universally recognized certification process administered by Sport Testing and its partners in collaboration with various leagues and teams.
The hardware consists of photoelectric timing gates and RFID (radio-frequency identification) tracking systems. Sport Testing’s software and hardware are patent pending in the United States.
Beyond just developing and owning the IP behind the technology, there’s also the credibility factor of being first to market and getting involved with major partners, like the NHL, CHL, NFL and various major and minor league franchises in a variety of sports, such as lacrosse and soccer.
Founded in 2010 by brothers Jonathon and Jamie Hollins, with a $500,000 round of seed funding following in 2012, the company has quickly forged working relationships with several NHL teams and the CHL.
The company has doubled its revenue over the past 12 months absolutely organically, taking no outside funding. But as CEO Jamie Hollins says in an interview with Cantech Letter, “From a tech standpoint, you kind of want to raise some money to advance your technology, because you’re expanding faster than you can grow.” And Sport Testing is certainly in a position to grow.
Cantech Letter spoke to CEO Jamie Hollins recently by phone.
Can you tell me how Sport Testing came about?
I was in the gym business, for pro athletes. I owned a bunch of athlete-specific training centres. From there, I was testing athletes on a regular basis and I was doing so for the Canadian Sport Institute, as well. At the time, I was importing and exporting fitness equipment for my facilities, obviously to keep the prices down. From there, I became a distributor of a third company’s timing system. So I launched Sport Testing to properly test athletes on the side, for my gyms, and then push athletes back into my gyms via Sport Testing. We met with the CHL, NHL and NFL, and saw that we have a niche market there and we’re going to develop these sport-specific tests that correlate almost perfectly to the field of play. So instead of doing bench-press or whatever for a hockey player, now we’re going to put them on the ice with a puck. So we created these sport-specific drills with a green light from the higher-ups, like the NHL and the CHL. And we stuck to these drills, testing athletes and then ran the data on those, and those physical sport-specific tests are now correlating to how well that athlete is at the game that they’re playing. We did that in hockey, in basketball, we’re going to be involved most likely with the NBA Combine this year. We did the CFL. And then we’re working on some MLB stuff, as well as MLS, and then we’re going overseas, with Argentina Soccer, and so forth.
What’s the technology? From what I understand of it, it’s photoelectric, plus RFID chip technology?
Right, chip technology. There’s a photoelectric laser that takes a time, and then we just put our algorithm in there, to make it the world’s most accurate at recognizing hockey sticks and so forth. And then the RFID bracelet is used to identify the athlete before they do the given drill. From there, we recognize them via our hardware. Then that data point also gets pushed into our cloud software, where the athlete has their lounge, and it sorts our data accordingly, live.
And what’s the purpose of the data collected? It isn’t only about tracking players at the NHL level, but all levels leading up to that, right?
Our data is used for player development, recruitment and scouting. So to get to that level, you pretty much have to come through us and do our drills properly. We measure the skills that players are performing in a game.
So you’re talking about the lead-up to the NHL, before players turn pro, which is obviously a much huger market. Can you give me a sense of how that market is shaping what you’re doing?
Our original goal was really to get the niche sport-specific drills down pat and then present those to our partners. We do the NLL Combine as well, so they’re lacrosse-specific drills that we can correlate again to the field of play. We are called Sport Testing, obviously, so we kind of market top-down. We leverage our partnerships with the major leagues and the pro teams to get the masses. And our main traction initially was hockey, so we leveraged that, and then we leveraged basketball. And now some of our partners from the States that are NFL players and past NFL players are on board with us now, actually via an investment round, and we’re working on sport-specific football drills. So we’re really going top-down to get the masses. We’re partnering with large football associations, associations with a million kids involved, and allowing them to utilize our software platform online, and then drive them to testers and our certified tests. We’re also certified by the NCAA. So they’re now recognizing our scores and we’re developing pretty much what they call the SAT of sports. So they’re going to have to run through our drills eventually to now get recognized by the recruiters from the NCAA schools, because we’re providing a legit data collection service using legit data collection technology.
We’re organically growing through revenue. But from a tech standpoint, you kind of want to raise some money to advance your technology, because you’re expanding faster than you can grow.
So you’ve established yourselves as the benchmark for sports testing. But there are applications outside sports, obviously.
That’s one aspect of our business. Another aspect of our business that people don’t necessarily recognize right now is we’re partnering with large medical companies in the States, billion-dollar hospital networks as well as governments in Taiwan and Australia. We’re working on the USA right now, from the obesity standpoint. So we’re doing some school testing. We’re getting the data and then pushing it back to the school boards and schools so they can now analyze body mass index, height, weight, body fat, overall capacity. All those data points. And we’re working closely with governments on that, to provide health data and pretty much long-term player-development systems. We get a kid at eight and we can see how good he is at 14 through hockey school. But we want to see how this kid is progressing from a health standpoint. Is he gaining weight? Is he obese? And that’s an endless path. And then on the medical side, we’re doing the same thing. We’re standardizing our tests from a medical and hospital and insurance perspective. And they want us to test a demographic that we’re strong in, which is really a difficult demographic to get into, hospitals, because it’s a money-maker down there. So we’re going out and testing all these athletes and general population to get the data back in to the insurance and medical companies now to start mining the data and come up with some correlations on demographics and so forth. We’re providing them a platform now, where they can collect proper data and mine it accordingly, as opposed to people just manually inputting stuff or subjectively gathering data, which, at that point the data becomes useless.
So there are huge possibilities for expansion. You’ve already doubled your revenue over the past 12 months and a lot of your sales are being generated outside of Canada. And aside from the medical applications, this really comes down to a means for physical testing which could have military applications, for example.
I was going to say, we have 53 partners now in the States, some of whom are pushing the medical avenue down there. But also testing soldiers, police, special forces, firemen, it’s really endless. Any kind of physical test or data collection, even to the point where we’ve been approached by some large companies to input our database into manufacturers, where they’re trying to analyze from an ergonomics perspective. What’s the best kind of route to do this? Or what’s he doing? Again, it’s endless, right? We give them a template to really test or analyze whatever they want. And then we global standardize the majority of our tests, and then the power of that is kids or people can go online and compare the data. I can compare my score to a 14-year-old Russian kid that’s trying to make the OHL. So the standardized database is really a powerful tool, and is really getting us a lot of traction, a lot of global markets.
The company hasn’t been around all that long. I guess you and your brother have been working a lot in the fitness industry in the lead-up to launching the company. But you’ve mostly grown organically through revenue, rather than fundraising.
Right. We’re organically growing through revenue. But from a tech standpoint, you kind of want to raise some money to advance your technology, because you’re expanding faster than you can grow. You’re growing organically, but you’re expanding and you need to stay ahead of the game by advancing your technology, I wouldn’t say on a daily basis but quite regularly. So we did an initial round, I guess around two years ago when we first commercialized our product and we started manufacturing our timing gates and our sports scans and all the hardware and then sort of developing the software, as well. We used a seed round to do that.
What would you say would be the most effective way to focus your efforts over the next six to 12 months?
We’re driving most of our resources into our software and our database and applications. We’re building an app right now, somewhat of a freemium model, but then turning our cloud software database into a SaaS model. So we’re giving out some free apps to drive them back to our platform and then monetize them via a subscription-based model, through SaaS. And then our recurring, from a business standpoint, we sell the hardware to our certified partners, similar to a franchise model. And then they test those athletes. They pay a software maintenance fee, but every time they test an athlete they pay us a certified testing fee per athlete. So every athlete that gets certified through one of our partners, we get paid for that, as well as software. But right now we’re trying to accumulate users by partnering with large apps with eight million users, a million users, two million, four million, whatever. They’re all coming to us, wanting to partner with us to get their users on our application, because it gives them some street cred, for lack of a better word, to push forward with a value-add for their app. And we’re accumulating users on our end at a faster rate, and then we’re trying to monetize them, once they’re on our lounge, and then we’ll try and push them to our partners, which thus far is turning out to be quite successful.
And so for athletes, it provides a stamp of approval, like “Sport Testing Certified”, to pass these diagnostic tests.
Exactly. To a point where some competitors came into the market, came up here and started testing people, and our partnership with the CHL pretty much called them and said, “It doesn’t matter what you test or who you test. You can run around and do it for free. But none of your data means anything to anybody. We’re partnered with Sport Testing, and everybody has to go through Sport Testing to be legitimized, as far as data collection goes.” And that’s what we’re doing, trying to form that SAT of sport for the NCAA, where you have to go through us or one of our partners. Large combine companies that have been running combines for 10 or 15 years, on hand time and then promoting their kids, no one’s buying that anymore, right? Because I’m testing my own athlete and I’m promoting him at the same time, and I’m hand timing it, so… Everyone’s just throwing that out now. So they have to come to us or one of our partners to be certified, and then that data is now recognized properly. The scouts are not wasting their time running around, hearing that a guy runs 4.3 in 40, you test him and he runs a 5.3 on gates because his dad timed him at 4.3 the first time. So that’s our niche and we’re kind of knocking everyone to the side and literally forcing people to hop on our system to get verified, because no one’s recognizing any other data at this point. Nike’s kind of fallen to the wayside. Under Armor is working with us, from a data collection standpoint. So with all these large companies going out there and running, in essence, a marketing event and collecting data and trying to share that data, they’ve kind of fallen by the wayside because their data is seen as illegitimate. No one’s paying attention to their data anymore.
We’re also certified by the NCAA. So they’re now recognizing our scores and we’re developing pretty much what they call the SAT of sports.
So you’re recognized as the benchmark there and have done away with subjective stat taking, where daddy wants their boy to make the NHL.
Yeah, scouts are going out of business because they can’t promote their athletes anymore, collecting a bunch of money from parents with dreams, trying to sell their players off and promoting them and collecting money on the side. That just doesn’t fly anymore. It’s at the point where all the agencies are coming to us and they’re running their own private events now, to get data from us to take the players that they want in their agency. And large NHL agencies, they come to us and we’re testing pretty much their whole stable of top-end athletes, so all the top guys in the NHL now, their agent is forcing them to be tested by us. So when it comes to trade time or salary cap, they know they can run the algorithms that we’re working with central scouting on, to now determine how much this athlete’s actually worth, given the test that he’s done with us.
If you listen to someone like Brian Burke, let’s say, “Well, we still favour the gut, as far as scouting.” But it really sounds like it’s kind of a finished debate at this point.
Brian Burke hired us, too. So he’s saying one thing out of the side of his mouth, but he’s the first guy to call us and bring us into the Leafs and test them, and then when he went to Calgary, we went out there and did them as well, so… Kind of a vested interest there.
Yeah, and you are going up against a bit of a vested interest there. You’ve got these scouts, it’s not that they’re going out of business, necessarily. It’s just that they have to learn all new tools.
Right. And from a GM standpoint, we go in and test big-name teams, and their player development guys, they’ve scouted this kid, they’re vouching for this kid. So now you go test them and they’re trying to rig the test. They’re telling us, “Oh, no, you did this or that. He’s faster than it says.” And we’re like, “You guys are internal. You’re supposed to be working for the team.” But now they’re working for the individual kids that they’ve actually scouted and brought through the system, so it just gets all cluttered. So now a lot of the teams bring us in as a third-party company. They’re doing their own tests, but it still gets messed up, so they’re bringing the parent company in and we’re doing the tests and providing the data from a total third party.
So, as much as you’re growing in the sports vertical, it sounds like your basic system of physical testing has a lot of applications outside of that.
Yeah, people kind of corner us in the sport world, but I think the real power is in the schools and the masses. It can be applied to the military, like we’re doing, and then medical companies all over. Canada is governed basically by the government, as far as the healthcare system works, so there’s a bit more red tape here, but other countries are catching on and seeing the usability of our system across all platforms, not just sports.