Nike, which has dabbled for years in digital gadgets, took another step into the genre Monday, naming 10 fledgling companies to develop or refine an array of digital games, smartphone applications and websites.
Called "Nike+ Accelerator," the program gives the 10 companies access to Nike resources, mentor expertise as well as $20,000 apiece for the three months they will be based in a Portland office north of the Pearl District, starting Monday. TechStars, a Boulder, Colo.-based company that advises and helps develop tech companies, is assisting Nike in this endeavor.
"For quite some time we've wanted to open up the system, Stefan Olander, Nike vice president of digital sport, said in an interview with The Oregonian. "We wanted to do it in the right way."
The Nike+ Accelerator companies will develop products and services that use the Nike+ platform and NikeFuel -- the activity measurement in the Nike FuelBand that was introduced last year -- to serve athletes.
The ideas span a broad range of activity and health sectors including training, coaching, gaming, sport, wellness and rewards.
The inaugural class appears to be filled with companies that not only have an idea but a finished product as well, perhaps only needing some refinement, marketing and other finishing touches. The advanced pedigree of the companies would seem to assure that at least one of the 10 would advance to a level of success beyond what already has been achieved.
Nearly all the companies have their own website. Some already have smartphone applications.
Boulder, Colo.-based GeoPalz even has a matchbook-sized gadget in an aesthetically pleasing shape that measures physical activity. The product has been reviewed by more than a dozen publications, including Wired, Working Mother, and the Wall Street Journal.
The Accelerator application said Nike wanted "focused, well-rounded teams with strong, thoughtful ideas."
Expanding on that, Olander said the initial class wanted "smart people with good ideas and passion."
Another of the participants, GoRecess, Inc., of New York City, was launched in late April last year. It's a website that helps find, book and review fitness classes in locations around the country. One on-line review said the site was similar to the restaurant-booking OpenTable.
One of GoRecess' co-founders, Megan Smyth, is a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School graduate with a background of more than 10 years of equity research.
Smyth, who arrived in Portland for the first time on Sunday along with the company's two other employees, said she hoped her company would "find other ways to help people lead more active lives and leverage the Nike community."
Phil Black, president and chief executive of San Diego-based FitDeck, started his company seven years ago. FitDeck Black, a Yale University undergrad and Harvard Business School graduate, comes to the program having worked as a Goldman Sachs investment banker.
FitDeck started as a company that offered suggested workouts on playing cards but has morphed into smartphone applications the deliver the same service but on a digital platform. Black, a personal trainer who spent six years as a Navy Seal, figured his own knowledge and experience contributed a majority of the fitness content.
It's a one-person company -- Black -- and has made significant strides on its own, but he said Accelerator will help.
"We're looking for other expertise," he said, adding that even before his selection into the program, he wore Nike brand trainers.
The 30 mentors participating in the programmed represent a pedigreed lot from the tech industry as well as Nike's digital roster. One mentor whose participation may not materialize, however, is Hoby Darling.
Darling, who has been general manager of Nike+ Digital Sport, was named on Monday as chief executive of Skullcandy, Inc., the Park City, Utah-based headphones company. A Nike spokeswoman said Darling could continue his participation as a mentor if he wanted.
The Nike+ Accelerator program ends in mid-June with the opportunity for participants to pitch angel investors, venture capitalists, influential industry leaders and Nike executives during the Investor Demo Days including a day at Nike World Headquarters near Beaverton and a day in California's Silicon Valley.
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