SFIA Member Spotlight – Prevent Biometrics


Prevent Biometrics introduces never-before-seen technology with their new mouthguards, which will be a game-changer in regard to head impact and safety in sports.

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                           Steve Washburn, CEO    &    David Sigel, CMO

What is Prevent Biometrics?

Prevent is an early stage company based in Minneapolis that has developed a highly accurate system for measuring head impacts in sports.

Can you give me a little background on the company?

The company is a spinoff of the Cleveland Clinic, a renowned research hospital system. They started developing the technology back as early as 2009 with grants from the National Institute of Health. The inventors of the product from the Cleveland Clinic were two doctors, Dr. Ed Benzel, Chairman of the neurosurgery department, and Dr. Vince Miele, a neurosurgeon, along with Adam Bartsch, a Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering and Sergey Samarezov, a mathematician.

The genesis for the idea was that Dr. Miele was a ring-side physician for professional boxing. He saw the punishment that the boxers were taking as the ref made subjective decisions to call the match, and as a neurosurgeon, he knew that they were suffering brain injuries and he thought there had to be a much better objective way to call a match. And that’s how they started to think about a device to measure head impacts.

They came to the early conclusion from some earlier work that had been done in the automotive industry that they needed a secure coupling of the skull in order to get an accurate head impact measurement; which led them to the understanding that the only practical way to get that secure coupling to the skull was with a mouthguard that was attached to the upper arch of your teeth, which are part of the skull. The team received grant funding to develop this technology over four years. By 2014, they were able to successfully publish a study in the peer-reviewed Stapp Journal, validating the accuracy of their device in measuring head impacts.

At that point, the Cleveland Clinic looked for a partner to commercialize the technology. I had been the CEO of Shock Doctor, the leading mouthguard company, for 16 years and left at the end of 2009. I had done a medical device startup, and was just finishing that up and knew one of the people involved in the project. We were able to get a worldwide exclusive license to the technology from the Cleveland Clinic to create a consumer product. And that’s how Prevent Biometrics was formed in 2015.

We have since raised $9 million in funding and taken that research prototype of their technology and turned it into a commercial product that anyone will be able to use on the field of play. We’re going to launch the product in July of this year.

How exactly does the mouthguard work?

Embedded in the mouthguard is an electronic package built on a flexible circuit board. The reason we use a flexible circuit board is because, of course, the mouthguard needs to be able to bend and flex. We have about 100 electronic components that go on the flexible circuit board. But the heart of it is that there are four accelerometers, a microprocessor, Bluetooth, a battery and a wireless charging coil. The secret sauce is an algorithm that calculates a point in space that is the center of gravity of your head and dynamically measures impacts to that point. We display those impacts in a couple of different ways, but we really measure five different things at this point. We measure peak linear acceleration (in G’s), Peak angular acceleration (in Rads), the location of the impact, the direction the impact came from, and then the count or number of impacts over the course of a game, week, month, year or years. We do that for each athlete and that’s all done wirelessly, and then each of those mouth pieces that the athlete wears is connected by Bluetooth to an app that the trainer will have on the sideline to collect all of the data. If an athlete receives an impact above a preset threshold, then an alert goes off and that gives the trainer an indication that [s]he should assess that player for a potential concussion.

When did Prevent Biometrics officially start?

In 2015.

Can your product detect when a concussion is healed?

No, it cannot. Nor can it detect when a concussion exists. We’re not a medical device that is diagnosing or determining concussions. We are a measurement device that measures head impacts accurately and can alert the athlete and sideline personnel about particular impacts of a magnitude that could be concussion-causing. Currently, estimates are that half of all concussions go undetected. They go undetected because the method for identifying when a player may have a concussion is totally observational and subjective. So, by measuring the head impact and sending an alert in the case of an impact that is of high magnitude, we’re able to help coaches, trainers and referees know when player needs to be pulled off the field and evaluated. One of the features of our system is that it helps the trainer or coach who is supervising a player to manage return to play protocol where a player is in the process of returning from a concussion. But we don’t actually clear a player on returning.

So currently, you only produce mouthguards?

Well, it’s really a system, it’s not just the mouthguard. We also have the team app for viewing the data in real time and a web portal for administering the system at a team or association level and viewing detailed head impact analytics that allow coaches to instruct players on better technique. There’s a charging case that wirelessly charges and sanitizes the mouthguard, and a team case that does that for up to 27 mouthguards at a time.

How many different types of mouthguards do you currently produce?

Basically, two types. We make the impact monitor mouthguard in a custom form where we take a dental scan of a player’s teeth and custom fabricate the mouthguard to that impression. Or we have a lower cost boil-and-bite model which is really the main, commercially available product, that can be personally fit by the user.

For the custom mouthguard, do you have a facility where customers come in for customization?

No, we get the dental impressions from a dentist and we have primarily been using digital scanning, instead of physical impressions. They take a scan of the upper arch of an athlete’s teeth and we take that file and use a 3-D printer to print out a model, and then we custom fabricate the mouth guard from that. And with the boil-and-bite, it’s just like a normal boil-and-bite that you’ve probably used when you were in sports, very easy to use.

Have you found that concussions are more common, less common or as expected with the inception of Prevent Biometrics mouthguards?

As stated before, our product is not a diagnostic tool. Our primary objective is making sure that athletes don’t continue playing after they’ve had a concussion. The research has said that about 50 percent of concussions go undetected, and if they are undetected, then that means they go undiagnosed and untreated. This means the athlete continues to play with a concussion. When they do that, that’s when they’re at higher risk for permanent neurological damage, or even in some cases, second impact syndrome, which can lead to death. So, what’s really important is that if the athlete has received an impact of a certain magnitude, where there is a potential concussion, that we get that athlete pulled and that the trainer does the sideline assessment of that athlete. And if they are showing symptoms of concussions, they get diagnosed and treated and recover fully before returning to play and receiving more impacts. That’s a critical part to making sports safer.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

We’re the only ones who have ever done this successfully before. It’s breaking new ground, in terms of being able to accurately measure these head impacts in real time. There’s two parts to it; measuring head impacts accurately, but also being able to filter out false positive or non-head impacts. Our technology very accurately filters out false positives. The next challenge is really introducing a whole new idea to sports which going to require educating people and changing behavior.

Where do you see Prevent Biometrics in the next 5 years?

Well, it’s our goal to continuously improve the effectiveness of the product and we would like to see it mandated in sports where concussions are a problem. That would be not only contact sports like football, hockey and lacrosse, but also other sports where there are high rates of concussions like soccer.

Have you had any indications that this is something to become mandated in the future?

We’ve done a lot of work with the country’s leading concussion researchers. In order to advance concussion science, meaning developing better assessments, better diagnostics, better treatment tools, etc., they need to be able to accurately measure impacts. So, we think the research community is really supportive of this and we think once we can validate the technology and its effectiveness, the supporting governing bodies will certainly be interested implementing them and potentially mandating them. But we have not spoken to any of them yet, because we were not ready to.

In closing, we strongly believe in the high value that comes from playing organized sports and want to see as many people as possible benefit. If we can make the games safer, that should only encourage participation.


SFIA Member Spotlight – Locally

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Locally is an innovative company, adapting and responding to the changing consumer in a technology-based, instant world.

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Mark Strella, Business Development Director

What is Locally?

Strella: Locally makes it really easy for a shopper to go from a screen to purchasing a product at a nearby store. We focus on the online to offline type of transaction and the online to offline type of shopper: the individual who is using their computer and their device to learn about a new brand, a new product, or looking for a specific product. We show them where there’s a nearby store with that item, and whatever is in stock at the other nearby stores, so they can go in and complete their purchase. Or if they want, they can actually put it on hold or pay for instore pickup, so that sale is locked in with the store.

We’re currently piloting same day delivery, so stores can shuttle in-stock merchandise to people’s house or office all within an hour or two. Our goal is to bring digital visibility to nearby in-stock merchandise and make it so that shoppers can go and get it or initiate a purchase for in-store pick up or same day delivery in that moment.

Why do you think the online to offline shopping method is most convenient to consumers?

Strella: We obviously have all witnessed the rapid evolution of shopping habits in the last decade, and the trigger behind most of that has been the rise of online ecommerce. The way we see it is, there is more than one type of an ‘online transaction’ beyond a shipped experience. That’s one growing type of online transaction that obviously gets a lot of press. What we’re focused on is the in-store pick up, or to-store referrals, and soon same-day delivery, which is we think are some of the most prominent forms of online transactions that are somewhat underdeveloped by brands and retailers in the sporting goods industry and beyond.

If you take a step back, we can grab our phones and hail a ride in a minute with an app, get food delivered in 30 minutes through an app, rent a table for dinner, or book an Airbnb anywhere in the world. There’s just now this 24/7 access to things that were once only accessible in the analog world. You had to go to or call a restaurant, and you had to stand on the street and wave your hand to hail a cab. We think it’s crazy that this still doesn’t exist for retail, that the vast majority of in-store inventory is virtually invisible to anyone on a device or a computer. This experience does exist in various one-off scenarios. If you go to certain retailer sites, they’ll show you a “find in store” option, or brands that have their own stores will do this. But there’s no universal solution tying it all together, so it’s much more of a fragmented, unpredictable ecosystem. Locally wants to tie together all of the stores’ inventory into one universal experience for shoppers the same way that Airbnb could tie together hundreds of thousands individual property owners with extra space with travelers.

Shoppers can access Locally’s information in a couple of different ways. Right now, we’re the wiring, working to wire up all this inventory on brands like Brooks Running, Solomon and Osprey. These brands use Locally on their own websites, so when someone goes to the Brooks website, they can see where they have a specific shoe in stock near them. These tools get a ton of traction on these sites and churn out local transactions all day long. Retailers also use our tools on their own sites and social media. And then we have our own site, Locally.com. Our goal is maximize the number of locations across the internet where a shopper can engage with this information.

Why is shopping through Locally better than other large online platforms?

Strella: We’re after the shopper who isn’t ready to have something shipped to them for whatever reason, they want to go to a store and have an in-store experience. Sometimes a shopper may just want something right now: they have a trip tomorrow and need a new jacket. They just need to know where to go to find the specific one they want. With Locally, you can be reading about a new running shoe online and be taking it on your first run with it an hour later. That’s a great experience for the shopper, and for the brand and retailer who were able to team up to make that happen.

Another one of the primary reasons to go to a store is obviously to try something on. If you’re going to be camping in the backcountry for three weeks with a product, you want to make sure that you’re trying things on, getting the right fit, talking to pros, and not dealing with shipping or counterfeits or returns. Sunglasses, swim wear, a nice stroller or pair of shoes, skiing or hiking boots, etc. These are all products many prefer to walk into a store to check out in person, rather than roll the dice on a shipped experience. So there are a number of reasons why a shopper would prefer this experience over just clicking ‘add to cart’ and have a box show up on their door.

We’ve been focused on about 15 industry verticals emanating out from the general “sporting goods” space, and are working on countless additional areas where premium brands and retailers sell products that lend themselves to an in-person, in-store experience.

Can you further explain how you’re using omni-channels to connect shoppers, brands and retailers?

Strella: One of the key prongs to our strategy is making Locally available on brand websites. Imagine a big brand, a sporting goods brand. They have their own website, they’re trying to drive their own sales, but a small fraction end up actually purchasing. Yet they’re very effective at driving traffic, as they have teams of professionals with expertise at building really robust digital experiences, and so these brands understand the need to serve the shoppers in the way I’m describing. Shoppers who want that in store experience, want something immediately, etc. And the beauty of Locally is that we provide that shopper experience for the brand, but it’s powered by their retailers. When YETI Coolers or Arc’teryx launches Locally on their site, they are engaging hundreds of their key retailer partners to share inventory, to accept transactions for in-store pick up. In doing so, they’re able to turn this site into this partnership and leverage the unique strengths of the retailers to lock in a sale from that shopper who wasn’t ready to hit add to cart. And vice versa, retailers are able to leverage the brands expertise of having a successful site, a deep understanding of their shoppers, a lot of traffic. So by providing this really novel experience for shoppers we’re also strengthening that brand-retailer relationship.

What do you use to track inventory in so many stores and keep it up-to-date?

Strella: We developed a simple, near-universal way for retailers of nearly any level of technical sophistication to regularly share their inventory with us. We’ve connected with over 25 point of sale systems and most are fully automated daily, hourly, or real-time feeds. Our system digests an astonishing number of UPCs every couple of minutes.

 Who are some of your partner organizations?

Strella: We have 4 different types of partnerships. We have our brand partners – brands in about 15 different industry verticals that we work to guide shoppers to their products. We have our retailer partners – we have stores in over 1000 cities in the US, Canada, and beyond. We have organization partners – industry membership groups or buying groups, who we have alignment with in ensuring that these industries and brand/retailer ecosystems continue to thrive. And we have technology partners – other companies like Locally operating in our industries with whom we can create integrations or custom solutions to amplify the effects of our respective products.

Are you operating anywhere outside of the US?

Strella: We currently support the United States and Canada and recently launched retailers in Japan, UK and France. We are growing our European footprint this year with a couple of brands that are launching over the next couple of months.

What inspired you to start Locally?

Strella: Locally was founded by Mike Massey, who is our president and originally a retailer. He owns four outdoor stores in Louisiana and has always been thinking ahead and looking at shopping and consumer trends and how to continually stay ahead and compete. Maybe 5 or so years ago, he realized the inability on the internet of a shopper in New Orleans to see that Patagonia jacket that they’re looking at is in stock at a certain store, was an existential problem. He  thought brands and retailers really needed to band together and serve that shopper in a way that keeps traffic coming to stores and therefore enables brands to be able to continue partner with a diversified retailer network to provide a really high service experience for a shopper. Compare that to the alternative where a single ecommerce retailer could dominate distribution for brands. Everyone knows there’s only one winner in that version of the future.

I joined the team because honestly I’m tall and impatient and was tired of brands shipping me stuff that didn’t fit or looked different than the picture, dealing with the post office, etc. and always wished they could just tell me where to go in-town to buy what I was looking for. I knew I wasn’t alone and that a ton of people would love to use a service like this.

Where do you see Locally in the next 5 years?

Strella: We’ll continue to grow the reach of our platform to cover all potential products, brands and stores shoppers are looking for. We’re not interested in doing Locally for something like toilet paper, we’re only focused on higher end brands who value high quality local distribution networks. If this describes your brand, store, or industry, definitely reach out to us.

In general, there’s huge potential for future apps and products that would allow what we think are millions of Americans out there and beyond who would love to go to a destination to find brands and products in stock in their city. Ultimately that means being a shopper-facing entity in our own right.

When do you think same day delivery will be implemented?

Strella: It’s in beta right now in Orlando. We’re rolling it out this spring and summer in about 40 cities across the US with our delivery partner deliv.co. We can’t wait.

SFIA Member Spotlight – Henry-Griffitts


Henry-Griffitts, a pioneer and leader in the world of custom golf clubs, discusses the transitions and changes they have experienced in the past 35+ years of business, and what has made them the company they are today.


Randall Henry, CEO

What is Henry-Griffitts?

Henry: Henry-Griffitts is a golf club company that specializes in custom-fit clubs and club fitting education.

So everything is custom-fit?

Henry: Yes, that’s always been the way we’ve done things. The company was founded in 1983, so we were actually one of the first companies to bring custom-built clubs to the masses.

How did Henry-Griffitts get its start?

Henry: It’s actually an interesting story. My dad founded the company with his partner, Jim Griffitts in the early eighties, but he got there by chance. He had just gotten his Tour card before getting in a car accident. It was a head-on collision that broke his back, legs, and neck and put him in the hospital for about a year and a half. When he came out, he couldn’t play golf like he used to. He tried to adapt his swing to his new body, but it just wasn’t working. That’s when he realized that it wasn’t his swing that was limiting him, but his equipment. He started tinkering with his clubs and came up with a set that worked with his swing, rather than against it. In the process, he realized that all golfers need equipment that is tailored for their particular swing, rather than some standard that will only work for a small number of people. Of course, at that time the prevailing thought was that one’s equipment didn’t matter at all, so it was really quite a radical idea.

What makes your company different than other golf retailers and manufacturers?

Henry: We only sell golf clubs through our authorized teachers and fitters, so we give the Tour experience to every golfer. It’s more than just a fitting, it’s a relationship with our company––from the fitter and the student to the club builder––so each player not only gets a set that’s made specifically for their swing, but an experience that is guaranteed all the way through.

How do you reach your consumers?

Henry: Mainly through out network of teachers, fitters, partners, and customers. We do a little social media and advertising as well, but we rely primarily on word of mouth and have for the last thirty-five years.

How common are custom-fit clubs in the golf industry?

Henry: At this point, everyone is offering custom-fit golf clubs, but we were one of the first companies to offer custom-fitting, and certainly the only one to do so exclusivey. In fact, we developed and patented a lot of the tools that other companies use for custom-fitting, so, even though we’re a small company in terms of size, we’re experts in all aspects of club-fitting.

Do you guys have any partners?

Henry: We’ve worked with a lot of different companies over the years, but essentially, we’re kind of a brand that has our niche and does a lot of different things through a lot of different pros all over the world and that’s really who our biggest partners are, our actual teaching pros.

Do they work with other companies?

Henry: There may be a golf course close by you that has a teacher that went through our training, and the course has one of our fitting cards there, and after they’ve gone through our training and understand how to use that, they have the ability to sell our clubs.

About how many of those partners do you have?

Henry: A couple hundred worldwide.

When did you guys start breaking into the global market?

Henry: We started in the U.S and the company still based out of the small town where it was founded, in Hayden Lake, Idaho. We started doing things internationally about 30 years ago. We opened a factory in Australia at about the same and it’s still a really big part of the business. It handles not only Australia but some of the Asian-Pacific market as well.

Is your international market or U.S. market the biggest?

Henry: Our U.S market is bigger than our international market, but we are actively growing out international market as well.

Are you guys located anywhere in retail?

Henry: Some of the pros have fitting centers or academies, so some of them have a retail environment you can go into. But most are green grass facilities like golf courses and because we only sell custom-fit clubs, we don’t sell clubs on the rack.

Who is your target audience?

Henry: Anyone looking for a comprehensive fitting experience or anybody having trouble with their game that hasn’t been able to find a fix. There’s about 4,000 different combinations on our fitting cart, so we can truly fit any swing.

How has the industry changed since Henry-Griffitts started?

Henry: In the early eighties, we were really the only people doing custom club fitting. Ping was also starting to dabble in that market, and now everybody does some sort of custom-fitting. We do it differently, in terms of the way we custom-fit clubs. We believe in finding the best teachers and fitters in the world and working with them to find the best fit using our 4,000-piece system and other state-of-the-art technologies. Perhaps the biggest change lies in the expectations of the players. Then there’s the technology in the golf club itself, which is so different than it was 35 years ago as well as the various technologies we use to fit clubs today.

What is the next big project for Henry-Griffitts?

Henry: We just introduced two new irons.  Our HS1 Series and our TS3 Series. And we have some international projects that we are working on, to expand into new markets.

Do your teachers and fitters travel around the world?

Henry: People usually have a location and they bring us into that location because a big part of what we do when we sell the golf clubs is to continue to work with that customer and help their game advance. We don’t like to just sell people clubs and just walk away. We like to continue the relationship, to continue working with them, and make sure that our clubs get them playing the best game they can.

What principles does your company value?

Henry: We deliver an experience that may take more time, but we’re going to get a better product in the end and happier customers. All of our clubs are custom-built, which is not the most effective way to maximize profit, but we believe in delivering the right fit and experience to every customer. It’s worked very well for us, producing a very good product and an experience that can’t be found anywhere else.

What have been some big challenges for Henry-Griffitts?

Henry: Name recognition is probably one of the bigger challenges we have. Being a smaller company, we don’t have a large marketing budget. We’re very well known within the golf industry itself, reaching the customers that way and letting them know what we do. The biggest hurdle we have as a company is letting new golfers know who we are as well.

Do you sponsor any golfers?

Henry: We do sponsor some mini-Tour players and players on different Tours that we have some plans for. We never pay anyone to use our clubs. Through the years, we’ve worked with a lot of different Tour players on all the different Tours and moving forward we plan on doing a little more of that. But really who we work the most with are the teaching pros – the pros that someone sees when they go to their golf course.

Where do you see Henry-Griffitts in the next five years?

Henry: I think Henry-Griffitts is going to continue to do what we do in terms of being the leaders in club fitting. Not only in our golf clubs, but in golf fitting technology and education. I think that’s really where we’re going to expand, helping to deliver new advancements in club fitting that extend outside of our clubs themselves.

SFIA Member Spotlight – Foley & Lardner LLP


Wall discusses Foley & Lardner’s interesting role in the sports industry, and how the esports craze is going to impact sports as we know it.


Michael Wall, Of Counsel

What is Foley & Lardner LLP?

Wall: Foley & Lardner is a large international law firm. We have over 900 lawyers in 19 offices across the United States, Europe and Asia who are practicing in a variety of areas and across industries that predominantly serve upper mid-market businesses.

When did you join Foley?

Wall: In the summer of 2017.

You have an interesting background, having worked first at law firms and then as a general counsel for a few high-profile sports businesses. Why return to law firm life at this point in your career?

Wall: I enjoyed my time in private practice early in my career and then was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as general counsel for the TD Garden and Boston Bruins for 13 years and for Performance Sports Group, the manufacturer of Bauer hockey, Easton baseball and Cascade/Maverik lacrosse equipment, for the last nine years.  Foley has one of the top sports practice groups in the country and I was attracted to it, as I thought it would offer the platform to allow me to continue my sports law practice from a different vantage point.  Having worked as general counsel for so many years within sports-related organizations, I can apply my inside perspective and knowledge to serve Foley’s existing sports clients and, hopefully, be of assistance to new clients–especially businesses that are professional sports franchises, sports and entertainment facilities or sports equipment and apparel companies.  Foley’s sports industry professionals have experience that is wide and deep and I’m grateful to have the chance to join this team

What kind of work does Foley & Lardner do in the sports industry?

Wall: Foley’s sports law industry practice group consists of more than 50 lawyers in offices all over the country who have formidable experience handling complex matters across the sector, including professional franchise acquisitions and sales, media rights deals, facility financing, construction, development and operations. We represent a wide variety of clients ranging from the governing bodies in sports (MLB, NBA, USGA, NCAA) to professional sports teams in the five major professional sports, including the Green Bay Packers, Jacksonville Jaquars, New York Jets, Los Angeles Football Club and Milwaukee Bucks. We also advise investors such as the Ricketts family in their purchase of the Chicago Cubs and a major investor in Derek Jeter’s group that recently acquired the Miami Marlins.

As the sports and fitness industry continues to evolve, it is more important than ever to have that deep understanding of sports and a wide range of experience and expertise to serve your clients.

How is the sports and fitness industry evolving?

Wall: We see growing interplay between our firm’s practice groups and sports in areas like technology, medical devices and healthcare.

For example, esports is one of the hottest areas right now. It is a form of competition involving multiplayer video gaming played for spectators.  The competition typically takes the form of team-based games played in leagues or tournaments, culminating in one final event. The sport’s growth has been explosive and is expected to continue.  Our firm is well-positioned to advise the stakeholders in esports, given our experience in media rights deals, sponsorship and advertising, league formation and governance, and team operations.

We also are doing really interesting work representing a client that has developed a medical device that is a potential solution for mitigating mild traumatic brain injuries in sports.

Tell me more about the device and its applications for our members?

Wall: This client has invented what may be a groundbreaking medical device in concussion mitigation. It is a lightweight collar-like device worn on the neck. The idea is that it applies just enough pressure – sort of like wearing a necktie – to maintain a small amount of blood in the cranial area. The increased blood retention can help prevent the “brain slosh” that occurs in a head impact and that medical science has shown to be the cause of brain injury. Once the device has obtained regulatory approval, it could have huge implications for sports safety.

Where do you see your field going in 5 years?

Wall: Legal professionals in the sports industry will be challenged to keep pace with monumental shifts that are occurring in the category at a highly accelerated pace. Fans are tapping into technological advances that are changing the ways they watch sporting events at home and in the venue and increasing demands on leagues and teams to accommodate these changes.  Outside the sports venue, many fans are cutting the cord and rendering obsolete the traditional sports broadcast model and the control that the leagues and teams enjoyed over their media rights for decades.  Meanwhile, inside the venue, teams are exploring the latest technologies—intelligent ticketing, virtual currencies, virtual reality, augmented reality—to continue to attract patrons.  As I mentioned before, esports is here to stay and will challenge the supremacy of traditional sports over a young, worldwide audience, and traditional sports stakeholders in the U.S. are contributing to globalization by expanding their international reach into Europe and Asia.  Reacting to these trends will require sports lawyers to be innovative in approach, international in scope and adaptive to accelerating change over the next five years and beyond.

SFIA Member Spotlight – Forest Preserve District of DuPage County


DuPage, a historic nature preserve in Illinois, provides insight to the beauty, opportunities and challenges created by an organization dependent on its community and those devoted to keep it thriving and protected.

What is the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County?

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County protects nearly 26,000 acres and manages more than 60 forest preserves, 600 acres of lakes, 47 miles of rivers and streams and 5 educational sites. Our forest preserves offer more than 145 miles of trails — which connect our community to neighborhoods and businesses across the county — for hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The Forest Preserve District welcomes more than 4 million visitors each year to the preserves; our visitors reap the rewards of spending time in nature, enjoying recreational activities at their leisure and maximizing health-and-wellness offerings in the preserves. Our purpose is to provide opportunities for people to connect to nature here in DuPage.

What are some of the recreational and education experiences that you offer?

The Forest Preserve District offers a variety of recreational, educational and cultural experiences in DuPage forest preserves. Our centers offer programs on birding and watching wildlife, walking for fitness, fishing, cycling, paddling, photography and archery, to name a few. Some centers offer STEM programs for school children complemented by experiences in nature, and other centers offer day-long discovery days showcasing historic agricultural and farming practices, domestic arts and seasonal happenings, including maple syruping and corn harvesting.

Most programs are oriented for families, and some programs are offered to particular age groups, from toddlers to teens to older adults. Our programs offer a bit to satisfy most everyone’s interests.

Can you provide an overview of your volunteer programs?

Our volunteer program offers a variety of opportunities to assist our staff steward the preserves, monitor state-endangered and threatened plants and animals, rehabilitate wildlife, teach children about nature and patrol the forest preserves. Our dedicated corps of long-standing and one-day volunteers donate more than 64,000 hours each year! We also see corporate, Scout and school groups join us for restoration workdays, which are led by volunteer site stewards at many forest preserves.

What are your guiding principles? How do you incorporate them?

The Forest Preserve District’s Board of Commissioners, staff and volunteers believe in our organization’s guiding principles and strive to uphold these values not only in our stewardship of the environment but also in the everyday services we provide to DuPage County’s residents and our forest preserve fans. Our guiding principles define who we are and what we stand for as an organization, and every one of us is responsible for stewarding our land, natural resources and finances for perpetuity in DuPage County. We are also committed to creating sustainable landscapes that elevate the quality-of-life for those we serve. We strive to listen to our community to meet their needs and seek ways to partner with others to benefit DuPage County and its residents.

  • Stewardship
  • Sustainability
  • Community Engagement
  • Innovation
  • Empowerment
  • Diversity & Inclusion

How many visitors do you receive year-round?

More than 4 million visitors visit DuPage forest preserves annually.

How do you attract visitors?

We’re fortunate in that we have a more than 100-year history in DuPage County. Our history is reflected by the multiple generations who frequent our forest preserves, visit our education centers and participate in our programs year after year. Most visitors return, because they value the experiences our preserves and programs provide them. We see granddads teach their grandkids how to fish at preserve lakes, moms’ groups hike the trails with their tots, strollers in-tow and bird-loving enthusiasts join our bird walks to take in the great outdoors in like-minded company. There’s a lot to be said about our preserves being a part of everyday life, and our high-quality and fulfilling nature experiences keep visitors coming back and sharing those experiences with their families and friends.

Of course, we’ve always used traditional means (print media and collateral) to reach visitors about our offerings. But today we’re even more agile at meeting their needs on the digital landscape — whether it be by engaging with them on social channels, offering up a responsive web design, facilitating customer service through an app designed for preserve support, or providing program registration, facility reservations and permit purchases online 24/7.

What type of facilities do you have (fields, camping grounds, equestrian center, etc.)? Which one is the most popular?

The Forest Preserve District operates five centers — an equestrian center, an 1890s living-history farm, a wildlife rehabilitation and education center, an arts and cultural center, and a nature center. We’ve also just debuted The Preserve at Oak Meadows, a redesigned 18-hole golf course featuring woodland and prairie vistas and a re-meandered creek that offers improved stormwater-storage capacity and greater flood resistance to the surrounding community. Most of our forest preserves feature trails and picnic shelters, and some host special-use areas and services, including off-leash dog areas, model craft areas, family or youth group campgrounds, boat rentals and even winter activities like snow tubing or cross-country and snowshoe rentals.

Do you have any programs in the works?

The Forest Preserve District is always looking to improve the forest preserves’ offerings, amenities and services. Our master plan process will help us to reshape our future programs and strengthen those that already exist.

What are some overall trends you are seeing in forests and nature parks today?

Today, an ever-growing body of scientific research finds that nature is good for the body, mind and spirit; nature makes us healthier, sharper and happier! That’s why it’s imperative to continue to advance our cause to connect people to nature – whether they be homeowners in DuPage County, or family, friends or even business guests traveling from out-of-state to our local area.

What are some challenges you are seeing today?

The Forest Preserve District owns 12 percent of all land in DuPage County, and we’ve done our part to preserve this land, restore its natural resources and make it accessible to residents. However, not much land exists for purchase to connect green space across the county; our organizational focus has now shifted from one of acquisition to one of management and maintenance of the land and its resources in our possession. Another of our great challenges is perfecting a balance between the “natural” and “developed” states, or offering up pristine natural areas complete with healthy plant and animal communities with a right-sized mix of trails, picnic shelters, off-leash dog areas and manmade amenities (or hardscapes) for recreation purposes. Combatting nonnative and invasive plants and animals in the preserves is a constant, and our ecologists do a good job at prescribing habitat-management plans to maintain a healthy diversity of native species.

Where do you see the Forest Preserve District in five years?

We are in the process of reaching out to our community — including DuPage County residents, forest preserve fans, partner agencies, employees and volunteers — to help us create a master plan for the next five years. From their input, the Forest Preserve District will prioritize its conservation and preservation initiatives in the county. We’re looking at land acquisition, habitat restoration, development of new preserve areas and trails, maintenance of existing facilities and amenities, and even the preservation of historic buildings. We value our community’s input and believe such outreach best serves them and their needs. Stayed tuned, because there’s more to come!



SFIA Member Spotlight – AYSO

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AYSO dives deep into its history, rooted in inclusiveness and positivity, and explains how it has something to offer all soccer players, no matter their age, skill level, income or experience.

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Mike Hoyer, National Executive Director

What is the American Youth Soccer Organization?

Hoyer: AYSO is an inclusive, youth soccer provider based in over 800 communities across the US.  AYSO offers numerous play options for the full player development pathway.  We welcome those new to the sport, those seeking a high level of play and adults.  In every program the foundation of play is our Six Philosophies:  Everyone Plays, Balanced Teams, Open Registration, Positive Coaching, Good Sportsmanship and Player Development.

AYSO is volunteer operated 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

When was AYSO founded and how has AYSO grown since it was founded?

Hoyer: AYSO was founded in 1964 with four teams in Torrance, California.  The first program outside of California was launched by a family that moved from the mainland to Hawaii.  Today, we have more than 800 programs across country and in a few Caribbean locations.

We pioneered a national program for girls soccer in 1971 that included women who went on to the first Women’s National Team including Lesle Galimore, head coach at the University of Washington.

To further deliver on our philosophy of Everyone Plays, we launched the Very Important Player program in 1974 for players with developmental disabilities.  The program flexibility creates opportunities for kids and adults of all abilities and capabilities an opportunity to enjoy the power of team sports participation.

What were AYSO’s Six Philosophies based off of?

Hoyer: Our philosophies define the AYSO child and player focused culture.  The first three were created by our founders, Everyone Plays, Balanced Teams and Open Registration helped advertise the difference between AYSO and other youth sports programs in the 1960’s.  No tryouts.  No exclusion by lines on a map.  The customer is able to choose where to participate and know their child will play at least half of every game.

As the program grew, it was evident that Good Sportsmanship and Positive Coaching needed to be ingrained in every aspect of our program to ensure the focus remained on our vision to “provide world class youth soccer programs that enrich children’s lives.” We exist to serve the child, the youth player.

Finally, Player Development was added to acknowledge our National Coaching program and curriculum focused on age appropriate environments that address the social, psychological, and physical developmental cycle.

How do you ensure that there is a competitive balance in AYSO leagues?

Hoyer: Each year we form new teams as evenly balanced as possible.  The only player designated to a team is the child of a coach.  Our local program leaders utilize a variety of methods to balance teams to align with this philosophy.

We also have a variety of player programs for the full player development pathway.  Our Core Program is non-tryout based and open to all who seek to play.

We have two other levels of play that are tryout based.  EXTRA is our in-house travel program for players seeking a higher level of play and team commitment.  We have approximately 1500 teams in this category.

AYSO’s National Club/Travel program is AYSO United.  This is also tryout based and provides players another level of play within gaming circuits outside of AYSO.

At each level, the commitment is for each player to get at least half a game.  The game itself is its best teacher.

How do you ensure coaches are properly educated about safety and player development?

Hoyer: AYSO provides a complete education platform for the whole family:  volunteers, parents and guardians, and players.  Each community-based program (Regions in our terminology) can offer in-person training if they have the volunteers trained as AYSO Instructors.

AYSO mandated coach training in 2011 utilizing our age appropriate curriculum. The curriculum has three times been validated by the National Commission for the Accreditation of Coaching Education (NCACE).  We go beyond the X’s and O’s or the technical components of coaching.  Guidance is provided in the coaching curriculum for the proper learning environment at each age division within our programs.

Our coaching curriculum is written to speak to the parent, guardian or adult that may be new to soccer and provides these valuable volunteers the resources and references to deliver soccer training and the AYSO Experience with training plans, video demonstrations and animated graphics.

Our Safe Haven Training is required for all volunteers for the protection of our players and volunteers.  Topics include player safety, weather safety, anti-bullying and prevention of abuse (physical and verbal).

We provide continued education for coaches, referees and our program managers online and in person.  We have several thousand trained instructors.  We also provide annual updates to each of the disciplines to keep our programs current.

What makes AYSO different from other youth soccer leagues?

Hoyer: Our Six Philosophies make us unique as we start with a youth player and commit to creating a safe, fun, fair environment to include children no matter their social, economic or personal physical skill level.

AYSO is unique among youth sports organizations by putting program operations in the hands of the local volunteers.  We are the only soccer program provider that offers training for coaches, referees and league administrators.

Can you tell me a little more about AYSO’s Safe Haven?

Hoyer: AYSO’s Safe Haven® program is designed to address the growing need for Child and Volunteer Protection in youth sports. The components of the program help create a safe, fun, fair and positive environment – “safe haven” – for all our participants.

AYSO requires all volunteers to complete a volunteer application every year and agree to background investigations. References are checked for brand new volunteers and every volunteer is subject to screening for sex offender registration and criminal convictions according to AYSO’s National Criminal Background Check Policy.

Adult participation in youth activities has requirements that vary from state to state.  More than half the states have mandated concussion awareness training offered by the Centers for Disease Control.  There are some states that now also require sudden cardiac awareness training that includes fines and penalties for noncompliance.

Do you have any partnerships?

Hoyer: AYSO has a variety partners that serve as sponsors, licensees and program partners to support our Organization.  We have strategic partnerships to promote program offerings.  The latter operates via local community organizations, usually nonprofits, that have core values similar to AYSO and align with our vision to enrich the lives of children through the power of play and team sports.

What overall trends are you seeing in youth soccer?

Hoyer: There has never been more focus on youth soccer as there is now.  Since the US Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup after participating in each one since 1990 has raised the water cooler conversations and exploded on social media.  Much of the discussion supposes that this level of play and the leadership of US Soccer is the whole iceberg of the issue.

We see various organizations and associations seeking to engage parents in the value of physical activity through sports.  The SFIA with its programs is one example.

The Aspen Institute, Changing the Game Project, the Positive Coaching Alliance, SoccerParenting.com, AYSO and other US Soccer youth soccer member associations all seek to raise awareness of youth sport and soccer development arcs.  Competition is a valuable teacher after the lessons of training, teamwork, respect for officials, and a love of the game are developed and instilled in the participants.  We all seek to have messaging and engagement with parents to set expectations for children.

One of the catch phrases that has risen to prominence in youth soccer is the “pay to play model.”  Many try to compare the US with other countries for our game.  The US is different in that a club can’t put a youth player under contract at the young ages as occurs in many other countries.   There are plenty of costs of facilities and direct costs for a player, (e.g. insurance and general liability) that are different than other countries.  Perhaps the phrase should be focused on the value of what to pay for a program.  There are soccer clubs where nine year olds’ parents will spend $5,000 to $8,000 per year.

There is also more focus on under-served communities.  The US Soccer Foundation has pivoted to creating soccer play facilities of all types, including partnerships with major corporate donors.  The key challenge is providing sustainable programming that also addresses the access for these kids.

How can people get more involved in AYSO? Are there volunteer opportunities?

Hoyer: AYSO has opportunities to volunteer in dozens of different positions at different levels within the Organization within basic categories of coach, referee or management.  We also have working groups, task forces and committees that are specific to a volunteer’s experience or professional expertise.  For example, we have groups built on those with career experience in marketing, public relations, finance, auditing, mediation and other to lend their time on a case-by-case or task basis.

Volunteers may contact their local Region (league) or contact AYSO at 800-USA-AYSO.

Has AYSO produced any famous Soccer players?

Hoyer: Five of the women that started the World Cup final in 2015 played in AYSO, including Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz.  Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan and Eric Wynalda played AYSO and represented the United States and played in World Cups.  We certainly enjoy celebrating their successes and appreciate the support that they and others that have reached the professional and national team level have provided.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Hoyer: AYSO will be a leader in providing youth soccer programs for all families built on community engagement and industry leading training for coaches, referees, and league administrators built on our Six Philosophies and delivers on being child-centric.

SFIA Member Spotlight – Ready Set Rocket

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Ready Set Rocket explains their integrative, data-driven approach to the future of a truly connected fan experience.

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Aaron Harvey, Founder & ECD

What is Ready Set Rocket?

Ready Set Rocket is an integrated agency based in New York City. We work with leading companies in sports, entertainment and retail, helping them leverage data to inspire creative ways to connect the fan/customer experience.

What is the creative process for a digital campaign?

Whether it’s campaign or product work, we align our vision with the greater purpose and value of the brand. What problem are we trying to solve? Does this put out a fire for our audience? Can we truly own this message or experience in an authentic way? Once we have our north star, we spend time in the numbers. We look for ways that data can inform creative solutions. From there, we build out messaging or product platforms. Once live, we focus on scaling and optimizing the experience against a set of KPIs.

How do you engage your client’s audiences?

In two ways. One, we assess analytics and data benchmarks to identify opportunities to fill a need, or enhance an experience. Two, we perform qualitative analysis via focus groups, surveys, sentiment analysis, user testing, competitive benchmarking. The goal of this process is to land on a key insight that inspires the work, as well as a tactical set of opportunities to differentiate the solution from the competition. We also solicit audience feedback at key points in the production process, and adopt a user feedback loop once the work is live.

How big are these companies that you are working with?

As a small independent agency, we are very fortunate to be working with two leading sports leagues in the U.S., as well as Univision Communications Inc. We have designed international platforms including league apps, stats and connected devices like Apple Watch, as well as corporate platforms for Social Responsibility and Recruitment. Ultimately, our goal is to connect a strong creative insight with growth in fan/subscription acquisition and retention.

What makes Ready Set Rocket stand out?

We’ve differentiated ourselves by focusing on the connected experience. The current fan experience is extremely fragmented. There are countless ways to engage with leagues, teams and players via social platforms and digital channels. Where we excel is in understanding the role of each touchpoint in context of the greater fan experience.

What are some common platforms that you are actively using?

Generally speaking, we try to stay as platform agnostic as possible. We first develop our strategic goals, and then assess which platforms best align with those goals, whether that’s CMS, CRM, analytics, testing or other platforms.

What are some trends you are seeing today in the sports market?

While the commoditization of information and technology has fueled fan engagement, it also complicates efforts to own the fan experience. Looking for storylines? Social. Gossip? Reddit. Stats? Independent websites. Standings and news? Google and other aggregators. This experience will only continue to fragment. So it’s critical that leagues and teams pinpoint the most indispensable value they can offer. This likely brings the focus back to the main product — the sport. Live streaming, OTT subscription models, propriety realtime highlight engines and exclusive behind-the-scenes content that connects players and teams to culture makers and influential brands. And even with that focus, leagues and teams must figure out the best way to deliver the optimal game experience domestically and internationally — full games? condensed games? AI-driven or manually edited game highlights? no spoilers options for time shifted fans? As well as what APIs they should open up to the broader community to fuel independent creativity centered around their leagues. This exploration is well underway and will only intensify.

Where do you see Ready Set Rocket in 5 years?

In five years, I see us being able to fulfill on the promise of creating truly connected fan experiences. Advances in technology, open APIs and portable data are going to make the difference. We hope to be seen as an industry leader for both major leagues and challengers alike.


SFIA Member Spotlight – Notogroup

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Notogroup explains their recruiting process and B-Corp Certification, and how it makes them stand out from the rest when helping businesses succeed.

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Roy Notowitz, Founder & President // Gennevieve Emery, Partner & VP Recruiting // Candie Fisher, Partner & VP of Client Engagement

What is Notogroup?

Notogroup is an executive search and talent consulting firm specializing in consumer products and retail.  Our key focus is Director, VP and C-Level roles across functions in the health and wellness space, including sporting goods, active performance, outdoor and natural products.  We are a B Corporation, and our mission is to work with companies that offer great cultures, authentic leadership and meaningful career opportunities.

Can you tell me about the process of recruiting?

Recruiting can seem deceptively easy on the surface, but doing it well requires a unique ability to concurrently compel candidates to consider an opportunity while also critically evaluating their potential to perform in the role.

Our team brings diverse business experience from a variety of corporate and brand perspectives. When we engage with a client, we have specific deliverables throughout the process that include: Success Profiles, Position Marketing Assets, Targeted Research Strategies, Interview Guides, Evaluations, and Feedback Tools.

We often cultivate a network of over 400+ contacts to generate enough interest in a role for us to be highly selective. Recruiting is a process, not an event. It is a balance between art and a science.

How do you determine the talent needed in alignment with the ethos wanted?

The first step is to get to know the client, their goals and their culture.  What are they looking for beyond just the job description?  We conduct a highly detailed requirements gathering process with the client, often visiting their location to get the best sense of the ethos of the organization.  We clearly articulate this in the position overview sent to potential candidates, then use a multi-faceted assessment process to collect several data points around their functional and cultural fit for the role.  We use competency-based interviewing, realistic job previews/projects, leadership assessments and other tools to gain a well-rounded perspective of the candidates’ potential for the role.

On average, how many positions do you help fill each year? What is the breakdown (executive, management, entry level, etc.)?

The majority of the roles we fill are Director, VP and C level.  We work across all functions, including Product Creation/Innovation, Marketing and Ecommerce, Sales, Finance, Operations and Human Resources.

How large is your recruiting team?

Our team is just the right size to provide access to world-class resources and process, while delivering highly custom service levels.  We currently have eight people, including three Partners, recruiters, researchers and support, with offices in Portland, OR and Boulder, CO.

What makes your company stand out?

Clients repeatedly say that we take a personal interest in their success and that it shows in our level of service, attention to detail, and efficiency.  We get to know the client beyond the scope of the job description and become a partner in helping them grow their business.  We are immersed in the industries that we serve through active participation in associations, like SFIA, tradeshows and events.  And we have the ability to ”cross-pollinate” between multiple industry sectors.  Above all, we are fortunate to work with amazing clients, from established brands like Amer Sports and Brooks, to growing businesses like arena Swimwear and XTERRA Global.

Being a certified B-Corporation, how is Notogroup having a positive impact?

In addition to working with other mission-based organizations and B Corps, like Patagonia and New Seasons Market, we model our values internally and externally.  Our employees volunteer their time with organizations like Conservation Alliance and Meals on Wheels.  As a firm, we provide an annual pro-bono executive-level search to a non-profit each year.  We donate 1% of revenue to environmental, and social causes, and match employee donations as well.

What are some overall trends you are seeing in the market?

In active performance and sporting goods, we are seeing an increase in the demand for ecommerce, performance marketing and analytics leaders.  Many brands that have long been reliant on wholesale distribution are now putting additional resources into creating a direct connection with their customers, engaging consumers and driving sales through their own ecommerce platforms.

Do you see any areas of growth?

We see continued growth in the model of experiential retail.  The companies that are best engaging with their customers at retail are providing unique experiences, service and events to attract consumers to their brands.  We also see the mission-based/B Corporation model continuing to flourish.  Consumers are attracted to brands with a compelling story, and this increasingly includes a model of giving back to the world.

Where do you see Notogroup in 5 years?

We will always continue to be focused on our mission of working with amazing, culture driven brands.  As the marketplace evolves, we will serve our clients to bring them the critical talent needed to grow and evolve their businesses.  This could mean executive search or continued expansion of our recruitment process outsourcing service, Source, which provides adjunct recruiting resources for individual contributor and manager-level roles.  We also see continued expansion of our talent consulting, from compensation benchmarking to organizational development expertise.

Can you provide any client testimonials?

We have a couple of videos with client testimonials:



SFIA Member Spotlight – Black Box


Black Box talks virtual reality, fitness and how their product is unlike any other.

Ryan DeLuca, Co-Founder & CEO // Preston Lewis, Co-Founder & COO

What is Black Box?

Lewis: Black Box combines the addictive qualities of gaming and the power of immersive technologies with a patent-pending dynamic resistance machine to improve your fitness level and transform your life.

When was Black Box founded?

Lewis: In April 2016.

What inspired the creation of Black Box?

Lewis: My co-founder and I have been in the Health and Fitness Industry for 15 plus years. With our passion for changing lives, we created award-winning health and fitness apps, built the world’s largest social fitness network, and delivered world-class content to millions of people. Along the way, we were blessed to see many lives changed and incredible transformations take place. But no matter how many innovative tools we created, we still saw a glaring problem. We continued to see the majority of our users struggling with long-term adherence to their fitness programs. To be fair, our bodies literally fight against us as we try to stick to our fitness goals. They are programmed to be efficient with calories and induce pain when we are pushing too hard. On top of that, working out is immediate pain and delayed reward; it lacks the feedback loops that are needed to encourage follow-through. Not to mention the boredom! You stand there in the traditional gym, looking in the mirror, doing rep after rep, bored out of your mind. Contrast that with game design. Game designers have figured out how to keep people unhealthily addicted to games where they are effectively leveling up their game characters but leveling down their actual lives, as they remain glued to the couch with Cheetos dust on their shirts. If only you could actually be the hero in a game that leveled up your life. Enter virtual reality.

After trying virtual reality for the first time, we were blown away. We knew that this powerful technology, when elegantly paired with science-backed resistance training principles and the right game mechanics, would be a game-changer for the industry. It was with this realization that we decided to found Black Box VR. We vowed to create a company that would help our customers transform their lives through addictive fitness experiences that harness the power of immersive technologies. Virtual reality is going to change the world in ways we don’t even know yet and we are confident it is going to transform fitness forever, helping millions of people finally adhere to their fitness programs, achieve their goals and change their lives.

Since founding Black Box, we have built a talented team of seasoned veterans with diverse backgrounds in the game, fitness and hardware industries. We have also received a patent-pending for our Dynamic Resistance Machine that specifically pairs with high-end virtual reality systems to create an immersive workout experience while delivering real fitness results.

Who is your target market?

Lewis: At Black Box, we believe that through innovative engagement mechanics, user personalization, real-time form tracking, coaching AI, game mechanics, deep data analysis and artificial intelligence, we will be able to reach a diverse demographic of people. Our core age group focuses on 25-40 year olds that want to improve their health and fitness, have an affinity for games and want workouts that are data-driven, engaging and time-efficient.

How unique from other virtual reality products?

Lewis: Black Box’s uniqueness comes through the combination of immersive technologies with innovations in hardware and game design. Each element supports another to create a fitness experience like never before. One key differentiator is our patent pending Dynamic Resistance Machine that is specifically designed to deliver real resistance in a virtual environment. Nobody in the market is delivering real resistance that corresponds to an immersive virtual sport like we are. The Dynamic Resistance Machine is mapped in the virtual environment so when you reach out to grab a virtual handle, you are actually grabbing the handle in the real world. You can feel it. We’ve also created wearable devices that give you awareness of hand position without the need to hold a controller.

The Dynamic Resistance Machine calibrates to how tall you are and prescribes resistance based on your goals and fitness level. The machine itself runs through the game engine, so it responds to your gameplay and can change the weight and angles of tension without you ever having to make manual adjustments. This allows you to be fully immersed in the experience, while the number crunching, rep counts, weight counts and form tracking happens behind the scenes. Every successful rep you perform in the game corresponds to some action in the Black Box game, keeping you at the center of the action. The dynamic nature of the machine opens up a vast toolset for us to use in the game to give you the best fitness results. It allows for automatic drop-sets, negative reps, and much more, with the ability to smoothly change the resistance at a .1lb tolerance. This isn’t just a game changer for virtual reality; it’s a technology that is a leap forward for the fitness industry as a whole.

What kind of gear is involved?

Lewis: We use a high-end virtual reality headset, hands-free wearable devices for hand position tracking and our Black Box Dynamic Resistance Machine.

How do you make fitness fun for consumers? Is it a competitive game?

Lewis: The Black Box experience is something we call a V-sport or virtual sport. I’ve been in athletics my entire life and have always enjoyed the thrill of competition. I’ve also had to push through the boring grind of countless gym sessions. With Black Box, we wanted to combine the two, minus the boredom! The great thing about sports is that they have simple rules and yet an infinite amount of variety in experience. This variety comes in the form of training modes, championships, local and national leagues, team mentality and camaraderie, rivalries, inspiring stories of triumph, and more. All of these elements are combined in the Black Box brand and experience. Users take part in a virtual competition where their physical performance determines a victory or defeat. Every action that take, every rep they push in the real world, corresponds to an in-game offensive or defensive attack against an opponent. For example, each successful chest press rep at 100 lbs of resistance might correspond to a level 5 attack on enemy troops. Or each rep of a 150 lb squat could send a flurry of offensive strikes at a competitor’s base. Black Box will take the addictive nature of gaming, combined with real physical performance to usher in a new era of sports and fitness.

Does this product work out a specific muscle or all muscles?

Lewis: We are building science-backed routines that increase the functional fitness of our users. Because the Black Box Dynamic Resistance Machine is cable-based, you can do a wide range of movements that hit all major muscle groups. We have also built in active rest flows that give you the high intensity interval training to provide cardiovascular benefits.

What locations do you currently have? How many Black Box rooms are in each location?

Lewis: Our plan is to open our flagship Black Box Gym in early 2018 in San Francisco, California. Each location will have a minimum of 10 dedicated Black Box rooms.

When do you think you will open up your first Black Box?

Lewis: Our plan is to open our flagship Black Box Gym in early 2018 in San Francisco, California.

Where do you see Black Box in 5 years?

Lewis: In 5 years virtual reality technology will be much more lightweight and it’s proliferation in other industries will have introduced millions to the benefits of the technology. Black Box locations all over the world will allow people to actually enjoy the journey to accomplishing their health and fitness goals. Immersive technologies will drive new ways of creating engaging sports experiences and even usher in a new era of virtual sports. Black Box will lead the virtual sports charge. Those looking to take their fitness to the next level will compete in Black Box virtual sporting events where a mix of in-game skill and physical performance will determine champions and future fitness celebrities.  Innovations in the technology will also drive prices down, allowing Black Box technology to be accessible from the comfort of your own home. We are just getting started!

SFIA Member Spotlight – SquadLocker

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SquadLocker discusses their strategy, and how they capitalize on convenience and customization in the sports apparel industry.

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Todd Grant, President and Co-Founder

What is SquadLocker?

Grant: SquadLocker is a hybrid tech and apparel decorating company.  The company’s digital solutions are the easiest-to-use platform for coaches, youth league administrators, and parents to instantly build gear stores for athletes, coaches and fans.  But, perhaps more importantly, the company has invested millions in technology, processes and equipment to master producing one unit at a time, processing single unit orders from parents in the tens of thousands of stores being set up on the SquadLocker platform.

Why did you build SquadLocker?

Grant: We built it because there are approximately 50 million young athletes in the United States being supported by volunteers, parents and coaches, but there was not a solution for instantly setting up a store for decorated apparel from brands like Nike, Under Armour and Adidas, the brands being demanded by youth athletes, and certainly not one with a no minimum ordering model. Our customers create a profile, select the items they want in their store, upload their logo, and the software automatically builds their custom store that can be shared with their team community. We never have any minimums. We have built a business where we support single unit ordering and mass customization.

For teams that set up stores on your site, how do teams make money?

Grant: We support fundraising for teams.  There’s good work being done by volunteers around the country supporting millions of youth sports programs and often times these programs need funding.  Apparel sales, where parents and fans are ordering spirit wear, is very often a source of fundraising for the program or team. The SquadLocker platform allows the person who created the store to utilize the store to make money on every item sold to the program’s community.  We’re proud that the SquadLocker is not only the most convenient gear store solution, but that the solution we built is a vehicle for giving back to support the great work these programs are doing for young athletes.

What sets SquadLocker apart from other team apparel decorators?

Grant: We are the only company that has the Instant StoreBuilder combined with backend apparel decorating and fulfillment operation that is executing mass customization at scale.  We’re transforming how the market has to order.  No more bulk orders, no ordering windows or batching, just processing each order as it’s received one unit at a time, custom decorated with a team logo and personalized with player names & #s. So we are a combination of a modernized equity funded technology company with dozens of software engineers working on our platform and the innovations we’ve conceived and deployed to efficiently produce apparel for athletes.  Another differentiator is the quality of the company’s print quality; led by a textile engineer, SquadLocker’s founder and CEO Gary Goldberg, is innovating the use of the newest materials and apparel decorating innovations to produce printed athletic apparel that is the softest, most stretchable and most durable in the industry.

How many teams are currently on your site?

Grant: Tens of thousands every year.  We expect hundreds of thousands of teams will be using our platform in the years to come.  Teams are finding us through word of mouth, but we’re also connected to league software platforms such as SportsEngine, a NBC Sports Company, and SI Play, a Time, Inc. subsidiary where we have gained access to hundreds of thousands of youth sports programs and millions of athletes.

What is your biggest age group? Youth, high school or adult sports?

Grant: I’s a split. As mentioned, we have some significant multiyear exclusive partnerships with brands like Sports Illustrated Play, SportsEngine, USA Football and dozens of other companies that provide access to the youth sports market. That being said, we have a very large segments of customers in the high school market as well as from teams and clubs at D2 and D3 colleges. Additionally, the adult rec market, the largest segment of athletes in the US is utilizing our service.

Is it only based in the US?

Grant: We are shipping to parents in the US and Canada currently, but there are strategic plans for providing the SquadLocker user experience to athletes, coaches and club organizers everywhere.

What are some overall trends in the market?

Grant: We are allowing anyone that’s affiliated with the team or organization to have access to the store building and gear management – supporting an online solution for direct to consumer and giving all consumers the ability to build stores.  This aligns with the very clear trends to support the consumer directly, led by the leading companies in our industry such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas.

Do you see any areas of growth for your company?

Grant: Absolutely. We are operating in a market that is supported that is by 12 to 15 thousand hyper-regional sole proprietors as well as some large companies that are team dealers for Nike and Under Armour. It’s a multi-billion dollar market in the United States. So we are acquiring business from all over the country and are growing very fast as a result of the ease of use of our platform and the product quality innovations we have deployed.

Where do you see your company in 5 years?

Grant: Significantly larger and continuing to be a leader in the market of providing the easiest to use platform for managing team gear. For all of what we have accomplished in less than two years, I think that we will have a more robust user experience and functionality in the years to come. We will likely have dozens more partnerships, more innovations & tools, more sales and more capacity to support the growth. We’ll definitely have multiple decorating and fulfillment sites throughout the US and be global as well, having future plans in Europe, Asia, and Australia.