When Nikola Mrvaljevic developed Strive Tech’s first athlete performance product, he didn’t want to focus on internal load data (heart rate and muscle activity) or on external load (movement and distance) because, he said then, “Each independently adds value . . . the power comes when you can start correlating that data.”
That first wearable, a pair of compression shorts with a pod on the waistband, had a cornucopia of tech: ECG, EMG, GPS, accelerometers and gyroscopes. But Mrvaljevic decided to refine that offering to focus on the muscle data, the way it’s processed, and how it’s presented to the user, whether that be a coach or athlete. As part of that revision, Strive eliminated the GPS component earlier this year, a byproduct of which is a significant reduction in size. To ensure that users who wanted precise positional data could still get it, Strive partnered with Kinexon.
Mrvaljevic, a former pro basketball player in Montenegro and Strive Tech’s founder-CEO, recently spoke with SportTechie to share insights from his company’s evolution.
Through seamlessly integrated compression clothing, we can provide complete, accurate and actionable data for athletes to always compete at their best performance. So that mission hasn’t changed over the last three years. What we did changes how we deliver that data—the vehicle or the hardware we provide—then understanding how to deliver the data to coaches in the best, easiest, and the most intuitive way. So a lot of product revisions, a lot of evolving our platform, evolving our data processing, and delivering a solution that I believe is second-to-none in the market.
When working with professional athletes, it’s extremely important to deliver the most seamless solution when it comes to the hardware. So we took a lot of time to reinvent the way that we look at our clothing and our hardware, and we shrunk the size of our product by 75%. We doubled the battery life, increased the memory, and for the first time developed essentially an edge computing platform that provides machine learning onboard. This is essentially future-proofing our system to deliver that in the most seamless, integrated and quickest way to athletes, the coaches and to military personnel.
The hardware. So our system, the clothing, has a processing unit, and we decided to just make it smaller, make it leaner, simpler—improve it on pretty much every front. It’s placed on the belt buckle area.
No, actually, that’s a great observation. Moving forward, we’ll be able to process more data on board with the mobile app to an offline environment where we can get the data without needing to upload to the cloud—so streamlining, essentially, the data highway from the body to the [app] as a final product, because our goal is to deliver the best muscle data and the best platform for muscle data.
Exactly. For an athlete or for military personnel, the Wi-Fi and cellular connections are always a challenge. So we’ve found a way to eliminate some of those obstacles.
Both. Even athletes, you go into the big facilities during the game, you have cellular issues, you have Wi-Fi issues. So this way, we can start rethinking how we deliver the data and become more independent in how we deliver this data. So that’s extremely exciting for us. And it’s a value proposition that coaches find very attractive given the internet infrastructure at local facilities.
For now, yes. We’re still focusing on legs, absolutely. But the roadmap is pretty big and pretty evolved. We’re not going to stop there.
We are the only company that essentially monitors the body input and the body output. We provide insights on the load symmetry and fatigue by using both IMU and EMG. Strive is a company that goes beyond an external load, and if you think about that from a contextual perspective, in a sports environment, it’s a performance application that lots of people connect to.
By understanding the output or the outcome—if you think of how much a player moves in space, acceleration and deceleration etc.—now we can overlay the muscle data and understand the exertion, understand the internal load, understand the muscle symmetries. We can see essentially the cost of that output.
I like to tell people that, with Strive, it is essentially the [monitor] of training. We can understand, are our athletes running at 7,000 rpm or are they running at 2,000 rpm? So common applications that coaches are utilizing right now are around performance optimization. That being said, are our athletes exerting too much or too little, how are they comparing day over day, week, over week, etc.?
We also see application within injury prevention and return to play where if an athlete is at risk for injury, let’s make sure we monitor the muscles, we monitor the symmetry, the ratios, etc. Or if an athlete is injured and they’re coming back from an injury, they utilize Strive’s data from when the athlete was healthy, and then we know what the North Star is. We know what we’re training towards. So both injury monitoring and also performance monitoring, with performance monitoring being the main application so far.
We have an IMU. We do not utilize GPS. We recently partnered with Kinexon, a company that is pretty good in this space. And we see ourselves more as the muscle company and recognizing our position and our value add and our differentiation from the rest of the market. We like to focus more on the muscle—again, in the context of external load through the IMU. So we’re not doing positioning data through GPS satellites, we’re just looking at the accelerations, decelerations, jump height, etc.
We see ourselves as a muscle platform, and we’re very excited about the opportunity that we have with Kinexon and, given their track record, we’re excited to be partnering with them. There are different data sets out there, not just some movement data sets—there are heart rate data sets, blood analysis, temperature, etc.—so we’re excited to use Strive as a complement to a lot of performance-centric data sets in the market.
So far, we’ve been working with NFL teams, NBA, MLS, EPL. We’ve found that applications are many—even recently working with Olympic baseball teams. Football, basketball and soccer, I would struggle to pick the favorite. I tell people that we didn’t even focus on baseball, and then recently, we realized how many opportunities and how many use models there are in baseball. So far, obviously, the traction has been mostly in football, basketball and soccer and almost equally to a certain extent. So those three I bring up as kind of the leading solutions.
It’s a lot of the activation with pitchers, especially. Where’s the force coming from? Where’s that pitch coming from? Younger guys tend to use the upper body more to give it strength. Experienced guys tend to rely on their legs to [extract] the force from their legs. So, we like to see, is there a proper muscle activation and muscle distribution to reflect that? That’s one of the examples that we can quantify: Is the pitcher relying on the upper body or is he relying on the lower body?
Really focusing on data. We are a data platform and, as such, there are a lot of opportunities to streamline that data to present it in new ways and through new vehicles. So we’re very excited to start engaging athletes, engaging coaches. And again, I want to specifically point out engaging athletes more. We’ll look for more streamlined information distribution and making a lot of this data that today was served through human performance coaches, strength training coaches, sport scientists, athletic trainers, and making it more digestible where where you don’t need as much time to process everything but really get simple insights, simple takeaways, and engage athletes on a more real level.
Absolutely. Even today, as we are working with the sports teams and military, we get a lot of inquiry from the consumer market. That’s something that we’re definitely excited about. We’re very conscious in the way we’re designing the system today, in the way we’re innovating today. I like to think that the way that innovation is structured today is not just for tomorrow, but focusing on the next few years and what we can deliver to future customers.
Absolutely. We raised more money. Right now, we’re in a fundraising process, kind of closing the round, bringing it to the close slowly. We’re very excited about some new opportunities and new investment partners. But as a startup, you’re perpetually in a growth mode. Given all of our traction and customer excitement in multiple different verticals and markets, we will continue to be focused on innovation and growth and building a scalable team to support those opportunities.
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