How Berkeley Students are Fusing Tech and Entrepreneurship to Solve the Most Pressing Problems in Sports
An educational experiment at Cal, pairing student athletes with peers in science, math, and engineering, has evolved into a popular course that’s producing new entrepreneurs and real world innovation.
Consider nearly every film you’ve seen that involves a cast of college students. Now count how many of them depict athletes and math students spending productive time together.
The trope exists because it’s rarely true that the next Stephen Curry and a future Bill Gates hang out much during their time in college. Which is unfortunate, because elite athletes and bright STEM students aren’t so different. Success for both groups blooms from a mastery of physics and an acute spacial discernment, as well as a belief in the seemingly impossible. Together, they could solve some of the most pressing issues in sports with the most innovative applications of engineering, mathematics, and science.
The smart team at Cal Berkeley’s Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology understand this symbiotic relationship, which is why, earlier this year, they created the Sports Tech Collider Sprint.
“The program was inspired by our office being in the football stadium,” says SCET program manager Danielle Vivo, “and the initial Collider was an experiment to see if there were enough interest in the community. We certainly got it.”
Since the program launched, the Sport Tech Collider Sprint has assembled 80 students representing 30 majors and 10 intercollegiate sports to form 18 interdisciplinary teams. The program and its teams have been featured by San Francisco Chronicle, SportsTechie, and Cal Sports Quarterly, and mentors from Google and IBM have lent their time to the students. Under Armour sponsored Sport Tech from its inception, and venture capitalists participate in pitch competitions that are held at the conclusion of each 8-week session.
Their aim? To blend student constituencies that might otherwise seldom interact — like, say, a starting safety on the football team and a pair of engineers — to solve problems in the sports world. And the project work doesn’t end in the classroom. Vivo says that, in addition to providing a novel educational environment during the program, SCET also helps student teams turn their projects into startups.
Cassidy Keelen, a member of Cal’s women’s gymnastics team, and Archer Olson, a guard on the the Bears’ women’s basketball squad, each participated in the inaugural Sport Tech Collider Sprint. Below, they’ve detailed their experiences, challenges overcome, and more.
Which convergences between sports/tech were you interested in exploring before you started the program?
Archer: As a Women’s Basketball player at Cal, I was interested in seeing both how wearable tech, as well as new applications of statistics, could be used to improve my individual and team performance. I wanted to learn more about the sports technology industry: both what already exists and what spaces are the most primed for growth.
Cassidy: Before starting the program, I knew very little about what the class would entail. However, the chance to contribute to bridging the gap between sports and technology was very exciting. The program’s innovative topic, in combination with a hands-on learning approach, sparked my interest to learn more about entrepreneurship.
Describe the solutions / products you designed in the program. Did you work with faculty / student collaborators?
Archer: My team and I developed a dashboard that would help trainers at all levels better utilize the large amount of data already being collected on athletes. Many athletes use heart rate monitors, Fitbits, Apple watches, jump measurements, etc. The potential impact this data could have is lost because we don’t have a place to bring it all together clearly and concisely for trainers to make use of.
With some customization for individual trainers, we created a dashboard that would show trainers the most important metrics and allow them to quickly make decisions and workout plans for their athletes. We worked with trainers here at Cal to understand their needs and desires. We also spoke with coaches and creators of the technology we were using to collect data.
Cassidy: The team I work with is developing an app to enhance athletes’ weightlifting experience by tracking their form and providing them feedback in real time. The app utilizes the power of AI and the camera on smartphones, tablets, etc. to track the form of the athlete as they are performing a lift. The goal of the app is not to replace trainers altogether, but rather to provide feedback in a way that makes weightlifting more efficient for both the athlete as well as the strength coach.
Which benefits from this collaboration came about, in terms of your understanding of technology and entrepreneurship?
Archer: From this collaboration, I learned how to create my own business and to get from nothing to product faster than I could’ve imagined possible. I also learned about the technology used in other sports and the size and inner workings of the sports market. My experience with the program has substantially increased my understanding of both technology and entrepreneurship.
Cassidy: The most influential benefit for me came through my experience with the instructors, mentors, and my classmates in the program. The level of support I was provided was unmatched.
Did you overcome challenges during the 8-week program? What were they?
Archer: I did not anticipate just how many challenges I’d have to overcome during the short 8-week program. Our team did not have all the components we needed to create and display our product. We did not know how to create the prototype for the dashboard nor did we know how to make a professional and engaging slide deck to present. We had trouble organizing around our busy schedules and getting everyone to give the same amount of effort. I think it was because of all of these challenges that this class made a huge difference in my life. I didn’t have any choice but to lead the group, reach out to people who could help us, and learn how to carry out the process of developing our idea.
Cassidy: The 8-week program definitely came with its fair share of challenges. Some of these challenges involved the process of ideation when working to create a startup, learning how to deal with failures efficiently and learn from them, as well as practicing a growth mindset with the constant feedback.
Did the program inspire further ideas or even career plans?
Archer: The program opened up a whole new avenue of possibilities for me. I had never planned on being involved in sports technology, but this program taught me so much about the industry and entrepreneurship as a whole. Creating an idea, carrying it all the way through to fruition, and presenting it to potential investors showed me that becoming an entrepreneur is a different but rewarding path that I might undertake in the future. This program also inspired me to look at more of the offerings at the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology to possibly get my certificate in entrepreneurship.
Cassidy: The program has absolutely inspired future ideas and potential career plans for me. I learned more about what job opportunities are out there and how exciting it would be to participate in that line of work. I am extremely inspired to and motivated to pursue careers potentially involving sports and technology, as I know it will be something that provides me with new challenges every day.
The Sports Tech Collider has rapidly evolved from an experiment into a highly visible and popular program at Cal. As such, SCET is currently running a capital campaign to ensure the health of this program for the next 5 years. Donate here if you’d like to participate. Contact Danielle Vivo at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Strawberry Creek Ventures is a private, for-profit fund that’s unaffiliated with UC Berkeley. SCV provides Berkeley alumni investors with a diverse portfolio of 20–30 deals that are connected to fellow alums.To learn more, listen to a podcast episode with SCV’s Managing Partner, Peter Loukianoff.