SXSW Startups: Nix Senses Sweat
The Forrest Four-Cast: February 8, 2018
The 2018 SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event has selected 50 startups in 10 categories to show off their skills on March 10 and 11. Winners in each category will be honored at the Accelerator Award Ceremony at 7 pm Sunday, March 11 at the Hilton Austin, Salon AB. The SXSW Accelerator Pitch Event takes place within the Startup & Tech Sectors track of programming.
Nix is developing a proprietary electrochemical sensing platform that puts consumers’ personalized biomarker data in their own hands — simply and affordably. The Boston-based company is taking the guessing out of hydration with a single-use sweat analytics patch that tells athletes, soldiers and laborers their hydration status and electrolyte losses in real time. CEO Meridith Unger spoke about the Nix product; see the live pitch at 12:30 pm Sunday, March 11, at the finals in the Sports and Performance Data Technology category, at the Hilton Austin, Salon AB. You can also connect with Nix at the SXSW Accelerator Demo Day on March 12.
We connected with Nix founder and CEO Meridith Unger (pictured above) to get more information about her startup.
What inspired you to start Nix? I started to conceive of Nix in 2015, spurred by the realization that there was a gaping white space between the biosensor market (arrhythmia sensors, glucose sensors), which offer meaningful, biometric data but are primarily used and managed by physicians, and the wearables market (FitBit, MisFit and JawBone at the time), which are consumer-facing and able to circumvent the FDA, but end up in a drawer three to six months later. I realized there was a huge opportunity to solve a range of tangible consumer pain points — far beyond “how many steps did I take today?” — by providing accurate, actionable biomarker data, in the moment that a decision needs to be made. There are a startling number of meaningful biomarkers that can be accessed non-invasively through sweat, tears, urine — even breast milk. We explored a huge range of applications from nutrition to infant care to skin care and beauty. Hydration rose to the top because, as a college basketball player-turned-marathoner, I struggled with hydration and began to realize I wasn’t alone. We were fortunate that it was around the same time that sports tech gained so much momentum and we’ve been able to ride that wave for this first application.
How do you stand out from other sport tech companies? The major pitfall that several sports tech companies fall into is the allure of building a product for pro teams. The power of sports marketing can’t be denied. But, for example, there are only 2,000 athletes in the NFL. That’s not a market. That’s an influencer strategy. It was critical to Nix, particularly as a single-use product, that we were building a product for the masses — priced, marketed and distributed accordingly — otherwise we could never scale. We are thrilled that we have a value proposition that still speaks to pro and Olympic athletes, so we are able to build those relationships in tandem. But we’ll never lose sight of who our real customer is.
Tell us about some of your plans for this year. Nix has some big, hairy, audacious goals in store for 2018. We have big plans around our hometown Boston Marathon in April, are completing product testing within our initial commercial segment of endurance athletes as well as with several pro sports teams and — most importantly — look forward to full commercial launch for Holiday 2018.
What experiences have you had at other pitch events? One of the best parts of participating in pitch events is the opportunity to meet people you didn’t even realize you wanted to meet. Pitches in the past have led to valuable marketing partnerships, connected us with elite athletes who joined our Sports Advisory Board, and brought us world-class mentors who we wouldn’t have met otherwise. SXSW is a national stage that draws high-quality contacts, so we are thrilled to see who we meet in Austin this spring.
What can you tell us about the startup environment in Boston, where you’re based? As a native Bostonian, I’m biased, but the startup community in Boston has always been strong. As a Harvard spinout, we’ve been exceptionally fortunate to benefit from the Harvard startup community (the Harvard iLab), and the city of Boston becoming a budding center for the sports tech industry. We also couldn’t be in a better city with regard to running as our initial target market. Boston is consistently one of the top running cities in the U.S., and the Boston Marathon is oldest and most revered U.S. marathon, and a cornerstone of the World Major Marathons.
What are the best and worst parts about the startup experience? The autonomy. One the one hand, our small team gets to set our vision and strategy for this lofty goal for a totally new product category that we dreamed up — without restrictions, without guidelines, the sky’s the limit. At the same time, that privilege comes with the weight of responsibility to research and identify every nuance of the market problem we’re trying to solve, to make sure we engineer the perfect fit solution. I wholeheartedly subscribe to the philosophy that that’s the only way to build a successful company (I’ve worked with too many startups that have started with a technology and attempted — and inevitably failed — to jam it into a market segment). But it comes with the responsibility for the entire team to fully immerse themselves in the target market, like an eccentric actor prepping for a part. Thankfully it’s one we all enjoy. Our tiny team has run close to 200 road races in aggregate, including more than 15 marathons.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you began the startup journey? I wish I had known how hard it is — and how long it takes — to recruit the best team. I have very high expectations and we’ve built a stellar team, but it took months to find and woo top talent to our tiny company. If I had it to do over, I would have started earlier, conducted only networked searches, and allotted more time to fill critical roles.
What has the startup experience taught you about life? The most poignant lesson startups can teach about life is how to move forward confidently without adequate information. There will be endless surprises around every corner, and the biggest risk is inertia, so just keep moving, making the best decision you can in the moment.
Look for interviews with other SXSW Accelerator finalists in this space between now and March. Startups already profiled as part of this series include 70MillionJobs, Bluefield, Cambridge Cancer Genomics, Commutifi, DashTag, Goalsetter, HealthTensor, Instreamatic, Leaf, Pawame, PolyPort, Sceenic, Switchboard, and UPGRADED.
Hugh Forrest serves as Chief Programming Officer at SXSW, the world’s most unique gathering of creative professionals. He also tries to write at least four paragraphs per day on Medium. These posts often cover tech-related trends; other times they focus on books, pop culture, sports and other current events.