SportsTech 2021: the tech trends and startups changing the game

Like many industries, 2020 created unprecedented challenges for the sport and physical activity sector. We saw elite athletes competing in empty arenas, gyms and facilities forced to close for periods of time and fluctuating restrictions creating confusion around how we could be active. However, amidst all this chaos and confusion, one aspect of sport quickly began to flourish – the use of digital in physical activity.

From late March to Early April global installs of health and fitness apps jumped by 67%. In 2020, consumer spending on digital fitness rose by 30%-35% with Strava alone averaging two million downloads a month! The consumer embracement of digital exercise appears to be here to stay with 2020 for ever doing down as the year that catalysed the use of digital in physical activity.

But what will happen in 2021? What tech trends will be key to supporting people to be active? What startup should we keep our eye on?  We asked some of the leading SportsTech experts across the world for their thoughts.

Ida Bjerga, Co-Founder, Nordic Sports Tech & Co-Founder & Managing Director, Noise Studio

Tech trends

The art of gamification. Some people are graced with personal determination and motivation, others need support and recognition to accomplish goals and be active. In 2020, I believe most digital fitness products were designed and developed with some sort of gamified, motivational element. Gamification guides users through a complex system of rules, levels, competition, collaboration, rewards, and support, to help the user complete and win the game. For fitness and sports, gamified motivation means celebrating and encouraging certain behaviors to make the user feel rewarded for the effort they put in and motivated to continue.

I believe, going forward, gamified elements will be seen in several versions, verticals, and digital products across sports, action sports, and the outdoors – as well as in fitness.

Startups to watch

Just Football (Sweden): Just Football is revolutionizing the sport of football by combing real-life and gamification with the aim to inspire children and young adults to get outside and play while interacting with each other in the real world. The Just Football mobile app allows players to compete in on-pitch football challenges combined with digital and social gamified features and elements. 

7peaks (Denmark): 7peaks have combined technology, intelligent gamification, and health science to develop a mental health platform that aims at creating behavioral change among employees and in the workplace. They are known as being a nordic frontrunner in the digital prevention of lifestyle diseases.

Rohn Malhotra, Co-Founder SportsTechX

Tech trends

2020 has been a breakout year for at-home personal training. This has been a growing trend since 2017 but the pandemic has certainly accelerated adoption and made it mainstream to have smart, connected training devices in one’s home such as a Peloton bike or a Mirror screen. Along with sleep & recovery trackers, I’d say those are the mega trends that will continue to go strong in 2021. Expect Mixed Reality / XR training to be the up-and-comer.

Startups to watch

Vaha (German): Berlin based Vaha have generated a lot of buzz lately with their interactive fitness mirror. The buzz has been accelerated further since bringing Manuel Neuer on as an investor / brand ambassador.

Fun with Balls (German): Munich based Fun With Balls have also done a great job in a tough year, as they gamify sport technology to create the best and most enjoyable fitness experiences. Super cool product!

Jakob Breddam, Program Manager, DGI Impact / Projektleder DGI Impact

Tech trends

In Denmark, we have witnessed a rise in development and utilization of user-friendly digitalization in the past year. Everything from platforms improving online training to programs and gadgets making data personally useable. I believe this will keep rising in the years to come, but I see an even greater potential in VR and AR. Not only due to the tricky year 2020 has been, but also because trends clearly point towards people demanding more and more individualization and customization.

Startups to watch

Hubbster (Denmark): Hubbster has won several awards in the past two years for their on-demand play and sport solution that makes a wide range of popular outdoor games and activities accessible 24/7 through hubs, that can easily be placed in even densely populated areas. They incorporate tech in their solution, but their vision, user-friendliness, design and great team is what makes them shine as a star of the future. In short, they enable people everywhere to be active at whatever time they feel like it.

John Persico Executive Director SportsTech World Series

Tech Tends

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will also continue to enter the mainstream in 2021. Sports technology innovators across the world are creating new models of measuring, tracking and improving fitness, technique and human performance with computer vision and machine learning. Specifically, one of the most fascinating aspects is “Reinforcement Learning Models” of AI, basically allowing artificial intelligence to get creative and create new strategies that have (e.g. think of a coach using a digital sketchpad tool). For example, a mobile app with the ability to recommend to a coach or athlete new and creative strategies based on millions (or billions) of past events.

Startups to watch

Homecourt (USA): Homecourt is a mobile app that uses AI to record and track basketball shots, makes, misses, and location. They are just scratching the surface in the global revolution of sports talent identification through their use of AI and video.

Natalia Karbasova, founder FitTech Summit, CEO FitTech Company

Tech Trends

With younger generations of consumers ready to adopt VR and AR for their shopping experience, I believe these technologies would find a wider spread for wellbeing purposes, given that there will be enough content offerings to choose from. Active fitness games would gain traction along with more regeneration-oriented options to help us relax without leaving the four walls of the home office.

Startups to watch

VAY.ai (Switzerland): VAY.ai is building motion tracking-as-a-service technology that would allow other fitness and health players to integrate it in their offerings with little technical development efforts. As more people are exercising without the supervision of a qualified trainer, motion tracking could help them to avoid injuries and at the same time help companies scale faster by employing this technology.

Carsten Couchouron, Founder & Director Sports Lab Copenhagen

Tech trends

Virtual sports (think Zwift in cycling, Trackman in golf) have been around for the last couple of years but I expect to see a tremendous increase in 2021 in terms of new sports and mass adoption of this tech. Their growth will be boosted by the continuing need for home training linked to covid, and the increasing integration of gaming, AR and VR tech which makes it more and more fun and immersive. The growth will be further fuelled by progressive sports rights-holders who need to reinvent themselves & engage with new and younger audiences.

Startups to watch

Jabii (Denmark): Jabii is a sensor packed clever boxing device with a telescopic arm, coupled with an App, allowing a high-paced quick and effective workout. It bridges the gap between esports and physical activity. They just finished their crowdfunding campaign and have been shipping first devices just before Christmas.

Charles Frémont, Managing Director, Le Tremplin by Paris&Co

Tech trends

The current pandemic made us realise that practicing sport at home is easier than we thought – but also less entertaining than training in a club or with friends. What we are realising is that smart interactive technologies are key in motivating people to surpass themselves while practicing a physical activity at home. They are smart because the technologies allow the practitioner to collect data and compare their current performance to the previous ones; interactive as they allow the people to compare themselves to other users.

Startups to watch

Kinomap (France): Kinomap has had an amazing year in 2020, allowing hundreds of thousands of their users to bike, run or row from the comfort of their homes in amazing landscapes located all around the world, using their smart and interactive technology. They have just concluded a Series A round and have very ambitious plans for 2021.

Patrick Colbeck, Programme Manager Sport Tech Hub

Tech trends

This year we’ve seen a rise in computer vision being used to support physical activity. The technology is providing users with a more personalised experience and greater feedback to make sure they can not only exercise, but exercise safely. I see this technology playing an increasing role in many businesses in 2021 as they enhance their current product offering.

Startups to watch

Good Boost (UK): Good Boost have had an amazing 2020, using their A.I technology to provide MSK treatment and rehab to people across the world. They have bold plans for 2021 and are definitely a start-up you should have an eye on. 

Patrick Colbeck

Program Manager
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