Fitbit has paved the way for how to make a success out of sport and tech - now there's a whole ecosystem of start-ups trying to follow suit with apps, wearables and other electronics that could get us running more and injured less. Some of the UK's most promising were on show at the FutureFit event at London Tech Week
Technology has been responsible for plenty of positive steps in society but perhaps never has that been truer than in health and wellbeing.
From calorie counting app MyFitnessPal to the gamification of workouts with social network Fitocracy, the sector has been radically innovated in recent years.
A raft of British healthtech start-ups vying to become the next Fitbit were showcased at the FutureFit event as part of London Tech Week.
Suitably located at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, within the Plexal co-working space that exists on site, the event featured the biggest gathering of tech start-ups and sports innovators during the festival.
Here are some of the standout companies that could soon be pushing us towards a healthier lifestyle.
Precision Sports Technologies
When amateur and casual athletes go to see a physiotherapist about an injury, their only contact is currently in the practitioner’s room.
But with Precision Sports Technologies’ wearable tech, physios can now monitor patients’ health and wellbeing remotely under their supervision.
The PrecisionWEAR device can identify any areas of the body that are susceptible to injury and particular movements aggravating a problem – offering protection and reducing the risk of injury.
It is aimed at all running-based sports and measures heart rate, stride variability and gait analytics.
Brothers Jones and Alex Oviawe own the company, which is based in the Pexel co-working space on the Olympic Park.
Jones Oviawe says: “We offer a virtual reality sports science solution through a remote monitoring system.
“The wearable tech monitors the biomechanical and physiological stresses with a view of understanding and giving an indication of where there’s an injury.
“We collect information from the body centre of mass and are able to give a visual indication of which part of your body structure is most at risk.
“At the start of a training session, your body mechanics might be structured well but then your body position loses that structure as you do exercise, which is what can make you more prone to injury.”
Mr Oviawe believes the remote monitoring system could have a big impact on practitioners.
He says: “We’re revolutionising this idea of remote patient monitoring.
“Currently, the model is that you see your physio and tell them what the issue is, and then that’s it until the next session.
“Now the physio can see what you’re doing away from there in your training and exercises, and provide that support to patients to help reduce the risk of injury – very simply with an app.
“Sports science is normally for the elite athletes but this is more affordable and accessible.”
“Levelling the playing field” of activity is how Unit Challenge believes it can increase wider participation in exercising.
The app brings together groups such as friends and colleagues, who are given a challenge of achieving the most “units” of exercise – measured according to individual profiles – and encourages them to keep on track with their personal targets.
By developing exercise discipline, it promotes regular exercise by setting achievable goals within a personal framework – as well as an incentive to do more than users perhaps otherwise would.
Set up in Australia by Dominic Carroll, Unit Challenge was selected to join the UK ActiveLab, a global accelerator for start-ups innovating in the physical activity space.
The agency aims to increase health and wellbeing through sports participation and tackle the country’s obesity and diabetes problems, and invited Unit Challenge to Britain to take part in a 12-week programme that could result in the app being launched in the UK.
Mr Carroll says: “For us, the transformation comes in the normalisation technology. No one else has really tackled how we engage a large number of people in exercise.
“People usually segregate into small groups based on those who do a similar level of activity, which doesn’t really tackle the national problems.
“That’s the real heart of our proposition and why it has the potential for massive impact and scale.”
Users will be asked to input information about themselves to create a profile and will be given a grade that determines the level of difficulty for exercise they should do.
They can then join teams and take part in an eight-week challenge that pits them against friends and colleagues.
Electric cars and electric planes are all the rage right now – but Swytch is flying the flag for electric bikes.
The Hackney Wick company provides a conversion kit to turn almost any ordinary bicycle into e-bikes – which can go further and faster by assisting pedalling.
Kits include a battery pack that can be slotted on to the front bars and compatible wheel, costing between £299 and £500 depending on the battery life.
Since launching six months ago with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that has raised $510,000 (£387,000), Swytch has sold about 2,000 kits.
Technical consultant Ryan Britnell says: “Our target audience ranges from the people who want to go faster – it reaches speeds of up to 15mph – and those who are business commuters and want to get to meetings quickly but without being sweaty and out of breath.
“The cycling industry is worth billions and the e-bike market is exploding at the moment – particularly in Europe – with a lot of companies doing different things.”
Safe & the City
While not an app that will help people get fitter, Safe & the City does as its name suggests and is designed to build a “safer” community by giving people more information about the streets they walk down.
Users can report incidents that make them feel unsafe, ranging from catcalling and stalking to groping and assault.
This creates a map – layered on top of crime risk data from the Metropolitan Police – that helps others to safely navigate their way around cities without the fear of sexual harassment or violence.
Developed by Jillian Kowalchuk, it was launched on 8 March this year – International Women’s Day – it has been downloaded 3,500 times and has more than 200 reports in London, the only city it currently operates in.
Chief creative Amy Chao says: “If you are walking into an area where there’s more risks, you get an alert from the app.
“You then know whether you need to put your phone away or be more aware of your surroundings.
“The incidents are things where people might not pick up the phone and call the police but it might be the sort of thing that should make people more vigilant.”
The company is working alongside businesses to establish “safe sites”, with Shoreditch co-working space Huckletree one of the first to sign up as a partner and provide free facilities such as phone charging and toilets.
Ms Chao adds: “The idea in the future is to potentially integrate with other apps like Airbnb so if someone visits a new place, they can see where the dangers are.
“Further down the line, if you understand what makes you feel safer, we’d be able to customise navigation for you.”