One of the Lucky Few: HighFive Kicks Off Nike+ Accelerator

4/2/13Follow @curtwoodward

Brent Gilmore was just looking for a Web domain. He wound up with a co-founder, a new company, and a trip across the country.

Gilmore’s startup, HighFive, is part of the new Nike+ Accelerator program, a three-month product bootcamp run by prominent national startup accelerator TechStars. The program kicked off last month and runs through June, drawing 10 early stage companies from all over the map.

That means an inspiring trip to the Nike (NYSE: NKE) headquarters, where participants got to see some bits of history like the first Air Jordans and the first purchase order for Nike products, from the 1960s.

It also means a ton of meetings, conversations, and introductions—the startup accelerator equivalent of drinking from a firehose. Stack that on top of a big move from Boston to Portland, OR, and heads can be spinning.

“It’s like whiplash,” Gilmore says with a laugh. “I actually feel hungover because we’re meeting so many people.”

Like many other entrepreneurial stories, HighFive got its start when the founders ran into a business problem they couldn’t solve with existing tools.

Gilmore and co-founder Katie Pietrowski hit upon their idea when they were running a consumer website, FitCampus, which sought to get college students to log their workout data in exchange for prizes.

Eventually, they figured, FitCampus would need to plug into ads from big brands in order to make money. But Gilmore and Pietrowski found that it was not quite possible to get well-targeted ads for a planned mobile app version—they kept running into some version of “meet hot singles in your area,” Gilmore says.

“We basically realized that if you have a fitness app, it’s like the Wild West right now,” he says.

Working from that kernel of inspiration, they started building toward the new idea of improving in-app advertising for health and fitness services. And when Gilmore went hunting for a new URL, he came across Jo Albright, a Georgia-based developer and designer who owned highfive.me.

Instead of selling the domain, Albright started talking with Gilmore about ideas for a new project. And soon enough, Albright was on board as a co-founder and CTO.

“We started building it the next week,” Gilmore says. “It was completely lucky.”

Pietrowski, Albright, & Gilmore

If that was a bit of good fortune, getting selected for the Nike+ Accelerator showed they were on a roll.

The program sifted through hundreds of applicants to select the 10 startups that traveled to Portland for a chance to boost their startup’s early growth.

 

Once their time in Portland is done, the HighFive trio plans to move back to the Boston area—FitCampus relocated here from North Carolina, with higher ed having been its target market, but it’s become the base for the founders to take their next startup leap, Gilmore says.

Ad networks themselves are not a new idea, of course. But the Nike+ Accelerator’s focus is on employing the apparel giant’s Nike+ system, which incorporates sensors—in shoes, scales, and wearable items like the FuelBand—and software to help users track their fitness and athletic performance.

That hints at a potentially huge amount of data about fitness-minded consumers, and their progression through a fitness and health plan or sports season, for instance. The kind of data that makes it theoretically possible to send people better, more welcome ads than offers for dating sites, Gilmore says.

“If you have a goal to lose 20 pounds and you hop on your wi-fi scale, everything’s going to be connected,” Gilmore says. “It’s going to be a real interesting time in two or three years for devices and connectivity.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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