Why Nike Gets Startups

Last week, I was in San Francisco for Demo Day for the Nike+ Accelerator powered by TechStars. It was actually the third Nike Demo Day I’d attended in a little over a week, the previous two were in Portland a week earlier – one for Nike executives at the Accelerator and the other at the Tiger Woods Center at Nike’s beautiful world headquarters campus. You could say that I “Just Did It” in a big way.

The founders take a bow at the conclusion of Demo Day

When I had visited the accelerator during its first month back in April, I met with all ten teams and left with the same feeling I usually do when visiting any of our TechStars programs early on, “boy do they have a lot of work to do.” When I showed up in Portland again a couple of weeks ago, I was incredibly pleased at how much progress the companies had made – solidified business models, significant customer traction and confident founders running young companies with big opportunities in front of them.

The more I talked with the founders, the more it became apparent that Nike senior management really understood and embraced the idea of running a corporate accelerator with us and did all they could to make it successful. They eschewed typical corporate myopic behavior and threw all they could at building community around their brand at the startup level. In fact, these ten companies were the first companies ever to be given the API’s to Nike’s fuel technology.

It didn’t stop there though. They brought a steady stream of athletes, designers, digital experts and more through the program on a regular basis. Founders shared with me that key members of Nike’s digital team would just hang out at the accelerator all day sharing knowledge and working closely with the founders. Even Nike CEO Mark Parker got into it and spent time with the teams, how cool is that! Management listened carefully when we explained how important it was for the rising tide of these quantified-self and digital health startups to trump just focusing on what’s best for Nike and they brought all they could to help them succeed.

The results were fantastic (here and here for example). The Demo Days were a home run and just a week later, almost all of the companies are on their way to meeting or eclipsing their fundraising goals. More important however is how prepared they are to begin waging battle in the digital health arena. According to Rich Schmelzer, CEO of GeoPalz, “The smartest thing we have done so far as a business was our decision to apply to the Nike+ Accelerator program, powered by TechStars. Working with Nike during the program was unbelievable. We had at least two years worth of biz dev meetings within 90 days! Where else could you do that?”

I give a lot of credit to Stefan Olander (VP Digital Sport) and Brian Kirkbride (VP Business Development, Digital Sport). They fostered an atmosphere for the program to succeed and the companies to thrive. I’m sure that the success of some of them will directly contribute to Nike and others might not. More important is they delivered a strong message that Nike is open for business to collaborate with startups and they set the tone for even greater success with future programs.

If you’re an entrepreneur with an idea around digital health and the quantified self, you might want to set your sights on the next Nike+ Accelerator powered by TechStars. It’s rocket fuel for your startup. In other words, “Just Do It.” You can start now by following the amazing and tireless Managing Director Dylan Boyd on Twitter here.

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