On Thursday afternoon, there was quite a bit of buzz and even a long line of students anxiously waiting outside of the Harvard Innovation Lab, the usually quiet, white monolith that sits on an island at the outskirts of the Harvard Business School campus in Allston.
The reason for the uncharacteristic crowd at the ‘i-lab’ was a panel focused on the crossroads of sports and technology.
While it doesn’t seem like the type of event that would draw a packed house of MBA candidates, the event, hosted by Boston-based wearable sensor company MC10, featured some well known names from the sports world, highlighted by the appearance of former NFL top draft pick and recent Pro-Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck was joined on the interesting and entertaining panel by Indianapolis Colts’ teammate (and local guy) Matt Hasselbeck, former NE Revolution mainstay Taylor Twellman, US women’s hockey star Angela Ruggiero, local lacrosse star Paul Rabil, US women’s national team soccer legend Kristine Lilly Heavey, and former NFL-er and MC10 guy Isaiah Kacyvenski.
All of the athletes on the panel are members of MC10’s “Sports Advisory Board.” Kacyvenski, who played with Hasselbeck for the Seattle Seahawks, is a Havard undergrad and Business School graduate. Currently, he leads MC10’s sports-focused team.
The group spent the day at the Harvard i-lab to check out some of the latest advancements in sports-related technology. The current and former athletes all seemed thoroughly impressed by what companies like MC10 are building at the forefront of innovation and sports.
The panel was hosted by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse. The members all gave some great insight into how athletes hope technology will not only make sports safer, but also make the fan experience better as well.
MC10 has built a wide range of electronic sensors for multiple different uses, including its ever-growing sports segment. The company’s flexible sensors can be attached to athletes to as Kacyvenski said, “interact with the human body in a way we’ve never seen before.”
One of MC10’s “truly game changing technologies” is Checklight, “an impact indicator” that captures head impact in real-time during contact sports.
With head injuries being one of the biggest hot-button issues in sports from the professional level all the way down to pre-school athletics, the need for an innovative approach to the problem was at the center of most of the discussion.
In particular, Hasselbeck and Taylor Twellman, whose career was cut short by concussions and suffers from post-concussion syndrome, were the most emotionally impactful on the subject.
While Twellman offered most of the comic relief during the chat, it was visibly clear that he is dealing with the realities of a difficult post-career life impacted by too many brain injuries.
Twellman spoke about how change is actually going to occur due to parents growing awareness of how big the problem is.
As he said, “Who’s driving this move to electronics? Because of parent’s concern over head injury, parents are number one.”
“If we can bring consumer electronics to parents, that’s an unbelievable tool,” Twellman explained.
“All of us in here were once youth athletes,” he continued, “that’s where electronics has the greatest impact on anything because its going to give the parents the data and tools to make the right educated decision on what’s best for their kids.”
“I ultimately think its coming from the parents,” Twellman said, “and I think that’s the game-changer where MC10 can find something that’s never been there before.”
As Hasselbeck said, “I have three kids, and head injury is a big thing. There are people here whose career was cut short by that.”
“We love our sports.” he added. “We don’t want our kids to miss out on those opportunities.”
“We want to make those sports better,” Hasselbeck concluded, “and the answer for me is technology. We need data, we need to learn about the brain and how it’s affected by sports.”
Many members of the panel also spoke about how technology–and the data that can be gathered by sensors–has the potential to improve both the athlete-coach interaction as well as the fan experience.
While the event had, at times, the feel of long MC10 commercial, the panel did spend more time talking about the overall potential implications of technological advancements for sports in general.
Yesterday’s event kicks off a big weekend for sports and business in Boston as the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference takes over the Hynes Convention Center today.