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The Open Data Institute’s (ODI) fitness-focused OpenActive accelerator programme has come to an end, after helping 10 startups develop products and services aimed at making it easier for ordinary people to get involved in sport.
The six-month programme launched on 1 May 2018, with the final 10 participants selected by the ODI from a longlist of about 100.
The startups were given access to the ODI’s OpenActive data feed, which collates information from fitness providers about local exercise and sports opportunities. Using this to find gaps in the market, the startups were able to develop products to help those struggling to maintain active lifestyles.
“The biggest problem throughout the world is a lack of exercise,” said Sean Radford, founder and CEO of Train As One, which has developed an AI-powered running coach. “The ODI’s whole mission [for this programme] is to get more people active by using open data, so we share a common desire – we can use its open data within our product to enhance our user experience.”
Radford said a major problem for runners is the lack of technical knowledge about how to train properly – 50% of all runners are injured annually, while 70% do not achieve target times.
“Often, what’s used by coaches and books is running science – studies done on Olympic athletes, decent club runners and marathon runners, which don’t apply to the average runner,” he said. “So we felt that AI was going to be a tool to gain proper insight into real-world running, as well as general health and well-being.”
Radford cited Train As One’s introduction to a network of experts and other startups as a huge benefit, a sentiment shared by Carron Manning, co-founder of iPrescribe Exercise, an iOS app that helps people manage chronic diseases through tailored fitness regimes.
“We’re very healthcare focused. Me and my husband have set this up, and he’s also a physio, so it’s entirely health and science that we’re coming from,” said Manning.
“Our patients were coming in, being prescribed lots of different drugs, when they should have been told to get physically active,” she said. “But in terms of usability, understanding behavioural change and data and everything else, it’s been great to get those other perspectives from the accelerator.”
Sharon Henderson, a 56-year-old iPrescribe user diagnosed as pre-diabetic by her GP, said the thought of going to a gym or fitness class was too daunting, so she started following the app’s 12-week programme instead.
“The absolute best thing about iPrescribe Exercise was that it was set at just the right pace for me. In my first week, I had to do something like three lots of 15 minutes of low-intensity exercise,” she said. “The feeling I had after a few weeks, the exercise gradually goes up, was incredible – I felt like I was taking control of my life again.”
The OpenActive data feed has also helped many of the startups to access information that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them.
Shout, for example, is a local discovery platform that helps individuals find interesting, hidden opportunities in their area, not just in sport and fitness, but in jobs, accommodation and retail too.
“The back end of Shout is a very sophisticated geospatial database system. What that means is we make really precise geofences, and base information of who is in these geofences. The beauty of working with OpenActive is that we have access to hundreds of thousands of data points across the UK, generated every day, every time there’s an event,” said Kiran Arokiasamy, business development manager at Shout.
“We’re looking for partners that are providing this passively, so we can aggregate that content and distribute it to the relevant communities passively as well,” he said. “Open data is clearly adding value to society, but not many people know about it. It’s just about finding who is making the information.”
OpenActive is a community initiative which receives National Lottery funding from Sport England.