Jeff Raikes on Backing Agile Sports, a Startup Focused on Football, Built on Microsoft Tech

Even the chief executive of the world’s largest philanthropic institution has a little time for his boyhood passions. Jeff Raikes, the CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, grew up on a ranch near Omaha, NE, rooting for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers, a national college football powerhouse. Raikes made his fortune at Microsoft, and since June 2007, he has been an investor in a Lincoln, NE, software startup called Agile Sports, which helps coaches and players communicate, prepare, and scout talent and opposing players.

It’s one way Raikes is giving back to his home state. Agile Sports’ customers include the Cornhuskers (its first big-name client, through a connection with former Husker coach Bill Callahan), the New York Jets of the National Football League, and nearly 90 high school teams. The company is focused on football and basketball, and is looking at Major League Baseball as well.

But first, some more background on the Seattle connection. Raikes joined Microsoft in 1981 and rose through the ranks of the company’s top brass to become president of the Microsoft Business Division; he is perhaps best known for running the Microsoft Office division, which did sales of more than $9 billion a year under his watch. Last September, Raikes left Microsoft to focus on his new role at the Gates Foundation.

Xconomy recently had a chance to learn more about his football side. “Jeff Raikes helped form the vision of Agile, and he’s a member of our board,” says David Graff, Agile’s co-founder and CEO. “Raikes’s passions are technology and Husker football.”

So what’s the idea behind the company? Sports coaches (especially in football) capture huge amounts of video of games and practices from many different angles. In game preparations, they break down each play, and each player, annotating the videos with the game situation, what to watch for, and other notes. Players and coaches have to study these breakdowns at the team’s practice facility, or else burn DVDs and watch them at home. It can be a clunky and tedious process.

Agile’s software, called Hudl (pronounced “huddle”) and Hudl Pro, lets coaches put these videos online in a secure and interactive Web environment that resembles a video game. Coaches and players can access the videos on their laptop wherever they are, draw on the screen with their cursor or stylus to mark players and patterns, record voiceovers, and so forth. The company uses Microsoft technologies like Windows Presentation Framework to develop the interface and make the software compatible with Xbox 360 controllers, as well as Silverlight to deliver video over the Web. “Microsoft has been a supporter and advocate,” says Graff. “They see their technologies in the freshest stuff being deployed and used publicly.”

In an e-mail interview, I asked Raikes about his involvement with Agile Sports, the future of Web-based sports technologies, and the football prowess of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, among other topics. Here are Raikes’s responses from Nairobi:

Xconomy: Can you describe the genesis of Agile Sports and your involvement with the company?

Jeff Raikes: In the late 1990s, I proposed the ideas for what became the Raikes School [of Computer Science and Management] at the University of Nebraska. One of the key principles was for the students to get involved in “design studio projects” that would give them real-world experience; work on projects at the intersection of computer science and business with real business customers. I had always wanted at least one of these projects oriented to helping the Cornhusker football team.

A few years ago, with some encouragement from members of the athletic department, … Next Page »

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3 responses to “Jeff Raikes on Backing Agile Sports, a Startup Focused on Football, Built on Microsoft Tech”

  1. Ray Casey says:

    YEAH! Now let’s get the game folks to start working on assistive stuff so that we can get the Xbox in every managed care, assistive living, long term care facility in the world. Create avatars that help, ask questions, diagnose, entertain, educate, assess and most importantly provide good cognitive behavioral road maps for getting better and living well. Ah, sports are cool to. How about something to teach equine skills :)