Building Healthier Athletes: NFL’s 1st and Future Contest in Houston

Houston—The Texas Medical Center had its most high-profile stage yet to showcase its efforts to develop Houston’s biotech innovation community with the NFL’s 1st and Future startup pitch contest.

The competition, held Saturday morning at the medical center’s TMCx accelerator, began with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and TMC CEO Bobby Robbins touting the city’s healthcare complex and its plans to boost innovations that could result in better patient treatment.

Robbins then welcomed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and GE CEO Jeff Immelt for a discussion on the need for innovating ways to detect and treat brain injuries—particularly important in contact sports like football.

“We really need to understand more about brain injury,” Goodell said.

The 1st and Future contest featured nine startups with technologies that included wearables to help monitor players’ biometric readings, communications systems to better enable coaches and players to relay play information in real-time (with one giving players a Google-glass like screen in front of their eyes), and various sensor technologies placed in the helmet or in a mouthpiece to help detect concussions.

Three entrepreneurs pitched in three categories: communicating with the athlete, training the athlete, and materials to protect the athlete. Winners in each contest were GoRout, which makes on-field wearable technology for coaches and players to receive digital play diagrams and data from coaches on the sideline; Mobile Virtual Player, a virtual player (resembles a large punching bag) that is mobile and can be used to help players simulate tackling plays without risking injury; and Windpact, which makes a patented padding system that uses air and foam to absorb and disperse impact energy to improve the performance of helmets and protective gear.

The winners received $50,000 from the NFL, a place in the TMCx accelerator, and two tickets to this year’s Super Bowl. More than 200 startups applied for the competition.

The judges for Saturday’s event were Ed Egan, director of the McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Rice University; Rich Ellenbogen, chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center and co-chairman of the NFL Head, Neck, and Spine Committee; Bernard Harris, CEO and managing partner of Vesalius Ventures; Mae Jemison, principal of 100 Year Starship; Chad Pennington, a former quarterback for the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins; Sue Siegel, CEO of GE Ventures and healthymagination; and John Urschel, a Baltimore Ravens guard and center.

1st and Future started last year at Stanford University when the Super Bowl was held in San Francisco. Last year, startups pitched innovations for “bringing home the game,” “tomorrow’s athlete,” and “the future stadium.”

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