Nike+ announced today that it is launching Nike+ Accelerator, a startup accelerator program in partnership with TechStars with the goal of "[leveraging] the Nike+ platform, and NikeFuel, to build offerings that inspire and assist people to live more active, healthy lifestyles." It's a sign of the growth and increasing competition in the health space, where Nike is going up against companies like Jawbone and Fitbit for the attention of developers and consumers. It's an industry with a surprising amount of ecosystem lock-in — the so-called Fuel points that measure activity, for instance, are proprietary to Nike — and the race is on to build health-focused empires that could become multibillion-dollar industries in the coming years.
In the last five years there has been an explosion of startup incubators and accelerators, programs which offer young companies a few months of intense mentoring and support, typically in exchange for the chance to invest. The two biggest names in this business are the San Francisco based Y Combinator and TechStars, which originated in Boulder, Colorado.
Nike+ is the latest (and perhaps most interesting) addition to the TechStars family
Y Combinator is a singular institution, but TechStars has followed the TED format, franchising out its accelerator model to different cities and corporate sponsors with programs in Boston, Boulder, New York and Seattle. There is a cloud computing-focused TechStars in San Antonio with backing from companies like Rackspace and Verizon, while Microsoft has a TechStars focused on building companies around the Kinect. Nike+ is the latest (and perhaps most interesting) addition to the TechStars family.
With Nike+ Accelerator, 10 young companies will get to spend three months in Portland, close to Nike headquarters in Beaverton. The startups will get a place to live, office space to work from, and a chance to hobnob with Nike execs. The program will provide "technical training and guidance on key components like the Nike+ APIs, the Nike+ mobile SDK, and the Nike+ FuelBand Dev Kit (Beta)." Clearly, expanding the Nike+ ecosystem to a suite of third-party software, hardware, and services is the goal.
Nike, unlike TechStars, is not automatically investing in each company that gets into the program. There has been a fair amount criticism around the incubator / accelerator model recently. By churning out classes of companies, these programs have ballooned the number of companies at the very early "seed" stage level. When it comes time to raise the next round of funding, the "series A", many startups are finding money is extremely hard to come by.
The glass-half-empty view is that a lot of subpar ideas are being funded, making it tough for anyone to get follow on funding. The more optimistic take is that more ideas are being given a chance to succeed — and while this naturally means a greater percentage will perish as the funnel narrows, having incumbent corporations fund new entrepreneurs is widely regarded as a healthy facet of the tech industry.
Chris Ziegler contributed to this report.