The Gustavian Weekly

Sports technology startup, JockLab, founded by Gustavus alumni - The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily VanGorder - Staff Writer | September 25, 2020 | News

JockLab founders Alijah Nelson (‘19) and Anierobi Eziolise (‘18) met at Gustavus through playing intramural sport. “We met on the basketball court and then our relationship kind of grew… ended up evolving into the business relationship that we have today. The genesis of our relationship was really basketball,” Eziolise said.
“This early connection developed into a business relationship with JockLab,” Nelson said.
The concept of JockLab first began when Nelson pitched it at the 2019 Gustie Entrepreneur Cup, a student entrepreneurship competition for Gusties.
“The trend in entrepreneurship over the last ten years or so has been to transition away from business plans and focus more on devising business models… [which] takes what we already know and puts it into a package that’s marketable to people,” Ogden P. and Elizabeth Confer Professor of Entrepreneurship and Director of the Gustie Entrepreneur Cup in the Economics and Management Department, Tom Clement, said.
“During my days at Gustavus, I had a lot of friends do the Gustie Cup, I heard a lot about this competition, and my senior year I decided to go for it. I’ve had a passion for robotics… since middle school,” Nelson said.
“[Last year] we were poised to have somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen to fifteen groups enter [the Gustie Cup]. This year [due to COVID-19 we’ll] do a backup virtual cup, so we [can] do it either way. That was the problem last year, that we never really planned a virtual one, and it just wasn’t going to work out so great. It’ll be different, but it’s not going to be undoable,” Clement said.
Nelson’s idea in 2019 won, after which he approached Eziolise with his idea and his dream to scale up his idea into a business.
“I have a Business Management degree from Gustavus, so it was something I had decent knowledge of. He came to me with his design, his products, and we basically became JockLab,” Eziolise said.
Since then, they have registered JockLab as an LLC, and developed their MVP.
JockLab is a sports performance company focused on helping athletes maximize their athletic potential with the assistance of robots.
“[Our goal] is not to replace human agents, a coach or a trainer. What our robots do, in a nutshell, is maximize repetition. We employ [robots] to ensure that an athlete is getting the best of what’s available as far as sports are concerned,” Eziolise said.
“Starting our own business has been something of an uphill battle. You can’t have the mindset that there are hard parts, so to speak. You have to be as excited about the hard parts as you are about the wins… I’d say we have had setbacks that have caused us to re-evaluate… we’ve learned lessons. Every hard part has just been an opportunity for us to revise and look at our overall strategy and re-envision our goals and decide the best path to get to where we want to be,” Eziolise said.
“One thing that I like about Alijah is that he’s very receptive to feedback. There’s always a tendency with entrepreneurs where you come up with an idea and it becomes your baby, and it’s hard when people say it’s not going to work or that you should try [something else]. Alijah’s always been open to my feedback… and collaborating with people as well,” Clement said.
“We got started with a lot of support from the Economics and Management Department, from Russ, who used to work in that department, Marta Podemska, Tom Clement, and others have been really strong pillars for us,” Eziolise said.
“[Fundraising is] a process… we compete in a lot of business competitions year round,” Nelson said.
“We have gotten an influx of funding that we’ve used to, in more practical terms, become a company… some of that funding went into actual registration, filing of patents, practical things like paying [our] website developer, paying for any research and development… I’d say, in large part thanks to the support of the Economics and Management Department, we’ve been able to scale up our operation from just an idea in a dorm room at Gustavus to where we are today,” Eziolise said.
“Currently, [JockLab is] entering a fundraising stage… right now we’re raising $100,000 as part of the BETA accelerator program that we’re in… we [are] actually speaking to investors this week. It’s our first time raising money this way, [through] venture capitalism… we’re excited,” Nelson said.
The company is working with students at the University of St. Thomas to create a robot, called D-Up, which can “play basketball… by simulat[ing] a real-life defender,” Eziolise said.
The current version of D-Up is the company’s fifth prototype.
“[At first, it was difficult] to convince people that you can build a robot that can play basketball. Initially, that was the biggest hurdle we faced. Luckily, we are past that hurdle because we have a prototype that does what we say it [does],” Eziolise said.
Traditionally, robots have been more utilized in sports like football than in basketball. While there are other robotics companies that collaborate with sports, D-Up is the “first of its kind… there’s nothing like that on the market,” Eziolise said.
“[The application of robotics to sports is] a relatively underdeveloped niche, but one that’s growing rapidly, and one where there is a lot of room for growth, especially with the coronavirus and the need for athletes to train solo,” Eziolise said.
“The ultimate goal [for JockLab] is to scale up, to produce the robot we have… we just want to see it go to market, so to speak, get out into the hands of people,” Nelson said.
“I think an eventual goal would be worldwide adoption… every athlete can always get better. The greatest players in the game today probably worked out with stationary mannequins and equipment. It’s amazing to imagine how much more they could have been if they trained with, for example, a robot that could play as well as a human being can, or react just as quick or quicker. I want JockLab to be part of a future where we make that possible across every level, from big organizations like the NBA to just your regular scrimmage on a basketball court,” Nelson said.
“[JockLab is unique in that] we’re bold enough to incorporate robotics into sports equipment. It’s a very new wave. Our team… all have chemistry, we’ve known each other for a long time, we’re all excited about what we’re doing,” Nelson said.
“I think we bring a fresh set of eyes. The market has lapsed into some level of complacency. It’s amazing and somewhat ridiculous that sports equipment hasn’t evolved,” Nelson said.
“I think what we will bring to the table is this renaissance, this fresh set of eyes and fresh set of values that we hope can change the adoption of robotics in sports in general and change the way people practice and train,” Eziolise said.

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