At the Sochi Olympics, Sweden’s star goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, allowed three scores as Canada won the gold medal in men’s ice hockey.
It was a crushing loss, but within minutes of the final buzzer, Lundqvist’s goaltending coach received an email from a small team of entrepreneurs in Maine that contained a link to a file stored on a cloud server. The coach opened the file via an app on his iPad and immediately began using the aggregated data to analyze Lundqvist’s performance, pulling up 10-second video clips of each goal and each of his 33 saves.
Two former University of Maine hockey coaches and a UMaine graduate founded Double Blue Sports Analytics in December to create an iPad app that allows hockey goalies and goaltending coaches to capture performance data and analytics with ease and efficiency. The Orono-based startup is the first to market with such a goalie-specific data analytics product, but already has plans to move beyond the goalie niche and tap into the much broader, $7 billion global market for sports science and training.
The use of the company’s app by Sweden’s national hockey team was a huge validation for the company’s product, said Dan Kerluke, Double Blue’s co-founder and CEO.
Lundqvist, whose day job is starting goalie for the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers, is not using the app during his team’s pursuit of the Stanley Cup. However, goaltending coaches for other NHL teams, including the Dallas Stars and New Jersey Devils, were beta testers during part of the regular season. Kerluke, former associate head coach of the UMaine Black Bears men’s hockey team, expects to have the polished product ready for next hockey season and a big push for adoption among NHL teams.
“I gave up coaching last summer to do this full time,” Kerluke said. “That’s how much I believe in the opportunity to do something special here.”
The app has attracted early support. Kevin Woodley, a writer for NHL.com and managing editor of a publication for hockey goalies called InGoal magazine, has used Double Blue’s app to help him analyze the regular-season performance of goalies as he blogs on NHL.com about goalie matchups in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For example, before the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens met in the playoffs, Woodley watched every regular-season Bruins-Canadiens game with Double Blue’s app, tagging each shot, save, goal and instance of puck handling by the Bruins’ Tuukka Rask and the Canadiens’ Carey Price. Once all the data were collected, the app provided a simple yet powerful interface that allowed Woodley to analyze each goalie and to share insights about their relative strengths and weaknesses with his readers on NHL.com. He estimates that Double Blue’s app has saved him many hours of tedious work with pen, paper and spreadsheets.
“Everyone I’ve shown it to has thought very highly of it,” Woodley said. “I’ve only been using it a month, but it’s worked very well for me. If everybody has that same experience, I think you’ll have people signing up in high numbers.”
Magnus Olsson, who owns Blue Crease Goaltending in Sweden, has been using the app to help him analyze the performance of goalies he coaches, even if he can’t make it to the games. Previously, Olsson would spend 1½ hours editing game video to isolate the goalie’s performance; now it’s done in a matter of minutes, he said.
“By the time the goalie gets out of the shower, I’m done,” he said. “For me, as a goalie coach, the way I want to work using Double Blue Sports Analytics is I get the stuff I want, I don’t get all the other stuff. I get the saves, the stick-handling from the goalie, the numbers I need, the important stuff for me.”
Double Blue’s 360 Save Review System is offered on an annual subscription basis for $300. The startup already has 30 subscribers with the beta version, but Kerluke expects to have 500 by September.
Although professional, semipro and competitive college hockey teams and goalies are a target market, they’re just the tip of the iceberg, he said. The largest market for the app will be youth hockey programs and parents of young goalies looking to give their son or daughter an edge in the highly competitive sport, Kerluke said.
Woodley, who estimates there are 50,000 goalies in North America, agrees.
“I think once people understand that it’s simple and easy to manage, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use this as a goalie,” Woodley said. “I know parents who spend $3,000 to $4,000 a year in equipment alone. They spend sometimes up to $10,000 to get these kids summer lessons all over summer camps in North America. Why wouldn’t you spend money to improve this kid’s performance throughout the year? That will be their niche.”
SEEING POTENTIAL, TAKING A RISK
Kerluke, 37, grew up outside Toronto. Being Canadian, he was involved in hockey at a young age. UMaine recruited him in 1997, and he played left wing for four years under the Black Bears’ legendary coach, Shawn Walsh, including on the 1999 national championship team.
After playing a few years of semipro hockey, Kerluke returned to Maine to coach Bangor High School’s hockey team, a position he held for three years before being hired as an assistant coach at UMaine. He was part of the Black Bears’ coaching staff for eight years, the last five as associate head coach.
While coaching the Black Bears, Kerluke and David Alexander, the team’s part-time goaltending coach, hatched the idea for what would become Double Blue’s 360 Save Review System app.
YELL FROM STANDS, AND IDEA IS BORN
As the goaltending coach, Alexander spent games sitting in the stands behind the goalie with spreadsheets and hockey-rink diagrams spread out around him. He marked down shot locations, when saves were made and when goals were given up. A camera set up beside him recorded the goalie’s performance, which Alexander would later edit down to the relevant clips of saves and goals that could then be watched, analyzed and used to improve the goalie’s performance next time.
A volunteer coach, Alexander wasn’t able to make it to every game, let alone every practice.
“When he was here he was wasting time capturing video, editing video, tracking stats,” Kerluke said. “It would be literally a five-hour process to capture the data and he’d have only five minutes to discuss it with the goalie. It was not an efficient way to coach.”
The proverbial light-bulb moment came in 2012 during a playoff game against Merrimack College. Alexander was in the stands, papers spread around him, trying to track the relevant data when someone in the stands above him yelled down, “There has to be an app for that!”
“That’s where the seed of the idea began, and over that year we began thinking about the concept,” Kerluke said.
In 2013, changes in UMaine’s hockey organization pushed Kerluke into taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Besides seeing promise in the app, Kerluke said he also wanted to spend more time with his family. As the Black Bears’ head recruiter, he was flying 90,000 miles a year and driving another 30,000 to attend high school hockey games and youth hockey camps to find the Black Bears’ next players.
The travel requirements “began to weigh on my decision to be a coach,” Kerluke said. “(Launching a startup) provided a unique opportunity to do something I loved within the game of hockey, but more importantly, spend more time with my family.”
Still, leaving the security of a full-time job to launch a startup was scary, Kerluke admits. Today, with nearly a year under his belt, he’s confident he made the right choice.
The company has four full-time employees and raised nearly $250,000 in startup capital. The majority came from family and friends, with a small amount from the Maine Technology Institute, Kerluke said.
Alexander is now goaltending coach for the minor league hockey team Syracuse Crush. He maintains a small stake in the company, but is not involved in the day-to-day operations, Kerluke said.
Besides Alexander and Kerluke, the other co-founder is Tim Westbaker, a computer programmer who graduated from UMaine with a master’s degree in Liberal Studies and a concentration in human-computer interaction. Kerluke met Westbaker through Jesse Moriarty – whom Kerluke called Double Blue’s “guardian angel” – at UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation.
The recruiter in Kerluke instantly recognized Westbaker’s talent and quickly persuaded him to join the Double Blue team. As a co-founder and chief technology officer, Westbaker built the 360 Save Review System in six months.
“Tim is a Silicon Valley-level developer that we’re fortunate to have as my partner and co-founder,” Kerluke said. “It’s very rare to find that type of genius in the state of Maine. It’s great to have an idea for an app, but you have to build it, too. That’s the hardest part. Without Tim, this wouldn’t have been possible.”
EXPANDING PRODUCTS AND MARKET
What began as an idea for an app to help goalies improve their performance has evolved into a much more expansive suite of potential products. Double Blue is getting ready to launch a team app to help coaches capture and analyze performance data for an entire roster, from how often a center wins a faceoff to where players rack up the penalties and from where they’re taking shots. The team app would carry an annual subscription price of $1,500.
Kerluke’s aspirations are no longer reserved for hockey, which is a $450 million global market. Very quickly, he realized that Double Blue’s technology could be applied to other sports, especially soccer, which is itself a multibillion-dollar global industry.
“What often starts out as a small niche can turn out to be a big business over time if you’re a good entrepreneur,” said Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, who worked with Kerluke when he went through the center’s Top Gun program.
Kerluke is in talks with a major sports network about using Double Blue’s app to provide real-time data to sports broadcasters. Double Blue also has three patent applications pending for its intellectual property related to the integration of video analytics and wearable sensors, Kerluke said.
Unlike the goalie-centric app, there is competition in the broader market for the team app, he said. A company called Agile Sports Technologies in Lincoln, Nebraska, has an app called Hudl that offers app-based video analysis tools for coaches in a range of sports. There are others, too, but Kerluke said they’re expensive and often aren’t usable on mobile devices, requiring desktop computer software. Kerluke is confident that Double Blue will be able to offer a less expensive and streamlined option for coaches.
FINANCING NEEDED TO MEET DEMAND
Kerluke said the initial capital investment was enough to fund the startup and create a product that has begun to generate interest from customers, but the company isn’t bringing in any significant amount of revenue to help it scale up to take advantage of the interest it has received.
For example, a hockey training company in Minnesota that works with 1,000 youth athletes wants Double Blue to be its sole technology provider and help it track and analyze the data for its athletes.
“We don’t quite have the resources yet to attack it,” Kerluke said. “We could scale to 10 (employees) tomorrow if we had the revenue.”
He’s in the process of applying for a development loan from the Maine Technology Institute to explore other markets for the products. He’s also preparing to pitch his business idea to venture capitalists and angel investors.
“We do need to scale in order to meet demand for what the opportunity is, so we need to start having these conversations,” Kerluke said. “For the longest time we wanted to bootstrap, bootstrap, bootstrap, but as you begin to scale you have to get a little more aggressive with the resources.”
There is evidence that venture capitalists are interested in companies bringing technology services to the sports industry. The company behind Hudl recently raised $1.4 million in venture capital and has grown from five to 80 employees in five years, Kerluke said. Another company, Minneapolis-based Sport Ngin, which offers a variety of technology programs for amateur sports teams, has raised $25 million in the past three years, according to CrunchBase, a database of tech startups, entrepreneurs and investors.
The greatest challenge going forward, Kerluke believes, is convincing potential backers that the company, which is unique in Maine as far as its product and target market goes, has potential to tap into the $7 billion global market for sports science and training.
“It’s one thing talking to a hockey person. They get it. But the people who have the bankrolls in the state have had a tougher time understanding the size of the market,” said Kerluke, who was a finalist in the recent Launchpad business plan contest, but lost out to Bixby & Co., a chocolate maker in Rockland.
Kerluke has no doubts, though, about his company’s potential. He projects Double Blue will employ as many as 40 people in five years and be generating annual revenue in excess of $6 million, assuming the current plan for three apps – the goalie app, the team app and a third in development that would provide the same data aggregation and analysis tools for coaches in a camp or clinic environment.
“Technology in a sports environment is so new and so lucrative,” Kerluke said. “There’s a great opportunity for a little company in Maine like ours to create jobs in the state.”