Wellness technology — the combination of fitness and technology — is now becoming a trending market and may be an opportunity for students across campus to take advantage of.
“There is a ton of opportunity for engineers and entrepreneurs — but there are also many jobs being created for kinesiology majors, and math and statistics students are in high demand,” Cal Poly employer development specialist Danielle Epstein said in an email.
Cal Poly Career Services put on a wellness tech event on Feb. 11 as part of a series of Emerging Markets analyses that Career Services has been doing to help connect students with new job markets that are projected to show strong employment growth over the next five to 10 years, she said.
Health and fitness apps were the most downloaded category of 2014, according to Epstein, and Under Armour acquired MyFitnessPal for $475 million. The market for fitness and activity-tracking devices is also projected to grow to $2.8 billion over the next four years.
Cal Poly alumnus Matt McGunagle saw the potential in this market and began research on the topic before graduation in Winter 2013.
McGunagle is now the co-founder and CEO of StrengthPortal, an online training tool for fitness professionals. He founded the company with two other Cal Poly graduates a year and a half ago, he said.
His brother was a Cal Poly student as well and majored in kinesiology. They worked out together, and his brother would track their progress by writing down their workout programs in Excel, McGunagle said.
“Excel is 30 years old; it’s not built for fitness professionals, and I started doing some research because I was an entrepreneurship student. I figured out that pretty much every fitness professional in the world was stuck using Excel,” McGunagle said. “I just figured I could build something better.”
Fitness professionals can write content on their blogs and share it to social media. Then clients will find them and want to work with them, but they often live far away, so trainers write a personalized program for them. In order to do so, they used to have to use three to four different types of software, including Microsoft Excel, McGunagle said.
Now, StrengthPortal has replaced the various software types.
McGunagle was one of the speakers at the Wellness Tech event last week. He wants to be able to take the lessons he’s learned from top fitness professionals and pass them along to students, he said.
McGunagle said people build a lot of “crappy software” to fix the problems in health and fitness that don’t really make an impact. He wanted to pass along lessons he’s learned to students at the event, he said.
People have been building health and fitness software for 10-15 years, but none of them have made a significant impact because most of them are on the consumer side.
So people just log in and track their diet, etc. on their own, which doesn’t really support the hard part of the “three-week hump” where you’re building a habit, McGunagle said.
“So what’s happening right now is fitness professionals are finally starting to extend their services and create a really strong online presence. And they’re able to connect with people and be able to extend beyond just their gym,” he said. “The professional side and the consumer side are slowly combining, and I think what that’s going to do is allow a lot more progress to be made for people to reach their fitness goals,” he said.
McGunagle believes fitness is becoming more mainstream with the popularity of wellness technology, he said.
Food science and nutrition professor Aydin Nazmi, who is also the director of Cal Poly’s Center for Solutions Through Research in Diet & Exercise (STRIDE), said the field is popular right now because of its emphasis on technology.
Some young people pick up their smart phones between 1,500 and 2,500 times a week, Nazmi said. With that type of access to a device, there could be an easy adoption of technology to help with issues such as weight loss, diet, physical activity or even the monitoring of chronic diseases, he said.
Nazmi saw a diverse group of people when speaking at the event, including students from majors within all academic colleges, he said.
“I think the take-home message is that the field of wearable technology and its applications in the health industry are really broad. So no matter if you’re in engineering or physics or math, it doesn’t matter if you’re coming from the social sciences or kinesiology, nutrition — I think in the space of wearable technology and wellness, there’s a lot of room for growth and development independent of what academic training you’re coming from,” Nazmi said.
Mentor eData is a company involved in improving driver performance and safety. They do this through apps that collect data while you drive and analytical software that takes the data and analyzes it for areas where improvements could be made and for reinforcing good behavior. It’s analysis and feedback information for drivers, said Mentor eData director Stephen Lakowske.
Lakowske recommends students interested in entrepreneurship take a look at the wellness technology field. He said there is a strong need for analytical types to make sense of the data mathematically and also present it to users in a meaningful way, he said.
“There’s been a lot of technology — and there still is — that’s kind of ‘fluff’ technology that really doesn’t do anything but make you aware that you’re moving. And in terms of real quantitative feedback, it’s kind of not very accurate,” Lakowske said. “The next generation of technology is much more than that. It’s measuring heart rate, respiration, temperature and very important vital signs.”
Lakowske is pleased with the student interest he’s seen and appreciates the Career Center’s role in promoting the field, he said.
“It’s pretty crowded in the fitness area. Everybody has a lot to say about fitness, and that’s good because heaven knows we all need to be more fit. But there are a lot of other opportunities, too, and people just need to get creative and look around,” Lakowske said.
Nazmi said students should be aware of the possibility of going on to graduate school and getting a master’s degree associated with wellness technology.
As a previous Cal Poly student, McGunagle believes students should try as many things as possible while still in college. There are many resources on campus for students interested in entrepreneurship. He said that having that base gave him the proper plan to follow once he came up with the idea for StrengthPortal.
“Cal Poly was key in just providing me with the inspiration and resources to show me that it was possible,” McGunagle said.