- Uplift Labs is using AI to improve athlete performance and physical health through everyday devices.
- It was founded by a former Tesla Japan president, former GoPro senior manager, and a PhD graduate.
- See the pitch deck the startup used to raise a $5.5 million seed round in August.
Uplift Labs was founded on a belief that biomechanics will change society.
That initial thought inspired its founders — former Tesla Japan president and Apple exec Sukemasa Kabayama, former GoPro senior manager Jonathan Wills, and computing and machine learning PhD graduate Rahul Rajan — to leave the Silicon Valley home-design startup where they met and combine their tech expertise to create Uplift in 2018.
Wills, who previously sold a photo editing and creation startup to GoPro, brought his video and entrepreneurial skills to the new venture. Rajan had expertise in contextual learning technology that adapts to users. And Kabayama knew how to launch and scale products, having done so with the Tesla Model S and iPad in Japan.
Together, they identified athletics and physical wellness as Uplift’s first big opportunity.
Technology that improves both athlete performance and physical health is difficult and expensive to access, Kabayama told Insider.
“If we can get all that tech today that’s only available at a high price point and entails a lot of sensors into just this [phone], that is truly groundbreaking,” Kabayama said. “If we could do it with accuracy and in a way where the usability is like no other, then we felt like this is really something worth pursuing. That was sort of the burden of Uplift.”
Uplift allows athletes and trainers to use the cameras in their everyday devices, like smartphones and tablets, to precisely track their movements. The company said this kind of performance data is essential because professional athletes have shown how precise changes in training regimens can boost careers.
Uplift pointed to NBA star Stephen Curry, who dealt with ankle injuries early in his career before changing his training regimen and going on to become a four-time NBA champion. Keke Lyles, the Golden State Warriors director of performance who helped fix Curry’s ankle issues, is now Uplift’s director of performance.
The startup initially raised in 2018 and 2020 a total of $3 million in pre-seed funding. It expected to raise another $3 million in its latest seed round, but closed $5.5 million this month.
Some of its investors include SoftBank subsidiary Deepcore, Stadia Ventures, Oregon Sports Angels, and Gaingels. Several current and former athletes also have stakes, including Marc Gasol, Renee Montgomery, David DeCastro, and Stephen’s brother, Seth Curry.
“This technology is game-changing in its ability to help athletes reduce injuries, potentially identify the next generation of talent, and allow everyday athletes accessibility to technology that we use at the professional level.” Seth Curry said in an Uplift press release in July.
The recent close comes at a challenging time for startups as VC investment has slowed amid the economic downturn. But Kabayama said interest in the analytics space is growing.
“Back then, betting was very hot,” Kabayama said about the sports-tech space in 2018. “Sports betting, esports, NFTs — there was sort of a momentum around certain categories, and at that time, it wasn’t as pronounced as the area that we were doing, which was data analytics for player tracking and player performance.”
Wills said Uplift plans to use the new funding to improve its technology to enable a single-camera experience, instead of the current set-up that requires one camera in front of the athlete and one to the side.
Uplift also plans to use the new round to expand beyond athletics into digital health. Kabayama said this is aspirational because most of Uplift’s work has been in player performance. He said the company is already working with multiple physical therapy clinics, however.
Here’s the 14-slide pitch deck that Uplift Labs used to raise $5.5 million in seed funding in 2022: