Take a look at runners and cyclists out there and product innovation is immediately visible: lots of gadgets to help you better track your performance and training objectives. New product development has been slower for swimmers, even though swimming is the most popular recreational sport in many countries (England, Spain…). The x-ray survey of open water swimmers that we presented a few months ago also highlighted that there are very specific opportunities for new products to improve the security and overall experience of open water swimming.
I have a soft spot for swimming and technology entrepreneurship, so when Instabeat founder Hind Hobeika contacted me a few days ago to tell me about what she is doing, I very gladly offered her space to tell her story. Instabeat is an innovative sports technology start-up based in Lebanon that was founded in 2011 by Hind out of a need for a heart rate monitoring device for her swimming practices. The start-up was awarded the first prize at the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab Business Plan Competition in 2012 and the third prize at the Stars of Science competition organized by Qatar Foundation in 2010. Instabeat has been featured vary favorably in Wired, TED, Mashable, Techcrunch, Gizmodo. They are currently running a crowdfunding campaign in Indiegogo.
We would love to hear what you all think of this product.
Thank you Hind for your passion, and we wish you the best of luck in your efforts to bring innovative products to the swimming community.
Up until September 2011, my life had the exact path any girl my age would want to follow: I was always first in school, loved technology so picked mechanical engineering as a major, I did my internship at the biggest consumer goods company and had my entire life supposedly figured out. I performed well at everything I put my heart into, and I was even among the top swimmers of the varsity team of the American University of Beirut (AUB).
I started becoming more and more addicted to swimming and it became the pillar of my day. During our practices, I noticed the coach was always asking us to monitor our heart rate, and was dividing the training sets according to a percentage of our maximum heart rate. I found it odd how we were manually counting our pulse only after the race, and doing it manually! A bit backwards for the 21st century, I thought. The technology geek I was (and still am) looked for devices that would do the job, but all I could find was watches with chest belts that weren’t really ideal for an underwater practice…
During my final semester, I did something that I never thought I would do: I took a shot at the auditions of the “Stars of Science (SOS)” competition organized by Qatar Foundation, a Pan-Arab docu-reality TV program dedicated to innovation and product development. My chances were very slim; the SOS team was touring in 8 countries with a panel of juries to select 16 out of the 7,000 applicants. But I made the cut! I was selected for the idea of a heart rate monitor specifically adapted for swimmers. This was my chance to create the product I’ve always needed…
The 16 of us were invited to enter a specially designed workshop in Doha, located in the heart of Qatar Science and Technology Park, where we had access to endless resources as well as the support of top professionals in order to build our product. The competition was divided into 6 different steps that are corresponding to a key stage of the innovation process: Orientation, Proof of Concept, Product Engineering, Design, Business and Marketing. At the end of each phase –which lasted 3 weeks on average- the projects were evaluated and only the strongest of us would stay.
Four months later, after tears, sweat and blood, I was awarded the third place! While for most of the other candidates, going to ‘Stars of Science’ meant seizing a great chance, to me, it also meant risking graduating on time, having to follow my semester online, missing the annual job fair and potential interviews. I spent 4 tough months working 12 hours in a lab in a field that was new to me, and 5 other hours after that studying for my courses, submitting homework and taking online exams.
But these 4 months changed everything. With the prize I won, I founded my own little research hub in Beirut to further develop this product that I called Instabeat, and today we are a team of 5 working on revolutionizing the swimming world!
A year and a half later, Instabeat has evolved into a completely different product: It is now a monitor that can be mounted on any pair of swimming goggles. It measures the heart rate from the temporal artery (without a chest belt!), stores it, and displays it in real-time on the lens through a color code: blue if in the fat burning zone, green if in the fitness zone and red if in the maximum performance zone. We’ve also improved to measure the calories, breathing frequency, number of laps and flip turns. The device syncs all the above with an online personal dashboard to track your progress over time and compete with friends!
I truly believe that Instabeat is going to transform the solitary swim to an interactive dynamic activity. As a next version, we’re planning on making the device sexier by adding wireless power charging, Bluetooth data sync, and GPS and speed measurement as well. Eventually, we see Instabeat becoming the one tool used by triathletes for all 3 sports; we would adapt the module to sunglasses as well for a perfect fit!
Being a small team based in a shaky part of the world, we decided to use crowdfunding to fund the manufacturing of the first devices. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/instabeat/. If you are looking to be part of this revolution, there are 7 days left to do so!