Local startup pumped about firm’s potential

Building a successful business usually requires a lot of heavy lifting, but the young entrepreneurs behind a new Ottawa startup are taking that analogy more literally than most.

Operating out of Invest Ottawa’s headquarters, Gymtrack co-founder Pablo Srugo and his team are getting set to test the company’s signature project, a system that automatically keeps track of clients’ workouts using a “smart pin” attached to each exercise machine, free weight or barbell and a bracelet worn by each member.

The revolutionary product uses algorithms to determine what type of exercises users are performing – for example, a bicep curl or a shoulder press – and transfers all the data to a website, where gymgoers can log in, keep tabs on their progress and see how they stack up against other members.

In addition, a smartphone app allows users to receive real-time feedback while they are at the gym. Clients can also get help setting up their workout plans and instruction from personal trainers through the app or website.

If all goes according to plan, two local facilities, the Fitness Zone at Algonquin College and the Soloway Jewish Community Centre, will implement the system on a trial basis within the next month.

Mr. Srugo, a 23-year-old Ottawa native, and his longtime friend Lee Silverstone, 22, came up with the idea for Gymtrack almost a year ago. Avid gymgoers themselves, they figured there had to be an easier and more foolproof way for fitness centre clients to measure their progress than writing down a bunch of numbers.

“We started thinking about how we could do automatic tracking,” says Mr. Srugo, who graduated from Carleton University with an economics degree last year.

With the help of several robotics experts they happened to know, the Gymtrack system was born. After fine-tuning the concept, they took their idea to about 20 local fitness centres asking them if they would be interested in trying it out. Every one said yes.

“When that happened, it was like, ‘OK … maybe we’re on to something,’” Mr. Srugo says with a laugh.

Allowing users to compare themselves with others adds a fun element of competition to working out that will keep clients coming back to the gym, he says.

“Competition is known to be a big motivator in basically all aspects of life, and I don’t think it’s going to be any different in the gym setting,” he says. “Even just being able to quantify your exercises and your progress, that alone is a big motivator.”

That will help fitness centres as much as their clients, he adds.

“Gyms have a huge problem with retention,” says Mr. Srugo, noting up to 50 per cent of Canadians don’t renew their memberships when they expire. “For us to be able to increase the motivation and gamify the gym is going to make people more likely to stay as members.”

Wayne Boucher, the manager of the Fitness Zone and a nationally ranked strength coach, is a huge believer in the company’s potential.

“As somebody who trains varsity teams, what an awesome system to monitor the training of my athletes,” he says, noting Gymtrack takes human error out of the equation. “These are some crazy algorithms that these guys have managed to come up with. They’re well ahead of the curve. I truly believe these guys have hit the mark as perfectly as you can.”

Carla Gencher, the health and wellness co-ordinator at the JCC’s fitness centre, also thinks Mr. Srugo and Co. have a winner on their hands.

She says the system will help gyms retain members and be a boon to personal trainers who no longer have to waste time writing down data.

“It gives the trainers more one-on-one time with the actual client,” she says.

The system’s price tag of about $15,000 to completely outfit a typical gym is “kind of a drop in the bucket” considering the average commercial treadmill costs about $8,000, she says. National fitness chains such as GoodLife “don’t take a wait-and-see approach (to technology),” she adds. “They tend to want to be on the cutting edge.”

Gymtrack, which now has 11 employees, is hoping to generate between $3 million and $5 million in revenues in its first year and up to $8 million in its second year, with the goal of installing the system in 1,000 gyms within two years of its launch.

Clearly, investors are taking notice. The company has landed $30,000 from the Ontario government’s SmartStart Seed Fund for recent graduates, while the University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage program chipped in with $20,000 and free office space at Invest Ottawa.

Gymtrack also caught the eye of U.S. “super angel investor” Dave McClure, who provided $100,000 in venture capital funding and invited the company to be part of his San Francisco-based accelerator 500 Startups. Mr. Silverstone is currently there meeting with VC firms in the hope of arranging the next round of financing.

“That’s been great so far,” says Mr. Srugo. “There’s bigger money there.”

It’s all happening fast, but he and his co-workers are enjoying the ride.

“I don’t think I could have imagined that it would move this quick,” Mr. Srugo says.