Indiana University’s nationally ranked women’s rowing team has practiced this spring in high-tech style, clad in wearable technology that collects real-time data on their respiratory rates, oar placement and other performance metrics.
The team’s access to this new technology has been made possible through a nascent partnership between IU’s storied athletics program and IU Ventures, which leads IU’s investment in high-potential new venture opportunities with strong university connections.
Recently, IU Ventures helped make a connection between the Hoosiers’ sports staff and Sentinel Occupational Safety, a Department of Defense spinoff company that aims to preserve the lives of professionals in high-risk employment sectors, such as health care, fire departments, law enforcement and manufacturing. The company was co-founded in 2020 by CEO Zachary Kiehl, who earned an MBA from the IU Kelley School of Business.
In 2021, IU Ventures invested in Sentinel through the IU Angel Network, which connects IU-affiliated investors with early-stage startups led by members of the IU community. Members of the IU Angel Network praised the rapid success of Sentinel’s SafeGuard platform, which uses data collected via multiple human-worn and environmental sensors to track employee health and safety in real time and predict future risks.
The company’s intelligent technology has proven to be especially well-equipped to meet the needs of the nation’s defense industry, including the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force, as well as the greater industrial safety market. In February, Sentinel announced it had completed a $2.1 million fundraising round, which included the backing from IU Angel Network members. Kiehl has also shared plans to transfer the company’s platform to other markets where it can have an impact, such as physical performance, athletics and law enforcement.
Rowing is one of the most physically demanding of all sports. It requires significant physical strength to propel the boat through the water at high speeds, as well as major muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
For years, Steve Peterson, head coach of the IU women’s rowing team, had been unsuccessfully searching for a one-stop solution for monitoring key benchmarks of his athletes, including heart rates, respiratory rates, positioning of the rowing oars and the force applied to them. He sought to access this data from the “coaching launch,” the motorized boat used by coaches to follow practicing boats during workouts.
With Sentinel now on board, he can finally access many of the metrics he needs to improve his team’s performance while on the water.
“Having all that in one place in the coaching launch to see live … there’s nothing like it,” Peterson said.
For Sentinel, the project is a perfect opportunity to field test its technology as the company seeks to broaden and enhance its usage.
Kiehl said the partnership has allowed Sentinel to assess the technology in action, get usability feedback from the athletes and experiment with the platform, while working with the team’s coaching staff to learn what kinds of features would be most helpful.
For the team at IU Ventures, the initiative marks a significant milestone in a broader effort to translate IU creativity and entrepreneurial spirit into sports-related innovations in, among other areas, health and life sciences, data analytics, materials and apparel, and e-sports. In the coming months, IU Ventures will seek to engage IU’s global community of entrepreneurs who have ventures in these spaces, finding how IU can accelerate their growth and working with industry leaders to create solutions to their biggest challenges.
Kiehl is already a big fan of the effort.
“IU Ventures has been tremendously helpful to Sentinel and I would even extend that beyond this to just general IU,” he said. “From education to financial support to networking to opportunities to pilot these types of environments, it’s really the whole package. It’s truly a win-win opportunity and it’s been phenomenal for our business. I’m very excited by the potential for growth.”