Every year, hundreds of students travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, business cards in hand, hoping to use a gathering of data-focused minds to score a job in sports. The 2017 Conference included a special wrinkle provided by athletic footwear and apparel company Reebok, which partnered with the Conference based on a belief that some of the smartest, most established people in the space would be in attendance.

Instead of the attendee looking for new connections, Reebok was aggressively seeking to explore new opportunities from those on hand.

Reebok accomplished its goal by adding some competition to the 11th annual event. It launched an accelerator program leading up to March 2017 and announced that it would offer up to $50,000 in funding, access to Reebok senior executives, office space, equipment, networking mentorship and access to top talent inside media, fitness professional and retail to the most impressive groups that could prove they have an innovative, data-driven and consumer-focused idea designed to help bring the sport of fitness to more consumers.

"Innovation is in Reebok's DNA," was nestled into the challenge statement, which indicated that the Reebok was looking for students, individuals or early-stage startups, and noted that the company was not just looking to cut a check and make an investment, but rather a partner to develop the "next big idea" to help share the sport of fitness with others.

A total of 5 teams were selected to pitch their idea at the Conference. The 2 winners were Nix and OpenGym. Neither company has a product ready for consumption, but Nix is much more established than OpenGym at this point in time.

Nix has created a single-use wearable sensor that detects hydration levels with the mission of empowering athletes and fitness enthusiasts to manage their hydration status in real-time, while OpenGym's mission is to empower communities to use their parks and outdoor spaces to help people reach their full fitness potential by encouraging them to break out of their routing and spend more time outdoors getting fit. Both companies are based in Massachusetts, home of Reebok's headquarters.

"The most exciting part of working with Reebok is the alignment of our missions," said OpenGym co-founders Cody and Jacob Otto. "Reebok encourages people to 'be more human,' and OpenGym is going to give people the tools to do it. We hope to help each other spread this message and lifestyle as widely as possible. Reebok has the apparel and footwear athletes need, and OpenGym is the place to put it to the test."

Reebok believes that its own resources (including global distribution platforms), beyond the money it will provide to the 2 winning companies, will add a lot of value to Nix and OpenGym. Deals have not been finalized between Reebok and the 2 companies, and they are currently working on final numbers. Reebok has indicated that it is not necessarily looking for equity in the companies, but to grow each of the businesses in tandem.

"We are a non-traditional accelerator," explained Dan Goldstein, Global Head of Brand Analytics at Reebok. "We will be working with [Nix and OpenGym] very strategically over the next year to bring them to market. We will do product testing in the Beta phase and connect to top runners and trainers. We will also roll out them out in a way that lets the companies grow and scale."

Reebok's vision of analytics is slightly different from what you would see outside the footwear and apparel industry.

"The right approach is to go and partner with the right people -- an open-source approach," added Goldstein, who referenced Reebok's partnerships with CrossFit, UFC and Spartan Race. "We have an understanding of who our consumers are and what they need, and we are growing from the inside out. The best way of approaching and executing on being a data-driven brand is to leverage what we're good at but also work externally with people through partnerships."

Reebok really wants to amplify its approach to open source when it comes to data by connecting its consumers to the right technologies, which will in turn allow them to become more fit and more human, as described by Goldstein. Nix and OpenGym seem like quality fits for Reebok's mission, with a goal that may be accomplished by way of a little help from MIT's Sloan Sports Conference.