The stakes were high in this weekend's competition: tens of thousands of dollars were on the line, along with the notoriety of winning.

But this wasn't about the Super Bowl. The day before the big game was all about the 1st and Future contest, a sports-tech startup showdown organized by the National Football League, Comcast NBCUniversal, and the Mayo Clinic. Three companies specializing in protective equipment, recovery therapies, and athletic performance were awarded $50,000 each and two tickets to the Super Bowl on Sunday.

The annual contest began three years ago and has since shuffled through a variety of participating partners, including the Stanford Graduate School of Business and TechCrunch. The goal is to spur innovation in player safety and performance while awarding the companies making strides in those fields.

In the last 10 years, athlete safety has been a hot topic for the football community. The NFL has come under fire for downplaying and disagreeing with the link between concussions and cognitive decline. Ahead of Sunday's game, Intercept reporter Josh Begley released a compilation video showing every concussion from the 2017-18 season. Some clips showed players stumbling off the field after a hit, others showed helmets popping off of players' heads.

Despite these controversies, the 1st and Future contest invited nine finalists to Minneapolis to pitch their startups to a team of judges including medical professionals and co-founders. The companies competed in three separate categories: advancement in protective equipment, new therapies to speed recovery, and technology to improve athletic performance.

Here are this year's winners:


The Denver-based company took home the prize for advancements in protective equipment. Impressio uses liquid crystal elastomer technology, which mimics muscles and shock-absorbing cartilage, to create dissipative liner materials for protective equipment.


RecoverX makes a connected device that can deliver hot or cold therapy treatments without the use of ice or water. Based in Mountain View, California, the company aims to give users more freedom when it comes to physical therapy. It won for the new therapies to speed recovery category. 


The Toronto-based company was recognized for building technology that improves athlete performance. Curv use augmented reality to capture an athlete's movement and assess performance and injury risk.