Liz Gannes

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Nike+ Startups Turn Physical Activity Into Motivational Currency

Okay, great, you have a bracelet on your wrist that tells you how many steps you took today. What next?

Devices like Nike’s FuelBand and apps like the Nike+ run tracker can motivate with charts and graphs to make people more personally accountable. Or they can use sharing with friends to generate social accountability.

Now there are more options: Being active in order to make charitable donations, win mobile offers, earn in-game currency or keep your virtual Tamagotchi alive.

In the first edition of the Nike+ startup accelerator a theme emerged around earning rewards to motivate activity.

“The question is, how do we make the Fuel unit a currency,” said Dylan Boyd, managing director of the Nike TechStars program.

Four of the 10 companies in the three-month program, which was based in Portland, Ore., and held its San Francisco Demo Day today, worked on projects explicitly connected to this idea.

So for instance, if you sign up with FitCause (currently in private beta), you can translate your Nike-measured activity into donations for charities from your employer or a sponsor. Here’s a campaign for the brand Hurley to raise money for clean drinking water.

“We’re broadening the scope of fitness fundraising from a marathon or a walk on one day or one afternoon, to your own time,” explained FitCause co-founder and CEO Laura Temel. “So much of what motivates athletes is doing something bigger than themselves.” So a Nike+ user could walk to work each day to earn Fuel to support a cause, Temel noted.

The co-founders of the new game studio Chroma, Marcus Estes and Mike Merrill, like to call this concept “motor transactions,” a la “microtransactions.”

Chroma’s first mobile game, JumpBots, will require currency generated with Nike Fuel to buy various skills and moves. “Our natural response to the notion of earning Fuel is: How do you spend it? And of course our answer was: Giant fighting robots,” said Merrill.

But after conversations with their mentors at Nike over the past few months, Estes and Merrill agreed that players won’t actually explicitly spend Fuel within the game. That’s because Fuel measures movement — which isn’t something that can actually be spent or expire. Instead, JumpBots players will have a one-to-one Fuel-to-“Jump” exchange for in-game currency.

“Fuel is somewhere between a metric and a currency,” explained Ricky Engelberg, experience director of Nike Digital Sport, who said he might not have anticipated such a focus around motivation and the Fuel economy, but it makes sense.

“It’s an opportunity to get more instant motivation — where working out can take months to get results,” Engelberg said.

The GeoPalz iBitz

The GeoPalz iBitz and app

The furthest along company in the Nike+ accelerator batch is GeoPalz, which makes a cheap activity tracker for kids called the iBitz, which launched at CES this year and goes on sale for $35 in retail stores like Best Buy and Target in September.

Boulder-based GeoPalz comes from the creators of Jibbitz, which sold 250 million little snap-on characters for Crocs shoes and was bought by Crocs for about $20 million in 2006.

Now the same founding team is going digital and has created a whole universe around kids earning “NRG” for their activity, shown in a family interface along with their parents’ FuelBands. Kids can apply their NRG to keep a virtual Tamagotchi-style pet alive, to play 18 compatible iPhone games, to buy tools in Minecraft or to earn coupons set up by their parents for game and TV time.

Today GeoPalz announced a partnership with Disney’s Club Penguin to co-brand iBitz and translate NRG into the virtual world’s coins.

And lastly there’s HighFive, which isn’t a consumer product but rather a mobile ad network for fitness apps.

The company’s SDK integrates into apps to give their users rewards at the moment they complete goals and meet milestones.

Like Kiip for fitness, HighFive rewards could be a coupon, a smoothie or something else targeted specifically to the user’s activity and location. Users redeem the deals by entering their emails, which is when the apps pay HighFive. HighFive is integrated with leading CrossFit app MyWOD and just scored a deal with EA Sports’ Yogafy as well.

“Instead of just ‘good job,’ you get something,” said HighFive co-founder Brent Gilmore.

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