When Connor Winter (MechEngr’16) decided to pursue a Certificate in Engineering Management in conjunction with his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, it put him on a path that would lead to the founding of his own startup company, ShoeSense.
The concept of ShoeSense is to pair a wearable sensor with a smartphone app that provides advice on what type of running shoes to wear, insight into the user’s running gait and exercises that will help improve their form.
The genesis of the company was Winter’s knack for utilizing the resources at his disposal while an undergraduate at CU Boulder.
Winter, who ran track and cross country as a student-athlete, pursued an independent study at the Locomotion Lab on campus, where he conducted a statistically driven analysis on how the right, or wrong, pair of shoes can drastically affect the biomechanics of a runner and their overall performance.
Taking that data, Winter developed a sensor that leverages the computational powers of an accelerometer, which measures the rate of change of velocity of an object, and a gyroscope, which measures angular velocity and an object’s deviation from its desired orientation.
Measuring the step of a runner 400 times per second, the sensor uses three axes of motion – vertical impact, braking force, and the acceleration of your foot laterally – to develop metrics that an end-user can use to improve their running style or avoid injury.
For example, the vertical impact of a single step when you run can amount to six to 10 times your body weight. That can build up over time and cause injury. However, it often takes four weeks for an injury to manifest. If the sensor measures an incremental buildup of excessive loading on a runner’s legs, the app will tell you in advance that you are at risk of injury and suggest a day off.
“The sensor can’t just give you numbers,” Winter said. “It has to give you a path to make better decisions as a runner.”
While at CU Boulder, Winter worked with Venture Partners, an office that helps to commercialize research done on campus. Through their training program in Intellectual Property (IP) Management, Winter patented his shoe sensor.
But that was just the beginning of Winter’s journey to founding ShoeSense. “It’s one thing to come up with an idea or product,” Winter said. “But it’s another matter entirely to bring that idea to market.”
The Certificate in Engineering Management aims to provide tools to understand the business framework in an engineering and technology environment. Winter found the class Entrepreneurial Product Development the most useful for him. In the class, Winter pitched his shoe sensor idea, and it was one of the few selected for the class to develop a business plan around throughout the semester.
Upon graduation, Winter took his product and his business plan and ran with it.
ShoeSense launched their website in December. A customer pairs up with a running specialist from the company, who helps them first determine what type of shoe is ideal for their stride and body type, according to the metrics. They then develop a training regimen designed to improve their overall performance as a runner. The customers range from a 60-year-old jogger to a 20-year-old professional marathoner.
As the streams of data come in, Winter is always looking for ways to refine the metrics. And as often has been the case, CU Boulder helped give him the resources to succeed.
While using the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering's summer internship-for-credit program, Winter took on an intern who has become the company’s principal data analyst. Since then, the customer base of ShoeSense has continued to grow.
“CU Boulder has been such an integral part of the experience of creating this company,” Winter said. “I couldn’t have done it without them.”