Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Peter Zana, isplack's VP of Sales, a loyal family man, and a competitive swimmer-turned-avid night cyclist.



  • PERSON: That's easy - my wife.  She's amazing.  (And no she won't ever read this so I'm not saying this because I need to climb out of a hole I dug!)  I'm a far better person for having met and married her.  Single best decision I ever could have made.  It's always fun to get introduced to people in her world for the first time and measure their response to me.  They see me as a better person than I am, simply because I'm with her.  That never gets old.  Oh and I call her Susie Sunshine, because she's always so darn happy. 
  • PRODUCT: isplack.  Because it's my life!  But if I picked another product I'm constantly enamored with I'd have to say it's the bicycle.  (Ouch(!) I'm not even a millennial, nor cool enough to know what a hipster is!)  But I've lived in Colorado for 20 years and I still CRAVE riding my bike all around this amazing place.  In town, out of town, on the path, in the mountains.  Just don't ask me to ride on the roads, nor to reveal any spandex.  (If it's on, it's covered.)  I challenge anyone to ride a bike and end it in a bad mood.  It's impossible.  I wonder what the world would be like if we had ended transportation innovations at the bike... 
  • CONCEPT: Gratitude.  I value three things in people including myself:  Honesty, Integrity and Humility.  And those are what I'm trying to help raise my kids with.  From that you can surmise one outcome might be Strength in Character - which is an entirely different conversation.  But to raise kids, or live by example with those three traits, I think there's a certain amount of Gratitude one needs.  So my concept for this purpose is Gratitude.  Without it, you can talk yourself into lies, not honoring your word, and believing you're somehow more deserving than the other person in the room.  But once you live with Gratitude, those falsities are self evident.  Gratitude is the foundation of living a good life.  Be thankful.  And let that carry you forward.
  • BOOK: I used to read a fair amount.  Now instead, I'm in the middle of a startup, and of raising my two kids with my wife, and all that entails.  I don't have the time or energy to read books at the moment.  But I do enjoy Podcasts.  The one I've really enjoyed lately is done by Dan Carlin.  The series is titled 'Hardcore History'.  Carlin does a really good job at picking and then setting up the compelling storyline.  I have enjoyed every one I've listened to and as much as I don't want to admit it, I've listened to one long series twice. 


Thanks for participating, Peter! 


What are your #tpt?

Why We Invested in an MMA Startup

(from ONX Sports)

(from ONX Sports)

Mixed Martial Arts was not on my radar. Sure, I'd seen a fight here and there, but as an investor, I paid little attention to the world of combat sports. It wasn't until I met Trevor Wittman, founder of ONX Sports, that my perspective on MMA changed.

At ONX Sports, the belief is that champions are honed, not born. Trevor, a 16-time World Champion coach, taught me that fighting is about facing your fears head-on and conquering your self-doubt. This mindset is also a key tenant at Black Lab Sports when it comes to looking for the right founders to partner with and the best people with which to surround ourselves. 

(from MMA UK  Blog)

(from MMA UK  Blog)

The importance of that bold and purpose-first outlook hit home last week as I watched Justin Gaethje, Trevor’s protégé, make his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut. He was up against the veteran and heavy favorite Michael Johnson, who spent much of the lead-in talking smack and boosting his own ego. Justin, on the other hand, didn’t waste energy telling everyone he was the best. Instead, he trained hard, built his internal self-confidence, and committed to his strategy of relentless movement forward.

When the fight arrived, Justin attacked it like a successful entrepreneur would have: keeping his focus, taking shot after shot, and continuing to step forward every time he got hit in the face. He executed his plan to a tee. Trevor, in his corner, encouraged Justin to keep moving forward with unwavering pressure, confident that a spectacular knockout would come from repeated kicks to the thigh and an unremitting attitude. In the end, that’s what happened, as Justin broke Johnson’s will and knocked him out in the third round.

(from MMA Mania)

(from MMA Mania)

Watching that fight, I realized that MMA, UFC, and other combat sports are about much more than two people hitting each other. They’re about identifying your purpose, creating a vision for the outcome, and asking yourself: How much do you really want this fight? Are you willing to face your deepest fears? When you get punched in the head and your world is rocked, do you back up, or are you prepared to step forward and keep fighting? I may not be able to relate to the experience in the ring, but I can relate to that mindset, because successful entrepreneurs ask themselves the very same questions.

Trevor was able to find the purpose in fighting and build a company that would support his athletes. Globally, there are 50 million people that use some form of fighting as fitness. This is not a trend; it’s a return to the most natural and primitive forms of movement and self-defense. Even without ever hitting another person, there are physical and psychological benefits to be gained from using raw physicality to unearth the best in yourself and your rivals. That is at the core of our investment in ONX Sports.


To learn more about ONX Sports and Trevor's ground-breaking combat equipment, visit

To keep up with Justin's exciting career, follow him on Twitter at @Justin_Gaethje.

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Zach Murphy, Executive Director of Flywheel Project, people developer, always practicing.



  • PERSON: John Wheeler. He was a theoretical physicist who focused his efforts on the concept of general relativity and futurism. His quote, "As our island of knowledge grows, so does our shore of ignorance" captures the feeling of ignorance as we gain more knowledge.
  • PRODUCT: Stabilo Pens. These changed the way I take notes. I use color and creativity to outline ideas and separate thoughts. When I was younger I couldn't stand looking at my own handwriting, but when I started taking notes as a creative process, that all changed. I capture more ideas and have a higher level of engagement in my own work because I adapted my methods. 
  • CONCEPT: The Modern Elder. Globalization and the development of new technologies have changed the role of mentors and elders becomes increasingly complex. Modern elders will have a lasting impact on leaders by using their experience, not age, to increase the potential of people around them. 
  • BOOK: The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. This is a must-read book. Written as a fictional narrative, it focuses on the journey of a young man toward his personal legend. One of the biggest lessons is the focus on realizing that often what we are looking for is inside of us. 


Thanks for sharing some of the things that inspire you, Zach!


What are your #tpt?

Thinking Differently: isplack Signs Story and Pederson

(Welcome to our series on Thinking Differently, a collection of real-world experiences that illustrate Albert Einstein’s belief, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”)

Illustrations by: Gail Folwell

Illustrations by: Gail Folwell

At Black Lab Sports, we like to think differently.

Rather than doing things the conventional way because it’s simple or safe, sometimes we take a step back. We challenge the system. And we improve on it when we can. It’s not about disrupting the status quo for the sake of it. It’s about identifying areas in need of growth and creating space for bigger wins all around. isplack’s recent endorsement of two hot pro baseball players—Trevor Story and Joc Pederson—captures that way of thinking and doing.

As a sports-focused venture capital firm, we feel it’s important that Black Lab Sports includes star athletes as part of our brands’ growth and marketing strategies. We also feel that the traditional sponsorship model doesn’t work the same for all brands. Big-time brands pay big-time athletes significant amounts of real dollars in endorsements. Most start-ups simply can’t compete with that.

The Black Lab Sports team took an inventory of what we do have here: a growing company, a vibrant ecosystem, and brands in exciting stages of development. And we designed a new endorsement model based off that. We want our athletes to be not just representatives of a brand, but part of the whole entrepreneurial process. We want them to learn about what it takes to be an entrepreneur and what it means to be an owner. It sounds like a win-win, and we believe that it will be.

As of last week, that model is no longer just an idea. isplack has implemented the new model by signing Trevor Story, starting shortstop from Colorado, and Joc Pederson, starting centerfielder from LA, as the first official isplack pros. We’ve entered a new phase and we couldn’t be more excited for them to be part of it. While an endorsement on paper, we see our relationship with Story and Pederson as so much more: an opportunity to support athletes in an untraditional but powerful way that allows us to maximize their best interests (both now and in the future), while also building our own framework for integrating star athletes into all of our future brands. We are looking for individuals who are not only phenomenal players, but who also align with our core culture, who are excited about being involved in a start-up, and who are capable of thinking and acting like owners and not just stars. With Story and Pederson, we ticked off all those boxes, and we’re thrilled to bring them on board.

Final Thought

At Black Lab Sports, we believe that resilient, mindful people, even in hard and uncertain times, will make a better world for all. And we are on a mission to identify, develop, grow, and support these unique people. I know that "Thinking Differently" is often an overused cliche, but the practice of challenging the status quo and thinking differently is at the very core of making valuable and positive change. Thinking differently opened the door for isplacks’ first pro athlete endorsements, and we see these endorsements as just the beginning. Stick around for updates on Story and Pederson and our collaborative efforts in doing things differently. 

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Olja Ivanic, isplack's International Celebrator, a Croatian native who calls the world her home, and instantly everyone's best friend.



  • PERSON: Beyoncé. Besides being an incredible entertainer and performer, she is a true entrepreneur and businesswoman who has built an empire. One of my favorite quotes is, "You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé." Ellen, Tina Fey, Michelle Obama, and Elizabeth Warren are all my close seconds as they each have made tremendous movements in their areas (from comedy to social work) and are incredible role models to girls all around the world. 
  • PRODUCT: isplack of course! How incredible is it to be able to Get Your Colors On from your favorite sports team to the cause you are most passionate about? United in color, united in isplack - all day, every day!
  • CONCEPT: Ridiculous Love. I believe that God has ridiculous love for all of us and each of us and that we need to show this kind of love to all that we meet. Love always wins! 
  • BOOK: Too many to pick for this ADD mind! Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl will probably always be in my Top 3. He speaks of surviving the Holocaust and how he was able to do so with a mindset of "the only freedom we have is to choose how we react to our circumstances." No matter how terrible things may become in our lives, our minds can overcome the physical and we can survive and surpass the darkness. You Are A Badass and The Road Less Traveled are two of my favorites to re-read and find motivation and inspiration in. I truly believe we can do anything we set our minds to!




Thanks for sharing your inspiration with us, Olja!




What are your #tpt?

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Cooper Nelson, last year's super-intern who's back for more as the official isplack evangelist, armed with a degree from Luther College.

(Sources: ESPN,,,

(Sources: ESPN,,,

  • PERSONJeffrey Wettach. He is my old track coach who still works at Luther College. Jeff has been working at Luther for 30 years now and he is 30 years strong. I have never met someone that has the loyalty to a school like Jeff Wettach. He doesn't cut players from his programs, he knows everyone he coaches and he is in love with his work. He coaches with energy and a surplus of positivity. I wish I could lift the spirits of others just by being like Jeff Wettach.
  • PRODUCTXtenex Shoelaces. Tying your shoes, whether you realize it or not, is quite tedious, but I don't deal with that anymore because these shoelaces do not need to be tied. They also have many points of tension called eyelets which tighten around the whole foot instead of just the top so my feet feel completely snug.
  • CONCEPT: Being a new hire out of college, I sometimes make mistakes while I am still learning the ropes of my work. A quote by Michael Jordan always makes me believe that any mess-up is an opportunity for improvement. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
  • BOOKTools of Titans by Tim Ferriss. It outlines the tactics, tools, and routines of many successful people like billionaires, athletes, and celebrities. While it is very interesting to learn how people found the success they did, I love to learn what their day to day life looks like and perhaps how I can replicate that.


Thanks for participating, Cooper!


What are your #tpt? 

Flywheel Project: The First Turn

If you’ve come around Black Lab Sports in the last two weeks, you might have noticed a changed dynamic. In addition to bringing in some new long-term tenants, we’ve gained nearly a dozen young additions to our space for the summer that we're really excited about!

The first cohort of Flywheel Project—our three-month experiential learning and leadership program for high school and college students—is under way and on a roll. Hailing from Seattle to New York, and spanning academic interests from communications to accounting, they’ve already amplified energy levels in The Lab and gotten their feet wet in a number of areas, both here and beyond. Before they get much further into the program, I want to share some of the things these emerging leaders have been up to so far.


Orientation: As individuals, they considered the unique strengths and weaknesses they’d be bringing to the program. As a group, they began to break down barriers and establish goals for the summer ahead.


A Day with Will Day: For their first team activity, the interns helped Will Day publicize his upcoming art show in San Francisco. Opting for the cold-call method, they reached out to hotels, yacht clubs, country clubs, and luxury condos and emailed art blogs in order to spread the word and distribute invitations. Later, they got a lesson in painting from the man himself. (Verdict: Impressed) 


Distribution Experience: Following the lead of isplack’s co-founder Aaron Beach, Flywheel Project learned the ins and outs of quality assurance and 3PL. Plowing through two massive crates, they opened boxes, counted isplack sticks (yanking the errors), repackaged the boxes, and got them ready to ship out, devising an efficient system and growing a team as they went. 


isplack Activation: Commerce City, Colorado hosted the USA-Trinidad & Tobago men’s soccer match last week—a World Cup Qualifier—and gave Flywheel Project members their first taste in street activation. For a full afternoon, they helped fans get their colors on with Fire Red, Flash White, and True Blue isplack streaks, while squeezing in a little tailgating too. An estimated 5-600 faces colored and a victorious Team USA sounds like a success to me. 



HogFest: In perhaps the coolest “work” assignment of the summer, a handful of interns attended local apparel startup Shinesty's HogFest over the weekend. Putting that trifecta of isplack sticks to use again, they color-coordinated with Shinesty’s ‘Merica Collection to infuse the event with a humongous dose of patriotism and pride.  


In their first full two weeks, Flywheel Project members set the tone for their turn and for future Flywheel cohorts. Eagerly accepting every challenge thrown their way and coming together as a team to get things done, they’re racking up experiences and skills that we believe will help them go far in the real world. We’re really excited about the 11 individuals we hand-picked (out of 40+ applicants), and we expect big things from them this summer and beyond.

Big props to the Flywheel Project team (Connor, Henry, Hunter, Jake, Kirby, Michael, Mike, Nick, Roy, Sophia and Suzie), Flywheel Project Executive Director Zach Murphy, and isplack Evangelist/Photographer Cooper Nelson!

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from our resident green thumb and entrepreneur: ēdn founder Ryan Woltz.



  • PERSONElon Musk. Tesla, SpaceX, HyperLoop, The Boring Company. Each of Elon’s companies has the ability to fundamentally change life on earth (or other: Mars!).  A brilliant engineer and visionary who executes like no other. A huge inspiration and someone I think of often.
  • PRODUCTēdn SmallGarden 2 (link is for the original). Always self promoting! Our soon to be released indoor garden adds WiFi, advanced LEDs, sensors and an app to guide you from seed to harvest!
  • CONCEPT: "No such thing as best, only better." Always improving in all aspects.
  • BOOKCreativity Inc. A book on the secret to making more of the good stuff. From people to products, Ed Catmull’s book has really been an inspiration on how to run (and maintain) a creative product company.


Thanks for sharing your sources of inspiration with us, Ryan! (If you missed our feature on him, learn more at:

What are your #tpt? 

Revo PT & Sports Performance: A Marathoner's Perspective

As someone who runs for my job, logging up to 120 miles per week and traveling year-round to races, you can imagine the damage my body accrues. Sometimes that stress manifests in clear warning signs: a hotspot on my shin or a hamstring that tightens up when I sprint. In a weird way, I consider myself lucky when I sense an issue like that and am able to respond fast enough to prevent major damage. But other times, something serious pops up “out of nowhere”—like the intense knee pain I felt hours after a mile repeat workout, which ultimately sidelined me from that year’s key marathon. In those situations, I’m left feeling baffled and frustrated and incredibly unlucky.

What I’m finally learning, almost fifteen years into my competitive running career, is that the body doesn’t operate on luck. Even when we can’t pinpoint it, there’s an underlying cause for everything that goes awry: shin splints, plantar fasciitis, that labral tear in my hip that hijacked a year of my college career. But the truth is that I’m no expert on the human body, the way it was designed to move, or how far from “ideal” my gait really is. I know how to run fast and train hard, but I don’t know how to identify specific weaknesses or imbalances that make me susceptible to injury. Fortunately for me, I know a few people who do.

The first thing that distinguishes Revo Physiotherapy & Sports Performance from similar operations is the use of both science and technology to optimize health and performance. Each of the three Revo founders (Brian Briggs, Dane DeLozier, and Matthew Smith) holds a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, allowing them to combine physiotherapy and personal training “with a biomechanics lab twist." It all happens in their state-of-the-art gym occupying one side of the Black Lab Sports facility and featuring a bank of massage tables, an indoor turf field, and a slew of gym equipment, from weight racks, plyometric boxes, and speed ladders to treadmills, stationary bikes, and ellipticals. Beyond that, there’s high-tech, high-speed video equipment, which the therapists use for gait analyses, return to sport tests, injury prevention screens, and even bike fits.

There’s plenty of information on their website, plus lots of fit-looking people filling their Instagram and Twitter feeds. But what’s the Revo PT experience really like? I made an appointment to find out.

On a Tuesday morning a few weeks ago, I met Matt in the gym and hopped up on a massage table for a preliminary assessment. After asking me about my injury history, current state of health, and where I’m at in my training cycle, he went through a series of tests to check out my alignment, flexibility, and discrepancies between sides. Unsurprisingly for a marathoner, I revealed some super tight hip flexors, an overly active lower back, and calf muscles that lit up when prodded. (I’d worn spikes for the first time in a long time that morning and it showed!)

From there, I followed Matt to the sports lab area, where he stuck about a dozen adhesive LED lights on my major joints (including ankles, knees, and hips) and on the front of my foot and midline of my torso. With the camera rolling, he recorded me running at a comfortable pace on a treadmill for a few minutes, while watching his computer monitor for real-time feedback on my gait. Drawing data from the LED lights that speckled my body, the program calculated exactly what angles my hinges were reaching, and how those on each side differed. I might have been able to get away with a few imperfections in a normal setting, but as I learned as soon as I dismounted: you can’t get away with much when you’ve been shot at 120 frames per second. The slowmo video revealed some major knee collapsing, a hyperextended back, and a wobblier than is ideal torso (among other things).

Armed with all that feedback, we hit the gym for a demonstration on activation and specific strength work. Matt created a program based off the areas I’d just shown need some work, with the goal of retraining myself to adopt a more efficient movement pattern that will translate over time to the roads and trails. Mercilessly, he stationed me in front of a full-sized mirror and walked me through a few exercises that would comprise my new daily protocol. Using the stretchiest (code for easiest) resistance band available, I held each leg in a series of sustained positions before performing a rapid succession of off-on style movements. Judging by my visible quaking, each hold recruited muscles that I’ve unknowingly been neglecting for a good while.

It’s amazing how well the body compensates for deficiencies—until it doesn’t. The goal with Revo is to avoid that breaking point at all costs. My instructions were to build those exercises into my regular routine, either in an abbreviated format prior to working out or the full progression afterwards. If those four to eight added minutes decrease my training interruptions and elevate my performance even a little bit, that could mean the difference between a spot on Team USA and a spot on my couch. Worth it, to say the least.

So the benefits of the Revo system for elite athletes are clear. And while there does seem to be a steady stream of lean, Spandex-clad individuals walking through their doors at all hours, the profits are available for (and utilized by) active people of all types—from passionate skiers and high school lacrosse players to world-class triathletes and even post-op rehabbers. The treatment will vary from person to person, but the method and mission stay the same: to combine science, technology, and a deep understanding of the human body to help people maximize their potential and achieve their goals.

Thank you for all you do, Revo! We’re so glad you’re part of the Black Lab Sports community.

Top Picks Tuesday

(Sources: nationalgeographic, amazon, nixbiosensor, flywheelproject)

(Sources: nationalgeographic, amazon, nixbiosensor, flywheelproject)

  • PERSON: Alex Honnold. The guy doesn't perceive limits the way most of us do. He made history on Saturday when he became the first free climber (meaning no ropes or other safety gear) to scale the nearly 3,000-foot wall dubbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. 
  • PRODUCT: Nix. If you sweat regularly (and I hope you do), keep this on your radar! A wearable, sweat-based hydration sensor, designed by Harvard researchers, for athletes, soldiers, laborers, diabetics, and other people whose safety and performance depend on staying hydrated. 
  • CONCEPT: Flywheel. A mechanical device designed to store rotational energy (think those spinning tops you played with as a kid). The inspiration for our experiential learning and leadership program for high school and college students. 
  • BOOK: We Are Legion (We Are Bob) (Bobiverse Book 1) by Dennis Taylor. With all the hype around artificial intelligence right now, here's a fun sci-fi take on it.


What are your #tpt? 

2017 Boulder Economic Summit

Last week, the Boulder Chamber hosted its annual Boulder Economic Summit at the University of Colorado. The 2017 theme was "The Innovation Imperative" because...

As an epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurship, Boulder knows what it takes to innovate: a sustained commitment to scientific research, a world-class workforce, and an economic climate that rewards creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation. It is not innovation for innovation sake, but results in real solutions, products and services.  Innovation is where an idea starts, and entrepreneurship is where innovation meets the marketplace.  In the right circumstances with the right people, innovation can lead to business and entrepreneurial opportunities. As a community, we need to continue to do our part to cultivate the best ideas and enable our best minds, allowing Boulder’s innovators to change the world with great ideas, products and services.

Along with four other bright minds from different sectors of the local community, our own JP O'Brien was invited to sit on the closing panel, titled "Boulder's Culture of Creativity and Innovation." Each of the five guests (Hosea Rosenberg of Blackbelly, Dirk Friel of Peaksware, Deborah Malden of Boulder Chamber, Nancy Smith of Frequent Flyers, and JP, representing Black Lab Sports) spent a few minutes sharing his or her unique perspective before fielding questions from emcee Frances Draper (Vice Chancellor of Strategic Relations at CU) and members of the audience.

In his few minutes of allotted time, I thought JP did a great job conveying the Black Lab Sports environment and mission. I invite you to press play below if you want to know more about The Lab, JP's core purpose, and the role that innovation plays in both.

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our newest series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Dane Delozier on behalf of our friends and resident body gurus at Revo PT and Sports Performance.



  • PERSONJocko Willink. With Memorial Day just yesterday, Jocko has been on my mind as I reflected on the meaning of such a holiday. A retired Navy Seal, Jocko is now an author and podcaster. He speaks a lot about discipline and leadership. Entrepreneurs and athletes alike should listen up.
  • PRODUCTBulletproof Keto Prime. I have been experimenting with various supplements to improve my brain function and have been having good results with ketoprime lately.
  • CONCEPT: “So in the majority of other things, we address circumstances not in accordance with the right assumptions, but mostly by following wretched habit. Since all that I’ve said is the case, the person in training must seek to rise above, so as to stop seeking out pleasure and steering away from pain; to stop clinging to living and abhorring death; and in the case of property and money, to stop valuing receiving over giving.”— Musonius Rufus, Lectures, 6.25.5–11.  I've been taking a deep dive into stoic philosophy and this piece has been stuck in my brain. I'm a huge fan of abandoning the whole "this is how it's always been done" mindset.
  • BOOKThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. Just started this book recently and am loving it. Being creative can often feel daunting for a science guy like me. Actionable advice on ways to ditch the internal barriers and get things shipped.


Thank you for sharing some of the things that are fueling your work right now, Dane!

What are your #tpt? 

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our new series! Every Tuesday, we'll feature four of our favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. Some will be timeless, others will be new and ground-breaking, but all will be impactful on our work at The Lab.

  • PERSON: Andy Hill. Happened to sit next to him on a plane recently, as he was wrapping up his last public speaking trip. You can imagine the conversation and motivation that was created. 
  • PRODUCT: What do Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, and LeBron James have in common? They all provided feedback on Hyperice, a recovery line of products that has harnessed the power of pro advisors and Kickstarter to succeed.
  • CONCEPT: Fast followers: a company or person who quickly follows trends or new ideas. 
  • BOOKMan’s Search for Meaning. In times of inconceivable challenge and struggle, Victor Frankl captures the power of positive visualization.

What are your #tpt? 

The Innovation Imperative



“Innovation” is a business and startup buzzword. It implies forward thinking, creative problem-solving, and the introduction of something new. It brings to mind a frizzy-haired man tinkering with gadgets in a lab.

But “innovate” and “invent” are not the same, no matter how often they’re used interchangeably. According to Merriam-Webster, to invent is “to produce something for the first time,” while to innovate is “to do something in a new way” or “to have new ideas about how something can be done.” Innovation is not about calling one way wrong or trying to be different for the sake of standing out; it’s about reaching a deep understanding of an engine’s mechanisms, and then manipulating the system to make the whole better.


While the mad genius might actually typify an inventor, to me, an innovator is best represented by a great musician. Often the best students of music blossom into the best makers of new music because they spend time really learning their craft before trying to produce something great. If you think about it like a tree, these musicians study every nuance of the roots, trunk, and branches—and only later add their own leaves to the organism.


Eight Reasons Retail Needs Innovating

Some spaces are slower to innovate than others. Retail is one example; there's been a lot of talk lately about its imminent death. While that’s an overstatement, it is true that brick and mortar stores are struggling. And when a chain of stores goes out of business, there is a true economic impact on the entire system.

Here are eight of the top reasons that retail is in need of innovation:

  1. Difficulty of set-up process: The system is designed to benefit large brands with volume, not emerging brands with innovation, making it costly for small brands to test the market.

  2. Disconnect between merchandising plan and store execution: Retail’s 3-tier system (buyers, stores, distributors) is often disjointed without system-wide accountability.

  3. Distribution centers as profit centers: If the costs are not transparent, brands cannot accurately estimate the cost of doing business with a given channel.

  4. Lack of shared business intelligence: Brands need feedback to innovate and make better decisions at SKU, store, and consumer levels, yet retailers are concealing that information. Information sharing would benefit everyone.

  5. Flawed decision-making model: Decisions should be driven by market and brand story, not relationship between a seller and buyer.

  6. Gap in e-commerce: Physical retailers have not yet figured out how to do this well.

  7. Changing consumer habits and behaviors: Modern consumers want and expect an enjoyable buying experience.

  8. Need for an innovation culture: Does your culture allow for, encourage, and reward innovation? Or does it say “Hey, just get the job done”? Innovation only thrives in a culture that celebrates it.

In any industry, those who don’t innovate eventually get left behind. The pressure is on for businesses to respond to a changing retail world.


The Amazon Example

Many brands and traditional retailers demonize Amazon. I hear statements all the time comparing Amazon to “the next, more evil version of Walmart” and complaints that it’s created an uneven and unfair playing field. Don't be lured in. Stop to take a closer look at what Amazon is doing right and how it has used innovation to become a powerhouse to many and a business threat to others.

Amazon has generated 36% growth every year since they went public—a full 20 years ago. So the important question is: How is Amazon consistently excelling in such a tough industry, when some of the historically best retailers are failing? The answer lies in innovation, but not in the traditional business sense of the word. Most marketing executives focus their innovation bandwidth on customer-focused and frontline projects. Amazon, in contrast, spends a large part of its innovation equity on improving infrastructure and changing the status quo relating to the back-end of business (such as building Amazon Web Services, redesigning warehouses, and integrating robotics into pick, pack, and ship processes).

To understand how Amazon is winning with today's startups, put yourself in the shoes of a founder of a new consumer packaged good—perhaps a "smart ball" that tracks movement and provides instant feedback. Your prototype and concept have been celebrated by local mentors, friends, and business colleagues. You've found a manufacturer to build the first 1,000 units. And when you set up at tent at local tournaments, you're able to sell parents on the benefits of the smart ball all day long! If only you could reach more people. But there are challenges implicit in signing an agreement with a big box or sports-focused retail, and the buying cycle is at least 6 months, if not 18. So instead you launch your product on Amazon the very next day. 

Final Thought

Here’s the situation: Retail is NOT dying. Consumers will be buying goods for a long time to come. But the stores that want to be relevant tomorrow must innovate on their core business today. Instead of thinking about innovation as being in front of the customer, think about it from the back end too, in the way we operate the business and scale the infrastructure. That entails applying new techniques, processes, and innovations to improve the system as a whole.

It will be fun to see who rises to the challenge!

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our new series! Every Tuesday, we'll feature four of our favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. Some will be timeless, others will be new and ground-breaking, but all will be impactful on our work at The Lab.

  • PERSON: Bill Maher. If you watch one thing this week, his "Social Media is the New Nicotine" clip is a good choice. "Because let's be honest: Checking your likes is the new smoking."
  • PRODUCT: Moment. An app that monitors how much time you spend on your phone each day. Your stats might surprise you.
  • CONCEPT: Drift (noun): "A gradual shift in attitude, opinion, or position," according to Merriam-Webster. 
  • BOOKOutwitting the Devil by Napoleon Hill. Back in the 40s, Hill predicted that cigarettes would be the new drifting tool. Since big tobacco went under attack, has social media taken its place?

What are your #tpt? 

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our new series! Every Tuesday, we'll feature four of our favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. Some will be timeless, others will be new and ground-breaking, but all will be impactful on our work at The Lab.

  • PERSON: Rashad Evans. Down to earth, humble guy. Hard to imagine he hits people in the face for a living.
  • PRODUCT: Charlotte's Web. Dealing with decades of stigma, the future of hemp for health and recovery is being discovered.
  • CONCEPT: OKRs (Objective and Key Results). We use this system at Black Lab Sports. A powerful way to create clarity of direction and accountability of action.
  • BOOKThe Rise of Superman by Steven Kotler. Flow revisited. A look at the limit of human potential and how to approach and expand our limits.

What are your #tpt? 

isplack Activation: How a Company Gives First

“Give first.”

Those words bring to mind one person doing someone else a favor, without the promise of compensation. Of course, we all hope that our acts of kindness will circle back around in time. But when we operate with a genuine give first mindset, we do so knowing that they very well may not. Tutoring a struggling peer, hosting a neighborhood block party, and offering to watch your friends’ kids while they have a date night are all examples of that philosophy in action.

For an individual, it’s pretty simple. But how does a brand or company give first?

One way is through an experience, created and disseminated at no cost. isplack—high performing eyeblack designed for both athletes and fans, and Black Lab Sports’ original startup—offers a great example of this “give the experience first” approach.


isplack Paints the Town

Friday, April 7 marked Opening Day for the Colorado Rockies, and isplack geared up for the occasion: seven team members, baseball-style isplack shirts, and a few face paint sticks each (mostly Potent Purple for all the Rockies fans, but also a few True Blues for the odd Dodger devotee). Co-founder Olja Ivanic, leader of the street activation team, set the tone from the start with her palpable energy and quest to reach as many fans as possible, while co-conspirator (and co-founder) Aaron Beach handled the logistics, coordinated with venues, and kept the team on track. Their mission, according to Olja, was “to help people celebrate and unite with their team, and help them really remember the day.” To give first to the fans, in other words, through the gift of a priceless experience.

And so we painted, first each other and then every pedestrian in our path. On sidewalks and street corners, in bars and restaurants, and on top of Denver’s most bustling rooftops, we delivered experiences in the form of purple (and occasionally, blue) isplack: colorful swipes below the eyes of hundreds of pre-gaming fans. In doing so, we linked the fans to each other, as well as to the isplack-wearing athletes they came out to support.

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Following Olja’s lead, we carried a celebratory attitude wherever we went, sharing in the excitement of a new season and forging connections along the way. Among them were musicians, bartenders, peanut-sellers, DJs, college students, families, and even a spirited policeman. One of the neatest moments of the day was watching Olja swipe a giddy little boy’s face with purple isplack not ten feet from where I was drawing a long purple mustache above a senior citizen’s lips (entirely at his request). “We interacted with such a wide range of people,” Olja said, and “every single interaction was so fun and meaningful.”

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Final Thought

We didn’t sell a single stick of isplack on Opening Day. In fact, we gave several away, and also left the office virtually empty for the day. So why was it worth the effort?

We believe the momentum from the 1,000 experiences we created will come back in many ways. Had we set up a booth outside Coors Field, we probably could have sold 100 sticks. But by giving first and tapping into the emotions of so many fans, we created experiences, and with them, the potential to generate exponentially more sales down the road.

Stay tuned as we watch for the fruits of our Opening Day labor! 

Meet Ryan Woltz, ēdn Founder and Shark Tank Guest

Ryan Woltz knows a thing about growth.

If you caught the recent episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, you saw him skillfully showcase the ēdn SmallGarden—an intelligent indoor planter that doubles as a conversation-starting piece of art—while defending himself against the ruthless Sharks. In many ways, the show was Ryan’s coming-out moment, his introduction of his company to the world.

Not aired, yet essential to his story, is that the ēdn seeds were planted much, much earlier.


A Budding Horticulturist

Ryan’s interest in horticulture took root at six years old, when he discovered the thrill of backyard gardening and forest exploring. Though he couldn’t vocalize it then, the concept of living beings growing on their own—no instructions required, human assistance optional—fascinated him.

That childlike wonder stuck with him through his teenage years and beyond. When his family moved from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Charleston, South Carolina, he fused his love of the outdoors with his burgeoning social life, spending countless hours at the beach near his home and devoting much of his free time to sports with his friends. Later, at Clemson University, Ryan saw in Civil Engineering the opportunity to pursue his passions for nature, the outdoors, and problem-solving at once. He took the plunge and nearly drowned as a result; it took three tries to pass an introductory math class. After a lifetime of cruising by on minimal effort, that was the wakeup call he needed. With a crucial mindset pivot—“fine being average” to “I’m going to be great”—Ryan’s narrative as a leader began to develop. By the time he graduated, he’d been elected President of his fraternity, started a newspaper, and established t-shirt and ice luge business, all while acing tough classes like Differential Equations that once seemed insurmountable.


The ēdn Evolution

Though Ryan emerged from Clemson as an engineer, horticulture was still an important part of his identity. In fact, it was in his first year at a big construction and engineering firm that the idea of an automated garden was planted. He became so fixated that a year and a half into the job, on his twenty-fifth birthday, Ryan quit, sold his belongings, bought a car (Uber-approved, just in case), and recruited a friend from Clemson to join him in Denver to bring the garden concept to life.

If his business schemes in college were akin to hiking one of Colorado’s 14’ers, Ryan soon discovered that making a living as a startup founder was on par with scrambling up K2. As that reality set in and the stress mounted, his co-founder crumbled and bowed out of the company—on the eve of their first big competition, no less. Reverting to his high school wrestling days, in which he relished being an underdog, Ryan saw the split as a challenge and single-handedly bested five other companies before a 400-person audience.

Back to square one, Ryan took jobs at Uber and one more engineering firm while planning his next move. In a giant stroke of luck, a call for Denver Startup Week’s pitch competition crossed his radar the night before applications were due, and with nothing to lose, Ryan filled one out. His acceptance caught him by surprise just a few days before the battle, which would take place in the form of one-minute prop-less pitches given by the eight invited companies. Despite less than ideal preparation—including a last-minute work trip to Texas and a total failure to recite his pitch in the rehearsal—Ryan pumped the crowd up, nailed his allotted minute, and ended the night second overall. His confidence soared while ēdn’s exposure skyrocketed, and opportunities came hurling Ryan’s way: first a series of introductions to big players in the industry; then a successful pitch to Angel Investors in California; and finally a coveted interview with TechStars, the incubator and accelerator that has helped develop the likes of ClassPass, Sphero, Uber, and more.


The TechStars Experience

Ryan’s invitation to the three-month TechStars program changed everything. Upon accepting and leaving his traditional job for good, he was challenged to get five working prototypes of his automated garden into five homes. To his amazement, he did, and all of a sudden, ēdn was transformed from a well-developed idea into a physical product—flawed and “way too complicated,” but real nonetheless. Even more influential than the assignments and lessons, however, were the people that surrounded Ryan in the TechStars space: “the smartest, most creative people you’re ever met,” all of whom subscribed to the “Give First” motto and who raised each other’s game through shared inertia.

One of Ryan’s most fortuitous connections spawned by TechStars was JP O’Brien, a serial entrepreneur and the CEO of sports tech accelerator and incubator Black Lab Sports. The two met through Mentor Madness—a speed-dating-type situation between the TechStars entrepreneurs and 100 potential mentors—and formed a quick bond through their engineering orientations and athletic backgrounds, which still inform the way each operates. (Ryan was a competitive high school wrestler and O'Brien, now a coach, played lacrosse and football at Cornell.)

Ryan thrived in the TechStars system, largely thanks to mentors like O'Brien and Managing Director Natty Zola. But the process didn’t happen without growing pains. Another stumbling block impeded his path at possibly the most inconvenient event yet: Demo Day, the highly public and anticipated annual TechStars finale. An untimely falling-out with his latest co-founder left Ryan alone and petrified on the eve of their presentation. Backstage, 800 audience members waiting to meet ēdn, Ryan envisioned himself totally bombing his demonstration and did something he'd never done before: bailed. Not only did he blow the “Super Bowl of TechStars,” in his words, he “hadn’t even shown up.”

Six Sharks and One Black Lab

Then the call from Shark Tank came. Abiding by his belief that “it’s all about how you pick yourself up,” Ryan went through the interview process while continuing to push along the garden. All the while, O'Brien continued mentoring and guiding him, at one point challenging Ryan to design a smaller, more cost-effective product that could go to market sooner, more along the lines of a Shark Tank hit. The SmallGarden—a gorgeous and sleek planter box equipped with wooden panels, an automatic lighting system, and 12 soil-less seed pods—was the result. O'Brien also drilled Ryan into the ground in preparation for the show, anticipating the hard questions he might face and training him to remain composed throughout. By the time he landed in Culver City, California, for the taping of the show, Ryan had successfully crafted two striking gardens and a dynamite demonstration.

Without spoiling the outcome, ēdn entered a new phase after the Shark Tank appearance, and again when the episode aired six months later. In between, Ryan planted the ēdn headquarters in the next environment in which he felt the company would flourish: Black Lab Sports, O'Brien's Boulder-based intersection of business, art, and athletics. Not only has the move allowed him to integrate the entire process, from research and design to prototyping to assembly to manufacturing, in his words, it’s a “creative collective of people who do things"—things like create and troubleshoot and encourage and grow.


Learn more about ēdn at and join the journey on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Mozart's Grand Slam Gala at the Lab: A Recap

One week ago, Black Lab Sports was honored to host the Boulder Symphony’s 2017 fundraiser: Mozart’s Grand Slam Gala at the Lab. This year’s theme was celebrating “determination, perseverance, and the acknowledgement of the human spirit’s desire to excel—whether in sports, in music or in life,” so was a perfect fit with our philosophy.

For one special evening, our 22,000 square-foot space was transformed into an auction arena, a fine dining spot, and a symphony hall, filled with some of Boulder’s most talented musicians and most passionate patrons of the arts. If you weren’t able to attend, we hope to share a small part of the experience with you through the following pictures:

We want to extend a massive “Thank You” to everyone who attended, performed, and planned this phenomenal event. It was a privilege for us to house the Boulder Symphony for the evening, and a joy to see so many people gathered in The Lab.


The Boulder Symphony’s next big performance will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” on Saturday, May 13. Find tickets and stay up to date with other Symphony happenings at

Top 8 Sports Industry Trends Predicted for 2017 (and 1 from me)

A wrist full of wearables (

A wrist full of wearables (

About this time last year, Deloitte predicted that 2016 would be the year of wearables in sports—and it was. The explosion of Apple watches, FitBits, and other real-time trackers is revolutionizing the way that we measure, track, and improve performance, from pros all the way to beginners.

This week, Deloitte released their 2017 forecast, and based on their track record so far, it’s a projection worth following. Notably, data analytics is expected to dominate the sports industry this year, not just for player and end-game strategy, but also for fan engagement and general sports administration.

I thought I'd offer my own prediction for the year ahead, which I'll return to and evaluate in March of 2018. I'm predicting that the most innovative sports industry change in 2017 will be the emergence of a new sports media paradigm. The signals are strong: there is so much great content, so much emotion and potential for storytelling, so many individual screens for personalization—but so many barriers to capturing a large audience amidst all the noise and demands for a consumer's attention.

While we haven't yet identified exactly what shape this new paradigm will take, Black Lab Sports's Fund II is on the lookout for entrepreneurs that are tackling these next-generation media platforms.

Find Deloitte’s Sports Industry Starting Lineup for 2017 at: