The 2017 Black Lab Sports Holiday Gift Guide

Overwhelmed by holiday shopping? Looking for that special gift and out of ideas?

Black Lab Sports has got you covered! We rounded up some of our favorite sports products on the market that we think make perfect presents. Even better, these products are brought to you by companies that we think are worth getting to know. So make a dent in your holiday to-do list, and knock out some shopping with our suggestions below:

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1. isplack: ($8.99) Whether on the field or in the stands, help someone get their colors on with one of 13 colors of high-quality eyeblack. From Back in Black to Power Pink, isplack is the perfect stocking stuffer.

2. IRON GRIP Iron Olympic Plates: (call for pricing) With fully integrated handgrips and a 12-sided design, these Olympic plates are ideal for the lifting enthusiast with home gym aspirations.

3. Soccer Sidekick Training Ball: ($54.99) Shopping for soccer players? Give them the Soccer Sidekick training ball, which allows for game-like passing and receiving with every part of their body—without a partner.

4. Pure Cycles Original Bike: ($329) This best-selling bike combines speed, style, and affordability to create an exemplary riding experience. Choose from several models and colors, and give someone special a gift to remember.  

5. Epoch Lacrosse Hawk Sequel Head: ($99.99) The Hawk Sequel men’s lacrosse head was inspired by Italian supercars and engineered for two-handed dodgers seeking maximum speed, power, and control. Check out the Prequel for the one-handed dodger, and the Purpose for the female player.

6. RAD Roller Rounds: ($16.00) Give the sore, tight, or tense person on your list these three balls (small, medium, large) that offer targeted release for tight spaces. Who doesn’t need a little tension release this time of year, after all?

7. Epoch Lacrosse Dragonfly 8 Lacrosse Shaft: ($139.99) Help a friend or family member take his lacrosse game to the next level with an Epoch Carbon Fiber/Composite shaft (see the Purpose for females). Better yet, combine it with the Hawk Sequel or Purpose head, and gift a winning stick.

8. IRON GRIP Dumbbells: (call for pricing) Help the weight lifter in your life complete his or her home gym with a set of these superior dumbbells. Choose from the Urethane and Solid Steel models, and customize the handles for maximum comfort.

9. RAD Roller All-In Kit: ($140) Unsure which recovery tool to gift? Go for the works! The All-In Kit includes the RAD Roller, Rounds, Rod, Helix, and Block, and is meant for head-to-toe treatment and recovery.

10. CAN-ICE Synthetic Ice System: (call for pricing) Endorsed by Hockey Canada, CAN-ICE looks, feels, and performs just like real ice, indoors and out. Customize the rink size to any space, and make a hockey player or figure skater very happy for seasons to come.

11. Play Impossible Gameball: ($99) Named one of CNN’s 14 hottest toys this holiday season, the inflatable Gameball has a small “brain” inside that connects via Bluetooth to the Play Impossible app. Use the app for progress tracking, score keeping, game playing, and more.

12. Pure Cycles Nightlight: ($9) Another great stocking stuffer, these nightlights add extra visibility and a splash of color to any ride. A set comes with both front (white) and rear (red) lights, and is the perfect addition to a Pure Cycles bike.

13. ONX X-Factor Training Gloves: ($269.00) Engineered by an 18-time world champion coach and worn by two world champion fighters (and counting), these gloves combine performance, protection, fit, and feel to improve performance and keep hand injuries at bay.

 

Gift talk aside, whatever you’re celebrating right now—whether a religious holiday or the start of a new year—I hope it’s a special one, full of family, friends, joy, and reflection.

Thanks, as always, for being part of our community. We’ll see you in 2018!

The Inaugural Black Lab Sports Investor Showcase

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Not too long ago, Black Lab Sports was an empty warehouse and a big idea. We knew we wanted to build something great inside these walls, but we didn’t know exactly how it would roll out, who would contribute, or what shape it would take.

Fast forward a few years to Tuesday, November 13, 2017, at our inaugural Black Lab Sports Investor Showcase. A group of investors gathered in that same space (which is now part of a vibrant ecosystem) to learn about the future of Black Lab Sports and how they might get involved.

Justin Bannan and I set the scene for our guests. We described our successes to date and presented our plan for Black Lab Sports Fund II. We demonstrated why now is a great time for startups and entrepreneurs to enter the sports market, and why our unconventional investment process is working. Instead of taking a product focus, we start by identifying the right founders. Then we surround them with a great team, we invest our time, energy, and money in them, and we coach and develop them to achieve greatness. We understand investing, and with Fund II we will invest in 15 to 30 companies whose founders are what I call Thinker-Doers. Our goal is to set them on a trajectory to do what they love and to provide superior returns to investors.

Next, four founders that operate within the Black Lab Sports ecosystem (and three of which are part of the Fund I portfolio) spoke about their journeys so far. If you want more than the snapshots offered below, I highly encourage you to connect with the founders:

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1.     Aaron Beach (president, co-founder, and COO of isplack): After launching at the 2014 World Lacrosse Games in Denver, the isplack team learned that getting into major retailers was really hard. But they had a product they believed in (high-quality, colored eyeblack) and a mission they felt strongly about: uniting athletes, teams, and fans through color. Three years later, isplack is the #1 eyeblack sold in the US, an Amazon bestseller, and on the shelves of big retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Academy Sports. isplack has a new product line in the works and exciting plans to go global in 2018.

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2.     Trevor Wittman (founder of ONX Sports and an 18-time world champion coach): A former pro snowboarder, Trevor was constantly seeing new innovations on the slopes, but none to speak of in combat sports. He decided to fill that void with improved design and technology. First prototyping more protective gloves in his gym and basement, Trevor recently moved his workspace to Black Lab Sports, where he can be found developing and marketing the next generation of combat equipment. He’s just beginning, but his gloves are already in 11 countries and protecting the hands of two world champion fighters.

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3.     Ryan Woltz (founder of ēdn, Techstars alumni, and SharkTank guest): After a start in a traditional engineering job, Ryan took inventory of his life and reemerged as an entrepreneur. With ēdn, he’s now on a mission to “bring life to where you live” by making growing easy, beautiful, and automated. His world-class and beautifully designed SmallGarden is already making waves in the home gardening industry, and it will soon be joined by the WallGarden and other high-tech, low-stress growing vessels for herbs, vegetables, and flowers.

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4.     Meredith Unger (founder of Nix and a college basketball-player-turned runner): By and large, people are guessing their fluid needs—unfortunately, with little accuracy. Not only is even mild depletion performance-compromising, it can be dangerous. Thankfully, those negative effects are 100% preventable, and Nix is committed to spreading that message and the tools to achieve it. The solution is an affordable and disposable patch-based hydration sensor. From endurance athletes and team players to military members and laborers, Nix has tremendous potential to change the hydration game.

 

Finally, we were privileged to hear from John Peters, one of our executive mentors and a senior director of SFIA (Sports & Fitness Industry Association). All the way from Washington, D.C., John stopped by The Lab to talk about SFIA and why it matters to founders and investors in the sports space. SFIA is the trade association of leading industry sports and fitness brands, suppliers, retailers, and partners. From bat specifications to safety gear rules, SFIA helps sports companies and all of us involved in athletics navigate these important implications. SFIA is also the ultimate source for research data on sports participation, market, and more. Even if you didn’t know it, you’ve probably benefitted from SFIA at one time or another!

That’s a wrap on our first Black Lab Sports Investor Showcase. If you were present for the event, thank you for being with us and expressing interest. For those of you who could not make it or are not already part of our community, we’d love to have you join us. If you’re interested in learning more about our Fund II or any of the founders mentioned above, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Fear vs Purpose - Your Move.

Twitter, social media, and the media in general have become a dumping ground for fear driven messaging. Have you noticed?

The only thing we can ever truly control is our thoughts and how we choose to respond to any input. Inputs come in two forms: externally through our 5 basic senses (sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste), and internally through our 6th sense, our creative imagination, or our emotions, which are often triggered by an external input. 

We cannot control these inputs. They happen every second. From the weather, to your family interactions, to politics, to violence, to work interactions, to the stock market, and the list goes on. 

But we each have a choice.  We can choose how we react to each input and how we act based on our situational awareness. We act based on fear or purpose, there is no alternative. 

Every action you perform, starts with a thought. Without first having thought, your brain cannot instruct your body to perform an action. Writing this blog, for example, came from a thought, and now I am typing these words. Each finger press into the keyboard is a mini thought processed and executed. This is why thoughts are so powerful; and control over your thoughts will change your life.

Thoughts are created through the catalyst of the inputs we experience, some we generate, but most come from our environment. Our thoughts are either purpose driven or fear driven.

Let's examine fear based thoughts first. There are six basic fears that we experience:

  • Fear of Death
  • Fear of Ill Health
  • Fear of Old Age
  • Fear of Loss of Love
  • Fear of Criticism
  • Fear of Poverty

When we stand on the edge of a cliff or have a gun pointed at us, our brain tells us there is danger. This is a natural result of the Fear of Death. If we receive a call from the hospital telling us that our parent is there and we should come right away, we experience the Fear of Loss of Love. If we lose our job or the stock market crashes, we have the Fear of Poverty. 

We cannot control those external inputs, and we should not try to ignore the fear that they generate. The fear is a signal that you care deeply about something.

Most people react to fear and create thoughts that are fear-based and fear-motivated.

Very few people actually view fear in the correct manner. We should view fear as a signal to tell us that what we really care about is in danger, and we must create new thoughts in response. 

If you have identified your core purpose, you can learn, through lots of practice, to transform every input into an action that is driven by your purpose. 

I believe that with your core purpose in mind, you choose to create thoughts that lead to actions that direct you closer to your core purpose, not reactions to fears based on inputs out of your control.

Tis the Season to be Grateful

We saw snow over a month ago, and have been hearing Mariah Carey’s Christmas album pour from department stores for weeks—but we still feel pretty on top of it. Last Tuesday, a full nine days before Thanksgiving, Black Lab Sports officially kicked off the holiday season the best way we know how: a party!

Thanks to our friends at J.P. Morgan Chase, who hosted their annual holiday party at Black Lab Sports, we celebrated the start of this special time of year with good food, plentiful drinks, live music, fine art, and first-rate company. It was a joyful evening and a timely reminder that we have so much to be thankful for.

As the holiday madness approaches, we want to take a moment to let you, our community, know that we value and appreciate you. Whether you’re a founder, investor, executive mentor, pro athlete advisor, family member, intern, colleague, or simply a friend of Black Lab Sports: Thank you. Without all of you, we might still be dreaming rather than doing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Enjoy these shots from the holiday kickoff party:

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Real Talk after a First Round KO

The Staredown: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas. (from mma-core.com)

The Staredown: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas. (from mma-core.com)

At Black Lab Sports, we spend a lot of energy identifying and investing in the right people. Beyond sales growth and business accomplishments, what matters, and what attracts us to certain founders and their teams in the first place, is the values and work ethic on which they operate. Trevor Wittman of ONX Sports is a perfect example.

There’s no question that Trevor is a phenomenal coach. Currently an 18-time world champion coach, he’s creating quite a legacy in the world of combat sports. What’s cool about Trevor though, is that his legacy is equal parts record and character—and the same goes for the athletes he trains. Last weekend’s UFC World Championship match, featuring his own Rose Namajunas in the strawweight class, was a great representation of the type of camp Trevor runs and the kinds of athletes he invests in.

Rose was a 6-1 underdog the day before the event. She was up against Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland, the #1 pound-for-pound female MMA fighter in the world. Joanna had been verbally vicious all week and postured herself as the heavy favorite going in. Take a look at her pre-fight staredown with Rose, and note the stark difference in their words and actions (3 minutes):

 

Now watch what happens in the ring (4 minutes). Imagine the kind of poise and self-belief that Rose needed to face an opponent who’d been thumping her chest all week long:

 

But most importantly, see how Rose handles the outcome and the message she sends afterwards (2 minutes). Rather than soaking in individual glory, she exudes humility and grace and uses her platform to do good.  *If you watch just one video, make it this one!

 

Thanks, Rose and Trevor, for using sport as a conduit for self-improvement and connection. We’re proud of all that you do, but especially the way that you do it.

We All Need a Team

By Becky Wade

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Eight days ago, I toed the line at the Chicago Marathon. After several months of focused training, many weeks over 100 miles, a few positive races, and hardly any setbacks, I felt ready to go. I was rested, my workouts indicated I was in personal record shape, and I was prepared to dig extraordinarily deep.

The race did not go as planned. A stitch that lingered for most of the race, making it hard to breathe and take fluids, derailed my breakthrough and tested my pride. Instead of blasting the last 10K—the way I’ve run my best marathons—I was the one staggering toward the finish line, trying to stay upright and praying no one else blew by me. Ultimately, I finished in 10th place (in 2:35). Though I matched my ranking going into the race, my performance and result were tough to swallow.

The texts and e-mails started rolling in soon after I finished. And right up in there, along with my extended family and former teammates (my immediate family was with me in Chicago) were notes of support from my Black Lab Sports colleagues. Having followed along my build-up for the last few months, they were intentional about tracking the race or looking up results, and they let me know that they cared how I did. None of them are distance runners (though there are collegiate swimmers, lacrosse players, and football players among them), and they didn’t yet know how the race unfolded or how I felt about it. But receiving their messages and returning to work a few days later to a whole lot of support, tons of questions about my experience, and a much-needed sense of normalcy, meant a lot to me.

It’s moments like these that I’m especially thankful for my life outside of running—where I do work that challenges and excites me but isn’t really about me; where I have more structure and balance in my life than I would were I just running; and where I’m part of two teams (Black Lab Sports and isplack) that value me equally for my work in the office and on the pavement. So thank you, JP, Justin, Peter, Aaron, Olja, Zach, Cooper, Steve, Lindsay, Michael, Jen, and the many others who work at or visit The Lab and have shown me support in some way. I appreciate it all, and am already dreaming about my next crack at 26.2.

some of the team

some of the team

Denver Startup Week Show Notes

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By Becky Wade

Thanks to those of you who joined Black Lab Sports at Denver Startup Week last Tuesday! We enjoyed interacting with you all and hope you gained some insight into what it takes to make it as a sports startup. If nothing else, hopefully you were inspired to take massive action towards turning an idea into reality, no matter how formidable and daunting it may seem.

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In addition to sharing the Black Lab Sports story, JP and Justin were joined on stage for a Q&A session by two special guests, professional sportsmen, entrepreneurs, and friends: Jake Plummer, former NFL Quarterback and co-founder of Readylist Pro; and Trevor Wittman, 17-time world champion coach and founder of ONX Sports. JP served as moderator while Justin, with a 12-year NFL career, represented isplack. If you missed the presentation, here are a few quotes that stood out:

 

JP O'Brien and Justin Bannan, Black Lab Sports:

"We go through this six-step process: Decide - Envision - Believe - Act - Gratefulness - Awe." - JP

"Instantly with Black Lab Sports, I found I had value I could bring to the table. And I was on a search... I knew I had something to bring to the table while I could learn." -Justin (before becoming a co-founder of isplack)

"You've got to love the hard work. Just because we're here and we've done these things doesn't mean it was super easy. It was really hard, right? ... It's all about understanding the struggle is a necessary ingredient. You have to have the struggle." -JP

"We have two major rules at our company: Give First, and No Assholes." -JP

"We are really interested in building and investing in leaders who understand and practice this concept of turning thoughts into reality." -JP

"Not to be cheesy, but 'you build it and they will come.' We created this ecosystem and we have a true, live vision of what we want to create and how we want to impact." -Justin

 

Jake Plummer, Readylist Pro

"More than anything, it's surrounding yourself... coming back to a team. Because I never would have done anything that I accomplished as a football player without my trust in my guys on my team... So having guys around you in the business world, finding the right ones, that's been a big challenge... you've got to find ways to vet them and have people you can trust."

"Some of the challenges are just getting over your own ego and getting over your own doubts, and making those calls. And hey, if they hang up on you, then call the next guy."

 

Trevor Wittman, ONX Sports:

"I fell in love with chasing what scared me."

"I never cried after winning a boxing match. But almost any time that one of my athletes won a fight, or even the people that I'm working with that are in the gym but aren't fighting... it would make me emotional."

"(JP) asked me about my purpose... and he helped me find that externalizing the internal champion is really what my purpose is. Once I really found that, everything fit together... everything in my whole life has been about it."

 

Justin Bannan, isplack:

"It wasn't about the eyeblack; it was about the mindset, the concept, how (JP) approached it."

"The ups and downs of football... it's a lot like entrepreneurism or starting a company."

"It's very important to me that people believe in me in this new route in life. It's powerful."

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Again, we really appreciate everyone who joined us at Denver Startup Week. It was great to gather in a room full of people eager to learn, innovate, and do great things. As always, if you're interested in continuing the conversation, please contact us here

See you next time!

Black Lab Sports at Denver Startup Week

Curious about what it takes to make it as a sports startup? Interested in hearing from pros from both the sports and business worlds?

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You’re in luck! Justin Bannan and I will be representing Black Lab Sports at Denver Startup Week on Tuesday, September 26, and we'd love to see you there. Our session is called "Building an Ecosystem for Success in Sports Startups" and this is the premise:

Building a sustainable business in the sports industry is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs, athletes, and investors alike. The diversity of the customer base and multiple verticals for growth make the sports industry engaging, exciting, and profitable. But the opportunities are balanced by their challenges. Black Lab Sports is a sports-focused venture capital firm building an ecosystem where sports startups can avoid the pitfalls of the industry. Hear from those who are building, thinking, and doing in the space: from professional athletes turned entrepreneurs to sports industry veterans to professional team executives. Speakers include:

Jake Plummer

Jake Plummer

Trevor Wittman

Trevor Wittman

Here are the details:

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We hope you’ll join us on Tuesday!

Be great.

Black Lab Sports Sends Relief Supplies to Houston

By Becky Wade

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Last week, as Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on Houston, the Black Lab Sports team went into action mode. With a dock, warehouse, distribution center, and committed trucking partners, we had a unique ability to respond and no excuse not to.

So we put out a request to our Denver/Boulder friends for food, water, and monetary donations. And over the course of the week, family members, companies, friends, and strangers came forward to answer the call. Our collection expanded from water and non-perishables to also include food for individuals with allergies, as well as cleaning supplies, diapers, and even pet food.

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The generosity didn’t stop there. Monetary donations trickled into our Venmo account, about two dozen volunteers stopped by to sort and pack, and two trucking companies donated their vehicles and drivers to deliver goods to our warehouse and then to the Houston Food Bank. By loading time, we had accumulated nearly three dozen pallets of food and supplies—enough to fill an 18-wheeler.

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To everyone who contributed: You stepped up, and for that we’re so grateful. We can’t mention you all by name, but Aaron Beach (president of isplack and mastermind of the drive) and I want to extend a special “thank you” to the companies that went above and beyond: Navajo, YRC, Quinn Foods, Jackson’s Honest, Purely Elizabeth, Boulder Clean, Sweetlife Co., Foundry Group, BC Interiors, isplack, EDN, and REVO. We couldn’t have done this without you.

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Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring 4 favorite discoveries or inspirations. This week's picks come from Aaron Beach, COO of Black Lab Sports, President and COO of isplack, father of 3, and official grillmaster at The Lab.

(sources: Dicks, Amazon)

(sources: Dicks, Amazon)

  • PERSON: Sam Beach. This is my now 11-year-old son who has been told since he was 1 year old that touching and eating dairy, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish and many other foods would cause severe anaphylaxis. He has overcome all of these fears and is slowly conquering his food allergies while never wanting to live his life in a bubble. His strength as a young person has inspired me that I can do anything.
  • PRODUCT: Of course it is isplack. This product is amazing and has only bridged the surface exposure. It is always exciting to see players, fans, and anyone else that wants to wear, unite and express themselves in color. isplack also is a product that pushed me out of my comfort zone and has taught me personally so much about business.
  • CONCEPT: Work hard and don't be an asshole. When these two things are combined, good things happen. 
  • BOOK: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The stories and concepts represented in this book challenge me every day. One quote from this book summarizes the concepts of Desire, Faith and Auto-suggestion for me: "Victory is possible for the person who refuses to stop fighting."

 

 

Thank you for participating and inspiring, Aaron! 

 

 

What are your #tpt?

Flywheel Wrap-up, Part I

After a summer full of learning, working, and collaborating, Flywheel Project has successfully completed its first turn. For the last three months, our 11 interns have immersed themselves in projects at The Lab and throughout Boulder, gaining experience in everything from street activation and fan engagement to fine arts marketing and event sponsorships. They represented Black Lab Sports well through it all, and each of them was integral to the launch of this ongoing program.

Here’s a glimpse into what Flywheel has been up to since our earlier recap (found at http://www.blacklabsports.com/diagnosis/2017/6/16/flywheel-project):

 

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Broncos Training Camp Kids Day (before): Five isplack representatives got the crowd fired up during Kids Day at Broncos Training Camp, which also doubled as Miles the Mascot’s birthday. In addition to a lot of eager kids, party guests included mascots from around the state, such as Dinger from the Rockies, Edson the Eagle from the Rapids, and Rocky from the Nuggets.

 

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Broncos Training Camp Kids Day (after): In about five hours of isplack-applying, the team was able to help an estimated 60% of the training camp crowd get its colors on. All of that True Blue and Electric Orange swiping left them exhausted, proud, and very popular in the eyes of the many young Broncos fans.

 

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Mile High Stadium Tour: The Flywheel team took a trip down to Mile High Stadium before the start of a very exciting football season. Hearing from some of the top brass and learning about the challenges of operating a stadium on gameday shed new light on what goes on behind the scenes of one of the country's most popular sports.

 

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iSplack College Gameday Photo Shoot: No one can relate to college students like college students. To kick off isplack’s fall football marketing campaign, Flywheel members orchestrated a photo shoot to show off the colors of the Top 25 NCAA Division I teams.

 

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Broncos Block Party: Flywheel Project attended the first Broncos Black Party featuring Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness and hosted by iHeartRadio. The goal of the evening was scouting potential projects and activation opportunities for the group.

 

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TedxMileHigh: Exposure and connection to the greater Colorado community is one of the program’s main objectives. Along those lines, a Flywheel Project intern spent two days at TedxMileHigh in Denver, during which he listened to experts speak about diversity and equality. You can find Kirby’s blog on his experience here.

 

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The Gold Cup Soccer Tournament: Four Flywheel members brought energy and color to yet another pro sports event, this time at the Gold Cup soccer tournament in Denver. First engaging with fans at the pre-game tailgate and then posting up at stadium entrances with their isplack sticks, the team was able to help fans of four different teams (Mexico vs. Jamaica, Curaçao vs. El Salvador) celebrate and support the sport they love.

 

With one Flywheel Project turn completed and many more to come, we’re still refining the system and finding out how best to teach and utilize our young leaders. All in all, it was a great summer with lots of learning on both sides of the program. On behalf of everyone at Black Lab Sports and isplack, we want to thank Henry, Suzanna, Jake, Mike, Kirby, Connor, Michael, Hunter, Sophia, Nick, and Roy, for opening their minds and sharing their skills with us this summer. It’s been a pleasuring having all of you in The Lab, and we look forward to watching each of you thrive in your various pursuits.

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring 4 favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Lindsay McIntosh, senior at the University of Colorado, passionate traveler, and fabulous isplack intern.

(sources: amazon, lululemon)

(sources: amazon, lululemon)

  • PERSON: I have too many wonderful people in my life to pick one, so I am going to say everyone that I work with every day at isplack! From the second that I walked in the door for my first interview, this office has felt like home. The culture in this office is unlike any other, and to constantly be surrounded by genuine, uplifting people is truly amazing. 
  • PRODUCT: Lululemon leggings. They are hands down the comfiest pants that I have ever worn, and anytime I try to wear something else, I immediately regret it. They’re great for yoga/working out (two of my favorite past times), sitting at a desk all day, and pretty much any other occasion you can think of. If I ever wear jeans to work, the first thing I do when I get home is change back into my lulus. 
  • CONCEPT: TRAVELING! You can learn almost everything that you need to know through traveling. It is the only time you can totally immerse yourself into another culture and experience the way that other people live. You learn about the types of food you like to eat, the type of people you enjoy being around, and the kind activities that make you the happiest. Traveling is what I love to do most, and at this point in my life every paycheck that I earn is spent planning my next adventure. 
  • BOOK: Hard to pick one in particular, but the book that I just finished this past weekend titled When Breath Becomes Air was particularly compelling to me. After working so hard his whole life and being very close to finishing his residency, a young neurosurgeon gets diagnosed with lung cancer. The book was very inspiring because even when faced with mortality, this young man continued to live his life as if he would live forever doing what he loved to do most. 

 

Thanks so much for sharing your top picks, Lindsay! 

 

 

What are your #tpt?

Leadership is a Choice. Choose to Lead.

By Zach Murphy

Source: s3Mdedia.net

Source: s3Mdedia.net

Those of us who work at Black Lab Sports visualize success and work tirelessly to get there. To us, success entails giving first and unleashing greatness in others. Our vision expands beyond Boulder, Colorado, and the United States, and we’re constantly seeking new spaces to lead.

One recent exploration took place at The Sport Performance Summit hosted by Leaders, at which I represented Black Lab Sports. Held over two days at Chicago's Soldier Field, the event featured a variety of speakers that highlighted practices and experiences with the potential to enhance human performance. The motto of the summit was "Worth Knowing," which supports the idea that the responsibility of a leader goes beyond his or her job description. The best leaders are also great people, setting a positive example and living out their visions.

At Black Lab Sports, we recognize the importance of investing our energy into others. In line with that commitment, I went to the conference with a goal of gaining concrete takeaways and encouraging fellow attendees to take an active role in talent development and mentorship of future leaders. We believe it’s not the size of an organization that matters. It’s the impact.

 

Source: Leadersinsport.com

Source: Leadersinsport.com

Three Notable Speakers

The Sport Performance Summit included an impressive and diverse speaker lineup, featuring Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emmanuel, US women’s soccer coach Jill Scott, former Chicago Cubs catcher John Baker, and one of the highest ranking officers in our armed forces General Lori Robinson. And that was just day one. Among over a dozen sessions I attended, three stood out from the rest:

1. Ryan Towey (eSports coach) and Jill Ellis (US women’s soccer coach)

It’s a testament to the emerging eSports market that a professional video game coach and the coach of the US women’s national soccer team would share a stage at a major conference. A key difference between coaching these two sports is the players' access to feedback. While soccer players usually have to wait until halftime to make major changes, eSports players receive real-time input. On the other hand, the two sports are similar in their use of video, which offers post-play feedback from game situations. Comparing these very different types of sports is valuable because it gives us a view into the future of sports markets, and shows how more traditional sports can learn and benefit from newer, tech-based ones. With this knowledge, our assumptions about video games and gamers are challenged. If eSports continues down the path it's on, we will have to continue evaluating its impact on health and society.

2. Sydney Finkelstein (author of Superbosses)

“Your job is to do things that I haven't even thought of.” According to Sydney Finkelstein, Superbosses are leaders who generate and re-generate talent over the course of their careers. He referenced leaders such as Ralph Lauren, Alice Waters, George Lucas, and Bill Walsh, all of whom sought out talent in untapped pools and then developed it in mass. Black Lab Sports’ small step in this direction is Flywheel Project, our leadership development program for high school and college students.

Source: @leaders_insight on Instagram

Source: @leaders_insight on Instagram

3. Mike Brey (Notre Dame basketball coach) and Matt Painter (Purdue basketball coach)

As collegiate coaches, Mike Brey and Matt Painter consider building positive, high-performing cultures integral to their quests for organizational and team success. Part of that entails establishing trust between coaches, players, and parents. They encourage their players to take ownership and they allow individuals opportunities to step up and lead. Each coach has a mantra that captures a piece of his mindset. Brey’s message to his Notre Dame team is: “Who is selling my shit when I am not around?” In other words, how will his players model the culture away from the court? And Painter’s mantra for Purdue is: “We are all about you if you are all about us,” emphasizing the value of engagement and personal ownership on and off the court.

 

Following Up

The week before I left for Chicago, I prepared by executing an hour of visualization and goal-setting. I believe doing so helped pave the way for the lessons and connections I gained during my time at the Sport Performance Summit in Chicago. I’ve already followed up with a handful of the people I met there, who are modeling leadership in their own ways and inspiring me to do the same.

It’s valuable to gain knowledge, but above all, relationships come first. I look forward to seeing how these connections manifest in the months to come.

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from the inaugural turn of Flywheel Project, our three-month experiential learning program for future leaders.

(sources: gofitu, amazon, uw-greenbay, dicks)

(sources: gofitu, amazon, uw-greenbay, dicks)

  • PERSON: Sarah Gaines, founder of Fit University. Fit University is a community of college students on a mission to get fit and stay fit. It is both an online and offline community where students and alumni can share their knowledge and experiences about living their own healthy lives across the country. Fit University is currently present at over 40 universities thanks to their successful ambassador program.
  • PRODUCT: Spikeball. Speaks for itself. The 4-person crossover sport mixing volleyball and four square has changed our lives and taken over our lunch breaks at Black Lab Sports. Easy to set up and small enough to bring anywhere, Spikeball is the perfect game whether you are going to the beach, the park, or simply staying in your backyard.
  • CONCEPT: Color Perception Theory. Does the color I perceive as “red” look the same to another person? Those who are color blind perceive colors differently than those with normal vision because one or more of the three photoreceptors in their eyes is faulty, causing them to not see certain colors or a range of colors. This brings up the question of whether color is perceived differently in each individual's brain, or if humans as a whole have a default way to perceive color.
  • BOOK: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t. Jim Collins explores what causes small companies to make the transition from merely Good to truly Great. He uses specific financial metrics along with deductive reasoning to support his claim. He argues that the leaders in a company must have both humility and resolve in order for their company to make the leap from Good to Great. 

 

A special thanks to Hunter Paulson, who compiled these picks on behalf of Flywheel Project. And many thanks to the whole team for your hard work all summer!

 

 

What are your #tpt?

Meet Gail Folwell, Sculptor, Athlete, and Entrepreneur

Gail Folwell needs to sculpt.

One class was all it took to send the successful designer careening down a career path she’d never envisioned. Having signed up for a one-day Intro to Oil-Based Clay class at the zoo, Folwell sculpted the easiest animal she could find—a hippo—and then “freaked out.”

Unlike painting, illustration, printmaking, or design, Folwell said she instantly had “a thousand things in my head that I need(ed) to manifest. Up until then my art was responsive, client needs or I had to search for subject matter that intrigued me. This medium was so natural, it was too exciting to deny.”

While exhilarating, the leap into a new career came with some surprises. In her first night class, Folwell sculpted a nude female from life. “It looked just right, proportion, scale, gesture”—exactly like her subject. Enter, the teacher. “So, you can sculpt, but she’s DEAD,” he said. This was a startling lesson that would have lasting implications. “You’re not sculpting what she is,” he told her. “You’re sculpting what you see. You have to feel the essence that is of interest to you.” So Folwell started making what was in her head.

And then she needed galleries. “Finding design clients was easy,” Folwell remembers. “There was a fast pace, camaraderie, business, deadlines, money to be made… it was fun.” Making art for only herself and putting her artistic and financial fate in the hands of her galleries didn't have the same allure. So she set her sights on commissions and public art, where she could once again identify projects, choreograph concepts from beginning to end, navigate the pressures of money and deadlines, and build relationships with clients.

The emotional component Folwell had lacked at the start turned out to be career-defining. Anyone can learn a craft, she believes. But “to move from being really good at your craft to creating art is the point at which you transcend what it looks like and start to manifest what it feels like. Emotive experiences drive the design and handling of the material.” When she started sculpting what she loves, her career took off.

Folwell's masterpieces can now be found enhancing spaces and stirring up feelings all over the country and increasingly across the globe. Some of her most beloved include ‘The Edge,’ a dynamic downhill skier that pays tribute to Vail, Colorado’s Olympic and World Cup Athletes; ‘Tête à Tête,’ two figures housed in the Denver Art Museum that evoke unique interpretations depending on the viewer’s perspective; and ‘The NFL Draft,’ a larger-than-life offensive line postured on the Pro Football Hall of Fame parade route in Canton, Ohio.

Obviously, Folwell is passionate about sports. In addition to dabbling in everything from tennis and gymnastics to ski racing and professional mountain biking, she’s been marveling at athletes for as long as she can remember. When she was young, she made and sold sports-inspired wire sculptures to her parents’ friends (revealing her earliest glimpses of entrepreneurship). Standing next to any of her sculptures of athletes today, it’s clear that Folwell has a deep-seated “appreciation for body mechanics and kinesiology, and what the human machine can do." The fun for her is figuring out how to sculpt the human body “so it looks like it’s not stopped but loaded, emotionally and physically.”

Fortunately, Folwell doesn’t have to venture far to find inspiration. Ever since moving Folwell Studios to Black Lab Sports a year and a half ago, she’s had an abundance of athletically-minded people to turn to: the men of Revo PT and their sporty clients; entrepreneurs from startups like isplack, ONX, and CAN-ICE; and individuals from interns all the way up to founders with backgrounds in competitive (even professional) sports. CEO JP O’Brien’s commitment to bringing together left- and right-brained people in one space, to Folwell, creates “a totally symbiotic relationship.” She and fine arts painter Will Day balance out the logical, scientific, and business-oriented individuals on the other side, and together they comprise a powerful team. “Everybody here is a creative with an end goal to manifest something they have imagined,” Folwell said. “We all make products that enhance the sport experience. I do it with art and these guys do it with innovative equipment.”

While maybe the most recognizable, sport is just one of several themes that emerge throughout Folwell’s work. When prompted, I couldn’t come up with one she hasn’t yet explored: birth, death, love, anger, passion, animal—they’re all in her repertoire. Her latest project, Handle the Art (a collection of pulls, knobs, and door handles meant to “change the way you think about cabinet hardware”), demonstrates her incredible range. Abstract faces, muscular bodies, headless torsos, and communicative hands are all part of the collection and are no doubt prompting many conversations in the rooms they adorn.

While disparately themed, Folwell’s pieces are all connected on a deep level. With a visible platform, she feels a sense of responsibility to affect people positively and connect with others through her work. Put simply, Folwell’s core purpose is to Inspire, teach and heal with art. In one season of life, that might mean a memorial sculpture following a tragedy like the Oklahoma City bombing, the 9/11 attacks, or the death of a parent. In another, that might mean a celebratory piece featuring a freestyle swimmer or a giant pitcher greeting ballpark guests. No matter what Folwell feels moved to create, she believes, “If it comes from my soul and it goes into the art… that light can affect the person who’s seeing it.”

For me, the impact is more than emotional; it’s visceral. While admiring her sports sculptures especially, I find myself generating pre-race butterflies, or replaying a special race memory, or urgently wanting to test my body’s limits. The essence of her subjects is present and intense. But don’t don’t take my word for it. Visit Folwell Studios inside Black Lab Sports or any of the public spaces that house her work and let the masterpieces speak for themselves. I can’t predict your personal response, but I guarantee you’ll feel something—be it connected or joyful or motivated or sentimental. That my experience may be different from yours, based on where we come from and how we interpret the world, is precisely Folwell’s point.

 

 

Find Folwell’s amazing portfolio at FolwellStudios.com.

Keep up with her latest creations on Instagram (@FolwellStudios) and Twitter (@FolwellStudios).

Top Picks Tuesday

Welcome to our #tpt series, featuring four favorite discoveries or inspirations from the last week. This week's picks come from Steve Eovine, a Boston native, outdoor enthusiast, and finance expert who's helping Black Lab Sports entrepreneurs reach their goals.

(sources: Vergecampus.com, apple.com, amazon.com)

(sources: Vergecampus.com, apple.com, amazon.com)

  • PERSON: I have a deep admiration for Kevin Garnett.  He played most of his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Boston Celtics.  When he was traded to Boston in 2008, he singlehandedly changed the culture of the Celtics franchise, from a group of individuals to a close-knit team of players and executives.  His leadership didn’t come solely from his basketball ability; he led through example, outworking opponents and teammates every day.  He was also a great role model in the community.
  • PRODUCT: I am not very tech savvy, but my iPhone has become an irreplaceable item.  I rely on this device for everything: managing my calendar, all forms of communication, music, managing my finances, and performing research on the internet. In the morning, I reach for my iPhone before anything else, including coffee!!
  • CONCEPT: It’s amazing how sometimes you can effectively apply a concept from one subject to something completely different.  There is a concept in accounting called “Accounting Controls” where you develop steps in a process to ensure completeness and accuracy.  This practice has served me well in so many other aspects of my career.  It taught me to always double check my work.
  • BOOK: The book Wild by Cheryl Strayed had a profound impact on me.  Her story chronicled the journey she took to re-discover herself while hiking 2,000 miles up the Pacific Crest trail in California.  I had a similar experience last year, leaving my career behind to travel the world and forge a new path in life.  It brought me to Colorado where the journey continues…

 

Thanks for spreading the inspiration, Steve!

 

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 Peter Zana, isplack's VP of Sales, a loyal family man, and a competitive swimmer-turned-avid night cyclist.

(isplack.com, dancarlin.com, trekbikes.com)

(isplack.com, dancarlin.com, trekbikes.com)

  • 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 http://onxsports.com/.

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.

(sources: NYTimes.com, Amazon.com, JetPens.com)

(sources: NYTimes.com, Amazon.com, JetPens.com)

  • 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.