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Volume 6 No. 195
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Hangin' With ... Kitman Labs CEO Stephen Smith

Kitman Labs CEO STEPHEN SMITH started his career in sports while in university as an athletic trainer specializing in rehabilitation during a work experience with Pro12 side Leinster. While working with the club and realizing the amount of data being collected was so immense, he went back to school for his masters in combined risk factors as predictors of athletic injury. Smith determined how and why players were getting injured and was able to reduce Leinster's injury profile by more than 30% over two years. His success with the club garnered interest from national teams and several Premier League clubs, leading him to establish Kitman Labs in '12. To date, Kitman Labs has partnered with teams in the NFL, MLS, Premier League, Premiership rugby, National Rugby League, Australian Football League and others. SBD Global spoke with Smith about Kitman Labs' recent partnerships with Australian clubs including AFL side Port Adelaide and how his technology is helping improve athletes' welfare around the world. 
On starting Kitman Labs ...
Stephen Smith: We [Leinster] had a professional team of about 45 athletes and an academy side that had about 50 athletes, so we had about 100 athletes. The amount of injuries that occur every year are going to be limited in a pool of that size. As we made some changes and found some insights, to continue to make it more and more robust ... we needed the data set size to be much larger. So we decided to go pro and to continue to learn from multiple teams and help lots of teams make better decisions.

On expanding to the Australian market ...
Smith: We were very focused on Europe and then started to grow in the U.S. ... So we had not really focused on the Australian market at all. Last summer, a company in Australia called me asking if I would be interested in speaking at an analytics conference in Melbourne. ... I went down at the start of August last year to present, and took a couple of weeks to travel around and meet some teams. The feedback was just immense down there, because Australia is one of the most advanced markets. ... So we signed up some teams in the NRL, some Super Rugby teams and some AFL teams. And we started some conversations with the NRL.

On how the NRL got on board ...
Smith: They were very positive about what we were doing. They came to the U.K. in October and November to play in the Four Nations tournament. Once they were there they elected to leverage our technology and see how it would work for them on tour. The feedback from the tour was fantastic. The insights generated and decisions they could make day-to-day as well as the improvements they were able to make in their athletes while playing games in a competitive competition -- and then going on and winning the tournament in an incredible fashion. They decided they wanted to get all their int’l sides up and running on the system.

On Kitman's competitors ...
Smith: There are lots of companies talking about preventing injuries. We have yet to see a company linking athlete data with real electronic medical records to provide statistically-quantified risk. I believe we are the only company on the planet that actually provides a tool that allows you to link any of your athletes' data with real injuries to quantify risk. ... There are lots of companies collecting data, lots of companies graphing and visualizing data, but there is nobody linking athlete data with electronic medical records and helping teams quantify risk.

On what sets Kitman Labs apart ...
Smith: We've taken a very different approach. That's why we started the entire company by building an electronic medical records tool first, and then building the athlete analytic tools around that to allow us to link any data point back to real injuries. Other companies have come into this space -- not from sports -- thinking that there is a business opportunity in sports, thinking, "Let’s go collect some data, build some graphing tools and help digitize all the data." But, quite frankly, I don't think they understand the problems practitioners face in sport everyday -- that's why we're different. We weren't a group of business people that decided that sport was an exciting market to work in. We're a group of sport people who understood there was a better way to leverage data. We came out of necessity, not opportunity. I just wanted to do my job better.

On brain injuries in sport ...
Smith: They're getting a lot of coverage because of the impact they're having on people's lives. But we do exactly the same thing with them as we do with any other injuries. We can look at the risk factors, identify them and help people make better decisions about how they mitigate that risk. One of the things we're most excited about is working with leagues to solve this. Because if we partner up with any of these global leagues, we start to collect huge data sets across every team and link that back to medical records. With those insights we can accelerate this learning curve and we can help teams make better decisions. Whether that is decisions the individual teams make or rule changes that leagues can make -- there is a huge opportunity available to better leverage the data we're all collecting to improve the welfare of athletes. I think players' associations and leagues bear the responsibility for that.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.