Startup BitGym aims to inspire geeks to work out with iPads, iPhones

November 15, 2011

– Alastair Goldfisher is a contributor for PE Hub and acting Editor-in-Charge at Venture Capital Journal, both Thomson Reuters publications. This article originally appeared here. Any views expressed are his own. –

With more and more VC-backed personal health and fitness companies targeting the hardcore exercise fanatic, it was only a matter of time before a startup emerged to go after the less enthusiastic cardio burner.

Witness BitGym, a startup being launched out of the Rock Health accelerator in San Francisco that says it has raised “some” seed funding.

The aim of the company’s technology is to make exercise seem more like a video game rather than a workout. “Running sucks now. That’s where we come in,” the company says on its website.

Users put their iPhone or iPad on the rack of any treadmill, elliptical machine or stationary bike and the BitGym app syncs with the machine to portray, for instance, a car driving on a race track. With a forward-facing camera, the BitGym app could track the eye so that the user can steer the game with head movements.

When I told the co-founders how much I run and bike and that I don’t use treadmills, they said I’m not part of the target market.

“BitGym is all about making exercise fun for the type of person who would not normally exercise, but who is more apt to play video games on their iPad or smartphone,” says co-founder Alex Gourley (pictured).

BitGym isn’t the first company to combine exercise with hi-tech devices. Expresso Fitness – which made Internet-connected exercise equipment with interactive screens that allowed users to track their progress and compete with others online – filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009. It had previously raised more than $50 million in debt and equity from Sierra Ventures, Enterprise Partners and Physic Ventures, among others.

“Expresso Fitness was ahead of its time,” says Gourley of BitGym. “With smartphones and the mobile technology available, we believe now is a good time to combine cardio exercise and gaming.”

Gourley says that BitGym, which just hired its fourth employee, hopes to raise a “modest-sized” funding round in the months ahead.

BitGym was one of 13 companies that debuted at Rock Health’s Demo Day last week on the campus of the University of California, San Francisco.

Among the other health care startups from Rock Health that debuted were Cake Health, which is developing health care expenses management software; Chronology, which is developing a platform that allows people with Crohn’s disease and colitis to interact with one another; and BrainBot, which is developing a smartphone app and other technology to help people focus.

A full list of presenting startups is available here. Rock Health founder and managing director Halle Tecco says the organization is currently evaluating the next class of health care startups, which will start the program in January. For more information, go here.

The emergence of BitGym in the personal health and fitness category comes at a time when such startups are all the rage. As recently reported by peHUB sister publication Venture Capital Journal (subscribers only) several health and fitness startups have raised venture capital recently, including Basis, Endomondo, Fitbit, MapMyFITNESS and Strava, among others.

Although there has never been a breakout success in the category, Tim Chang, a managing director at Mayfield Fund, previously told VCJ that he expects the sector will grow over the next five years.

“[Health and fitness] will be the next big buzzword category, like cloud computing is today,” says Chang, who, while a partner at Norwest Venture Partners, led the firm’s investment in Basis, which provides a watch-like device that measures a person’s heart rate and other vital signs. Basis has raised $9 million, mostly from Norwest and DCM.

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