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Ben Gordon (centre) with Onyx Motion's Marissa Wu and Dipesh Mistry (photo via @officialbengordon on Instagram)

U of T Engineering startup Onyx Motion is partnering with NBA shooting guard Ben Gordon in a bid to raise the calibre of digital basketball coaching offered by the company’s first-of-its-kind technology, a smartwatch app that offers on-court skills guidance.

“We’re hoping to build a motion marketplace — a library of data, moves and audio tips from pro players,” said Onyx Motion co-founder and CEO Marissa Wu (EngSci 1T3).

The U of T Engineering-developed startup announced Gordon’s role in helping to further development of the app, called Swish, on July 8.

Swish uses smartwatch motion sensors to analyze athlete techniques and offer straightforward tips on how a player can improve.

“The Swish technology is bringing users closer to their favourite basketball player by giving them the opportunity to learn from them,” said Gordon. “I’m excited to work with the team on the further development of this one-of-a-kind experience and help players at any level improve their game.”

The company founded by Wu has developed quickly. From the seeds of an idea as part of the Next 36 entrepreneurship development program it progressed to a startup, receiving support through the University of Toronto Early Stage Technology accelerator (offered jointly by MaRS Innovation) and winning a spot on CBC’s Next Gen Den.

Now, with its partnership with an award-winning NBA player and an IndieGoGo campaign, the company’s concept of a basketball coaching app has grown into much more, said Wu.

Next Generation of AI for Sport Coaching

“Here at Onyx Motion, we are building the next generation of AI for sports coaching,” said Wu. “Swish allows mobile devices to break into physical interaction to a point where it can tell you what to do to get better. Our goal was to create a health and fitness device that would give personal recommendations, not just churn out numbers.”

She said the Swish app is only the first part of Onyx Motion’s plan to move into other sports and industries where kinaesthetic learning is key. Basketball is only the first shot.

“I grew up playing basketball,” Wu recently told U of T Engineering News. “My dad got me into it, it was how we bonded, so I’m sure that was important.”

The introduction between Gordon and Onyx Motion was made by alumnus Karl Martin (EngSci 0T1, ElecE MASc 0T3, PhD 1T0), CEO of Nymi (formerly Bionym), another U of T Engineering startup whose debut product is a wearable biometric wristband that unlocks passwords, key codes and more by authenticating the wearer’s unique heartbeat rhythm. The technology recently attracted millions in investment and the attention of major media, including the Wall Street Journal and Wired magazine.

Martin said Bill Burgos, the Orlando Magic’s head strength and conditioning coach, had been in touch with Nymi to explore potential applications for athlete training. The fellow engineering science alumnus and UTEST mentor then introduced Burgos to Wu and Onyx Motion, which led to their connection to Gordon.

“The Onyx Motion team is onto something huge with their approach to digital sports coaching,” said Martin. “The Swish app represents the next generation of wearable tech applications, analyzing motion data and providing truly useful and actionable insights, rather than just letting you know what your activity levels are. It speaks volumes that they got Ben Gordon on board as their director of innovation and I’m really looking forward to seeing this take off.”

Nymi launches a pilot program with Mastercard, RBC and TD Bank this month, in which a special version of their Nymi band will be used for “tap and pay” payments at retailers supporting the Mastercard PayPass system.The startup grew from Martin’s U of T research and developed through a variety of the university’s entrepreneurship supports, including the Creative Destruction Lab accelerator. Martin continues to offer mentorship to founders such as  Wu, who are new to taking their academic work into the market.

Wu recently told U of T Engineering News that she drew on her undergraduate-developed knowledge of biomechanical modelling of the human body in translating accelerometer data into actual movements.

She also said her leadership role in the University of Toronto Engineering Competition helped prime her to become her own CEO.

“I discovered that I loved running a team and creating my own path,” she said. “I liked the fact that there’s no right answer.”

Wu says that while Onyx Motion has big plans for future applications, her team is ready to take it one step at a time.

“We built it pretty much from scratch, so there isn’t a lot to compare it with,” she said. “We’re excited to learn from the experience of people using it, and to move forward with making it that much better.”

And to other aspiring entrepreneurs, she offers some already hard-won advice:

“Know why you’re doing it because you will have to persevere through lots of up and downs.”

Read more about Onyx Motion and other U of T Engineering startups to watch.

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Fahad Pinto
Communications & Media Relations Strategist