Innovator of the Week
President & CEO of Mobile Virtual Player LLC (MVP)
Please provide your 30-second pitch about your company.
MVP will revolutionize how you train for your sport. The Mobile Virtual Player (MVP) is the first ever self-righting mobile training target. Controlled remotely and powered by a motor, this innovative training partner can move at the speed of your opponent, while weighing more than 140 pounds, and can take a hit. By simulating human motion, the MVP allows players to practice tackling, blocking, pursuing, evading and throwing at a mobile target. And that mobile target is not a human teammate – the MVP takes player-to-player and helmet-to-helmet contact out of the equation for dynamic practice drills. The MVP models under development can be used for football, rugby, on grass and on field turf, and for all ages and abilities. MVPs can be incorporated into your existing training drills, and its mobility and evasiveness let you practice dynamic game situations that have not been safe – or even possible – to practice effectively.
Who or what was your best resource for starting your company?
The best resource for starting the company has been the team of talented and committed people. Elliot Kastner and Quinn Connell are two Thayer School engineers who set aside other opportunities to put their hearts, minds and money into developing the MVP into a workable prototype. They developed an idea into a product and have the perseverance to constantly work to improve it. They are now leading R&D and Engineering, respectively for MVP LLC.
It’s important to add that a key element has been working in an environment where people and resources are available to come alongside and collaborate. It’s not every college or university environment where the head football coach (Buddy Teevens) would routinely hop on his bike and ride over to Thayer School to talk to students working on the MVP project!
We’ve found no shortage of engineers inquiring about jobs at MVP.
What was your biggest obstacle in starting your company and how did you overcome it?
One of our biggest challenges has been to manage and balance early media exposure with the time-consuming and unglamorous behind-the-scenes engineering and testing of MVP. Getting lots of media exposure is a great benefit for a start-up company, to be sure, but it doesn’t get the dirty work done. It can hinder it, in fact. MVP got a lot of early exposure by being highlighted in a press release prior to Dartmouth Football’s first fall practice. That brought out media people from the major networks, Associated Press, and NPR. Soon after that, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert called and wanted us on his show. That’s an incredibly valuable PR opportunity that we followed up on for the benefit of everyone involved in MVP – the students (who were working day and night), Coach Teevens, Dartmouth College, Dartmouth Football, Thayer School of Engineering, the various football organizations that are emphasizing the need for safer ways to practice. One of the upshots of all the publicity is that we needed to move quickly toward commercialization. With publicity comes interest and demand.
We also needed a good home for MVP LLC as we ‘graduated’ from Thayer School. DRTC has been an exceptional choice. We could move in immediately, space is flexible, infrastructure is all in place, the management here (Sandy Rozyla, Tripp Davis, Taylor Piffath) understands what a start-up needs to concentrate on, and what we can’t waste time on. DRTC has been a superb resource.
What’s the best advice you have received?
The best advice I’ve received is to push ahead fast; meet your failures early and often, adjust and try again.
What about the NH lifestyle appeals to you?
MVP certainly leads an ‘active’ lifestyle and so do all the members of our team. The opportunities in the Upper Valley and across NH to get outside and be active is a key benefit for all of us. The interest in athletics and the awareness of health and safety aspects of sports provide a great environment for MVP’s launch. Because of the awareness of MVP at Dartmouth and around the Upper Valley, we are finding many engineering graduates and undergraduates are inquiring about opportunities at MVP.
What does the future look like for your company?
We have a ‘team’ of 6 MVP prototypes undergoing testing with college football teams around the country this spring. We are scheduled to do testing soon with some NFL teams that want to collaborate with us, and we have also been asked to do testing at one of the premier high school football programs in the country. It’s important for us to understand both the interest and the performance requirements of MVP across the potential market.
We think the road ahead holds great opportunity for MVP. As a company, we are focused on meeting the demand for safer and more effective ways to train, coach and practice contact sports. That demand is evolving and growing with improved understanding and broader awareness of how impact sports can affect players at all ages and levels. MVP is an innovative and promising product that we want to have at the right place at the right time.