Richard Jacobs: Hello, this is Richard Jacobs with the future tech podcast. I have Ruben Mejia, he’s the CTO of Sports Art. The website is gosportsart.com. So Ruben, thanks for coming. How are you doing today?
Ruben Mejia: I’m great. Thanks for having me.
Richard Jacobs: What is Sports Art? What’s the company about?
Ruben Mejia: So Sports Art is a manufacturer of fitness equipment. We make treadmills, we make strength machines. Basically, anything that you see in the gym, we make. We don’t make anything like medicine balls or dumbbells or any type of accessories like that. It’s more of the larger machines. And what makes us different than everybody else is that we’ve got a line of party equipment that generates electricity as you work out. So, we’re using that to our advantage and trying to get folks that are more sustainably minded.
Richard Jacobs: Oh, so for an average gym, I don’t know how many treadmills they’d have. For instance, let’s say like 10 or something, like at peak time four or five, six PM, let’s say, or in the morning, how much electricity can the gym generate from all the people using the equipment?
Ruben Mejia: You know, it varies on, on the age of the treadmill and how well they’ve maintained it. But pretty much a standard and an industry average for motorized treadmill consumption is about half a kilowatt per hour.
Richard Jacobs: It’ll be funny if the gym was like, we need to work on our electricity bill. The better shape you guys get in the lower electricity. So they can say like, the longer you go and the harder you run or jog or walk or whatever, the more electricity we make. So it’d be like a fitness type thing on them.
Ruben Mejia: Yeah. Funny enough. We’ve got customers that actually offer some of their similar member’s discounts based on the amount of electricity that they’ve generated.
Richard Jacobs: It makes sense. That’s cool. They are like calories into electricity program, an exchange program.
Ruben Mejia: Yeah, no kidding. We’ve even done events where if you produce so many watt-hours will donate X amount of dollars for some charity. Like we did one event in Europe where the more Watts are generated. We donated water so that we called Watts for a water campaign.
Richard Jacobs: Wow. That’s cool. So how this idea come about?
Ruben Mejia: Our founder has had this idea probably since the early eighties but he knew at the time that the market wasn’t ready. So about 10 years ago, we finally put it out in the market and it’s slowly been adapting. More recently about the last two or three years. It’s kind of been taken off a little bit more globally. So we’ve got anywhere from a small boutique gym to be the only fitness manufacturer allowed to sell our cardio equipment into the sustainable city in Dubai. And I’m talking like the sustainable city is completely zero poverty. Like you can’t drive a car there. Everything has to be electric. They monitor all your waste. I mean it’s pretty intensive there, but they’re doing a good thing for the planet and our equipment is the only one that doesn’t consume electricity. It actually generates more than what it consumes.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah, okay, so there’s different equipment. There are treadmills, there’s maybe stationary bikes, there’s other stuff like that. So on average when someone’s using one of those, do they have to work out really vigorously to make it a net-zero consumption or even just casual use works?
Ruben Mejia: So our equipment is casually within seconds. It starts generating more than what it’s consuming. When it’s turned on and idle meaning not in a workout, of course, it’s going to take electricity just like any other device would want, it’s plugged in and the lights are on. But within three seconds on our new treadmill, you’re already producing enough electricity to power all the components inside. And if you are charging like a phone, it would provide that electricity as well, plus feedback into a local grid. So yeah, you can jump on a treadmill and start running really fast or just kind of start walking and you’ll be producing electricity.
Richard Jacobs: Wow. What’s it like for the person that’s going to use the equipment? Like do the gyms just put it there and it sits there and people don’t know? Or do you have to like shepherd the gyms along and tell them, Hey, this is how you need to promote it and talk about it and all that?
Ruben Mejia: It’s a combination of both. More recently we’ve been approached by more gyms that have some sort of sustainable practice and they’ve already got that message inside their gym. Like they don’t sell water bottles. They have like there was still a little bottles station. They’ve got biodegradable cleaning products and things like that. So adding the equipment is just a complement to their sustainable message. But we also have gyms that don’t really have that yet, but they want to get started. So we kind of coached them into the message and we’re not trying to tell the gyms, Hey, be a commercial for sports, no, not at all. We’re the only ones that have this type of technology. So that publicity that comes with them is eventually going to come to us because like I said, we’re the only ones that have it. So we tried to coach these gyms into developing a sustainable message into incorporating that message into the tours for prospective members or even in existing members as well. Some gyms like us to produce some sort of popup banner or maybe even a short video that kind of is played right in front of the equipment just to give those members a chance to read and see whenever there’s not a staff member nearby.
Richard Jacobs: How did the gyms take it on? Do they do like one piece of equipment at a time and they showcase it or do they overnight, like change over a whole bunch of equipment? Or is this really new gyms?
Ruben Mejia: It’s for anybody based on their situation. I would say on average what we typically do is because this is fairly new technology to them, they don’t want to just replace all 20 of their treadmills. So what they’ll do is they’ll create some sort of green corner and they’ll say, okay, here in this green corner we’ve got this equipment that actually produces electricity and we’ll kind of try it out to see how well our members react to it. And if it’s successful, then they kind of roll in a couple more pieces of equipment, little by little. With regards to our treadmill. It’s a little bit different to the self-par treadmill with flats and it works counterintuitive to what you would think a traditional motorized treadmill work. So when you are on a traditional motorized treadmill, if you press, you increase the speed and the belt moves faster and you’re moving faster. Well, with our treadmill you have to run faster because you’ve got a break that’s kind of releasing and you’re at an angle. So if you don’t run faster, you have to pitch to slip off and fall off the belt. So it takes a little bit of adapting just because folks haven’t seen it before, but once they hear that you’re not only burning calories, you’re also doing something better for the environment. It’s usually a bigger motivator for those types of gym members.
Richard Jacobs: So Hmm. Interesting. Oh, can you retrofit existing treadmills and other equipment in the gym?
Ruben Mejia: No. Our technology is patented and it’s all built into our equipment. In fact, you don’t even have to change your standard outlets because we use our standard three-prong outlet, the ECS or house or your office or wherever. And you just plug it in and it starts working.
Richard Jacobs: That’s cool. What can you say about how it works? I mean, it’s patented, which is great, but like what’s the mechanism by which it generates or stores the electricity or just generates?
Ruben Mejia: It does, yeah. It’s actually pretty easy. Think about a hamster wheel, right? If the hamsters on the wheel, it’s moving and it’s turning the wheel. With us when you peddle or when you’re running, you turn a generator and that generator produces electricity and then it goes into a micro inverter, which actually cleans the power into a form that can be used by that circuit that is plugged into. And by cleaning I just mean that it can be the right voltage and the right frequency so that other devices on that circuit or even in the building can use that electricity before the building pulls power from the public utility company.
Richard Jacobs: Is there a circumstance ever where the gym will produce more power than its consuming and sell it back to the grid? Or is that not happening?
Ruben Mejia: In theory, it’s possible. You’d have to get a lot of people exercising and you have to buy a lot of equipment. The sad truth is that gyms consume a lot of it to see when it comes to air conditioning and lighting and television and sound and everything else. And if they have poles even worse. So we’re never going to tell you that you’re going to start putting electricity back into the grid because of how much those gyms consume. But we would like to tell the gyms is that Hey, we’re going to help you offset your electricity costs and also provide your members a different way of working out that attracts to their social responsibilities.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Well, so what’s the anecdotal response on the gyms? Like what are some cool examples of how certain gyms are using?
Ruben Mejia: Really cool. We’ve got a gym in Sacramento, California who in combination with solar panels and battery walls dropped their electricity bill from $680 down to $30.
Richard Jacobs: Was this a year or a day or a month?
Ruben Mejia: Per month and per month and this is a small gym too. We have an installation in New York where our gym is in a 9,000 square foot building and it’s a completely NetZero property. They have windmills, they have watermills, and they have solar panels. They have Moss insulation. When you think the most sustainable practices, these guys have it and our equipment is producing 5% of that total electricity that they have. They’re in that facility. I just actually came back from an installation at Saint Pete’s beach called Centrifuge where this young lady is opening an indoor cycling studio and that’s her whole pitch. You’re going to be working out, you’re going to be burning calories. You’re going to be burning sweat and you’re going to be producing electricity and doing things better for the environment.
Richard Jacobs: That’s cool. Interesting. Yeah, that’s a great example. So when the gym was almost able to completely cut off his electricity bill, it’s almost nothing to 30 bucks a month.
Ruben Mejia: Correct. Yeah.
Richard Jacobs: So how do people respond that go to the gym, what do they say to the gym owners? Or do you guys?
Ruben Mejia: The folks that we’ve talked to responded really well. At first, they’re a little confused because when you go to a gym you’re used to your treadmill, you’re used to elliptical and all of a sudden you’ve got a new console in front of you. But the functionality is the same. So you have to show the people how to do the workouts, how to go into the pre-program workouts, where the controls are and they just kind of adapt to it slowly and start working on and start doing better things for the environment.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. But it’s not like an alien thing. The treadmill is pretty easy as it looks similar to most treadmills?
Ruben Mejia: No, not at all. There are a few cell par treadmills out there that have some sort of like a curve. Our treadmill, for example, has a four-degree incline so that it helps power the generator with your body weight and gravity. But it also doesn’t deter the average user. I consider myself an athlete and when I get on some of those treadmills, I feel like a baby giraffe because I feel like I’m on fall because I’m not stepping in the right place. And I can imagine somebody who’s not athletic getting on one of those terminals and having an even harder time. So there’s no real learning curve. It’s just a matter of Hey to jumping on a different machine.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. That makes sense. Again, is it smart to try to retrofit existing equipment or just to do new stuff? Like if you were able to retrofit existing equipment in an effective way, would that be a good market for you or not really?
Ruben Mejia: No, it wouldn’t just because there are so many kinds of secluded manufacturers out there and not just the big name brands. If you were to go to an AED to the fitness trade shows, especially like in Europe, you’ll see that there are hundreds of equipment manufacturers from like residential down to up to the commercial grade. So we just want to make sure that when we do something, we do something well and we know our equipment already because all we’re doing is adding the generator and the microinverter into our existing elliptical or cardio machines and we’re able to be more of an expert as opposed to just trying to be good at everything.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah, it makes sense. So are there particular types of equipment that work better with this arrangement versus others? Like a treadmill the best or what works best?
Ruben Mejia: If I were to guess, I would say that the indoor cycle is probably our highest producer of electricity, just because when folks jump on an indoor cycle, they’re really going at it for 30, 45 minutes, even an hour. Whereas you compare it to a treadmill, people aren’t going to run as long as they would exercise on an indoor cycle. However, our treadmill also comes with the push feature, so you add a little bit more resistance. And it works kind of like the Prius, regenerative braking system works where you apply friction with the brakes and that friction also produces electricity. So the treadmill has the potential to be our highest producer. But if you were to ask me right now, the indoor cycle it is.
Richard Jacobs: And then in what context does this work best? Like I would think if you had a class where someone leading the class and someone say, come on everyone lets pushing. You generate a lot more electricity than just someone like hanging out on the treadmill, walking or bicycle.
Ruben Mejia: Absolutely. Yeah. And in fact, in that cycling studio, The Centrifuge, they also have our software system that shows you how much electricity that gym is producing. And one of the things that I was talking to with MRV owner is that during the class you’re going to see a number that’s on the television. You can say, all right guys, we want to hit up to 1100 watt-hours. We’ve got hundred-watt hours to go and just kind of using that as a motivator so that people can get on there and just start generating as much as they can.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Very cool. I don’t know any unexpected comments you’ve gotten from users or unexpected ways in which this could be used?
Ruben Mejia: As things go on, there’s a lot of surprises that cause people, there are some very creative people out there. And it’s just basically using our equipment to complement their existing practices or what they want to do. Our technology assistance for about 10 years, we’re on our third iteration of it. So it works. But now people are finding different ways to incorporate it into their scenarios. So yeah, it’s really how does our equipment help compliment your message.
Richard Jacobs: It is the goal to make the equipment look as normal as possible or are there some designs you’ve made where it looks like it highlights the electricity generation portion of, maybe it was like a Tesla coil or one of those lightening Globes?
Ruben Mejia: The way we differentiate our heart eco part equipment from everything else is the green siding. So we don’t allow the customization of those sightings to reflect whatever the color of the gym that it has to stay green. And that with all of our marketing material and all of our PR push, we’re saying green is eco-friendly, green is green, so people are going to naturally associate that green siting to something sustainable. And on top of that, it doesn’t look any different from our non-electricity producing equipment. So you can jump on our upright bike that produces electricity and it’ll still exactly the same as our self-powered bike or as our bike that has a 16-inch touchscreen monitor on it.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Excellent. So what’s ahead for the next couple of years? What new things are you working on?
Ruben Mejia: Oh, just a lot of stuff that I’d like to talk about, but they don’t really let me but just think whatever has motion can probably generate some sort of electricity and we’re trying to find the best way to develop that type of machinery. The generating power portion of it we’ve already got, it’s just a matter of how can we fit it into say, a pull machine or something. So anything that has motion could potentially turn a generator. So we’re looking into different ways into doing that.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Well, very good. What cities are you in? Like where can people find the gym where they have this equipment?
Ruben Mejia: We’re all over the world actually. We’ve got huge installations in China, Japan, Germany, and Poland. In the US it’s just now starting to take off, but pretty much anywhere, any major city, you can pretty much find us. Now you want to come to Seattle, We get places here. We’ve got places in New York, Florida, you name it. We can probably give you a location. We’re even in a couple of large universities as well, like Ohio State and Penn State. So if you were just to tell me a zip code, I can probably find installation for you.
Richard Jacobs: That’s great. Are there certain chains that tend to carry your stuff or is it more independence?
Ruben Mejia: It’s a lot more independence with a few hotels. It’s a lot harder to get into the chains just because of all the bureaucracy and the processes that they have. But pretty soon we’ll be there. I’m sure that the big chains are not going to be ignoring their members for too long and they’re going to initiate those talks. So right now what we’re doing is we’re focusing on the folks that really have an interest in bringing our equipment into the gym. And soon we’ll focus on the much larger chains to bring this on a broader level.
Richard Jacobs: Okay. Excellent. Well, Ruben, thanks for coming on the podcast. It’s a very cool idea. I think it’s great.
Ruben Mejia: Thanks for having me guys.