How a Mansfield startup is helping athletes reach their peak
For an athlete, speed can be the difference between a casual hobby and a shot at a scholarship or a professional career. So why are the tools athletes use to improve their quickness often so clunky and outdated? That’s the problem Todd Kelley of Aspire Technologies is trying to fix. Aspire works with various resistance-based equipment such as speed sleds, bungee cords and parachutes, which are used by athletes to help them develop straight-line speed. The company has developed a way to release the equipment quicker and easier using wireless technology, bringing wearable speed-trainers into the 21st century and giving aspirational athletes a better training tool.
“We specialize in developing wearable devices to help athletes who want to improve their speed,” said Kelley, founder and CEO of Aspire. “The Vmax Speed Trainer is a resistance-based product that improves the equipment they already have. Athletes are using resistance products to do drills and training to improve speed. But imagine you’re running with a parachute and you reach a small cone and you must release the parachute and pull away. You’re breaking form when you do that, which hinders performance.”
Instead of relying on athletes making an unnatural body movement to disengage the parachute or unstrap a harness while they’re trying to run, the Vmax Trainer works wirelessly so users can keep running. The streamlined process improves muscle memory and makes for a more efficient workout, allowing athletes and coaches to focus on form and technique rather than remembering to pull a velcro strap to release the equipment. It’s an important difference between existing products, but one that Kelley says no one else has tackled at the consumer level.
“Our product uses a mobile app or a remote control, and at the push of a button you can release your parachute,” said Kelley. “This is an important difference for coaches, trainers and athletes because it removes all the cumbersome ways that the technology currently works. And there really aren’t other companies making this product. So we’re hoping we can work with manufacturers to be able to build on the existing tech that’s already out there.”
Though it’s still in its early days, Aspire already has a lot of interest. At demos with high school athletes and coaches, Kelley said there was more demand than prototypes available. And because speed is crucial in all athletic events, nearly every sport can benefit from the product. If all goes well with testing, he hopes to be on the market next year with several satisfied teams and athletes using his equipment. And for Kelley, helping athletes isn’t just a business model, it’s a personal mission.
“I’m a former athlete myself, and I’ve spent a lot of time working with communities on coaching, youth development and mentoring,” said Kelley. “After sports, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to do next. So when I saw people using this equipment to run faster, but not having what they needed, I saw my opportunity. When I was younger, coaches used to just say, ‘just run, you’ll get in better shape.’ But science says athletes get faster by activating neuromuscular firing patterns, and that’s why they use resistance equipment. Ultimately, I want to help athletes improve, and not just those who can afford the top-of-the-line equipment.”
Kelley’s entrepreneurial journey has been years in the making. He taught, worked in music and started a nonprofit before settling on Aspire. Once he decided to work full-time on his idea, he began taking advantage of Ohio’s many available resources, working with TechGROWTH Ohio at Ohio University, the Ohio Small Business Development Center at Kent State Tuscarawas and the University of Akron’s I-Corps program. Eventually, he found a home at the Braintree Business Development Center in Mansfield, where he’s taken his idea from dream to reality.
“I love the quote, ‘There’s nothing more common than unsuccessful men with talent;’ that’s something I can really relate to,” said Kelley. “For years, I’ve had access to so many partnerships in Ohio that have provided tremendous help and support. From coworking space to advice and help seeking financial assistance, I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the help of those organizations.”