Meet the SportGeeks
Kentucky StartUp gives Gatorade a run for its money
Every great corporate success story starts somewhere with a David and a Goliath, but how crazy would a startup have to be to go up against the likes of Powerade (owned by Coke) and Gatorade (owned by Pepsi)? Ask Kentucky’s own Sport Geeks, the guys who’ve brought SWORD to the competitive market of performance hydration.
The two agree “Lexington is a budding city for entrepreneurs. With organizations like LeXenomics, the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, and Awesome Inc., the future of entrepreneurship in Lexington is very bright.”
They acknowledge, “The world of sports drinks is dominated by two big companies, and sprinkled with smaller niche companies that make specialty products around the globe. We are certainly still one of those tiny companies here in Kentucky, but we have a much bigger appetite armed with a SWORD that we know outperforms the major players in the sports hydration beverage category.”
There’s no celebrity spokesperson, no SWORD SuperBowl ad, no big name sponsors (not yet, anyway).
But stay tuned.
Sport Geeks got its start in 2012 in Barbourville, KY, founded by Dr. Scott Black, MD and Dr. Shawn Stasko, PhD.
They are science guys (guys who can toss around terms like blood lactate threshold and cellular metabolism and know what they’re talking about).
Black has his MD from UK. He completed a family medicine residency, and later served as a team physician for athletic programs. He then completed a Master’s in Exercise Physiology, and then a fellowship in Sports Medicine.
Stasko has his PhD in Physiology and his BS in Sports Biology, and is a sports nutrition specialist.
They are both runners. Black’s interest is in ultramarathons and trail running. Stasko competes in endurance running.
The two are running partners and in 2012 they realized through a lot of conversation that they share similar ideas about the current state of sports nutrition products and human performance services available to athletes.
They set out to answer the question they had for fellow athletes, “Why do YOU drink what you drink?”
That question led to the conception of SWORD.
By 2013, multiple versions of the product were developed, tested, and produced in Louisville. In September, the first powder form of SWORD was produced in single packets and sold in specialized retail stores in Lexington.
By February of 2014, SWORD was produced in larger multi-serving containers, and by August it was produced in a ready-to-drink bottled version. In September, a second flavor for SWORD was produced (berry) in single packet and multi-serving containers.
By the end of 2014, five versions of SWORD were available: single packet of powder (ginger citrus and berry), multi-serving containers of powder (ginger citrus and berry), and a ready-to-drink bottle (in ginger citrus).
Stasko says, “We create products and tools to improve human performance based on scientific research. We also write, review, and present educational information for athletes in the form of training articles, scientific papers, and lecture presentations.The Sport Geeks’ mission is to be the most trusted and transparent human performance company for athletes with the goal of safely improving human performance.”
And to think, it all started in the kitchen.
“The early versions of SWORD were created in Scott’s kitchen. We spent numerous hours in the kitchen mixing ingredients that would be flying all over the kitchen, and I mean everywhere. We used common kitchen equipment like blenders, mixers, spoons, you name it; if it was in Scott’s kitchen, we probably used it, or tried to use it to make our first formulations of SWORD. Since then we have moved our production to a professional manufacturing facility where they have standard equipment and can handle our larger production needs. Still, whenever we are in Scott’s kitchen, we laugh and reminisce about how we tried to use a particular tool or combination of ingredients to create SWORD.”
They’ve come a long way.
Stasko says, “The toughest challenge as an entrepreneur is balancing the time dedicated to growing the business and time spent with the rest of the things in our lives. Starting a new business can be somewhat of a ‘black hole’ where there’s no end to how much time, effort, and capital we can spend to achieve success. Having supportive family keeps us grounded and focused.”
They describe “SWORD as the next generation of performance hydration. Containing only natural ingredients that are scientifically proven to improve human performance, SWORD is truly functional fuel for athletes.”
But some of their fans have been found not just in the running community, and come from far more surprising sectors.
“The most encouraging testimonial we’ve been given came from an athlete who opened our eyes to a completely new application for SWORD. Jon, a coal miner in West Virginia, works underground in small caverns, bent over crouching in high heat for 10 hours each day. His muscle cramps and roller coaster energy levels add additional challenges to an already physically taxing job. He battles dehydration and his muscle cramps with large amounts of water, sports drinks, and pickle juice concoctions. Unfortunately he still experienced muscle cramping and dehydration. Jon was introduced to SWORD through a family friend and immediately put it to the test in the coal mines. After the first day of using it he was so pleased that he wrote to us and said, ‘This stuff works. I haven’t had any signs of dehydration and muscle cramping since I’ve started using SWORD. I would bet my paycheck that this will satisfy any athlete out there!’”
Sport Geeks was recently awarded a DreamFuel grant by a local non-profit called LeXenomics. “Their mission is to support great ideas forming in Lexington and in Kentucky with pilot funding, business guidance, and networking. LeXenomics wants to make it faster and easier for ideas and businesses to get off the ground to directly stimulate our economy and show the world why ideas in Kentucky are to be recognized.”
Sport Geeks “plans to use this generous funding to enhance our professional presentation at sporting events like races, fitness competitions, and sports games. We’ve designed a unique method to dispense SWORD to our customers at these events. With the help from LeXenomics we will make it a reality in 2015.”
This funding helps with the challenges most entrepreneurs face at some point, though the SportGeeks founders have found supportive financial allies. “Of the many hurdles we’ve faced to get SWORD to its current state, one that really made us doubt the launch of SWORD was finding the proper funds. With each step in our formulation and production came more and more capital requirement. The difficult part then compounds as the time and amount of work it takes in between each formulation stretches what funds you do have pretty thin. A breakthrough solution we found to our funding came by way of Forcht Bank in Lexington, KY [headquartered in Hamburg]. Their people believe in us and support our goals through and through. Their staff really has become an extension of our Sport Geeks family, as when we frequently visit, we’re welcomed like we’re just arriving home.”
The next step for SWORD is an ambitious one, “to expand our market reach to other regions and expand our product line to include more flavors in both powder and pre-made bottle form.”
Look for it soon in a store near you.
Top 5 Fitness Tips from the Sport Geeks
- Set realistic short-term goals. It’s advantageous to reach small goals each week, as opposed to a big goal each month.
- Find support from your friends and/or family. Getting healthy or maintaining your health can be difficult alone. Find a group of people who participate in similar activities who you can exercise with provide extra motivation.
- Take advantage of technology. The availability of resources that can be personalized to your goals and lifestyle have never been higher. Find apps, online sources, and books that motivate your success to a healthy 2015.
- Don’t dwell on the past. Everyone has tried and/or failed to make changes to their daily routine. Forming new habits can be difficult and takes time. If you haven’t had as much success as you’d like in the past, forget about, it’s a new year. You can do it.
- Have fun! This is critical to enjoying the new challenges we embark upon each year, but often are overlooked. Enjoy your life, find the little things that make you smile, and just have fun.
This article begins on page 12 of the January 2015 special Health and Wellness issue of Hamburg Journal.