Nike launches app accelerator program to fuel developers

In a bid to be more like Apple and Microsoft, the sports shoe and apparel company is funding a program to get developers to create apps for its Nike+ products.

Jay Greene
Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
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Nike's Nike+ apps and gadgets. Nike

Nike is ripping a page from the titans of tech, taking the first steps to building a platform on which developers can create applications for its Nike+ products.

The sports shoe and apparel giant has partnered with TechStars, a startup mentoring and investment organization, to launch Nike+ Accelerator. Through the program, Nike and TechStars will give 10 groups $20,000 to build health and fitness applications that use the Nike+ technology.

"The program aims to leverage the success of the Nike+ platform to support digital innovation by connecting with companies that share Nike's commitment to help people live more active lives," Nike said in a press release.

Best known for sporting goods, Nike jumped into the digital technology world with Nike+ in 2006, offering runners a way to keep tabs on their mileage with a sensor they could slip into their shoes that connects to an iPod. That business has evolved, and now includes its popular Nike+ FuelBand, a watch that also tracks steps taken and calories burned.

Now Nike wants to lure developers to the platform and expand the business in much the same way that Apple has created a platform with iTunes and Microsoft has done with Windows. The logic is that as more developers create applications that customers use, the more valuable the platform itself becomes.

Of course, Nike realizes that it can't build all the applications itself. But it also seems clear that the company wants to make sure the applications being developed are high quality, lest they diminish the experience of using Nike+ products. That's why it's working with TechStars to guide developers.

The 10 developers selected for the accelerator program will get mentoring from Nike Vice President of Digital Sport Stefan Olander, the executive who launched the Nike+ brand six years ago. Nike will also provide the groups with guidance as they use its development tools, including the Nike+ Application Program Interface and Nike+ mobile Software Development Kit. And those developers will get access to what TechStars describes as "a select list of Nike executives and external mentors," including TechStars founder and Chief Executive David Cohen, Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai, and Tim Ferriss, author of the best-selling book, "The Four-Hour Workweek."

TechStars, which has worked with Microsoft in the past to develop an application market around its Kinect motion-sensing game controller, will receive a 6 percent stake in each of the 10 companies selected for the accelerator program. Nike will not receive any equity in the companies.

Developers need to apply to the program by February 3 at nikeaccelerator.com. Nike and TechStars will choose the companies that will participate by the end of February. The program will begin in mid-March and will run through June, culminating with investor demonstration days at Nike's headquarters near Beaverton, Ore., and in Silicon Valley.