Sqord, Young Entrepreneur Get Kids Jumping

By Peter Neurath

Thousands of kids in Snohomish County now are more actively jumping and romping around like mad, in good part as a result of a young man on the other side of the country who loved to play when he was a child.

That man is Coleman Greene. A few years ago he formed a company in Chapel Hill, N.C., called Sqord, which produces a sophisticated combination of kid-friendly hardware and an interactive web site aimed at motivating kids to become more active, and have fun doing it.

More active kids in Snohomish County may well result in healthier kids, lower health-care costs, higher academic success and a still more attractive region for more families and businesses.

Upward of 6,000 5th graders in Snohomish County, with permission from their parents, already have activated their Sqord equipment, which elementary schools began distributing in October.

“We partnered with Sqord so that students, teachers and our community could see their pure activity levels for the first time and share discoveries,” said Scott Forslund, director of the Snohomish Health Leadership Coalition, which is promoting Sqord equipment as part of its Gear Up & Go! youth initiative.

“It’s early, but it seems to be working,” he said. “PE teachers are relating students’ excitement discovering when they post their highest levels of healthy activity, and then naturally reflecting on how they can be more active in their own ways, all in the course of natural play.

“This is an amazing natural experiment too,” Forslund continued, “and we are already beginning to see that ‘hot spots’ of activity indeed exist in our own county. Our aim is to make these points of ingenuity visible so people can understand and rapidly spread what’s working — and ultimately help reverse the decline in healthy youth activity.”

Greene, who holds an MBA from the University of North Carolina, describes Sqord’s product this way: “Sqord provides a durable, waterproof device (about the size of a half dollar) for kids to wear that we call a Sqord PowerPod. It measures the intensity and duration of their physical activity. They send their data to Sqord instantly by tapping their PowerPod on top of one of our SyncStations, which can be found in their schools and youth organizations. Our fun and engaging web site rewards kids for the activity points they earn, and it gives them a platform to be social with one another, draw further motivation, and compete in friendly challenges.”

Sqord coach Erin Warner, who’s been helping Snohomish County teachers and students, has witnessed an amazing uptick in activity among fifth graders using PowerPods.

“Students have a heightened awareness of their bodies as it relates to movement,” she said. “The story we hear over and over again is about the non-athletes who, before starting with Sqord, spent their afternoons on the couch with their iPad or at the computer.”

No longer. “Now they are motivated to see how many points they get,” Warner said. For instance:

– A fifth-grade boy at Oak Heights Elementary makes his family run around the apartment complex together so he can get more points.

– A fifth-grade teacher at Horizon Elementary is competing with her fifth-grade son in one of the other Mukilteo schools.

– A fifth-grade girl at Oak Heights replaced her two hours of after-school computer gaming with at least an hour of activity.

Greene was highly active as a child, and memories of his youth helped stimulate him to start up Sqord, together with co-founder Jeff Wright.

“Both play and technology were a part of my childhood,” Greene recalls. “But it was a healthy balance.”

What a contrast Greene has witnessed in many of today’s youth: “I was shocked to see how play was essentially dying for today’s generation of youth. I think the greatness of play is so important. In addition to just being fun, it helps develops kids socially, academically and physically. It can inspire all types of opportunities for kids,” Greene said. “I want Sqord to be the platform that drives a new wave of active play for this ‘connected’ generation — something that brings them the same joy we remember from play, but is aimed at leveraging the awesome world of technology that surrounds them at this age.”

Sqord coach Warner echoes what Greene sees as an essential feature of the company’s product. “Instead of combating technology, Sqord leverages trends in technology to drive success in its platform, recognizing that the social aspects of technology are here to stay,” she said.

Or as Greene puts it, he founded Sqord because he felt “driven to redefine active play and healthy fun for today’s generation growing up in a ‘connected’ society.”

Sqord, according to Warner, “aims to provide a safe and fun forum to facilitate social interaction around play. Kids are joining the same Sqord ‘neighborhoods’ as their peers so they can see how they’re doing, and interact on our platform through ‘squawks’ (pre-made messages) and high fives.”

‘Neighborhoods’ are where kids ‘live’ on the Sqord platform, Warner goes on to explain. “Their neighborhoods will live on after they leave their school teams in the summer.”

Just as it is in Snohomish County, Sqord’s market, consisting of kids eight to 12 years old, is growing nationally. Greene claims the company “has managed to become a leader in the area of youth health.”

The company has sold units in states ranging across the country, including such states as Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Colorado, Washington and Alaska. “We intend to expand considerably over the next 12 to 18 months, on both the technology and sales/marketing side of the business,” Greene said.

A key to Sqord’s early success has been their approach towards building an experience that is targeted at kids, Greene said. “Where companies like Nike, Fitbit and Jawbone are focused on the adult market, we acknowledge and embrace some of the challenges presented in building a youth platform.”

Success does not always come easily. Some parents have concerns about activity tracking and social networking. To which Greene responds, Sqord takes the safety and privacy of children using its technology very seriously. ”As some of us are parents ourselves,” Greene affirmed, “we recognize the responsibility we have on this front and we will do all we can to ensure we exceed expectations on this front.”

What’s more, Greene added, when it comes to tracking, Sqord only records physical activity, or motion, of a user throughout the day. Sqord does not capturing any GPS or location-based data. “We also only collect the minimum amount of information required for a user to get set up, and nothing without a parent’s consent,” he said. “The data is never individually sold or licensed to outside parties either.”

As for parental concerns about social networking, Greene said kids using Sqord’s web site are not free to send each other whatever messages they might dream up. Sqord, he said, limits their interaction to friendly competition and encouragement.

Coalition Director Forslund observes that Greene’s vision plays a central role in this county initiative. “Coleman has created an amazing tool that lets kids see their healthy activity mirrored back to them. Students across the county are jazzed. And we’re excited about what this means for the health of our communities.”

This post originally appeared on the Snohomish County Health Leadership Coalition website here.