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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Startup Monitors Athletes’ Head Impacts

Anthony Gonzales is chief executive and co-founder of Force Impact Technologies Inc. In 2013, armed with his experience as an athlete and an MBA from Arizona State University, he and his business partner sought out to create a piece of wearable technology to protect student athletes from head injuries. The company’s signature FITGuard contains an accelerometer to measure forces on the brain and is designed to identify impacts that have the potential to cause brain injuries for athletes ages 12 to 25.

What inspired you to start your business?

I played multiple sports. At the same time, I practiced Brazilian jiu jitsu and I played rugby. When I was in university, I was doing those consecutively, so during the same season I was going from rugby on one day to jitsu the next. And my first job during my graduate school was selling sensors, other components, semiconductors, hardware, gizmos and gadgets for a very large distributor. So I had a general understanding of what all these things could do. And I had a very personal problem, which was keeping track of how hard and how often I was getting hit in the head playing all these different sports. And I thought, “Why don’t I take the sensors that I sell at work, and put them into the only piece of equipment that I use in all my sports — my mouthguard?” That was the original inspiration and what that developed into is an entire platform in which that mouthguard can collect the data and send it over to a mobile application that has like a cloud interface where you can use that data. And it really morphed into a platform for monitoring head health.

Do you ever think about trading entrepreneurship for a steady paycheck?

It comes with its own trials and tribulations. There are definitely benefits, and I do enjoy those benefits. We’re actually in discussions with a potential acquirer or merger, currently, because COVID was so rough on us. What we learned is we need to be bigger, so we’re kind of going through that decision right now. The partner association we’re in talks with does kind of what we do, except they’re a mobile app for measuring how well your brain functions. Where we collect how hard you are hitting the head, they’re the other side of the science measuring how well does your brain work after you’ve been hit hard in the head? So we need them and they need us.

What’s the best aspect of running your own business?

The autonomy to understand how I spend my time. And that’s also the worst part of it, because no one ever tells you what to do. There’s no direction. There’s no pathway to follow or rulebook. You’ve got to make your own.

What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced?

The engineering was the initial biggest challenge. But what is so unfortunately ironic is that, once we checked that box off, COVID hit. We spent seven years figuring out the engineering and the past year and a half figuring out “What are we going to do to get this out there in a world where there’s no sports going on?” So it’s managing the unknown.

What’s your favorite story about running your business?

For me, it would be the unsolicited affirmations of people who were just so grateful that we are at least trying to address this problem of head injuries in sports. Because the problem was so personal and they may have experienced the loss or traumatic event that led to you know, a life-altering change in someone that they loved and cared about. So I get to randomly wake up sometimes with emails that have pretty sincere stories saying “Hey, I lost someone and I just I just want to let you guys know, I support you what you’re doing.” Those are always super moving and motivating. 

Has being Chicano affected your business?

I have a very large family and I don’t have a bunch of people who went to college, who are in investment banking or going to Ivy League. I have supporters who would be behind me, no matter what. Even if you don’t want them to be supportive, they will be loud and in your corner, and pick you up and cheer you up, and not let you be down on yourself. I don’t know a ton of other cultures, but in some cultures failure isn’t necessarily well accepted, and is looked down upon. But I never felt that level of pressure. I felt I was being congratulated for even trying. I think that’s kind of unique to the culture. 

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert
Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert
Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert is a Los Angeles-based reporter covering retail, hospitality and philanthropy for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. In addition to her current beat, she is particularly interested in criminal justice topics, health and science stories and investigative journalism. She received her AA in Humanities from Moorpark College in 2016, her BA in Communication from Cal Lutheran University in 2019 and followed it up with a MA in Specialized Journalism from USC in the summer of 2020. Through her work, Katherine aspires to help strengthen the fragile trust between members of the media and the public.

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