The Future Is Now: Tal Brown of Zone7 On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The Sports Scene

Data security is always an important topic when deploying commercial machine learning tools. The issue is not the technology itself, it’s the disparity in best practices and regulation between regions. As the value of data has grown, some countries have excelled at allowing individuals to own their data and ensure their rights are protected. Businesses and their performers must make every effort to stay aligned on these processes and what qualifies as suitable data protection.

As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs I had the pleasure of interviewing Tal Brown, CEO and Co-Founder of Zone7.

Tal has more than two decades’ experience across product development, technical leadership, and aligning technology with business requirements.

Having founded Zone7 in 2017, Tal develops and applies proprietary artificial intelligence to help athletes, coaches and medical teams forecast injury risk and attain peak performance. He has worked with professional and amateur teams across the EPL, MLB, MLS, NCAA, La Liga, Serie A, and the Olympics.

Tal began his career as a Big Data Engineer in the Israel Defense Force’s Intelligence Corps and later worked as a Consultant and Solutions Architect at Oracle. Before Zone7, Tal was Senior Director of Product Management at Salesforce, where he founded the organization’s first AI product team responsible for data science applications used by millions of sales professionals.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Before starting Zone7 I was the first product manager at Salesforce to create enterprise tools with AI capability. As artificial intelligence proved its worth with sales professionals, I started asking myself about other fields where performers could benefit from true AI.

I worked closely with Eyal, who I’d go on to co-found Zone7 with. He had a similar passion for data science and was also working as a [researcher/analyst] in soccer at the time. As Eyal described the financial impact that injuries had on sports organizations, we realized machine learning had tremendous potential for injury prevention in sport. By forecasting risk and eliminating bias in decision-making, we could help athletes realize peak performance.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Our very first pilot with an elite European football team was once to remember. We had scheduled a two-day workshop with the client to kick off our collaboration. Having spent the first day getting to know each other and connecting our platform to their data, we planned to make the second day a hands-on working session.

Physios from this team asked us to have the meeting after their morning training session. When we arrived, we opened up our app and presented the data. Notably, the app showed one player at risk of injury, with the recommendation that his sprinting volume be adjusted to account for this.

The room went silent.

We thought we had screwed up. The coaches began to have a heated argument among themselves in their local language, which I couldn’t understand. We waited patiently, expecting to show out the same way we came in. A few minutes later, however, we were informed that this very same player had just suffered an injury and was being assessed by the club doctor. Our concerns about rejection quickly gave way to relief and a real-time case study.

Can you tell us about the cutting-edge technological breakthrough that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Zone7 is a proprietary AI solution that standardizes disparate datasets, analyzes them to uncover patterns invisible to the human eye, and makes proactive recommendations to improve output, detect burnout risk and mitigate injuries. We call this approach ‘Predictive Guidance’.

Our strongest current application is among professional athletes. To date, we’ve logged more than [200 million hours] of athletic action and currently work with elite teams across the EPL, MLB, MLS, La Liga, Serie A, NCAA, the Olympics and professional cycling. This valuable reference data gives our users the best chance to recoup maximum value from performers.

How do you think this might change the world?

Longer term, we believe Predictive Guidance has potential to aid performers in other industries that provide vital services. As the pandemic took hold, we realized the great potential for application across frontline and healthcare provider workforces — supporting brave individuals who work long hours, in intense environments where failure to preempt fatigue carries elevated risk.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Data security is always an important topic when deploying commercial machine learning tools. The issue is not the technology itself, it’s the disparity in best practices and regulation between regions. As the value of data has grown, some countries have excelled at allowing individuals to own their data and ensure their rights are protected. Businesses and their performers must make every effort to stay aligned on these processes and what qualifies as suitable data protection.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Once we had reached a dozen or so clients, we saw a sizable uptick in the accuracy of Zone7’s risk calculation abilities, and thanks in part to the large volume of reference data now available to us.

On a client-to-client basis, we also see a tipping point when the user realizes our technology has adapted to their existing system and the first results start showing. Eventually, they are comfortable enough with the content we produce that they provide the green light to integrate across their entire stack. The more this happens, the more accurately we can interpret…helps calculate risk and recommendations,

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We’re on the way. Word is spreading throughout the sports industry and we’re having several promising conversations with world-renowned organizations. When organizations approach us to trial the platform, the results typically speak for themselves. Our conversion rate is over 90% and we’re fortunate to count several elite teams among our roster of active users.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

We’re seeing steady inbound interest from decision-makers at sports teams and organizations who are keen to learn more about a potential competitive advantage. We also have a handful of very strong case studies, some of which are available via our website. The pandemic’s heavy impact on competitive schedules, rest periods, training routines and injury lists has underscored the immediate need for preventative injury solutions.

On the content side, we recently launched the Zone7 podcast. Our team enjoys having candid discussions with other bright minds in sports, which is receiving great engagement. We also circulate a monthly newsletter with notable insights from our team and updates about the company.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One individual I’m grateful to have met when I did was Jordi Cruyff. He was the first professional soccer manager who took a chance on us. Despite professing to know little about AI, he adopted the technology, saw the results firsthand and became an early investor. As a former player for the likes of FC Barcelona, Manchester United and the Netherlands, his name and reputation also carried a credibility that helped us uncover several promising new leads.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

While sports was an organic launch point for Zone7 because of the readily available data and direct economic impact of player participation, we see a much larger total addressable market that notably includes healthcare.

Roughly a month after the global pandemic took hold we reached an agreement with Israel’s largest health provider to deploy our technology across their ICU units, where we could monitor their staff for fatigue. We are also supporting clinical trials at Columbia. Over time, we hope to see Zone7 helping patients and providers alike.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

  1. Surround yourself with people who know the ins and outs of fundraising. Their experience will speak volumes.
  2. Clarity is key. A great idea must be explainable in simple terms with clearly defined benefits.
  3. Move on from bad relationships. There’s nothing to be gained from holding resentment, especially when your concept is forward-looking by nature.
  4. Set realistic expectations. The road to realizing company growth is paved with mistakes. Embrace them, learn from them, and forge ahead.
  5. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. An entrepreneur has many hats but rarely do they have the time or knowledge to do everything solo.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’ve always had a desire to create easy-access education opportunities for kids. The work that we’re doing in data science has a natural synergy with academia’s efforts to tackle the shortfall in next-gen STEM talent (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). I would love to be a bigger part of that and it’s something we at Zone7 have our sights on longer-term.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? How that was relevant to you in your life?

“Leap, and the net will appear.” — John Burroughs. It was this mantra that helped us found and grow Zone7.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Zone7 optimizes human performance and forecasts risk of injury/burnout using a proprietary form of artificial intelligence we call Predictive Guidance..

The solution is device agnostic and can make sense of whatever data an organization has available, increasing the value its users derive from other data collection tools and processes in their organization. Using machine learning, the platform can clean diverse health and performance datasets, analyze them to uncover important risk patterns invisible to the human eye, and make proactive recommendations to help decision-makers realize full value from peak performers .This helps organizations counter the risks associated with limited human capacity, biased interpretation, or “unclean” data.

To date, Zone7 has logged [more than 200 million hours of athletic action] as reference data for our algorithms, allowing an organization’s valuable performers to contribute at peak performance, for longer, with less time on the sidelines. Our clients include professional and amateur teams across the EPL, MLS, La Liga, Serie A, MLB, NCAA, the Olympics and professional cycling.

We see potential to apply Zone7 beyond sports, in critical situations, frontline services and other industries such as healthcare (patient and provider), security, manufacturing, insurance, and aerospace.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can reach us on LinkedIn, or find us on Twitter @Zone7AI or @Ta Brown.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

The Future Is Now: Tal Brown of Zone7 On How Their Technological Innovation Will Shake Up The… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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