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A Southeast Asian App To Help You Play Tennis Like a Pro

Enabling tennis players to get a grip on their game

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BY Adelle Chua - 16 Nov 2016

play tennis

If you play tennis and you want to track your progress, or if you coach a team and want to make sure all members are playing as well as they should, you can just clip a coin-sized, eight-gram gadget onto the strings of the racket, push a button, and allow your mobile phone to accept the information via Bluetooth.

The gagdet, called Qlipp, measures stroke type, swing speed, and ball spin. It can also capture the game on video. Meanwhile the accompanying app is available on both Android and iOS.

Qlipp is made and distributed by Singapore-based start-up 9 Degrees Freedom. Donny Soh, 38, is the company’s founder. With a PhD in computer sciences from the Imperial College London, Soh had been researching sports sensors for years -- he was a scientist for Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) -- but decided he wanted to get out there and make things that actual people can use.

“We were collecting data for the virtual reality program. And it dawned on me, why not use the data to improve the game of real players instead?” Soh says.


Acting on an idea

In science, you make sure that the work you do is published in an academic journal.

In entrepreneurship, the test is commercial. “I have always had the desire to build something that people would love and use,” Soh says. “This was one of the few chances I had left to build a start-up, perhaps help people and make some positive changes to the world.”

It also helped to play tennis – imperfectly. “I don’t even think I am very good,” Soh says.

Soh soon reached out to his university pal, Cen Lee, and started to raise funds for the venture. They obtained support from A*Star, the Media Development Authority of Singapore, NTUitive, and individual investors over the years. They also tried crowdfunding through Indiegogo.

“The crowdfunding was more for marketing purposes,” he says. “We had to convince people that this product was worthwhile.”


A global reach

To be sure, there are similar sensors in the market. But these are attached to the base of the racket -- something players say hinder their grip. Attaching his device to the strings of the racquet head is why he believes his product is superior.

Soh estimates there are at least 43 million people globally who play tennis, at different levels. 9 Degrees Freedom operates out of Singapore but the local market “only accounts for 5 to 10 percent of our reach....our biggest customers are in Europe, North America, China and Hong Kong.”

9 Degrees Freedom is also looking at improving its own game. Foremost, research is ongoing so the technology can be applied to other sports like squash and golf.


Getting it right

“I always believe three components are critical. We have to first identify the right market segment. And then the right product to fit the right segment of the market,” he says.

Finally, one has to have the right team to build the right product to fit the right market segment.

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