Firstbeat, the Finnish secret behind teams like Manchester City
Firstbeat represents Finnish modesty at its best. The little known company provides technology used by millions around the world – including the English national football team.
Samsung, Garmin, Suunto, Chicago Bulls, Manchester City… These are some of the brands Firstbeat CEO Joni Kettunen casually mentions while talking about his company. The brands are united by a common factor: they all use Firstbeat’s heartbeat analytics technology.
“Our users include millions of consumers, thousands of companies and hundreds of elite sports teams,” Kettunen says.
Firstbeat’s technology is based on heart rate variability measurement. The analytics provide data on different body functions as it is used to create a digital model of a user’s physiology. The model helps to turn heart rate data into personalised feedback on the user’s wellbeing and performance and helps them to better understand their bodies.
Accurate physiological modelling also sets Firstbeat apart from other heart rate measurement methods.
“There are many things in the body that affect heart rate variability. Our physiological modelling based technology enables to get accurate and rich information on what is really happening in the body. We can see the level of stress, recovery and oxygen consumption as well as how exercise affects performance,” explains Kettunen.
“What makes our method unique is the creation of a digital model, a big picture, of all the body functions. We can offer nearly laboratory level data without the use of a laboratory.”
Everything stems from top level sports
Firstbeat’s roots are in the Research Institute for Olympic sports in Jyväskylä, central Finland. At the turn of the millennium the institute studied how methods used by athletes could also be applied to the assessment of stress and recovery levels in everyday life. Firstbeat was established in 2002 to transform this research into technology which anyone could use to improve their wellbeing.
Twelve years later Firstbeat has grown into a 40 plus strong company whose clientele is primarily located outside Finland, mainly in Europe and the US.
Firstbeat licenses its technology to consumer device manufacturers who use it to provide their users with fitness related information like training effect and recovery time.
For occupational health service providers Firstbeat has developed a full lifestyle assessment package complete with measurement devices and analytics software. This enables service providers to give their customers personalised feedback on how they are recovering from work, what are their stress levels and what actions they could take to improve their wellbeing.
“Currently our biggest markets are in consumer technology and occupational health. A lot is happening in consumer tech at the moment but occupational health offers huge opportunities in the long run,” Kettunen says.
But Firstbeat hasn’t forgotten its roots. Its analytics solution for professional athletes is particularly useful in team sports where it can provide a coach with the information they need to win the next competition or fixture. Notably how an athlete has recovered from previous training and what is their current performance level.
Better health for all
Despite growing demand, Firstbeat isn’t standing still. The company is constantly developing its technology which is supported by its strong ties to the research community. Currently Firstbeat is used in over 80 research facilities worldwide.
It also has new methods and partnerships in the works. They remain under wraps for now, but continue to drive forward the company’s mission to provide meaningful physiological information for everybody.
“The ‘quantified self’ idea is constantly in the media but it’s still a fairly small group of people who actually do it. Combining heart rate measurements with more advanced devices and our technology will give people much richer, meaningful information on their wellbeing. This motivates more people to use these kinds of devices,” Kettunen says.
“We want to offer wider groups of people the tools to better understand their bodies.”
Firstbeat has prospered through assisting top level athletes, but it is this ongoing commitment to help everyone that keeps the company grounded. This sounds like Finnish modesty to us.
Text: Eeva Haaramo