#StartupsEverywhere: Rochester, Minn.

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Mike Rolih, CEO, GoRout

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.


Improving Efficiency Through Wearable Technology

Most of us think of wearables as the smartwatch on our wrist or the monitor embedded in grandma’s bracelet, but GoRout has imagined a new method for integrating software and wearable tech. We spoke with GoRout CEO Mike Rolih to learn more about his company, the Minnesota startup ecosystem, and how GoRout is improving efficiency in the game of football and beyond.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background? 

I’m originally from Chicago and have a diverse sports background. I was a professional pitcher in the Minor Leagues, a Division I baseball coach and a professional scout. One day, I accompanied a friend of mine to his practice at the Rochester Community and Technical College, where he was the football coach. Observing the practice, I realized there was an opportunity to improve the efficiency of practice with technology. This is where the idea of GoRout was born. 

Tell us about GoRout. 

GoRout combines software and on-field wearables to offer a better solution and more efficient practice than the old conventions of huddles and scout cards. Rather than communicating plays to each player in a huddle or reviewing scout cards, coaches send the plays directly to players on the field, who can each view their blocking or route assignments on the GoRout Vue device on their waist or wrist. Gone are the days of waiting for 10 other guys getting their assignments before the coach finally gets to you. Streamlining communication from coaches to players during practice means that teams get in more reps, making them better prepared for games. 

Walk us through how GoRout works.

First, coaches upload plays before practice to our cloud-based application. During practice, each player has their GoRout device with them on the field, and coaches send plays and manage practice from the sidelines using their mobile device. GoRout relies on the uninterrupted connectivity of coaches and players, so we can’t rely on wireless internet or cellular data connection. Instead, we have our own network that operates using spectrum frequency enabling GoRout devices and apps to communicate via radio waves. This allows us to cover more than 97.5% of the United States. 

Transitioning now to the startup ecosystem, what are the greatest challenges you face in the Minnesota startup community?

The two biggest issues we face here are access to capital and access to talent. Our original seed capital of $1.25 million, for example, took four years to raise. Here in Rochester, where there are several actors trying to build out the ecosystem, many investors want to see that a company is profitable before investing. This means lots of great startups lose out on funding opportunities, or have to go to Texas or the coasts to find capital. 

One venture capitalist I spoke to said that emphasizing profitability so early in a company’s life meant the company isn’t focused on keeping prices low and growing out its customer base. The outdated mindset of looking for profit before investing is taking our local startups focus away from growth, something that may come to harm their future potential.

As GoRout looks to expand into a new market, we are looking to raise $3-5 million, investment that will likely come from out of state as a result of the lack of access here at home. 

Are there any remedies that you think will help Minnesota startups access the capital they need to grow their businesses?

An expansion of the angel tax credit would incentivize further investment in our startups here in Minnesota. The angel tax credit is a good program, but many people don’t know about it or don’t know they qualify. Raising awareness of the credit and adjusting the threshold to incentivize more risk-averse investors, I believe, would increase investment in Minnesota startups.

What is your goal for the next year? The next five years?

We have recently fulfilled a couple of our milestone goals, doubling our user base and becoming profitable. As our football market has about a $100 million market cap, we are looking to expand to new sectors to solve real world problems with our technology. 

Accordingly, in 3 to 5 years, we would like the football market to be just 3 percent of our business, and be using our technology in two additional silos. Two areas that we think are ripe for disruption are aerospace and health. We’re currently in discussions with NASA and the Mayo Clinic on partnership and pilot opportunities, both of which would help us to move in those directions.

All of the information in this profile was accurate at the date and time of publication.

Engine works to ensure that policymakers look for insight from the startup ecosystem when they are considering programs and legislation that affect entrepreneurs. Together, our voice is louder and more effective. Many of our lawmakers do not have first-hand experience with the country's thriving startup ecosystem, so it’s our job to amplify that perspective. To nominate a person, company, or organization to be featured in our #StartupsEverywhere series, email edward@engine.is.