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NFL welcomes startup ideas for the future of football

Everything from watching the sport in VR to smart sensors for athletes is fair game.

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Tomorrow, the biggest event in football will take place in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California. But today, a group of technology entrepreneurs gathered in an auditorium at Stanford's Graduate School of Business to be involved in football's future. They were there as part of 1st and Future, a startup competition hosted jointly by TechCrunch and the NFL in order to find the best football-related tech in three areas: the home viewing experience, tech for athletes and improving the stadium of the future.

Each area had four finalists make the cut, and a winner was picked from each category. The winners are awarded $50,000 each, a meeting with NFL executives as well as two tickets to tomorrow's Super Bowl. While a total 12 competitors pitched their product, only three emerged victorious. The first is LiveLike, which recreates the experience of watching a game in a VIP suite through virtual reality. You can even pick out which camera angles you want as well as watch a game with your friend even if he or she is across the country.

Next is the Kenzen Echo Patch, a smart body patch that measures vital signs and sweat analysis to check your hydration and ion levels. This, Kenzen says, is important because low hydration can lead to injury on the field. Going forward, Kenzen wants its biosensors to also measure calories and energy consumption plus your cognitive and focus abilities. Right now Kenzen is mostly targeting athletes -- that's why its patch is fairly pricey at $200 each -- but it hopes have a more affordable version for consumers once they can manufacture at scale. It's already filed 11 patents and has partnered with the 49ers and FC Dallas. After a query from one of the judges, who happens to be former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the company said that the patch could potentially be used with children and seniors too.

Last but not least is HYP3R, a location-based engagement platform for stadiums and teams. What it essentially does is establish a sort of social media geofence at certain sports venues. It sits on top of the firehose of Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and filters out location-related posts regardless if it has a hashtag or not, thus allowing the stadium or team to engage with their fans.

Several of these startups have already been around for awhile; Kenzen, for example, ran an unsuccessful Indiegogo campaign last year while LiveLike already has partnerships with events like the French Open. Still, for many, having a chance to meet with NFL execs is a big deal. "It feels incredible," said Carlos Garcia, HYP3R's CEO. "They're the ideal audience for us."

The NFL has a pretty good track record of embracing technology. It's actively encouraging the use of Microsoft's Surface tablets for plays and is now experimenting with HoloLens as a way for fans to fully immerse themselves in the game from the comfort of their homes. Indeed, technology was part of the reason the organization was keen to have the Super Bowl in the Bay Area. "Silicon Valley is the heart of innovation," said Roger Goodell, NFL's Commissioner at the event. "That's why we're here."

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