Yale men's basketball player Jalen Gabbidon has co-founded Launchpad, an athletic training system

Jalen Gabbidon wasn’t planning on taking a year off from school in 2020-21.

Gabbidon, who had been elected captain of the Yale men’s basketball team and was the Ivy League’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, figured he’d finish his studies, graduate in June and step out into the real world.

With that in mind, and with an already impressive background in the software world that included a pair of internships with Google, Gabbidon asked Yale coach James Jones if he knew anyone who had created a start-up company.

Jones is not only the winningest hoops coach in Yale history, he also maintains an extensive network of former players. He put Gabbidon in contact with Jason Abromaitis, an ex-Yale player and 2007 grad who had begun his own, highly profitable market-research platform eight years ago.

But Abromaitis didn’t want to talk to Gabbidon about that. He and Doug Goldstein, a Denver physical therapist who trains dozen of athletes, had just started a new venture called Launchpad, an at-home athletic performance training system for young athletes, and wondered if Gabbidon had any interest in working on it.

Gabiddon liked what he heard. Last August, just a few weeks after his first conversation with Abromaitis, he was out in Denver, living in the spacious basement of Abromaitis’s home.

He just left Denver earlier this week.

“He’s become part of our family,” Abromaitis said.

“The concept took me right away,” Gabiddon said of Launchpad. “I knew I had to work on it for the next year.”

On Thursday, Gabbidon, Abromaitis and Goldstein will pitch Launchpad to over 500 investors through the Techstars Sports Accelerator’s “Demo Day” at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, mostly via livestream.

The group hopes to attract investors (think NBC’s “Shark Tank” program, only in real life), with pre-orders going out live this week and, hopefully, shipping out units in the first quarter of 2022.

“It feels like things are breaking our way,” Abromaitis said. “But if it doesn’t, it’s a cool product that’s been a lot of fun to build. We’ve had a number of pro athletes involved.”

Gabbidon describes Launchpad as a smart home gym — “essentially, the Peloton for athletic performance training.” It consists of a plyometric box, dumbells and some other peripheral equipment, along with a 27-inch, touch-screen TV that streams classes and provides artificial intelligence-enabled tracks that measure speed, power and help young athletes run faster, jump higher, etc.

The target audience is 13-18 year-olds, as a way for them to stear clear of what Abromaitis calls “pseudo-science things, promising kids absurd gains in athleticism, strength that can take them down an unsafe path.”

“We want to make sure we’re building for the long haul, and not just taking advantage of the fact that parents want the best for their kids,” Abromaitis said. “We really want the best for their kids, as well, and want their kids who have the best work ethics and want it the most to not be held back (because) maybe their parents can’t afford or get to places that have become the norm.”

And, as Abromaitis added, “While Peloton products serve adults who want to burn calories ... the actual people in the house who want to work out have nothing for them. It feels like a miss.”

Not that Launchpad is soley for that age group. Abromaitis envisions younger kids utilizing the product as a “healthy alternative to screen time.” And parents who might feel self-conscious doing box jumps or agility drills in a gym could do so from home. Abromaitis takes inspiration from his father, Jim, the former UConn men’s basketball standout in the late-70’s who is now athletic director at Albertus Magnus College.

“My dad was active later in life,” he noted. “It was meaningful, in high school, still playing him in competitive, 1-on-1 games.”

Gabbidon has largely been responsible with Launchpad’s software programming, which measures actual body performance of each user, as opposed to just how many reps they’re doing. It has truly impressed several high-tech firms already, according to Abromaitis.

“Jalen’s too humble to brag about what he’s built,” he said, “but some of the things that he’s done with computer vision are really cutting edge.”

High Hopes on Hardwood, Too

On Saturday, Gabbidon will fly out of Indianapolis and return to Yale’s campus for the first time in 18 months. He will serve as captain of the men’s basketball team for a second straight year, though this time his responsibilities will mostly be on the court. Last year, with the Ivy League season canceled and many of his teammates taking the year off from school for internships, etc., often in various time zones, his main task was to bring together his teammates for Zoom calls.

“The basketball side of being captain was pretty non-existent,” Gabbidon reported. “It was basically about keeping morale up and keeping the team together.”

Gabbidon has finished all his major requirements, so his coursework won’t be as challenging while he balances his senior year of basketball with working “part-time, plus — late at night” on his new business venture.

Has Gabbidon benefited from the NCAA’s recent legislation, that allows student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness? Not really. Not yet, anyway. The Launchpad venture began long before NIL legislation passed this summer. But as CTO (chief technology officer) and co-founder of the company, Gabbidon could ultimately benefit.

“Now that these rule changes have come into play, there are going to be a lot of opportunities going forward,” he predicted.

While Gabbidon is hoping for long-term success with Launchpad, he is also focused on his team’s success this season. He says the Bulldogs “fully expect to win the Ivy League this year.”

“Anyone, no matter who they are, who underestimates us is in for a long night. Let’s put it that way,” he said.

Jalen Gabbidon, co-founder of a new athletic training system, is just happy to be able to play one more season.

“Coach Jones said he’s never been so excited to coach basketball — ever. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to play a season. Normally, the long practices, the fatigue, all these things — sometimes you’re excited, but you have it tapered a little bit. I’ve never been more excited and ready for a basketball season in my life. It’s been 18 months since I’ve been on campus. I think everyone on our team, having taken the opportunity to try new things, enter the real world for a little bit, has a much better appreciation and drive for this upcoming season. I think that will help a lot.”

david.borges@hearstmediact.com