- is that yardie coach who high-fives you on every little win.

Like many of us stranded at home during the COVID lockdowns, data scientist and machine learning engineer Pearce Jarrett turned to online exercise regimes as a way of staying fit. But also, like most of us, he found it hard to stay motivated on his living room floor while watching someone else doing sit-ups on a screen. “I had a smartwatch, but it only recorded my heart rate and my steps. It couldn’t tell me whether I was getting better at burpees or improving my lunges.”

That was in early 2020. Fast forward, two years on, Gwaan – which is what Jamaicans say when they want to encourage you to “go on” – is due to launch its app within the next few months. Described as a “very smart coach”, the app transforms your phone into a device which literally watches your every movement as you exercise. The app guides you as you perfect your technique, talking to you in a warm, friendly Caribbean voice, encouraging you to “go on“, by offering little rewards in the style of a video game.  All in return for a monthly subscription that is cheaper than the cost of a “no-frills” gym membership, and way cheaper than hiring a personal trainer of your own.

As Pearce tells it: “Gwaan is that yardie coach who high-fives you on every little win. “

The way the app works is by mapping the movements of expert fitness trainers as they perform their work outs. This creates a model against which you, in turn, are mapped as you follow the work-out routine at home. While you watch the trainer on one screen, which can be a tablet, a laptop, or a TV, the phone camera tracks you as you do your own work out.  It helps you improve your technique by comparing you with the model, giving you feedback and tracking your progress day-by-day. It also gives you points to reward you as you keep at it and, hopefully, improve.  

The reward bit is crucial. “Research says when you look at habit creation, you need to give users rewards as early as possible.”

Pearce was fortunate to have on hand his wife and co-founder of Gwann, Laboni Paul, whose background in consumer psychology, human physiology, and product analytics of behavioural change apps, proved invaluable as they worked to turn the idea into reality.

Applying analytics and data science to fitness isn’t, of course, new. But so far it has been mainly about coaching elite sportspeople like Olympic athletes and professional footballers. Peloton was one potential solution for those stuck at home, but Pearce points out that the equipment is expensive and requires space. “I wanted to democratize sports analytics.” Not everyone has the luxury or space for a home gym, or expensive equipment. “The bottom end of the market is wide open.”

Back then Pearce was working for Karhoo, a B2B ride hailing platform backed by auto giant Renault, and working up his idea for a business in his spare time. It was not easy. The problem wasn’t managing coding or the data analytics; he had never been an entrepreneur before, nor had anyone in his social circle. It was all new and rather daunting.

“This was the first big piece of validation. Up to then, it had been a passion project. When we won, we realised this must have legs.”

A further benefit was no longer feeling isolated. “It was phenomenal. I was surrounded by a cohort of other young entrepreneurs, people I could talk to, share experiences and ideas with, as well as learn from.”

He was also assigned a business mentor, an “Innovation Champion” from Innovate UK Edge, whose advice and support took away much of the pain and challenge of starting a business from scratch.

The Young Innovators award also opened a lot of other doors. As a young black man with dreadlocks, not to mention dyslexic, Pearce was the ideal candidate for the British Science Association’s Smashing Stereotypes campaign – which aims to challenge the traditional “men in white coats” view of science and encourage young people to see science and engineering as “cool” career options. He now gets asked to go into schools and talk to students about his experience. It also helped get him into the Foundervine young entrepreneurs programme and their Barclays Black Founder Accelerator programme. Gwaan was also taken up by Microsoft for Start Ups which has provided £125,000 of cloud resources and other software for free. “All this started from the Young Innovators award.”

He has since received a further Young Innovators Next Steps grant of £50,000 from Innovate UK, which was created to help Young Innovators’ businesses scale further. Pearce and his core team of six are now working on the Gwaan user interface, ready for the launch in the autumn, and preparing to recruit the trainers and engineers he needs to go live. 

Conscious of the help he has received, he is keen to give back. He plans on offering internships to young people who are keen to join in the adventure.  He also feels it is important to talk to others about his experience with dyslexia. Having been diagnosed as dyslexic at the age of 7, he still struggles with reading and writing, and uses technology and tools as work arounds, for example to read emails out to him. But he has learnt to appreciate his neurodiversity which he believes made it easier for him to learn to code, and means he sees things in a different way to other people. He credits his dyslexia for the creativity behind the design of Gwaan. 



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