Annie Flamsteed remembers the sore muscles, nagging injuries and bloodied hands from her days training to be an elite gymnast in Australia. She always presented a boisterous, cheerful personality and her friends would call her a “chatterbox,’’ although often that was a façade masking her struggles.
Flamsteed, now 26, was never abused—she knows others whose experiences in the sport crossed that line—but says she at times dealt with anxiety, overtraining, burnout and an eating disorder while training at a national level upwards of 30 hours a week in Queensland. She suffered multiple stress fractures in her spine and tore her Achilles tendon and rotator cuff.
Her own experience lit a passion for athlete wellbeing and prompted her to start InspireTek, which she’s branded as a Wellness Management System to complement the existing Athlete Management Systems that cater more to physical training and monitoring. InspireTek’s app is a daily or weekly companion for youth athletes to log on and share their mood, aches and pains as well as digest content related to positive, healthy living.
Such regular reporting, Flamsteed says, combined with AI algorithms, can also help detect patterns of abusive behavior more naturally than self-reporting tools. Young people are also empowered because they can use the same smartphone or tablet most are already using daily.
“What 12-year-old kid is going to go into a website, find the link and report it? So we’re gamifying it through an app and making it safe and encouraging,” says Flamsteed, InspireTek’s founder and CEO. “At scale, you cannot manage and monitor and help people’s wellbeing unless it’s automated. The algorithm for me is a huge part of our success.
“The whole goal of InspireTek is prevention through prediction.”
The InspireTek app is a daily or weekly companion for youth athletes to share their mood, aches, pains and sleep patterns, as well as a resource for positive, healthy living.
Brisbane-based InspireTek recently raised a $1.75 million seed round ($2.5 million in Australian dollars) as the company grows and plans expansion into the U.S. market. Sydney-based venture firm Investible led the round, which was joined by Vu Tran of GO1, Matthew Browne of Donesafe, David Shein of Com Tech, Our Innovation Fund, SmartSports and David and Emma Mactaggart, who previously backed AgDNA and ClipChamp. The chairman of SmartSports is George Mackin, who formerly was chairman of PlaySight and owner of Tennis Media Company.
Since launching in Australia in 2019, the company already has onboarded more than 10,000 users drawing from more than 40 organizations. Among the enterprise partners are Flamsteed’s former Gymnastics QLD (Queensland), Gymnastics Clubs Australia, Outside the Locker Room, Mental Health Foundation of Australia and 753 Playmakers, a program popular in Spain that works with the Real Madrid Foundation and Rafa Nadal Academy.
The need is acute: A recent Australian Institute of Sport study determined that one of every three athletes had sufficient enough anxiety or depression symptoms to seek professional care. Larger partnerships for its inaugural product—Inspire Sport —are in the works, but the adoption and usage rates by small clubs in far-flung places are as gratifying to Flamsteed as any client.
“Most importantly, we got a lot of validation from clubs,’’ she says. “It’s all very well to have a national body fund it, but we wanted to know that the grassroots clubs with really tight budgets were willing to pay for it and they were.’’
InspireTek, which employs a full-time staff of nearly 20, seeks to collaborate with evidence-based educational content developed by medical practitioners and research institutes and then provide that even to small clubs in remote areas. “If they can access medical-grade mental health support, without even asking for it, that’s when we’re going to really have massive transformation or cultural changes,” Flamsteed says. “My point as a founder is, we’re not trying to be everything to everyone. We’re trying to be the catalyst for change in youth sport. And I feel like the only way we can do that is through collaboration.”
Flamsteed’s own gymnastics career informs much of InspireTek’s mission and vision. She studied sport science and nutrition at the University of Queensland, where she met Yotam Rosembaum—the school’s entrepreneur in residence who encouraged her to think more broadly than a private practice of helping a handful of people per day. Rather, he advised her to build an app with far greater reach and to do so in an accessible way.
Considered a ‘chatterbox’ as an elite gymnast, Annie Flamsteed was actually suffering inside until she studied sport science and nutrition in college, leading her to brainstorm InspireTek.
“There’s all of these amazing, innovative companies globally, particularly coming out of the States, trying to solve this problem of athlete burnout, injury training, load management, and wellbeing, but they’re all doing the same thing,” Flamsteed says. “They’re all building these super-hectic systems that are super-expensive, and they only are focusing on the professional teams.”
The Inspire Sport product is available to users as young as eight, but, so far, its sweet spot is in the 12-to-14 age range. Flamsteed says the algorithms are designed to push appropriate content and make recommendations when it notices, say, a sad face for mood three days in a row or sleep less than seven hours for five straight days. The users are also incentivized to gain points and levels, earning badges such as “Sleep Warrior” or “Recovery Warrior.” The idea is not just to focus on stopping bad behavior with red flags, but also rewarding good behavior via green flags.
The hope is that adoption rates will continue to grow with more awareness and more courageous comments from high profile athletes such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. Flamsteed says she can relate to the sensation of the “twisties” that Biles faced at the Tokyo Olympics—“The simplest way to explain it is you forget to do what you know you can do,” Flamsteed says—and hopes that the sport of gymnastics can withstand recent tragedies perpetrated by bad actors and ignored by organizational leadership.
“Gymnastics literally made me who I am, personally and professionally,” Flamsteed says. “I definitely don’t think I’d be a tech founder, living this crazy life, if I didn’t do competitive gymnastics. For all of the flack it’s getting lately, it is quite literally the best sport that a young person can do. It’s so important for fundamental physical development, confidence building, and even determination, hard work, fear.”
Young athletes determined to reach the pinnacle of their sports should still expect to shed occasional blood, sweat and
InspireTek’s AI algorithms are designed to red flag an athlete who posts a sad face for mood three straight days, but also rewards an athlete for smiley faces.
tears in pursuit of those goals, she says, but those undertakings should be more measured and monitored.
“The sporting community in general, we’ve really struggled in the last 20 years—and we probably still will for a while—to ethically find the balance between what it takes to be an elite athlete and what is abuse,” she says.
Flamsteed hopes the lessons gleaned from sports and InspireTek, as well as the larger changes in societal attitudes, will persist for everyone in their professional lives, as well.
“We’re seeing a shift in workplace culture as well and particularly in the startup scene,” she says, “where there used to be this, ‘Hustle hard and work 80 hours a week, you champion.’ And now it’s like, ‘Actually, your investors want you to rest, and your investors want you to be healthy.’
“Because if you’re not healthy, you can’t deliver.”