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How the ACTN-3 gene powers this Singaporean fitness company: Q&A with Steffan Fung, founder and CEO of ELXR

ELXR offers customized training programs after analyzing the user’s unique genotype and fitness level.

The journey towards the perfect body starts with a DNA test. Singapore-based sports technology startup ELXR offers customized training programs after analyzing the user’s unique genotype and fitness level. With test kit and app, the company is going after a physical activity and lifestyle market that’s worth billions of dollars.

ELXR was part of the accelerator program organized by 500 Startups, an early-stage venture fund, in both the US and Japan. It is also the only startup in the region to have been selected by the Microsoft-powered Global Sports Innovation Center, which supports the digital transformation of sports entities around the world.

In an interview with KrASIA, founder and CEO Steffan Fung shared more about goals and recent partnerships, and how COVID-19 is further pushing the adoption of sports tech in Southeast Asia.

KrASIA (Kr): How does ELXR leverage technology to benefit the fitness industry?

Steffan Fung (SF): Launched in 2018, ELXR was built with a mission to digitize and personalize workout regimes with customized training programs to suit the needs across all fitness levels. With ELXR, users can create their personalized cloud gym spaces.

The app supports trainers, coaches, and enterprises by giving them access to ELXR’s cloud-based platform where they are able to connect with fitness enthusiasts, create their own teams, provide coaching online, create, share, and access fitness-related videos as well as textual content.

Kr: Tell us about the ELXR Sports DNA test kit. How does the genetic testing for fitness-related genes work and what is the process?

SF: ELXR has partnered with the Genome Institute of Singapore, as well as Genesis Healthcare—Japan’s largest private genetic testing, research, and data company, with the most extensive private genetic database. It supports the fitness program on the app with benchmarks based on relevant data and helps ensure that the workout regime is tailor-made and achievable.

The science behind ELXR.

There is no age limit for the DNA testing that is done on saliva samples, and the process usually takes a month. The analysis is specifically done on the ACTN-3 gene that encodes for an alpha-actinin-3 protein, which is responsible for type 2 fast-twitch muscle fibers. In essence, the protein is associated with improved sprint and athletic power performance. The assessments on this gene measure the user’s aerobic and anaerobic capacity, balance, agility, endurance, power, flexibility, strength, as well as speed, helping determine the user’s fitness level. Then, a personalized fitness program is curated in the cloud for each user.

The ELXR Sports DNA test kit provides users with add-on options to determine their genotypes and customize an optimized training regime to accelerate their personal goals. The first set of 1,000 test kits is completely sold out.

Kr: How is ELXR helping the fitness industry amidst the COVID-19 crisis?

SF: For users, the ELXR app is available for free and can be downloaded on both iOS and Android devices. ELXR’s social functions help users to interact with an active community of fitness enthusiasts, trainers, and coaches where like-minded individuals can come together to join any of the workout sessions and even form teams as per their preference. With safe distancing and restricted movement, people are isolated in their homes and the ELXR community provides support and helps them maintain good physical as well as mental health.

The ELXR platform.

Currently, the app is free for coaches and trainers as well. Furthermore, for a small subscription and administrative fee, they can soon have access to personalized e-commerce solutions like payment gateways along with tools to create and share content in the ELXR cloud, which enables them to establish and grow their digital presence, and reach existing and new audiences.

Kr: We understand that ELXR is the only startup in the region to have been selected by the Global Sports Innovation Center. Tell us more about this.

SF: In light of COVID-19, the GSIC has launched a special call for startups and tech companies with the goal of looking for solutions that can help sports organizations and businesses survive. ELXR has been recognized as a part of this network, which allows us to onboard more sports partners and make alliances to propel our regional growth, while helping businesses as well as individual trainers and coaches to digitize their services and connect with users.

Kr: Tell us more about your collaboration with Razer Pay.

SF: Our collaboration with Razer Pay will allow us to support other local enterprises by making payments more convenient for both users and trainers starting next month.

Kr: How has the pandemic affected the sports tech industry? What are some of the trends you are observing?

SF: The sports and fitness industry has been undergoing a digital transformation for some time now, but the pandemic has expedited that process. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has brought the conventional brick and mortar setup to a temporary standstill in many parts of the world. As a result, many businesses have been wiped out and countless jobs have been lost. The effects, which are largely irreversible, have impacted the pace of recovery among businesses and the worst affected are individual trainers and coaches who lack resources and tools to digitize their services.

ELXR founder Steffan Fung. Photo courtesy of ELXR.

The fitness industry, like most sectors, is exploring online avenues to survive and sustain. At ELXR, in a short span of two months, we have managed to build a presence in more than 40 countries across the world onboarding coaches and trainers and providing them with digital solutions for business continuity.

There has been an ever-increasing uptake of online video classes during the lockdowns across Asia and around the world. We have seen more than 850,000 impressions on our videos, and the numbers are continuing to rise every day. We see an upward trend of more people becoming active and fit during the lockdown, probably because it’s the only legitimate reason to get out of the house.

Kr: What do you think about the scope and challenges of the sports tech industry in Singapore and around the region? How is ELXR taking the lead?

SF: It is a challenging time across all sectors yet we believe that sports tech is a promising space to be in. In APAC, there is considerable potential in the fitness market with the physical activity sector alone expected to reach around USD 373.5 billion by 2023, and several key players are emerging in China, Japan, and India. ELXR is aiming to expand across the region, including in Japan, where we have a wholly-owned subsidiary and an extensive partner network as well as in Singapore and the rest of the region.

We are confident there is room for greater participation from the private sector to spur the economy and in supporting the sports and fitness ecosystem, and this is where ELXR is aiming to take the lead. With the recent partnerships and collaborations, we are confident that our platform can help address the current gaps in the community and improve the sustainability of the sports economy and industry going forward.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.