By Kim Han-joo
SEOUL, July 28 (Yonhap) -- Injuries are often considered an inevitable part of competitive sports. However, failing to promptly deal with repeated injuries can sometimes lead to professional players involuntarily retiring earlier than expected.
Lee Sang-gi, CEO of South Korea's tech startup QMIT Co., has learned such hard lessons from his past career as a professional soccer player and jumped on an idea to provide a service that assists competitive athletes.
"The average retirement age of athletes stands at 23.8 years old in this country," Lee told Yonhap News Agency. "As a former soccer goalie, I know the pain of sitting on the bench due to injuries and eventually retiring early."
Founded in 2017, QMIT provides a mobile application called "PLCO" that foresees and prevents athletes' injuries by taking care of their conditions every day to ensure their best performance.
Players record various data such as the parts and intensity of their pain and their overall condition every morning, and a team of medical doctors and coaches at QMIT provide customized feedback based on big data using the so-called PQRST method.
PQRST is a method of assessing pain in which patients are able to describe and assess the amount of pain they are experiencing. It is considered an innovative tool to accurately describe and assess pain.
"QMIT has an accumulated 600,000 sets of data on pain and injuries, which allows us to assess what type of pain eventually leads to a specific injury," the 34-year-old entrepreneur said, adding that such a data base rarely exists in any club or organization.
Minor injuries, often ignored by the athletes themselves and coaches, can lead to bigger and irreversible injuries, Lee said, citing a recent report that showed 85 percent of players suffered injuries due to overtraining.
"PLCO is to assist coaches not to replace them," the former soccer player said, adding that between two and three coaches take care of an average of between 20 and 30 athletes in South Korea.
Even when athletes are in peak physical form, they can get hurt, Lee said, adding that PLCO can monitor and advise the latest trends in training as well.
Lee said such customized service is not only helpful for athletes but also for clubs as accumulated injuries lead to more vacancies and higher operating expenses.
QMIT's study showed that each club had an accumulated 1,597 days of its players sitting on the bench due to injuries, which accounts for about 40 percent of a club's expenses
Just three years after the launch, QMIT currently manages 3,360 athletes in 29 different sports, including 16 professional teams and 20 national teams, Lee said.
"We started with soccer and plan to add more sports next year," Lee said, adding that QMIT aims to advance its system by utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) technology by the fourth quarter of this year.
In the long run, QMIT aims to accelerate its business push globally, noticeably to other parts of Asia and Europe, after its local business stabilizes, according to Lee.
There are total of some 40,000 sports teams in the country, with an estimated 8 million teams in Europe and the Southeast Asia, according to QMIT. The local sports industry is estimated at around 57 trillion won (US$47.5 billion), with the global industry at 1400 trillion won.
QMIT's unique business model caught attention with a slew of investments in the company, including securing Pre Series-A funding from a total of three investors earlier this year.
Naver's D2 Startup Factory, an accelerator for tech startups operated by South Korea's largest internet portal operator Naver Inc., also saw the startup's potential growth and decided to invest in early stage funding last year.
Naver has supported promising entrepreneurs with advanced technological skills since 2015. Only some 20 startups, including Soundable Health, were fortunate enough to qualify for the accelerator program out of more than 2,000 applicants
After starting his career as a goalkeeper at South Korean football club Seongnam Ilwha Chunma (now Seongnam FC) in 2010, Lee suffered repeated injuries before retiring from Suwon Samsung Bluewings in 2017.
"Many athletes often face difficulties in their careers after their retirements," Lee said. "I want to help my colleagues based on my past experience as a competitive athlete by infusing sports and technology."