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Innovation Economy

When your cellphone is a toy

TheO, by Physical Apps of Hollis, N.H.TheO, the first product to be la

Excerpts from the Innovation Economy blog.

If you have kids, you’ve probably gotten used to handing them your phone so they can play games or watch videos. So what about handing them your phone so they can insert it into a Nerf-like ball and toss it around?

That’s the idea behind a new product from Physical Apps in Hollis, N.H. TheO Ball is a foam sphere with a pocket in its center to keep the phone safe while allowing players to see its screen. Some of the initial games will be bowling, hot potato, and a question-and-answer game called Interrogo, but the company also plans a software development kit that will enable others to create games for TheO. The ball will sell for $24.95. Additional apps will be sold through the Android and iTunes online marketplaces.


Popular Science dubbed TheO the best toy at this year’s Toy Fair trade show in New York, and Physical Apps chairman Bob Houvener told me the TheO will start shipping this summer.

“We see a very significant opportunity to get folks up and moving, while leveraging their smart devices with our innovative and proprietary physical enablers such as TheO, combined with fun and enjoyable apps,” Houvener wrote in an e-mail.

Start-up connects kids with coaches

A Cambridge native who played professional hoops in Israel is getting ready to launch an online marketplace for private coaches. CoachUp founder Jordan Fliegel took the wraps off a test version of the site recently; among more than 100 golf, squash, and baseball coaches on CoachUp, you’ll find Fliegel himself, offering his advice on “attacking the rim with limited dribbles” for $69 an hour.

Fliegel grew up in Cambridge and played varsity basketball at Bowdoin College before spending two years on the rosters of pro teams in Israel and Europe. A broken foot led to the end of his playing career, but while based in Israel, he started taking business courses at Tel Aviv University.


As Fliegel worked in business development for Waltham-based Zintro, he did some private coaching in town, and the idea for CoachUp started to take shape. The site targets middle- to upper-income parents who have kids in middle school or high school playing a sport competitively, and who naturally want to see their kids improve.

Coaches who offer their services through the site name an hourly price, and CoachUp adds a small mark-up.

“We’re never going to take a penny from a coach,” Fliegel said.

Fliegel said that CoachUp will interview coaches before allowing them to be listed on the site and will check references. “We’ll also be collecting data on how many clients come back to purchase more lessons, and getting community feedback,” Fliegel said. “Over time, the best coaches will rise to the top.”

Fliegel said he’s in the midst of wrapping up a $100,000 fund-raising round.

Fresh funds for game developer

Just about two years after I wrote about a new game development shop, Disruptor Beam, cofounder Jon Radoff told me me it raised its first outside capital this month. The money came from a trio of angels with ties to Harmonix Music Systems, the Cambridge company that created Rock Band and Dance Central, and former E Ink chief executive Russ Wilcox.

Radoff didn’t want to be specific, but he did confirm the round was less than $1 million.


It sounds like the new funding will allow Disruptor Beam to go from a small firm building games for outside clients to one that creates products of its own. Radoff talked about making “story-oriented” games linked to popular TV shows and books, which will allow players to “interact with characters they know and like, and really live in those worlds.”

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