An interview with Megha Gambhir, CEO, Stupa Analytics Sport – The only Indian Based Sports Data Analytics Startup to make a deal with USA Table Tennis

As the data analytics takes hold of the sporting industry more and more, there is one company from India that has made a name for itself in a less-heralded sport than cricket. Stupa Sports Analytics is the company that has turbo-charged the sport of table tennis with its use of technology in sports. This data-driven technology seeks to maximize the performance of players by analyzing the players through a unique lens of data points. The company recently made India proud when they signed up with USA Table Tennis, the official governing body of table tennis in USA, as an exclusive analytics partner.

Biz Behind Sports talked to Megha Gambhir, the co-founder and CEO of Stupa Sports Analytics,  in an exclusive interview on how Stupa Sports Analytics aims to change the game when it comes to technology in sports and how the future looks for data analysis in the industry.

How did the idea of Stupa Analytics come about?I come from a tech background with over 13 years of experience and I always strived to start something of my own that could bring a revolution in the industry. I share a strong connection with Table Tennis as my husband Mr Deepak Malik is a former national level player and also the former Indian National Team coach. Over the past 18 years of his coaching voyage, he has produced many International and National medalists and eventually he felt the need for some scientific or technological solution for his athlete’s performance enhancement. This drove me to think about putting all my tech knowledge and resources into it and club them to produce an output which is now STUPA Sports Analytics.

Why start with Table Tennis? Why not other, more conventionally popular sports in India? How big of a role did the co-founder, Deepak Malik, play in this?

Table Tennis is emerging as a popular sport especially since UTT(Ultimate Table Tennis) came to the picture. Deepak is the founder of the country’s sought after Table Tennis training centre “Pinnacle Table Tennis Academy”. It was convenient to pick table tennis as our first sport as we had the domain expertise at home with links to other game specialists, athletes and even federations as well. Apart from this, we were fortunate enough to have an environment, the TT centre and players where we could do all the diligence work before proceeding further to get a result-oriented output.  Deepak well understands the importance of Sports Science elements like, mental conditioning, fitness analysis & of course performance analytics which he follows diligently. His theoretical inputs and identification of exact impactful insights and of course the expertise have really helped STUPA.

How does Stupa Analytics help the players? 

Once the user downloads the app, available on app store and play store, they can subscribe for the optimal package and begin uploading their pre-recorded match or training videos for analysis. The core procedure involves capturing the data, to its minutest level, from matches or training. It is then further processed and mined for relevant statistical and analytical information to provide interactive analysis backed up by sliced video clippings. It helps the coaches and athletes to work on specific potholes in their game in an optimized manner. Basically, they can train and play smartly with continuous feedback and solution. 

Through Training/Practice Analysis & Physical Assessments 

Practice Analysis provides deeper information about the techniques, qualitative biomechanics feedback and much more. This is usually done on practice or training videos recorded with specific angles and drills, which are further analyzed by our team who perform markings on videos with technical and physical feedback. We also assess other physiological features like endurance and HRM and provide detailed feedback on the training sessions. The feedback video and the observations are available in the mobile app for the coach and the payer to review. Further, we also have a program for online physical assessment and training that provides deeper understanding and feedback on physiological aspects of a player by Table Tennis specific Sports Physiotherapist. This is an integrated program can be opted with practice analysis to get more a combined feedback and solution of the physical component.

Optimizing & Plan Specific training through Match Analysis

Match analysis is an integral component for analyzing one’s performance as well as of the opponents. Regular match analysis of the players helps them to identify the trends and patterns of the mistakes the players are doing, prioritize the improvement areas, and plan the training with specific drills and sequences and understand the problems in their performance.

Have there been any success stories nearly a year since the company was founded?

Our work has been recognized by the ITTF’s Sports Science Congress in Hungary in April 2019 and Japan’s Sports Science and Medical Committee in September 2019 where we exhibited our product and gave a brief overview about it. In addition to these, our client, Manav Thakkar, was crowned the world no 1 at the Canada Open 2020, and we’re glad that we were then and still part of his voyage. He also had a debut appearance in the men’s singles final at the Senior National Championship held at Hyderabad this year. The company has also teamed up with the parent body of the sport “International Table Tennis Federation” & of course USA Table Tennis as well. 

How did the deal with USA Table Tennis happen? That’s quite a big coup which will undoubtedly bring more eyes to your services.

Yes, teaming up with USA table tennis is certainly the cream of our coffee. Actually, one of our friends from the United States is a Table Tennis player who is also part of the Junior US team. He started to use our services on a trial basis which later turned out to be effective for him. Our product was then circulated among the top renowned players of the US like Kanak Jha & Lily Zhang as well where again we received positive feedback. We then proposed the US National Association with our services & they accepted it with delight and the deal happened.

There’s a group in the sports industry that believes that hard data and analysis can never replicate the human advice which only a coach can give. Your thoughts?

Actually, we’re not saying that it would exactly replicate human advice. But on the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that technology is a boon and support to society in every field. There are certainly many software that we use in our daily life, like Excel for keeping our records organized and maintained. So the optimization of a process is the main thing here & that’s exactly what we are doing. We act as a technology support system in the form of a virtual coach to push and accelerate the performance enhancement process of an athlete. We help coaches to get objective data through which they can prioritize the improvement areas, and plan the training with specific drills and sequences and understand the problems in their performance.

How much has Stupa Analytics changed since it was founded? 

STUPA has actually evolved a lot over the past 1 year. Started with a team of 4 people, we have grown to a family of over 20 people now. In the beginning, we focused on only table tennis analysis but now we are also working a lot for fan engagement to raise awareness about sports analytics. Our digital creative media team is taking care of it by producing cinematic videos of the analysis of professional high rated matches through graphics, animations, music and voiceovers. In addition to these, we are also bringing in Artificial Intelligence to make our services accessible to club level recreational players as well. This would also make the analysis more real-time, economical & less labour intensive. 

Do you plan to expand your operations to other sports as well? How and which sports?

Of course, we’re just not stopping here. We’ll be adding badminton, squash, lawn tennis and many other racket sports in the near time by transforming and designing technologies to simulate the sport. We’re already in touch with the game experts and technology advisors and we believe we would be launching other sports by the start of next year.

How do you see the future of Stupa Analytics and the sports analytics industry as a whole? 

I believe sports analytics is the future of sports as it is becoming the key ingredient of performance enhancement. In current times, performance analysis is limited to the pro players only. STUPA is making analytics available for players at every level. Through our AI-enabled solution, we look forward to acting as a one-stop solution to provide a holistic platform for all level of athletes. We aim to reach every part of the globe through our online training, fitness programs and offerings as we feel that the digitization in the sports sector can be really effective & we are confident enough that we’re going to succeed. 

You are a successful woman entrepreneur in a country that doesn’t have many women in leadership positions. What is your advice to budding woman entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy at all and being a woman entrepreneur puts another layer of complexity due to the additional roles a woman needs to play. It is important to stay focused on your goal and come across as a strong person where people look up to you for your work, vision and passion irrespective of gender. My two cents to budding women entrepreneurs – There will be many crossroads where you have to take a riskier path, but I believe it’s very important to trust your gut to do the things which feel right and trust me, it actually works. Secondly, it’s important to consistently upgrade yourself, take time out every day to learn, to educate yourself on different aspects. It broadens your perspective and its application in your business or personal life. 

Stupa Sports Analytics believes in the power of Artificial Intelligence and sees themselves becoming the biggest medium of performance enhancement in sports. Moreover, as it begins to venture into other sports as well as activities like fan engagement, the acceptance of an Indian startup at a global level will go a long way into opening the door for many more. The deal with USA Table Tennis is particularly enormous in value in this regard and other such successes in the future of the company can be expected.

Written by Vatsal Gupta

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