In his former career as a sports nutritionist for Team GB’s Olympic canoeing athletes, professional rugby teams such as the Harlequins and the European Ryder Cup Team among others, David Dunne noticed a lot of inefficiencies when building custom nutrition plans.
“This space has largely stayed stagnant over the years, and everything happens retrospectively,” Dunne says. “Most available tools will allow you to track your food after you’ve eaten it or take a marker after something’s already happened, but they don’t help much if you’re going to run your first marathon tomorrow and you’re wondering what to eat tonight.”
In situations where athletes required a high level of personalisation for performance optimisation in their training and ahead of major sporting events, Dunne began to imagine new tools that could help him anticipate his clients’ needs and provide personalised nutrition advice at scale.
Fast-forward a few years and his startup Hexis, incubated at Conception X in 2018, has built an AI-powered platform that translates cutting-edge nutrition research into algorithms, predicts athletes’ needs based on their training schedules, biometric data, lifestyle information and goals, and can be integrated with wearables to update nutrition plans in real time.
The solution is based on Dunne’s research findings as part of his PhD in nutrition, behaviour change and technology at Liverpool John Moores University and co-founder Samuel Impey’s idea of carb coding — that is the ability to enhance performance through the tailored periodisation of carb consumption — which disrupted traditional approaches to sports nutrition when it first came out in Sports Medicine five years ago.
The team also ran large research studies with nutritionists and athletes that confirmed a mismatch between the two groups, with athletes expecting the same level of hyper personalisation in their nutrition they were experiencing in most other areas, and practitioners unable to deliver it because of time constraints or lack of specific training.
To bridge this gap, after initially focusing on building a product that athletes want to use, Hexis now aims to optimise the platform for nutritionists and release a desktop version to a waitlist that includes Premier League and NBA teams, as well as individual practitioners, gyms and national governing bodies.
Since launching on the market last year, Hexis has secured more than 500 paid subscriptions — about 10% of those from professional and Olympic athletes, while 30% are sports coaches and nutritionists. The team is currently working with several Team GB organisations in the run up to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, as well as professional cycling teams in the pro peloton.
From his early days as a former nutritionist turned PhD student and curious about launching a deeptech startup, Dunne remembers how the Conception X programme, community and network served as “a real eye opener” through the transition, preparing him as much as possible for the journey ahead while helping him retrain effectively and quickly.
“If there are any PhD students out there who are wondering if there’s an alternative route, I would highly recommend exploring it because while it may seem like a scarier option at the start, the reward could be so high if it’s something you’re passionate about and where you can make a difference,” Dunne says.
Hexis is now raising a £1.5 million seed round, with 650k already committed by professional athletes — including Tour de France stage winner Bob Jungels — Formula 1 performance coaches and angel investors, and plans to expand to the US by the end of 2023.