- Innovation and Research
- Our City/Our Campus
- College of Business Administration
- Swanson School of Engineering
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When William “Buddy” Clark coached his kids’ baseball and softball teams, other parents kept asking him what gear or training could give their players an edge. The Swanson School of Engineering professor and National Academy of Inventors inductee saw an opportunity.
“I came up with a solution that required measurements, and the more I investigated, the more I realized that the tools that work best — wearable sensors — were starting to be a thing but in a rudimentary way,” Clark said. “It dawned on me that this was a good solution for this problem and, if applied properly, opened the door for useful information for players and others. It took off from there.”
In 2012, he and alumnus CJ Handron (KGSB ’10) launched Diamond Kinetics, a Pittsburgh-based sports company that produces mobile-based hitting and throwing technology to help coaches and players analyze performance to improve their training.
Clark and Handron met through Pitt’s nationally acclaimed Small Business Development Center, where Handron was Clark’s advisor. They quickly bonded over their love of America’s favorite pastime and a shared desire to aid budding baseball and softball enthusiasts.
“We bring in technology that tracks how things move and focus on how to make learning the games more fun,” Handron said. “We want to expedite learning those skills and generally introduce a digital complement to the physical playing.”
Diamond Kinetics sensors are placed inside of balls and on the end of baseball and softball bats to track batting and pitching metrics. Batting metrics include speed, exit velocity, launch angle, applied power and more. Tracked pitching data include extension and delivery timing. This information is collected, transmitted via Bluetooth to a cellphone application and translated into visual charts.
Essentially, said Clark, “We develop sensors and help people get better at the game.”
And it didn’t take long for the tech to take off: Current Diamond Kinetics partners include Major League Baseball (MLB) and the USA Softball National Teams. But despite reaching the top of the game, kids remain at the core of the Diamond Kinetics’ mission. In April 2022, the company was named the “Trusted Youth Development Platform of Major League Baseball” and it’s been mentioned in an ESPN gift guide for kids and other youth-centered initiatives.
Their focus on adolescent players comes at a critical time for the sport.
Last week's MLB All-Star Game garnered record low numbers of TV viewers. For years, the MLB has struggled to compete with faster-paced sports and is facing viewership declines as the average age of their fans creeps up. But Diamond Kinetics is helping bridge the generational divide and generate more excitement and access.
“We want to eliminate barriers to entry into the sports at various levels, especially for kids. We’ve started to develop other ways of engagement that don’t just require a device, either through video or tools in our apps,” Clark said.
Why Pittsburgh is the place
Clark and Handron said Pittsburgh is the perfect place for their budding business, which currently employs around 30 people and captures millions of swings and throws each year.
“Pittsburgh was not only the right city but maybe the only city that we could’ve started this company,” said Handron. “It’s a sports-centric city, and from a talent and technology perspective, we had pieces that are harder to find in other places.”
Landing the backing of the Pittsburgh Pirates is just one example of the partnerships Diamond Kinetics has forged. Others include Riverside Center for Innovation, an economic development agency and small business incubator targeting women, minorities, veterans, LGBTQ and other disadvantaged groups in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Another partner, Progress City, helps create sustainable career opportunities for adults with autism and oversees Diamond Kinetics’ packaging process. More recently, the tech company partnered with Future Kings Mentoring, an organization that supports young Black men in the region.
But partnering with the MLB to become the organization’s youth development platform is perhaps the team’s proudest accomplishment.
“What we’re trying to do in this broad-reaching strategic partnership is connect what a kid sees on the big-league field and allow them to engage with that,” said Handron. “That’s a real positive for MLB’s audience, our kids — these digital natives who’ve grown up with technology —and enhancing what we can deliver for them.”
A startup fueled by Pitt
In addition to helping kids enjoy the game, Clark and Handron have made a point of hiring local talent to create their tech — notably Pitt students.
“Buddy, CJ and the Diamond Kinetics’ reputation preceded them,” said Christopher D’Angelo (ENGR ’18G), Diamond Kinetics’ lead research and development (R&D) engineer and Clark and Handron’s first engineering hire.
The Pitt adjunct assistant professor was eager to work for the founders and apply the “fancy math you learn in graduate school” to enhance the accuracy of the sensors. But D’Angelo has most enjoyed the opportunity to encourage and help young engineers like recent Pitt graduate Solomon Fenton (ENGR ’21) and Judge Jackson, a rising senior studying mechanical engineering, minoring in material science and working towards certificates in sustainability and simulation in design.
“One of the things I’ve most enjoyed is bringing people like Solomon and Judge here, helping them develop and seeing them flourish at a University of Pittsburgh startup,” said D’Angelo. “We’re small and pushing hard to develop and improve our products. I’ve seen these two develop quickly and in great ways because they’re involved in many different engineering aspects. Working with them, that’s probably the most rewarding part.”
Both Fenton and Jackson interned in the R&D department and said the opportunity was a game-changer for their careers.
“It’s a work environment built on genuine interest,” said Fenton. “The Diamond Kinetics’ engineering experience, collaborating with experts in so many fields, with such talented computer scientists and PhDs and working closely to see the interface and broader map, was helpful for me in understanding product development at a fine level. Those here are passionate about what they’re trying to create.”
Jackson added, “Here in the R&D department, we’re leading innovation in baseball and softball.”
“We're really proud to be a University of Pittsburgh company,” said Handron. “It's definitely part of our ethos and our story.”
The company is also intentional about bolstering the local economy. While Diamond Kinetics designs and programs in-house, the actual circuit boards for its smart bats and balls are manufactured by Pennatronics, a company in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
“It’s sweet that we get to support the broader regional economy through that process,” said Clark.
Reflecting on the company’s growth, Handron said, “I remember sitting in the Oakland Panera with Buddy discussing our purpose. We wanted to have a long-standing positive impact on baseball and softball. Now, we talk about hundreds of thousands of kids who’ve used our products and the people that experience what we do. We’re having an impact.”
— Kara Henderson, video by Jumoke Davis and Christin Bongiorni