076: Boston Speaks Up with Impact Biosystems CEO Bridget Hunter-Jones
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
Bridget Hunter-Jones is the co-founder and CEO of Impact Biosystems, a venture-backed startup in the Boston area developing adaptive hardware and software solutions in the health and fitness space.
Hunter-Jones leads a small, passionate, cross-functional team that wants to create a new personalized recovery market to support the at-home fitness phenomenon that accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Impact Biosystems’ goal is to make athletes of all varieties prevent injuries, perform at their peak, and uniquely live and feel better.
The company’s soon-to-launch Pact, which aims to compete with the likes of Theragun and other at-home massage products, promises to be the world's first full-feedback interactive percussive massager that provides a personalized recovery solution with muscle scanning technology. The Pact measures people’s muscle tightness and provides personalized recovery guidance, creating an experience that adapts to them.
An engineer at heart, Hunter-Jones got her first patent at age 16, and went on to MIT to get a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Her career began at SONOS, where she started in product development and then moved into project management. It wasn’t until starting Impact Biosystems for Hunter-Jones to finally get the chance to combine her skills in engineering, product vision, and management with her passions for running, yoga, and overall health and wellness.
Family is at the root of what drives Hunter-Jones. She gave birth to her son nine days before closing the company’s latest round of funding (they’ve closed $6.5 million to date). On the podcast, we discuss Hunter-Jones’ devotion to her family and her business, as well as her relationship with her father Ian Hunter, a PhD and the Hatsopoulos Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. He also serves as Chief Inventor of Impact Biosystems. Hunter-Jones describes her father’s lab at the barn of her childhood home as “Tony Stark’s lab” where she and her father would work on inventions together throughout her childhood. The barn now serves as the headquarters for Impact Biosystems.
Where did you grow up? And how would you describe your childhood?
I actually grew up right where I’m doing this interview from now. The Impact Biosystems team works out of the barn which sits on the same property as my childhood home located in Eastern Massachusetts. I was incredibly lucky growing up with the access I was given to tools and equipment at a young age. It provided an opportunity for me to apply my curiosity and play with ideas. That curiosity was fostered in me as a child being raised with two parents in the engineering field. I was heavily influenced to take that path and as I grew up, I continued to foster that hands-on approach of building things naturally which is what eventually led to my mechanical engineering degree.
Who were your role models growing up?
My older brother is one of my biggest role models and I wanted to do anything he did. I always wanted to play with the toys he was playing with and I was always trying to find excuses to be around him. When I was little, he had a poster up on his wall and I’d sit there and memorize all the digits of PI just so I could stay in his room longer. Later on in life, I followed in his footsteps all the way to MIT.
What is the first career you remember wanting to pursue? How has that changed over time?
Like I mentioned earlier, from a young age, I loved using my hands to experiment with the tools and equipment in my father’s workshop. My parents also fostered the entrepreneurial spirit inside of me and at 12 years old, I started my own belt company. I always wanted to be adding value. To that point, I’ve also always loved finding ways to bring people together to create meaningful moments that make people really excited and want to connect, so party planning has actually always been a passion of mine too.
We noticed you have quite a bit of internship experience! To help out our younger listeners tuning into the show, can you speak on those experiential experiences? In addition, can you share any insights you may have on the importance of internships/experiential learning (outside the textbook)?
Yes, I had a lot of internships both leading up to university as well as outside of the university experience. The best advice I can give is the importance of leveraging your network. Use your network to uncover opportunities that will help you get insight into the inner workings of how businesses function and are successful. I’d also recommend getting a diverse spread of opportunities so you can better understand where you’re going to excel and in what type of atmosphere. I tried many different things from a startup to a university lab to a larger institution. It helped shape where I felt I’d truly thrive and be able to contribute the most.
What’s your advice to young people breaking into the engineering field out of college?
Many colleges have solid programs to help get students started in their career and placing them in internships and jobs when they graduate. Take full advantage of those and really show up armed with interesting questions. Once you’re in a role, one of the best pieces of advice I ever received when I joined Sonos was to find something that’s broken and figure out how to fix it. It shows you’re taking initiative and that you’re a real problem solver.
Is there a particular person or event that helped shape the career path you took?
In 2019, I was actually approached by my former MIT classmate, Dr. Craig Cheney, who had co-invented Pact with Professor Ian Hunter. Ian had been working on this technology in his lab with Craig and I was incredibly impressed with what they were trying to achieve with this brand new product in the health and fitness space. It was natural for me to join this team because of my experience in hardware and passion with the fitness space (and Ian happens to be the best inventor in town and is also my father - so it was a no brainer).
In creating Pact, it’s given me the opportunity to combine my skills in engineering, product vision, and management with my passion for running, yoga, and overall health & wellness. All of this is resulting in a technology that has never been done before and I’m certain it will forever change the health & fitness world.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome getting to where you are today?
Being a young female entrepreneur in this industry.
What is Impact Biosystems? What inspired/motivated you to first start the organization?
Pact is the world's first full-feedback connected massager. It’s inspired by professional trainers and the Pact system tailors your massage experience to your muscle profile and body conditions, giving you the most effective recovery treatment. It helps you recover faster, feel better, and perform at your peak. The Pact Sense scans your muscles to assess their condition in under five seconds. Based on your muscle state, the Pact App curates a personalized routine for you. The Pact App is similar to a personal trainer, and guides you through your warm up and recovery. Pact Pulse delivers a precise and optimized massage. Unlike other massagers, Pact uses proprietary technology to objectively measure the condition of your muscle to give you a personalized treatment. The closest comparable products are medical devices costing 10 times more than Pact — and are primarily used for academic and research purposes.
This personalized approach to recovery and performance not only helps people physically, but it empowers them to bring out their best self.
In your LinkedIn bio you wrote, “As a woman, who has struggled with my own body image..” How did this impact (no pun intended) starting the organization?
This had a huge impact on my joining the organization. The fact that the traditional scale of measuring your body weight was flawed really affected me at a young age. I tied a certain number to my value and it was wrong on so many levels. I realized that this new scale would need to be unique to each person – fully recognizing that ALL bodies and athletes are different.
Once I realized how important recovery was for mental health in addition to physical health, I was able to see that the number didn’t matter. What truly matters is how recovery is directly linked back to how you take care of yourself.
Leading a team is no easy feat, nevermind leading an organization as a C-Suite executive! How would you describe your leadership style? Is there anything you’ve learned over the years of leading people?
Connecting with people is a huge part of my leadership style and establishing those connections very early on is critical. I want to make sure I’m bringing on team members who share my values and really believe in the mission of our company and what we’re trying to do here. Of course those team members should challenge you, but it’s important we all believe in the same mission at the core. I also believe it’s incredibly important to empower the people around you. The team we've built at Impact Biosystems is truly everything. It’s been so fulfilling seeing these incredible minds come together and it’s critical everyone feels their worth. I strive on a daily basis to connect with everyone on my team and in turn, make sure everyone is connecting with each other. With everything going on in the world right now, it can feel very heavy and for some people, it might be really challenging to get through the day - especially if your tasks feel so small. It’s important for me to be motivating and let people know they are valued.
What sorts of challenges and opportunities have you found in the pivot to virtual business and networking during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s been challenging not being able to always connect with people face-to-face. It’s so much easier when people can see your emotions and reactions while being able to understand the message that's coming across. Plus with hardware, it’s critical to be able to feel and touch the product. We've been able to make amazing progress despite the pandemic but it’s of course had its challenges too. We’ve also been really lucky with virtual meetings to have the opportunity to reach people on a global scale which might not have been the case pre-pandemic. We’ve had access to investors and partnerships we might not have normally been able to reach because of virtual meetings.
What are some of the most recent trends you’ve been seeing? What do you believe will succeed in longevity?
The pandemic has created so many new trends across so many industries and in the health and fitness industry, with gyms and studios forced to close, people have become incredibly comfortable working out from home (think Peloton, Hydrow, NordicTrack, etc.) However, people are not nearly as focused as they should be on the recovery portion of the workout which is crucial.
Some of the other recent trends I’ve seen include how huge the data driven approach has become using measurable, data oriented tools (trackers that track steps, watches that track heart rate, apps that measure caloric intake, etc.) Peloton is an example of a company that’s doing an excellent job taking the data and then using gamification to push the envelope around what wellness and fitness looks like. Our recovery content is creating a similar experience. Pact makes users feel empowered to set up goals to maintain muscle health.
FINAL QUESTION: We like the idea of ending our episodes with a challenge for the listeners/readers. Whether it be reaching out to an old friend, reading 5 pages a day from a book, creating a new healthy habit… what is one challenge you have for the listeners?
Be kind to yourself. Each week, write out your top five things you accomplished where you believe you totally crushed it. Here are my five for this week:
Felt amazing after my Monday morning workout
Cooked a super tasty meal for my family on Tuesday
Great conversation Wednesday with a potential hire
Crushed that meeting with potential partner
Took time to relax and disconnect each day