Xavi Cortadellas: The Sports Innovator

2017 Top Ten Líderes

Xavi Cortadellas, Global Head of Innovation and Design, Gatorade (Photo by Caleb Fox)

When Gatorade has a new product to test out, they collaborate, incubate, and gather insights from partner sports teams. This is what happened when the sports drink was first created in 1965 and tested with the University of Florida football team. By 1969, the drink was commercialized and later became the official drink of the National Football League.

The process for creating Gatorade Gx has been no different. Gatorade has partnered with various professional sports teams and international soccer teams to create a sports-fuel customization platform that will help athletes better understand how they hydrate and replenish themselves. The platform includes various elements: a personalized smart-cap bottle with customizable formula pods and a sweat-test patch that connects with the program app and smart cap to let the athlete know how much to drink.

Each step of the way, Gatorade has learned from the pros’ feedback, improving and refining the platform with the intent of eventually releasing a commercialized version to the general public. “That is part of our vision process,” explains Xavi Cortadellas, global head of innovation and design. “We go with the pros and ensure that everything works properly and then eventually look to take it to the general public.” Next January, Gx will be available to the everyday, competitive athlete in the form of a personalized bottle and a range of pod flavors. It will be a simpler version of what the professional athletes are using. “For the pro athlete, personalization is all about what percent could make the difference between winning or losing the game,” Cortadellas says. “For the average high school athlete, personalization is the flavor, and getting a bottle that is designed by themselves with their name and favorite team marks and colors.”

Creating Gatorade Gx not only for professional athletes but also for everyday athletes has been a long process. Given the project’s size, Cortadellas knew it was important for him to drive the vision of the platform. “It’s very important to have one person own the vision and ensure that the cross-functional team and all the stakeholders understand and deliver on this vision,” he says. “It’s super easy to deviate from the original purpose.”

Cortadellas also knew it was important for him to clear the road ahead. “You are working with people who are smarter than you, have more experience than you in each one of their special areas,” he says. “Your role as the leader is clearing the road and making sure there are not obstacles that they are not able to overcome.”

When building the cross-functional team for the project, Cortadellas knew he needed external partners in addition to internal teams. Now, he is there to help connect the dots and ensure the cross-functional team really works as one cohesive unit. It’s a sense of permanent networking and bringing everyone together that has been a key driver in bringing the platform to life.

Together with the concentrate pods, the most important element for the commercial Gx is the bottle. Using this idea of open innovation, Cortadellas worked closely with brand-performance agency Lapine to bring the bottle—the most important feature—to life. Lapine, in collaboration with other partners such as Smart Design and Tether, created a customizable bottle with a laser-etched, color-coded neck that snaps securely on.

“When we identified the bottle as a huge element for users to customize, Lapine brought to the table breakthrough technologies about how to do digital printing on the bottle,” Cortadellas says. Lapine not only brought solutions ahead of Cortadellas and his team but also raised the idea of piloting the bottle at different events to test the customization abilities on-site.

For the January 2018 commercial launch, the bottle is ready. But that doesn’t mean Lapine and Gatorade won’t stop finding new ways to improve it. Currently, the task is creating a bottle that will provide better insulation. “We still have to keep innovating on how this bottle could look and how we could allow athletes more options based on their needs—and do that at a reasonable cost and a reasonable state,” Cortadellas says.

Another step to commercializing Gx is working with its core audience: competitive high school athletes. As early as fall 2014, Gatorade was running pilot programs with schools such as  Florida’s IMG Academy. “We have the opportunity to basically share prototypes of new ideas with the athletes on the field and then do focus groups and capture their feedback,” Cortadellas says.

In June 2017, Cortadellas and his team were able to pilot Gx on a global scale. Gatorade had the opportunity to test out the Gx platform with thirteen soccer teams at the UEFA Champions League 5X5 elite junior soccer tournament in London. This global event allowed exposure to thirteen different markets through the soccer players, who each had different levels of knowledge about the Gatorade brand.

“That’s one of the advantages that we have as a leading brand is the access to all these different types of teams, types of athletes, and types of sports—and to be able to leverage this research and integrate it back into the system,” Cortadellas says.

The commercial Gatorade Gx won’t end with the customizable bottle and hydration pods. The next feature to watch for is the commercial hydration app, which will work in conjunction with the sweat-test patch Gatorade is developing. The sweat-test patch will allow athletes to identify their sweat profiles, how much they sweat, and the type of sweat. By using the hydration app, they will be able to identify their refueling and rehydration needs and how much they need to drink.

“In a way, the hydration app is a little bit of science in a box,” Cortadellas says.

The plan is to test commercial versions of the app and sweat patch in 2018 before launching them to the consumer. Currently, there are some professional teams testing the commercial version. This addition—or improvement, Cortadellas notes—builds on Gatorade’s vision of continuous improvement and refinement.

At the end of the day,” Cortadellas says, “ the objective of the Gx platform is to better educate athletes about the importance of sports fueling.”

Thoughts from Guest Editor Javier Palomarez

“It is always fascinating to learn about all that goes into new product development, but Xavi’s passion for his career is evident in his story. It is exactly this kind of innovative, collaborative thinking that gives me faith in America’s ability to remain the greatest economy on the globe. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing one of our own set the standard of excellence.”