Pelotonia's new app could revolutionize the way people raise money for cancer research at Ohio State University's James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute.

Pelotonia, the Columbus-based charity bicycle tour founded in 2008, is launching Pulll, a free activity-tracking app that would allow anyone in the U.S. to unlock sponsor-donated money for cancer research at Ohio State simply by activating the app on a smartphone while cycling, running or walking.

Several sponsors have donated the money that users unlock, and a number of companies are finalizing their commitments to serve as funding sponsors, said Miguel Perez, vice president of mission and brand for Pelotonia. He was not able to share the names of the companies ahead of the app's launch, which is expected Friday, May 4, he said.

Based on the success of the annual August ride, which includes one- or two-day options with varying mileage for which cyclists commit to raising corresponding amounts of money, and the more than $157 million raised over the past 10 years, the Pelotonia team wanted to accomplish even more for cancer research and began brainstorming for the app a few years ago, Perez said.

The goal was to expand participation in the fundraising movement without having to stage multiple rides across the country – a labor-intensive process that would be a logistics nightmare and might be impossible, according to Perez.

The Pulll app was the answer.

"Our goal is to get over 100,000 active and engaged users in 2018," Perez said.

In comparison, just over 8,000 people rode in Pelotonia in 2017 and more than 3,000 participated as "virtual riders," he said. This year, riders commit to raise a minimum of $1,250 to $3,000, depending on which of the 10 route options they choose, and the virtual-rider option involves making a minimum $100 fundraising commitment without riding or volunteering, according to pelotonia.org.

The app is meant to expand, not supplant, those efforts, Perez said, and the virtual-rider program – and the bike ride in central Ohio – aren't going away.

"The app was developed as a complement to the Pelotonia community's fundraising, not a replacement," he said.

In a nutshell, Pulll users won't have to register for or ride in Pelotonia (though they still will be able to do both and use the app, too), and they won't have to commit to any fundraising; instead, with any physical activity they track, they can "pull" donated money from sponsors – anytime, anywhere and on their own terms – that is sent to Ohio State to fund cancer research.

How it began

The Pelotonia Momentum Fund, established in 2015 to invest in new fundraising platforms and social enterprises to support the organization, seeded the Pulll idea with $250,000, Perez said. Private donors also raised money to fund the project, he said.

Work to build Pulll began last year with Raizlabs, a development group in Boston, Perez said. Now, he said, Pelotonia has a team dedicated to the app.

The app's name is a reference to a cycling term, said Wes Sims, head of product at Pelotonia. "Pulling" describes when a lead cyclist in a group rides in front to draft for companions and "pull" them along, he said.

Pelotonia leaders thought the name signified a team effort, Sims said. The extra "L," he said, symbolizes the movement's continual push for "one more" activity, person or breakthrough in cancer research.

Pulll is a product of Pelotonia and not considered a separate business, Perez said.

As such, all funds raised through the app will be linked to Pelotonia's cumulative fundraising, which stood at $157,762,275 on April 30, according to pelotonia.org.

One advantage for registered Pelotonia riders is that when they turn on the app while training, the money unlocked will be counted toward their individual fundraising goals, he said.

Pulll users will raise money by running, walking or cycling, indoors or outdoors, Perez said.

How it works

The Pulll app is designed to be user-friendly, intuitive and easy to use, Sims said.

"We didn't want it to be another hardcore fitness app," he said.

Pulll can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play.

The app, which also is free to use, tracks two metrics, Sims said.

If a user selects an outdoor activity, fundraising is based on miles completed; for an indoor activity, fundraising is based on minutes, he said.

The sponsor donations are unlocked based on an exchange rate – for example, a beta version of the app set the outdoor cycling rate at 10 cents per mile – set by Pelotonia, Sims said.

Companies that sponsor pelotons – Pelotonia's fundraising teams that are organized by businesses, communities, academic or social organizations or simply like-minded individuals – also will have the option to set aside private reserves for their employees and set their own exchange rates, he said.

The app, which features an activity-feed screen that shows other users' progress as well as one's own, also has a "boost" function that allows someone to donate money directly to a user's fundraising total when he or she tracks physical activity, Sims said.

Users can share their activities through text messages or social-media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, he said.

The app also can be linked to Strava and MapMyFitness, two popular activity-tracking programs, Perez said.

More information is available at pelotonia.org or pulll.org.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah

PELOTONIA 45-MILER (most popular route)