Seiva’s Smart Workout Duds Highlight Mini-Accelerator Pitch Event
[Updated 12/17/15, 5:09 p.m. See below.] One of the biggest storylines of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia was the disappointing performance of the U.S. speedskating team, which some blamed not on the athletes themselves but on the suit many of them wore during races.
The so-called Mach 39 suit, touted as “the fastest speedskating suit in the world,” was co-designed by apparel maker Under Armour (NYSE: UA) and defense contractor Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT). Well before the U.S. team left for Sochi, each suit was tested in a wind tunnel for 300 hours. Suits even featured specially made zippers.
But the suit proved to be a flop. Following a string of dispiriting results, the team dropped the Mach 39 in favor of another Under Armour model.
While Under Armour had its contract extended until 2022, U.S. Speedskating appears not to have lost its zest for seeking the ultimate in high-tech attire, no matter what the source. According to an email from a U.S. Speedskating spokesman, the sporting body has had “initial discussions” with Milwaukee-based Seiva Technologies about using the startup’s sensor-equipped apparel during training for the 2018 Olympics. [Updated with comment from U.S. Speedskating—Eds.]
Seiva was one of four early-stage companies that presented to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, and others as part of a pitch event in Madison, WI, for gBETA, a free tri-annual accelerator for startups affiliated with colleges and universities in the Badger State that lasts six weeks. gBETA is managed by Gener8tor, whose core accelerator program lasts 12 weeks and alternates between Milwaukee and Madison.
Seiva makes high-tech garments that can provide athletes information, such as what muscles they’re using or the angle of their knee bend, in real time. The startup is marketing to speedskaters and hockey players for now, but co-founder and CEO Andrew Hampel says the technology, which involves an electromyograph and gyroscope, could be useful for athletes in other sports like cycling and cross country skiing.
Hampel and his colleagues were able to approach U.S. Speedskating thanks to John Coyle, a veteran of the sport who won a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Seiva got an introduction to Coyle through one of its advisors, says Hampel.
“They’re almost as excited as we are with the technology,” Hampel says of U.S. Speedskating. [In an earlier version of this article, Hampel incorrectly stated that U.S. Speedskating had agreed to buy apparel from Seiva, and was Seiva’s first paying customer—Eds.]
Seiva will charge athletes a one-time fee for a garment—likely at least $100, Hampel says—as well as a monthly fee for using its software.
He says the startup expects to land $50,000 in pre-seed grant funding by the end of the month, ahead of a $750,000 seed round it hopes to close by next June.
It’s even established a relationship with Baltimore-based Under Armour, whose performance in stores and in the stock market appear to have rendered last year’s suit goof an afterthought. “We’re on their radar,” Hampel says.
Here are descriptions and updates on the other three companies who presented:
—Exis helps programmers establish a secure link between the mobile and Web applications they’re developing and servers in the cloud. The current process for providing this connection, known as “network code” is repetitive and error-prone, says co-founder and CEO Dale Willis. Exis also hosts cloud-based services like user authentication, which means that a developer can get by with only being able to code in one language. During his pitch, Willis said Exis is starting by targeting mobile app developers and has received funding from the National Science Foundation and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
—Emonix is developing an Internet-connected device that can measure water hardness—the amount of dissolved minerals present in the water—and add salt to a water softener as needed, rather than at fixed intervals using a timer. Founder and CEO Neil Klingensmith says many commercial buildings use too much salt because their water softeners are not configured properly. Building managers can reduce their salt costs by as much as 40 percent with an Emonix monitoring device, he says, which will cost approximately $75 to $150 a month per building.
—23Vivi is a virtual storefront for limited edition digital art. An artist uploads a submission to the startup’s website, and, if accepted, 23Vivi makes 23 copies of the piece and attempts to sell them on its marketplace. Buyers receive encoded certificates of authenticity, which are created using blockchain encryption techniques. Why 23? Founder and CEO QuHarrison Terry says the number is an “enigma” and one of its possible meanings is “life or death.” He says “vivi” is the Italian word for “live,” though it also stands for “Victory is Very Illuminating,” according to company materials. Nobody said art was straightforward.