Vancouver’s Wearable-Tech Stars

Mio Alpha | BCBusiness

Local entrepreneurs have emerged as leaders in personal-performance monitors

In 2012, Vancouver-born Eric Migicovsky took to Kickstarter to raise money for his Pebble smart watch. By the time the campaign ended, 68,929 people had pledged a combined $10,266,845. What everyone talked about then was that Pebble technology had legitimized crowdfunding in a significant way by proving you can raise eight figures from everyday strangers online. But what was glossed over at the time was that Pebble was about to legitimize something else in a significant way: wearable technology.

Sadly, Migicovsky’s tale is not necessarily a B.C. success story, or even a Canadian one. After joining the University of Waterloo’s Velocity incubator and the flop of his original smart watch idea based on BlackBerry, the budding entrepreneur moved to Palo Alto because he couldn’t find the financial support for his projects in Canada. Fortunately, the hole Migicovsky left in Vancouver has quickly been filled by other local success stories in the blossoming wearable-tech space.

One company making waves is Vancouver-based Fatigue Science, which combines a bracelet called the Readiband with deep analytical software to help people sleep better. The Vancouver Canucks have been ardent fans of the company’s product and went so far as to sign an exclusive four-year deal with Fatigue Science to prevent competitors from taking advantage of the technology.

But Fatigue Science’s product is not only for athletes, says CEO Sean Kerklaan. “We’ve been using wearable tech for years to help organizations collect data that can measure fatigue-related risk and performance in their employees,” he notes. “And if we tell people that the Vancouver Canucks are using our technology to optimize their road-game performance, then why wouldn’t an executive who has to travel across time zones for an important pitch want the same?”

Then there’s Physi-Cal Enterprises, also based in Vancouver, which makes a broad selection of watches and pedometers under the Mio brand. Focused on physical training, Mio’s watches track metrics such as all-day calorie burns, steps and distance travelled, and heart rates. Mio leveraged Kickstarter last year and raised more than three times its original funding goal—more evidence of the high demand for wearable tech and the fact that Vancouver is the root of some of North America’s leading wearable startups.

“It’s not surprising to me that Vancouver is emerging as a hotbed of innovation in wearable tech,” says Liz Dickinson, the founder of Physi-Cal. “Our proximity to the Pacific Rim and the U.S. connects us with valuable manufacturing resources, expertise and the world’s largest export markets. And we have a strong affinity with nature that inspires us to create personal products and services to optimize our enjoyment of our lifestyles combined with a strong commitment to esthetic.”

Not to be outdone by Mio is Basis Science. Formerly named Pulsetracer, the Vancouver-born startup raised a Series A round of $9 million from Norwest Venture Partners and DCM in 2010 to rebrand and build a watch-and-software combo that optimizes both fitness and sleep. This year, the company raised an additional $11.5 million to continue down this road.

Wearable Tech Fundraising, By the Numbers

Basis: $11,500,000
Pebble: $10,266,845
Alpha: $321,314

For founder Nadeem Kassam, the provincial government’s support was instrumental in Basis’s success. “From Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) to the incentives provided for local angel investment, they have been critical to our funding through our years of research and development.”

Kassam is also riveted by the potential of wearable technology. “The rapid improvement of sensors, batteries and incredible advances in smartphone technologies have made wearable technology explode in the market.” He affirms, “2014 will be an exciting year to watch this space.”

Robert Lewis is president of TechVibes Media Inc. and editor-in-chief of