Redmond startup chases fitness technology success with smart socks

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by RENAY SAN MIGUEL / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on November 21, 2013 at 2:25 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 22 at 2:59 PM

Earlier this year, the people behind Redmond-based Heapsylon left good jobs with Microsoft's Xbox division to play a riskier game -- building their own company from scratch.

The effort has been quite a workout for co-founder Maurizio Macagno, which makes sense -- Heapsylon is focusing on the sports/fitness technology segment with its Sensoria Fitness clothing line.

"We went from a world with a big organization that was taking care of a lot of aspects, to five to ten people, and you need to do everything," Macagno said. "It's very challenging. It's fun and every day you make progress, but never underestimate the work that's ahead of you."

What's ahead for Heapsylon is a mid-March retail date for its first Sensoria product, socks that promise to make runners better and help them avoid injuries to feet, knees and lower backs.

It's a potentially lucrative market; the Sports and Fitness Industry Association says nearly 30 million Americans ran at least 50 days in 2012, and Heapsylon estimates 17 million take part in races or competitions like marathons every year.

The socks are lined with Sensoria's proprietary sensors. Magnetic connectors link to a flexible plastic band loaded with Bluetooth technology, which links to a mobile device app for data readouts and audio alerts through headphones.

That data will show when a runner's feet are striking the ground in the best way.

"For the last 10 meters you have been heel striking. Please adjust your weight forward," says the female voice alert. "You're losing your cadence - speed up now" says another alert.

The alerts and data highlight what Heapsylon and Macagno believe are the product's biggest advantage over current fitness technology competitors.

"Those devices are basically accelerometers that take your movements judging by your arms," Macagno said. "By having sensors directly at the foot level, we think that we can give much better information and that's what differentiates us, because none of the current devices can actually detect whether your heel is striking, whether you are shifting your balance correctly, when you're swinging a golf club, and stuff like that."

His last statement points to other potential sports and unrelated industry uses for Sensoria Fitness clothing.

The company learned about some of those other applications during a summer Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that set a goal of $87,000 but raised $120,000. The campaign not only gave them the money to take their company to the next level, but it generated interest among developers and sport-specific companies that focus on soccer and golf.

Heapsylon's technology also has medical uses.

"The technology, which is basically pure fabric sensors that can detect pressure, can actually be applied in a lot of different scenarios, including health care," Macagno said. "So we see a lot of potential with elderly patients, fall detection, and so on."

Heapsylon was able to find a California manufacturer for the smart socks, and the company is taking preorders online.

The company, meanwhile, is seeking partners and developers for other possible products, like t-shirts and sports bras that deliver deeper health-related data than heart rates. To that end, Heapsylon has made its software development kit available to developers.

Macagno says Heapsylon is different from other startups in that it's a unique combination of hardware, software and clothing. "This is a complex project because it includes hardware, it includes apparel with connections to the hardware - which has never been done before - and it includes software and data analysis."

To make that happen, Macagno says he's been blessed with co-founders and other team members with equal amounts of diverse, complimentary skills and passion. "That really makes this journey exciting."

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