Skip to main content
the challenge revisited

A Wiivv Wearables 3-D-printed orthotic insole in Vancouver.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Wiivv Wearables Inc., a Vancouver bionic-technology company that has shipped more than 10,000 pairs of its 3-D-printed custom foot orthotics, will announce Wednesday that it has raised $4-million (U.S.) in Series A funding.

This investment will help the Vancouver startup, which also attracted $3.5-million in seed funding in 2015, to expand its product lines and acquire eSoles Inc., a custom-footbed company whose database of foot scans will help make Wiivv's customization engine more accurate and powerful.

The company hopes this will give it a leading edge – and a slew of potential future partners – as legacy shoe manufacturers Nike, Adidas and Under Armour race to offer 3-D-printed athletic shoes.

eSoles' database of 50,000 scans will beef up Wiivv's intellectual property holdings and allow its software to better understand the differences among customers' feet, said Shamil Hargovan, Wiivv's chief executive officer.

"The more data you have, the more the system teaches itself to do the right thing," he said.

Wiivv was profiled in The Globe and Mail's Small Business Challenge feature in May of 2015. Mr. Hargovan co-founded Wiivv with Louis-Victor Jadavji in 2014; last year, they were named to Forbes magazine's 30 Under 30 list.

Foot orthotics – insoles designed to enhance comfort or relieve pain, usually by correcting for the body's natural posture or motion – are traditionally fabricated using a cast of the foot, made either by digital scan or physical imprint. They rarely cost less than $400.

Wiivv lets customers scan their own feet with a series of camera-phone photos, which the company inputs into its proprietary software to create a digital model that can be 3-D printed. The company's full-length insoles cost $89 (U.S.) plus shipping.

As it fine-tunes its software, the company also hopes to add value with sensors. This could help build customer relationships. "If I know your foot's doing something weird, I'm going to send you another pair," Mr. Hargovan says as an example.

The latest investment round is being led by a Seattle-based private investor group, Wiivv says, and has been joined by existing investors including Eclipse VC, Evonik Venture Capital, Real Ventures, and Asimov Ventures.

One early investor was Relentless Pursuit Partners, run by Brenda Irwin and gold-medal-winning Olympic triathlete Simon Whitfield. They invested in Wiivv's 2015 seed round and have continued with follow-on financing.

"What I like about Wiivv is they're into building what's best," says Mr. Whitfield, who plans to use his connections in the triathlete community to link Wiivv with potential partners. He says he's impressed with the company's ability to follow through, and he sees a long future in their plans to incorporate sensors. "When you get into the biometric feedback and all of the customization you can do, they're really interesting for me."

Ms. Irwin sees potential in Wiivv partnering with corporate wellness programs, including for "industrial athletes" who spend long days on their feet, such as nurses and firefighters. "Looking to provide products for [large] employee bases is a huge opportunity for them," she said.

While Wiivv's leaders were first unsure whether to adopt a business-to-business model or sell directly to consumers, they've found comfort somewhere in between.

"We want to sell to consumers," Mr. Hargovan says, but with a brand strategy he likens to that of Gore-Tex, Intel or Beats Audio.

"They have their own product lines, but they know that the technology they've built can be leveraged by other brands. When you're a small startup our size, it doesn't hurt to have these other partners you can work with," he says.

Last year, Wiivv completed its first Kickstarter campaign, selling 4,000 pairs of its orthotics and raising $235,000 (U.S.), nearly five times its original goal.

The company does the majority of its manufacturing in San Diego but hopes to build a Canadian plant as well to reduce its "scan-to-door" times in both countries. Right now, that takes about five days in the United States and eight in Canada. This might seem like a while in the Amazon Prime era, Mr. Hargovan says, but he insists it's significantly quicker than custom-shoe manufacturing programs run by legacy companies.

Wiivv also plans to raise further funding through March, when it will also announce a new line of products that use its foot-scanning and orthotic technology.