Vancouver taps foot-focused tech market potential

Local companies are capitalizing on the growing market for footwear innovations

Plantiga Technologies Inc.’s chief technology officer, Sean Ross-Ross, demonstrates the company’s sensor-equipped insoles that monitor injury risks for wearers such as athletes  | Rob Kruyt

Too often a trip to a physiotherapist doesn’t get the results an injured athlete might hope for, says Quin Sandler.

“Most of the time people are analyzing their patients or athletes literally with their naked eye,” said the CEO of Plantiga Technologies Inc. “There’s very few objective measures that they use to drive decision-making, which is why injury/reinjury rates are astoundingly high.”

Plantiga has developed small, flat sensor pods for insoles to measure everything from users’ ground contact to the length of their strides to facilitate analytics such as tracking the potential for lower-limb injuries.

Sandler said the platform took about three years and a few million dollars to develop, and is initially focused on serving practitioners such as physiotherapists, orthopedic surgeons or strength coaches.

“We’re bringing lab-grade analytics to a much broader population and in the process simplifying a lot of those metrics,” he said. “We’ve done a lot around making the system very intuitive with recommendations and insights into how people move to drive better health outcomes, expedite rehabs and then … make sure that people don’t get injured or reinjured.”

Plantiga kicked off the year locking down a $1 million contract to screen for injury risk and track rehabilitations for the Department of National Defence.

The U.S. Department of Defense, five National Basketball Association teams and two National Football League teams are also using the technology.

“The next step will be directly selling our platform to the consumer,” said Sandler, who estimated the cost for the hardware would run from $200 to $300 while a subscription to access the analytics would go for about $20 a month.

Other Vancouver companies are also capitalizing on the emerging market for foot-focused technology. The FTSY app from Digital Animal Interactive Inc. uses artificial intelligence to help users scan their feet with a smartphone to find them the best-fitting shoes.

And Wiivv Wearables Inc. has developed technology allowing users to scan their feet to get custom-fitted insoles or sandals sent to them in the mail.

While the company is headquartered in Vancouver, most of the customer base is in the U.S., where Wiivv has a manufacturing partner in San Diego.

“We’ve managed to get to a point where we can get cost structure for custom-manufactured footwear that was, quite frankly, a bit of an aspiration and a dream originally, and now we can actually scale and offer what we’re doing at a profitable margin,” CEO Shamil Hargovan told Business in Vancouver.

He added the company is now in the midst of 300% year-over-year growth.

A report from Zion Market Research estimated the global footwear market was worth US$246 billion as of 2017.

Hargovan estimated that customized gear will account for 60%-80% of that market within the next decade.

“There needs to be a technology company that makes it possible for [traditional] footwear brands that may not always have the science to back up their design or may not always have the supply chain or the software and infrastructure to know their customer’s foot,” he said.

“We’re trying to give them a turnkey solution to do that.... And the only way we would understand what that value chain looks like would be to offer our own brand in the marketplace and learn from real customers.”