When OMsignal first launched in 2014, their initial vision wasn’t to launch the smart shirts that the company is well-known for today — in fact, they actually wanted to create a smart bra. “At the time our resources were rather limited and as such, while we had the technology and an incredible team of scientists and engineers, truth be told, we were lacking in the apparel design capabilities and experience,” the company wrote in a blog post earlier this year. However, the company promised that it would make that vision a reality this year.
With CAD $13 million (USD $10 million) from Relay Ventures, the company announced the official release of the OMbra targeting female runners. The bra captures breathing patterns and rhythms of runners and processes it into insights delivered through a mobile app, called OMrun, with the goal of helping users become more efficient runners.
“We recruited beginner, intermediate, and expert runners, and we looked at the data from their runs, and there was a huge pattern,” Stephane Marceau, co-founder and CEO of OMsignal, said about the development process of the OMbra.
“Expert runners have far more regular breathing, and it’s in sync with their cadence of the steps they run. The intermediate runners were less regular and the beginner runners were all over the place,” Marceau said. “Fifteen percent of your energy is spent breathing when you run, so by allowing you to synchronize breathing with cadence, we give you major efficiency.”
The company says that smartwatches on the market today try to be like Swiss Army Knives of analytics — providing general information, but not being good at one thing. With the bra, Marceau says that they address a specific problem and specialize in it.
“No matter what smartwatch makers want you to believe, your lungs and heart are not on your wrist. Physiologically, if you’re serious about having insights on your body, you need to be where action happens on the core of the body,” said Marceau. “There’s so many physiological advantages, and with this, you don’t have to wear something additional that is bulky. With the bra,you have fabric around the torso area below the breast, which is best real estate to read the human body.”
Along with Relay Ventures, Investissement Quebec, Bessemer Venture Partners, Techstars Ventures, MAS Holdings, Mistral Ventures, Primera Capital, and Export Development Canada also participated in OMsignal’s funding round. The company plans to use the funding to build up its distribution capacity to support worldwide shipping, which includes a waitlist of 10,000 people. It’s also launching the OMbra in physical retail locations across Quebec including Boutique Courir, Sports Experts, and Sportium. The starter kit retails at $189 CAD, while the bra alone costs $79.
“The reason big companies haven’t been able to put out compelling consumer apparel products to market — UnderArmour even tried to advertise a smart shirt that never went to market — is that it’s very hard to master all of these domains and have a common language,” said Marceau. “At OMsignal, this is our culture. Some of our engineers and scientists learn how to sew, and our textile teams use MATLab and many can code. We’ve built a team that goes between Physical, textile, hardware, to the digital and physiology.”