Vancouver startup Snug Vest recently gained $500,000 in new funding for its innovative vest that gives people with autism a ‘wearable hug’. The seed funding came through a mix from 12 investment groups, including backers like the VANTEC Entrepreneurs Fund. The cash will give Snug Vest’s technology development and marketing efforts a timely boost as the company now attempts to take on the larger North American market.
Invented by Lisa Fraser, 27, while she was a student of Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2010, the vest inflates to give a comforting, safe hug-like squeeze that can make children with autism feel more comfortable – something called Deep Pressure Therapy. Snug Vest gained major exposure on Dragons’ Den in April of this year and also won recognition with a Red Dot Product Design Award and as a finalist for the Medical Design Excellence Award.
We spoke with Fraser recently about Snug Vest and how it came about.
How much research and development did you put into Snug Vest?
We launched in the winter of 2013, so it took quite a few years to do research and development. We probably did about 200 to 300 different prototypes to get to where it is today. We’re still continuing to make improvements on the product as we go forward and we’ve used a couple of hundred thousand dollars in government funding.
You designed this with children in mind after working with children with autism but you’ve also looked at designs for teens. How about adults with autism, or others?
We’re definitely available for all ages and not only autism. We have a lot of people that are purchasing the product with other challenges, like post-traumatic stress disorder and sensory disorders, fetal alcohol syndrome, ADHD and a number of other challenges.
What’s the next market challenge your startup needs to overcome?
I feel like 80 per cent of our sales have been in Canada so far. Now we actually have a marketing budget so we’re going to be focusing a lot more heavily on the United States. However, we do sell online and ship worldwide.