A Vancouver-based startup working to disrupt the knee brace industry with a direct-to-consumer product developed using proprietary software is attracting the interest of professional athletes and investors.
Stoko, which calls itself a supportive apparel company, has raised $6 million CAD in seed financing to help the company accelerate its go-to-market efforts in North America.
Stoko has created a knee brace that provides the support of a traditional brace but is built into a compression tight. According to the startup, Stoko is the first to market in creating a new category of professional knee brace: supportive apparel.
“Unlike our competition within the bracing space, our product is uniquely positioned to sell direct to consumer.”
The $6 million round comprises debt and equity, with $4.3 million in equity that was raised from a group of angel investors, including the former CFO of Lululemon, John Currie. Investors also include Norm Francis, the CEO of Boardwalk Ventures; Greg Malpass, CEO of Traction on Demand; Darrell Kopke, CEO of Adelhard (formerly Kit and Ace and Lululemon); and Paul Geyer, CEO of Discovery Parks and Nimbus Synergies.
Stoko was founded in 2017 by CEO Zack Eberwein and Canadian Olympic gymnast Scott Morgan, who serves as Stoko’s director of operations. The idea for Stoko and its product, called K1, came about after Eberwein experienced an acute knee injury from an extreme hike challenge and wanted to find an alternative to typical, rigid braces for such injuries.
“The bracing industry is 50-years-old now and there’s been very little innovation in the form factor of bracing and support products throughout that entire time,” said Eberwein. “The main things that have changed are materials, they’ve tried to make them lighter weight and they’ve made fancier hinges. But, ultimately, that’s not how your body works. So, when we set out to build a better product we started from the ground up and we looked at how the body moves and how the body supported itself and tried to build a product that did it in the same way.”
Stoko, formerly Embrace Orthopaedics, spent the first three years of its existence developing K1. This involved the creation of proprietary software that studied the way human bodies move and led to the K1’s Embrace System, which includes more than 90 feet of high-strength support cables that are directly integrated into a compression tight. To build the system, Stoko also developed what it calls a new method of manufacturing that allowed it to integrate the system seamlessly into clothing. Eberwein told BetaKit, Stoko has four patents pending, with more on the way, related to its manufacturing.
“Stoko’s proprietary technology addresses a real need that exists and disrupts the competition that has long been stagnant,” said Currie. “They are focused on building a company with the foundation and capabilities to efficiently scale the opportunity they have created.”
Stoko first launched to market in October and has already seen significant traction. Eberwein told BetaKit Stoko has seen “a fantastic amount of interest” from professional athletes, with K1 already being used by athletes in the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, National Football League and Canadian Football League.
“We’ve created a product that’s uniquely positioned for allowing athletes to actually adjust support as they go through their rehabilitation process and return to play more safely,” the CEO said.
In addition to offering what Stoko calls a category-defining product, the company’s direct-to-consumer is another differentiator, according to Eberwein.
“Unlike our competition within the bracing space, our product is uniquely positioned to sell direct to consumer due to its standard sizing and stretch materials,” said Eberwein. “So, that was a no-brainer for us as the product helped us unlock [D2C]. Because … we believe [e-commerce] is the direction that the world is heading.”
Stoko also sells its product through partnerships with medical professional affiliates and wholesale partners.
The $6 million in financing brings Stoko’s total funding to date to $10 million. The Vancouver startup is set to use its newfound capital to accelerate its go-to-market strategy and expand its presence across Canada and the United States.
“The K1 knee brace allows athletes to play the sports they love post-injury, improving mental and physical health,” said Kopke. “The K1 also helps prevent knee injuries for athletes of all ages.”
“From a business perspective, the fact that Stoko is creating the product category of functional apparel allows them to tell compelling stories, attract athletes from all sports and all ages, capture a limitless market opportunity and redefine what apparel can do for athletes around the world,” Kopke added. “This company is set to make big things happen.”
Images courtesy Stoko.