Vancouver tech startups take aim at autism, diabetes, and bone surgeries

Stephen Hui | Georgia Straight

A collaboration of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, SFU, and the University of Victoria, VentureLabs is one of a number of sites around the province delivering the B.C. Innovation Council’s Venture Acceleration Program. The program, which offers networking opportunities and coaching by executives in residence, is based on a four-stage growth model (product validation, market validation, market penetration, and market expansion).

At the VentureLabs offices at Discovery Parks Vancouver, Wearable Therapeutics founder and chief executive officer Lisa Fraser donned the Snug Vest, the Health Canada–licensed medical device that her startup launched in 2013. The 26-year-old Vancouver resident told the Straight she came up with the concept of “wearable anxiety relief” while completing a bachelor’s degree in industrial design at Emily Carr.

Inflated with a hand pump, the stylish vest puts pressure on the wearer’s torso, inducing calm. According to Fraser, by providing “deep-pressure therapy”, the vest has helped improve the lives of people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and anxiety.

It’s available in six sizes (small kid to large adult) and two colour schemes (turquoise and black, and red and black) for $395 on the Snug Vest website. In 2014, the vest won a prestigious Red Dot Award for product design.

“I didn’t want the product to stigmatize the individual, so it really does look, some people say, like a MEC– or Lululemon-type vest,” Fraser said. “It really doesn’t look like a medical device. That was extremely important when we were developing our product, and that’s definitely one of the things that sets us aside from our competition.”

Established in 2011 as Squeezease Therapy, Wearable Therapeutics has other products in the works. Fraser said her startup is in the midst of closing its first round of seed funding. Her goal is to turn that investment into 15,000 customers or $5 million in revenue.

Last year, Fraser was filmed for an upcoming episode of Dragons’ Den, the CBC reality-TV series. She noted companies pay fees and sometimes part with equity to work out of VentureLabs, where entrepreneurs often share their knowledge.

“It’s been great being here, because I get surrounded by other CEOs,” Fraser said. “I think that’s the most valuable to me—just being around other startups.”

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