For anyone who has ever tried to exercise while listening to their I-Pod or MP3 player, then you may be familiar with the tangle of wires that can confound, or, the experience of trying to adjust the volume, or hit play or pause, without losing your stride.
Venture Track entrepreneurs Paul Mayer and Steven Smith have developed gadget friendly “enabled” apparel they hope will make working out with mobile devices a more seamless, hands-free experience.
“Exercising with wires hanging out can limit your range of movement,” said Smith during a recent interview. “We live in a mobile society, but our clothing hasn’t caught up to that, or accommodated the constant presence of mobile technology. Our enabled apparel offers a hands-free experience,” he said.
Smith and Mayer, both exercise aficionados, co-founded I Quantum, LLC, in 2008 and have developed two lines of apparel: the Summit Wired collection features a patent-pending pocket, designed to hold personal music or phone devices. The pocket is sewn into the garment and hides cords and wires from view.
The company’s iQ line of apparel has a touch pad incorporated onto the sleeve of the garment so users can operate their devices without removing personal devices from their pockets.
“The connector device is built right into the garment, and the sleeve has smart-fabric controls, so wearers can control devices by tapping the buttons on their arm,” Smith said.
The connector piece is removable for laundry purposes. The full-line of enabled athletic clothing features shirts, shorts, swimwear and casual clothing. The apparel from both lines is made from cotton, nylon, Lycra and other compression wear.
The pair “tripped into” their idea while exercising during a vacation in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in 2007, Smith recalled.
“I was on the treadmill, with my I-Pod and I became all tangled up in the cord and nearly fell and I thought: The time has come to do something about this.”
Adds Mayer, 53, “ Then we began to notice all the people who were exercising along the beach, with the cords from their music devices flying all over, and we knew that there is a market for this,” he said.
Upon returning from vacation, they designed a sample pocket they took to their corner drycleaner who, after several attempts, found a way to sew it onto a shirt. Realizing that they needed more business guidance, they made their way to BizStarts’ Venture Track program. Executive Director Chelsea Krause provided input on the business plan and brokered a connection with a buyer from a large Midwestern retailer.
“We got a lot of help with our business plan, and the connection with the retailer was invaluable, “ Smith said.
Smith said they are currently working with a clothing manufacturer in Hong Kong, China, putting the finishing touches on the prototype for the IQ hoodie, in anticipation of a meeting with the retailer, Smith said.
Mayer, 53, a Special Education teacher with Milwaukee Public Schools and Smith, 49, a sales rep for a Pharmaceutical Company, bootstrapped the startup with an investment of about $40,000 of their own money.
“We’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices along the way to keep this idea alive,” Mayer said. “We downsized cars, stopped eating out and basically put whatever we could into the business.”
“It’s been an incredible learning experience,” Smith added. “We really want this to be a success.”
Lessons Learned Along the Path To Launch
“On our journey, we discovered the road to success is lined with lots of wolves--everyone of them insisting their services were needed to be a success. We learned to trust our gut instinct and to be able to change direction, tweek our plan and be flexible as needed.”