One of the most exciting trends in consumer technology relates to “wearables” – clothing items or accessories that can be integrated with technology to provide a particular service. Such products have already made significant inroads into our daily lives, with the most obvious examples being American products – the FitBit and the Apple Watch (the Chinese wearable market is dominated by Xiaomi). However, a cohort of young British companies have also sprung up in this sector to create new commercial niches with undeniably fascinating products. In this post, we’ve identified the UK’s top Wearables startups, highlighting key sector trends and patterns.
the UK’s top wearables startups
The UK’s wearables startup sector was turbocharged in April by its largest raise yet – $42m by femtech leader Elvie. Capital for this round was supplied by Octopus Ventures, impact investor Impact Ventures UK (managed by an arm of the Princely House of Lichtenstein’s family office), and IPGL, the investment vehicle of British billionaire and “city grandee” Michael Spencer.
Elvie’s wearable femtech products include what they claim is the world’s first silent breast pump, and the Elvie Trainer, a device which is designed to enhance pelvic floor exercises. These exercises help improve bladder control, and recovery time from childbirth. Elvie was founded by Tania Boler, who had previously spent over seven years working in HIV prevention for ActionAid and the UN.
The next largest raise in this sector goes to WaveOptics, based in the high-tech hotspot of Milton Park in Oxfordshire (alongside Immunocore and Tokamak Energy). In somewhat of a sci-fi vein this company has developed augmented reality technology to overlay normal glasses. Their most recent raise, €23m in December last year, was backed by the IP Group, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, and Octopus Ventures.
Other startups, whilst raising less capital over the years, offer exciting products nonetheless. DNAnudge, a personalised genomics company and spinout from Imperial College London, provides a service whereby they map their customer’s genomes. They then offer tailored health advice according to the particular person’s DNA. As part of this, they have designed a wearable called the DnaBand. This wristband can scan a particular food item whilst someone is shopping. It then lights up in either a red or green, indicating whether the product is a good match for their DNA.
Indeed, many of the UK’s top Wearables startups seem to be operating in the medical/healthcare sphere. In a way this makes sense – the most obvious use case for wearable technology is in measuring certain bodily functions. However, more strikingly, some startups are developing devices which manipulate the body for medical purposes.
Wearable Medical Technology
Another company with a similarly neat and high-tech product to DNAnudge is County Antrim’s Neurovalens. This company aims to alleviate neurological disorders. Their first and currently main product is Modius Health, a wearable which stimulates the hypothalamus region of the brain to help improve weight loss (according to Modius’ marketing, stimulating the hypothalamus decreases appetite and reduce cravings).
With important use cases in the social care world, Current has developed a device that wraps around the upper arm, monitoring vital signs and alerting relevant healthcare professionals remotely when patients begin to show signs of physical emergencies. Wiltshire’s Anthropos raised £1.5m in April and does much the same, as does Aparito, though their wearable is designed specifically for use in paediatric care.
Sky Medical Technology, meanwhile, has developed a bioelectronic device which stimulates local areas of the human nervous system, which in turn increases blood circulation to this area. This helps to treat a range of acute and chronic circulatory conditions, such as venous thromboembolism (in other words, where blood clots form in deep veins, which are hard to access in conventional invasive surgery). This company is well established, having raised nearly £30m in equity finance from backers including the Angel CoFund and the Juno Syndicate. In their latest round, they were valued at over £100m.
Operating in the fertility tech sector, Southampton spinout VivoPlex has developed a wireless device that monitors key health markers in the uterus, such as temperature, pH levels, and dissolved oxygen levels. Still in an early stage of development, this product will primarily be used to help determine what makes for a healthy uterine environment, with the eventual objective of helping to improve fertility levels. Earlier this year the company raised £3m from a consortium of angel investors and family offices.
Non-Medical Wearable technology
Whilst the UK’s wearables sector is dominated by those with a healthcare use case, interesting startups are emerging in other sectors. PlayerData and Corner both develop wearables for sport purposes, with PlayerData’s wristband monitoring athletic performances, whilst Corner’s device attaches to the handwraps of boxers, measuring metrics such as punch rate and velocity.
Glasgow’s Pick Protection, on the other hand, has developed a device that monitors the activity of vulnerable lone workers, providing GPS location services and with an SOS alarm that can be activated by the worker.
The majority of the UK’s top wearables startups are offering products designed to improve the provision of healthcare, and Elvie and Sky Medical Technology are perhaps the leading companies in this regard. It will be interesting to see whether other startups from this fast emerging sector are able to develop products which can achieve similar levels of venture capital interest.