WearWorks – 2 March
WearWorks builds products and experiences that communicate information through touch. Their first product, Wayband, is a wristband that communicates navigation information using vibration without the need for any visual or audio cues. Back in 2017, Wayband helped the first person who was blind to run in the NYC marathon without sighted assistance.
As there are few haptic-based navigation companies, their primary competition is the alternatives that people with a visual impairment currently use to navigate. BlindSquare, Aira, Google Maps, Apple Maps, Soundscape, and other navigation apps with a heavy focus on audio.
WearWorks’ key positioning is that all those competitors use auditory information as the main user interface. But if you have a visual impairment, your ears are your eyes. They help you stay safe and orient yourself by listening to surrounding information from the environment. Wayband frees a user’s remaining sight, their ears, so they can focus all their sensory abilities on keeping themselves safe while getting the information through an under-utilized communication channel, the skin.
WearWorks has partnerships with Mass Commission for the Blind (MCB), BeMyEyes, National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Helen Keller Blind Services, and Royal National Institute of the Blind in the UK. MCB is conducting a paid pilot program with 50+ participants. They also currently have 100 preorders for the Wayband, and have just signed with their manufacturing partner to deliver their first 1000 units by August. WearWorks also received worldwide acclaim and press for their marathon feat, from outlets such as TED, Discovery Channel, The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, NYTimes, The Verge, Tech Crunch, Engadget, CBS, NBC, RYOT Films, iTV (UK) and GloboTV (Brazil).
Their biggest hurdle is to overcome the challenges around GPS inaccuracies, a challenge faced by all mapping based applications. Currently maps often route people in the middle of the street and the Wayband’s Haptic Corridor is a method of navigation that follows the route exactly. But because that route is in the middle of the street, it can make it hard for a person with a visual impairment to use. To address this, they have designed a new way to use the navigation data and will implement it in the next few weeks for a 2nd pilot program with MCB beginning in April.
WearWorks have raised $490k of their $1M seed round, and are actively seeking to close the remaining $510k. They have also raised a total of $770k to date in over 5 years of operation. $315k of the total raised was in non-dilutive capital, including a National Science Foundation Phase I grant for $225k. With the funding, WearWorks plans to produce the first 5000 units and expand their existing teams by hiring an internal iOS software developer with deep mapping experience, a data scientist/machine learning expert, and a full-time sales representative.
Kevin Yoo, Co-Founder is an internationally award-winning industrial designer. His design has been recognized with the German Design Award, The Beyond Bauhaus Award, and exhibitions at the MET Museum and Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum.
Keith Kirkland, Co-Founder is a strategist, haptician and visionary who spent his thesis developing a suit that would allow a person to download kung fu and teach them using haptic feedback. He has backgrounds in mechanical engineering, fashion design and industrial design. His work has been featured at TED, Dropbox, Sight Tech Global, IDSA, Yokohama Government, Unilever, Discovery Channel, RYOT Films and INC. Magazine.
Jim Kiely, Lead Architect and Head of Accessibility. He has 25+ years of backend development experience. He is also legally blind, bringing his personal experience to his design ethos of accessibility.
Their business model starts with Wayband wristband sales DTC and B2B, the app comes for free with the Wayband purchase. The DTC model sells Waybands, for $249, directly to customers through their corporate and partner websites generating traffic from organic editorial press coverage, corporate marketing efforts, and channel partnerships with prominent organizations that are trusted by the blind and visually impaired community.
The B2B strategy starts with a 50 unit paid pilot program at the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. It ends with Wayband being certified as a Vocational Rehabilitation Services device, a designation allowing Wayband to qualify as a federal fundable item purchased directly through state organizations. Each model gives deeper credibility to the other and hastens the flywheel of revenue generation.