You might remember that, in September, Taiwan Startup Stadium and Taiwan's National Development Council (國發會) took 12 lucky teams across the Pacific to TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2015. During the trip, besides showing off some of Taiwan's brightest new startups, we also got the chance to check out mind-blowing technology from across the world. Throughout the conference, the TSS team was also on the lookout for an outstanding startup to win Taiwan's first-ever Rock the World Award.
Coming from an island famed for its precision hardware development and manufacturing, naturally we were drawn to Hardware Alley. There, we discovered Bend Labs, a team demonstrating an invention wholly of their own design: a series of soft-sensors which measure human motion and display it accurately in applications on Windows, iOS, and Android platforms.
"Basically, they're rubber bands that can measure how much they're being stretched," explains Shawn Reese, Bend Labs CEO and inventor of Bend's sensing technology.
Are the possibilities racing through your imagination yet? Co-founder Jared Jonas adds that if you can translate human movement into data and display it on a screen or in the cloud, the potential is huge for virtual reality technology and dozens of other applications.
If you want to rock the world, start in Taiwan
"We had the idea to find a hardware-related team for our Rock The World Award at TechCrunch Disrupt, so we could introduce them to Taiwan's hardware manufacturing," explains Anita Huang, Captain of Taiwan Startup Stadium. TSS spent all three days of Disrupt looking around the convention floor for new technology before stumbling upon Bend Labs. The team was impressed with Shawn and Jared's demo of their movement-recording gloves, knee braces, back braces, and even sensors woven into normal clothing.
“That really opened up our imagination, because the IoT industry is so much about creating technology we can apply to our daily lives,” Anita continues. “And since Taiwan has so much to offer in terms of both hardware and textile industries, we hope this will be a trip of discovery for them."
The backstory on Bend Labs
"There was an initial moment around 4 years ago where I hurt my arm while kayaking," Shawn says. "And I thought, how did this happen? If I'm moving my arm in the wrong way, is there a way I can measure this?" Shawn decided to propose the idea to his old college buddy, Jared, whose interest in entrepreneurship hasn't waned since his childhood exposure to street-side lemonade stands. Together, the founders came up with a plan, committed, and left their old jobs to make the full-time startup journey.
Shawn and Jared have been working on their product for a few years already, but it has taken a while to convince investors of its potential. "A lot of the apparel companies used to ask us, like, who cares? Who cares how you move?” Shawn says. Jared continues, "But the meetings we're having today vs. a year ago, they're starting to see where this is going, so we have to do a lot less convincing."
Another challenge has been managing a geographically dispersed team. Shawn works in Salt Lake City, Utah, while Jared lives and work in Seattle, Washington. “When you're co-founders, you need to communicate a lot," Shawn says. "Like, constantly. Early on, before we started using all these communication tools, we'd start thinking in different directions... and we'd fly to each other's states thinking entirely different things, and that was tough for a while. But being able to tap into both the Salt Lake and Seattle ecosystems has been huge for us."
Welcome to Taiwan, Bend Labs!
Today, the Bend Labs team landed in Taiwan, and over the next two weeks, they'll check out what Taiwan's startup ecosystem has to offer. They'll visit some of Formosa's top manufacturers and entrepreneurship initiatives, and they'll also be meeting up with some of Taiwan's coolest startups to share their experiences.
Stay tuned for updates on the Bend Labs journey. We can't wait to show Bend Labs why Taiwan rocks!