Interview by Marija Butkovic (@MarijaButkovic)
Myra Waiman, a born and bred Londoner, became a serial startup investor via a long route. Trained at Imperial College in the 70s, she worked as a research biochemist in several high profile London labs, including Hepatitis Vaccines for Dame Sheila Sherlock and IVF research with Professor Robert Winston. This sparked her interest in commercialising cutting edge science. She moved into fundraising for universities and from there into university science spin-offs. In one such spin-off she met David Lussey, working on new conductive inks, initially used in smart screens but also in textiles. Her lifelong love of fashion has encouraged her to work with David bringing his smart textile invention into commercial reality.
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
Our project uses a one-off conductive ink, which is used to impregnate textile, creating smart switches and sensors which measure change of pressure. The idea behind it is to enhance textiles and take advantage of new developments in textile technology, enabling our clothing to become tangible and wearable alternative interfaces. Embedding our sensors into clothing, shoes and mats, they can be used to switch on devices, and monitor movement. I was an investor in the parent company, and saw great potential with the inventor and the potential future market of wearable technology.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
I am an experienced early stage investor and had invested in the previous parent company that ran into trouble. I had confidence in the inventor and saw the potential in the smart textiles market, and bought his technology out of receivership, along with bringing him on board into the new team. I brought with me some colleagues I have worked with before on other startup ideas and along the way I've met some great young design engineers, who are as excited at the potential of the technology as I am. We have a great male/female balance in our team, who are all trained scientists and engineers. We are always looking for more skilled staff, especially anyone interested in electronics and textiles.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
Approximately 2.5 years.
What was the biggest obstacle?
Being right on the cutting edge of technology, our biggest obstacle has been identifying textile manufacturers, especially as we are trying to keep production in the UK. It's been a fascinating journey as we introduce something novel to the market. We are now prototyping and it's a challenge trying to keep those costs down.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in?
It can be challenging to expand people's minds when it comes to wearables - it's not just Fitbit and other activity trackers. And in common with other startups, deciding where our limited resources, both financial and time resources, are best spent.
How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
It is very exciting being a female founder and especially being “older“ than the norm - my daughter jokingly calls me the "silverpreneur". I trained as a biochemist in the 70s when there really weren’t many women in science and have since then always worked in wrongly preconceived “male” fields. I’m pleased to see the younger generation of women coming through and would love to encourage even greater numbers to do so.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
We are really thrilled to be selected to attend Mobile World Congress in Barcelona with the Department for International Trade next week. Also, keep an eye out for the British Patents campaign the Foreign Office are running, as part of Exporting is Great, which will feature our technology. We're excited to be taking our fabric global whilst using the best of British design and engineering skills.
What are projects you are currently working on within your company?
Currently we are most excited about the opportunities presented by footwear. We are launching our Infi-sole, an interactive insole, in Barcelona, which can be used for conditions such as diabetic foot ulcers as well as monitoring gait analysis and the rapidly growing sport of walking football. But the opportunities in footwear don't stop there, we are also putting our material on the outside of shoes, for sports interaction or gaming. We're also excited about Virtual Reality implications in footwear and we are going to be participating in some university studies looking at energy harvesting through shoes.
We are working on a variety of consumer products with collaborators including design consultancies and care home providers. Projects include underfloor sensor mats that can be used to detect falls in care homes and insoles for gait analysis.
Infi-tex is making embedded switches for T-shirts for a fashion distributor to activate light and sound, and making an interactive wall to encourage activity from children and offer coaching for a variety of sports.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and fashion tech industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Connectivity in everyday life is on the increase. Smart cities, smart cars and smart clothing numbers are rising. Textiles are used universally, in the home, workplace, health and leisure activities. The opportunities from the Internet of Things, to harvest the data about ourselves to our benefit, are huge and we are excited to be at the centre of so many developments. Sensor components are expected to drive the IoT market as new products and software come to market and the need increases for new ways of receiving and analysing IoT data.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Yes. As a female founder of a tech startup, the #WomenInTech movement is important to inspire, support and connect women who find it otherwise difficult to navigate this male dominated industry. I attended Imperial College in the 70s and every year I go back and deliver a lecture to encourage the next generation of women to keep going with their journeys in technology.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
It doesn't hurt to fail but learn from your mistakes.
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and / or fashion tech?
Martine Jalgaard is a young designer using VR and interactive fabrics who I’ve been really inspired by. I had the pleasure of attending her fantastic interactive show at last autumn’s London Fashion Week. Also, Lynne Murray from the Digital Anthropology Lab is doing really interesting things to encourage the merging of fashion with technology. I’ve also enjoyed spending time with Professor Sandy Black from the London College of Fashion, someone with a steep history in fashion and fashion education keeping a keen eye on modern developments.
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, co-founder of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.