Akron startup’s smart textiles provide a new resource for hydrating athletes
For athletes, getting enough water is simple, right? You take a drink when you’re thirsty. But one Ohio company is showing that runners, competitors and others have been approaching hydration with a stone-age mindset. Akron startup RooSense has developed a wearable textile that can monitor fluid levels, sensing when you need a drink and taking the guess work out of proper hydration.
“We are developing a smarter textile to help athletes learn about their sweat,” said co-founder and CTO Chelsea Monty-Bromer. “The tech is a fabric sensor that can be integrated into clothing and gear that athletes are already wearing. It can alert them to dehydration so that they know when to take a drink, what to hydrate with and what’s the best quantity. We want to help athletes maintain peak performance and prevent serious illness, injury and even death.
Many athletes are obsessive about what they put into their bodies, and RooSense wants to help them feel the same way about hydration. In the age of personalization, the wearable tech — likely placed in a sleeve — would help them develop a plan for their water intake rather than relying on estimates.
“We really want to teach athletes more about their sweat and their hydration, because right now they’re just guessing,” said Monty-Bromer. “Everyone thinks, ‘If I go out running with my friends and they drink three bottles of Gatorade, I think I have to do the same thing because that works for them.’ But really, we’re all very different. So it’s about teaching people that their hydration and their health should be personalized to them. We want to help them develop the best strategy to prevent that guessing. Because, unfortunately, it can have very dire consequences.”
Like so many successful startups, RooSense needed an early pivot to find its niche. Monty-Bromer, a professor at the University of Akron, developed the idea with her co-founder and Chief Scientist Hanieh Ghadimi. The pair worked at the university to use their tech for prosthetic limbs, a plan that they eventually realized was missing the tech to back it up. But the duo’s smart textile had plenty of other uses and eventually they arrived at their new trajectory.
“The original idea was to use the sensors to measure temperature and sweat and kick on a cooling device,” said Monty-Bromer. “But the technology required a battery that was too heavy, and it never ended up happening. So we had this fabric and we didn’t know what to do with it. We participated in the I-Corps program and learned a lot about the market and how our sensor could help athletes with hydration and have a function in other areas. There really aren’t other textiles like this in production, and we estimate that it’s a $2 billion market opportunity.”
The RooSense team is now doing testing and developing a prototype of its product. They plan to spend this year working with athletes to fine-tune the tech, with a projected launch in the summer of 2021. And from what they’ve heard so far, RooSense should be well-received.
“The coaches and trainers we’ve talked to are very interested because they want to know more about their athletes,” said Monty-Bromer. “In terms of the athletes themselves, we’ve had a lot of interest from endurance athletes and soccer players — anyone who’s out there sweating for a long period of time. Cyclists, runners, triathletes and others are really interested in learning more about their sweat and having that real-time feedback. They want to maximize their hydration and not be guessing while they’re performing. Some of them are out there for eight to 16 hours, so hydration is extremely important.
From help with their pivot to funding and even office space, RooSense has taken full advantage of Ohio’s many resources. And with a big launch on the horizon, the company’s leaders are thankful to have been put in a position to deal with the entrepreneurial twists and turns and be next in a long line of Ohio inventors.
“We’ve been very fortunate, and Akron and the state of Ohio have been very good to us,” said Monty-Bromer. “The city itself really wants small businesses to succeed and has really invested a lot of time and money into helping us. That’s been really beneficial, and it’s made it a lot easier for us to move forward. We just received a grant from the Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-up Fund and another from the Great Lakes Innovation Fund. We make use of the Bounce Innovation Hub and the Small Business Development Center. So we’ve really used the resources available across the state, and it’s been great for us.”