StretchSense set for global expansion

Wearable sensor company StretchSense are on the verge of massive international growth, thanks to some key funding from Japan.

The Auckland-based company has secured Series A funding from Japanese corporation StartToday.

StartToday owns ZOZOTOWN - Japan’s largest online retailer of apparel and accessories - and Japan’s largest fashion co-ordination app: wear.jp.

StretchSense chief executive Ben O’Brien says the company is excited to start the new phase of growth.

“All our customers are offshore and for growth we want to expand as quickly as possible overseas.”

The funds will be used to upgrade its pilot production and R&D capabilities in New Zealand, and to expand its marketing, sales, and support capability offshore. The company sells to more than 200 customers in 28 countries.

“We’re going to use it to expand our sales and support capability in Asia and the US, it means we can get close to our customers and give them more support.”

StretchSense chief executive Ben O'Brien

O’Brien says StartToday is the perfect strategic match for StretchSense, because they have similarly expanded from a relatively small startup.

“They grew very quickly and they know fashion. We’re tech geeks and it’s really important for the aesthetics of the company to have that fashion voice.”

It is an important milestone for any niche New Zealand tech company to receive funding for expansion, he says.

“We sell to very large companies, a typical customer of ours will have a market capital of over $1 billion and there’s not many companies in New Zealand like that.

“The aim of New Zealand tech companies is to make something cool and sell it off shore.”

StretchSense is a manufacturer of soft stretchy sensors and generators for wearables. The company’s products are ultra-soft and precise, making them ideal for sporting, AR/VR, animation, and healthcare applications. O’Brien says the goal is to develop unobtrusive self-powered sensors for wearables.

Such self-powered sensors scavenge energy from their environment. While the technology could eventually be used to power electronic equipment, for now that is a long way off. Self-powered sensor systems require very small amounts of power and will be used in what O’Brien calls “disappearables” within the next five years.

Once wearable technology becomes completely unobtrusive, fashion and aesthetics will play an even more important role, O’Brien says.

StretchSense is a spinout from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute’s Biomimetics Lab, and has previously raised funds from the Flying Kiwi Angels and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.