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How Three Days at Startupfest Changed My Startup: Heddoko

It was just a matter of weeks before the International Startup Festival was to begin when Mazen Elbawab was scrambling to get a demo together.

He had received a call from the Startup Fest telling him there may be a spot to demo his product and pitch it to hundreds of investors, media and startup enthusiasts for the annual $100,000 prize.

That weekend, Elbawab saw a friend at a birthday party and ask if he could show him the business plan in exchange for a little advice. Skip ahead nearly six months later and Elbawab and Alexandre Fainberg are cofounders leading a hot new wearable technology startup for athletes, called Heddoko.

Some may initially peg the new startup as another among a sizable list of wearable technology startups in Canada. But a look under the hood reveals something far more unique.

The company is creating a full body suit- waterproof long sleeve shirt and pants- that measure the mechanical movement of the body. And this, say the cofounders, hasn’t been perfected yet.

That’s because nearly every other wearable garment marketed towards the “quantified-self” market measuring biometric signals, like heartrate, breathing patterns, steps, pace and calories.

But what about serious amateur or professional athletes that aren’t as concerned with their pulse? They want to know what their stride looks like during sprinting, and how they can improve it. They want to know if their backstroke pattern is correct or whether their back is the right position during squats. That’s the tool Heddoko is currently building.

The sensors in the body suit are all integrated to the mobile app and the back-end, and users can even simulate a mirror effect by connecting the app to a TV monitor.

“The human action recognitions and the machine-learning systems become more intelligent as it learns about your body,” said Elbawab. “Meanwhile, the web application shows the percentage of accuracy throughout week for how you did in a specific exercise.”

It’s the first of its kind, say the cofounders, and it might even change that way athletes look at wearable technology.

For Heddoko, it may have been that trip to Startup Fest that proved to be the boost the company needed.

The startup ended up as a finalist in the festival’s three major awards and nearly took home the $100,000 investment prize for best on-stage pitch. They did end up walking home with $10,000 of legal fees from Fasken-Martineau and substantial coverage from several media outlets. In fact, Heddoko is currently one of two startup companies being followed for a six-part Radio-Canada documentary.

Heddoko may have entered Startup Fest with a low profile, but it all changed after three days in Montreal.

“The startup fest was what I would call the turning point where it sparked the interest of everybody around,” said Elbawab. “It was the first time that we showcased what the idea was and where we wanted to take it, and it skyrocketed during those three days.”

For LP Maurice, the founder of Montreal-startup Busbud, “all the dots seem to connect” at crucial times for early-stage startups. At Startup Fest, Maurice served as a judge for the $100,000 prize, where Elbawab pitched his vision.

“There were hundreds of startups pitching, ten other judges along with myself and I remember everyone was impressed with his pitch and the product,” said Maurice. “Everything took off for them.”

Market research involved interviews and data from coaches, trainers, kinesiologists and over 340 surveys given out to various professionals. They even consulted with two professional sports franchises in Quebec who revealed what kind of a wearable tech solution they want for their players and what kind of data they want to extract.

While live, mirror-simulated feedback will be a feature for the product, the cofounders want to give the athlete major analytics to scour over after-the-fact. The athlete and their coaches will be able to go over practices, workouts and performances.

“Now it becomes a truly powerful analytic tool for fitness coaches, rehabilitation professionals and therapists,” said Fainberg.

The technology came as a result of Elbawab’s previous work expertise in the game development industry in motion-tracking.

The 32-year-old spent time working at both Behaviour Interactive and Ubisoft, working on projects like the Microsoft Kinect and games like My Sims, Your Shape Fitness Evolved and Michael Jackson The Experience. The guys feel that Elbawab’s experience will take motion tracking out of Hollywood and into the gym locker.

“It’s interesting,” said Maurice. “I really like what they’re doing, they’re in the right spot in the market and [Elbawab] has proven himself as a very savvy young entrepreneur to go from a technical idea to building the company as fast as he did.”

Looking back on the rollercoaster ride it’s been, the pair said they’re glad they came to Startup Fest.

“Startup Fest was the rocket launch in terms of what Heddoku is doing,” said Fainberg. “We need more and more of these events in Canada that will put local startups on the map as it did for many others here in MTL.”

As for coming back this summer, it’s already a lock for the pair of cofounders.

by: Joey Czikk