With a $50,000 grand prize, the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield is one of the high-profile events at the annual CES conference in Las Vegas. This year’s winner was Siren Care (@SirenCare), a wearables company that embeds electronic sensors into clothing in order to track changes in a person’s health.
The company’s first product is smart socks that people living with diabetes wear. The socks monitor temperature and detect injury in real time, helping to alert people with diabetes who often have nerve damage and are unable to feel pain.
Ran Ma (@RanimalMa), Co-Founder and CEO of Siren Care, was previously the CMO of Voltset, a Danish consumer electronics startup. She successfully ran the Voltset Kickstarter campaign, which raised $113,548 (192% of their goal).
You launched Siren Care into a category that already had some strong products. Did that worry you?
We do have competitors, which is great. If you don’t have competitors—if no one else is doing something similar— you’re either a crazy genius or you’re just crazy. So having competitors, some of whom have done groundbreaking work, that’s good. It tells me that I’m not completely crazy.
In addition, we are thinking long term. Ideally we are developing technology that can generate product 1, 2, 3 and beyond. We want to make a family of products, using the same personnel, the same technology, the same expertise, and the same intellectual property. We want to conquer our beachhead use case of diabetic foot and then expand into adjacent markets.
We’re about using cutting-edge smart fabrics to make products focused on health and prevention, about using different techniques to integrate electronics into fabrics.
We’re focused on taking wearables to the next level. We want them to be discrete, continuous, and we don’t want you to have to make a behavior change. We want them to fit into your life as it is. So, for instance, our socks are machine washable, machine dryable, and you don’t have to charge them. They are just like normal socks. That’s the next stage of wearables.
I hand-sewed prototypes in my room. I bought conductive thread from Sparkfun, I used an old Arduino I had sitting around. I took a soldering class at a makerspace called Noisebridge in the Mission area of San Francisco. I went in there and was like, “Can someone help me solder my sock?”
Did those early prototypes help you make your case?
The first couple prototypes were so bad, they were scary: wires coming off everything, the solder was terrible. I’d go to medical conferences to show it to doctors and they weren’t impressed. But I just kept working at it. The electronics got smaller, my app got better, the socks got smoother. Eventually the medical community started to buy into it.
It sounds like you had a lot of setbacks. What kept you going?
Going out and talking to potential customers, potential patients. We talked to nurses, care homes, doctors, wound experts. I went to a lot of conferences. I talked to diabetic patients about the product, and they would get emotional. People were so afraid of losing a toe or getting a foot amputated, losing their independence. I saw the real need. Every time I felt like giving up, I just remembered:…