Without question, Vancouver is the most beautiful place on earth. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains to the north, an ocean to the west, and forests and trails scattered across the valley, this city is made for fitness enthusiasts. Overwhelmingly, Canadians love being active outdoors, with over 70% saying they’ve done one wilderness activity in the past year. This love of nature and having an active lifestyle has set Vancouver up to produce some of the most innovative fitness tech companies on the planet.
Year after year, Vancouver-based companies have been receiving record-breaking investments, making it a breeding ground for global players in the tech space. In 2021, companies received $3.96 billion over 140 deals, making it Canada’s fasted growing market. These companies’ specialties ranged from CleanTech, FinTech, Marketplace and SaaS, but most importantly, HealthTech, which pulled 11% of those investments alone. After a massive year of drawing huge numbers, Vancouver has firmly cemented itself as a tech hub and further positioned itself as a leader in the fitness tech industry.
The bones of a major fitness tech hub
Take a look around you. Anywhere you go, people are wearing smartwatches, smart rings, and fitness trackers. These transformative technologies have given everyone direct access to their biometric data and have completely revolutionized the way we approach health and wellness. It turns out, Vancouver had a major part in these groundbreaking technologies.
Eric Migicovsky, the creator of the original Pebble smart-watch, was born in Vancouver and started his company here. His product blazed the trail for not only future smart watches, but crowd-sourced funding for such projects. The Kickstarter funding set the record in 2012 with $10.3M raised, and again in 2015, raising $20.3M. Eventually, FitBit purchased Pebble’s intellectual property, slingshotting them to the upper-class of wearable technology and engraving Vancouver’s place in the fitness tracker industry forever.
Another early player in the market was Vancouver-based Fatigue Science which combined a bracelet called the Readiband with analytical software to help people improve their quality of sleep. The technology developed was adopted by the Vancouver Canucks, which led the way for professional athletes to use trackers to optimize their performance. Finally, Physi-Cal Enterprises developed the Mio brand, focusing on physical training while tracking calories burned, a first for wearable technology.
Liz Dickinson, founder of Physi-Cal summed up the symbiotic relationship pretty clearly in 2012. “It’s not surprising to me that Vancouver is emerging as a hotbed of innovation in wearable tech. Our proximity to the Pacific Rim and the U.S. connects us with valuable manufacturing resources, expertise and the world’s largest export markets. And we have a strong affinity with nature that inspires us to create personal products and services to optimize our enjoyment of our lifestyles combined with a strong commitment to esthetic.”
Vancouver’s big players get into the digi-verse
Arguably, one of the most iconic brands to come out of Canada is lululemon. While founder Chip Wilson’s innovative clothing advancements changed the apparel game, in recent years, the brand has invested in technology to enter the virtual fitness industry as well. With its acquisition of fitness tech startup Mirror in 2020, lululemon added its name to Vancouver’s HealthTech sector. Mirror is an interactive home gym, which offers weekly live classes, hundreds of on-demand workouts, professional one-on-one personal training, and it even pairs with fitness trackers to record body metrics. The acquisition enhanced lululemon’s digital offerings and set the benchmark for home fitness equipment by bringing the high-definition trainer-to-client connection right into people’s homes. Lululemon’s household name attached to such an incredible piece of technology drew further attention to Vancouver’s fitness tech industry.
The pandemic brought even more innovation
On the studio side of the industry, Vancouver-based Innovative Fitness, North America’s largest operator of boutique fitness studios, like many gyms, closed during the pandemic. As for many businesses in the early stages of the pandemic, only those who got creative and dug in survived. Within a matter of days, Innovative Fitness began shifting operations online. And where there is pressure, new ideas form. Online personal training became effective and incredibly convenient, but the issue with online training became apparent fast–Zoom, and other similar online meeting platforms, were not designed for virtual fitness training.
WRKOUT was born out of the idea that the fitness community as a whole needed to be more connected. After all, the connection between trainer and client is the reason many people reach their health and fitness goals in a traditional gym. Having a place specifically designed for trainers and creators to post their content and connect with current and potential clients will fill a need the fitness community isn’t entirely aware it has yet. This opens the door for a more connected fitness industry as a whole, with Vancouver at its center.
The city’s teeming fitness community, in combination with its thriving startup industry and rich history of fitness tech, ensures that more innovative and brilliant services and products are on the horizon.
The future of fitness is in Vancouver
The next generation of fitness tech is upon us, and the game-changers are growing right here in our backyard. This year has kicked off to a flying start, with companies already securing pre-seed funding to enhance the products and take their designs to the next level. I can’t wait to see what new tech comes out of this city’s flurry of tech startups that will next shape the world of fitness. That anticipation further proves that Vancouver has established itself as the mecca of global fitness technology and plays a key role in influencing the industry around the world.
Curtis Christopherson is the Founder and CEO of WRKOUT.