Wearable technology has been around for years now, with devices like Fitbit, Apple Watch and Suunto helping us track our steps, sleep cycles and heart rate. What started as a fitness trend has since grown into an entire industry with some pretty significant advances in health, prevention and general wellness.
Today, wearable tech is one of the fastest-growing industries, expected to increase from $13,2 b in 2019 and to a projected $104,9 b by 2029. The technology itself is also advancing by leaps and bounds, quickly expanding beyond smartwatches to more sci-fi like products e.g. smart lenses, smart masks, and even e-skin.
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This week’s corporate startup, Samsung’s WELT, has taken wearables into the apparel industry with a smart belt that can track your daily activity, eating habits and even fall risk. Let’s take a closer look at how they made it happen.
How it all started.
Rapid advances in technology combined with high consumer demand for the “next big thing” makes innovation and thought leadership a vital part of the business. As a result, the industry has evolved past the typical appliances (e.g. washers, vacuums, media players) to include things like wearables, VR, AR, smart home technology, 5G technology, and even robots.
As part of its ongoing innovation strategy, Samsung set up its own start-up incubation programme, C-Lab, in 2012. The goal was to provide employees with a free space to create offerings that inspire excitement, capture the imagination, and improve people’s lives – all while remaining leaner and more agile than their competitors.
Through C-lab (short for Creative-Lab), Samsung is successfully investing in its employees to boost innovation and develop a cutting-edge startup ecosystem. The programme enables employees with promising new concepts to work on new projects 100% of the time for up to a year – and turn them into full-fledged startups.
Progressive ideas and initiatives are rewarded with the funding and resources they need to succeed, and even concepts that don’t fit into the core business are often green-lit for development.
Today, C-Lab is divided into two parts:
- C-Lab Inside – Samsung’s original incubator programme, built to uncover new ideas and foster a culture of innovation throughout the company.
- C-Lab Outside – An acceleration programme to support entrepreneurs from outside Samsung with funding, infrastructure, mentoring, consultation services, and partnerships.
The WELT (short for Wellness Belt) is a smart health monitoring device that uses sensors to track your steps, the time you spend sitting, your calorie burn rate and even changes to your waist size. It’s designed to look like a regular men’s leather belt so that it’s less visible than wrist wearables.
The idea for WELT came from its co-founder and CEO Dr. Sean Kang, who had previously spent some time working for the Korean Ministry of Health. Unsatisfied with wrist-worn solutions, he came-up with WELT as a way to combat common problems like obesity, poor posture, overeating and inactivity. As described by Dr. Kang:
“The belt is gathering information for people’s health navigation.”
Together with a team from C-Lab’s incubator programme, WELT was developed from 2014 to 2016 when it was spun-out. The startup more than doubled its original Kickstarter goal of $30,000 with a whopping $72,964.
How it works.
WELT can provide users with information on several health indicators:
- Waist size – A magnetic waist sensor located in the belt buckle tracks changes in your waist size in real time. This can help detect overeating patterns.
- Activity – A built in pedometer tracks the steps you take throughout the day.
- Inactivity – The WELT can also indicate the time you spend sitting down; prompting users to become more aware and take action.
- Calories burned – The calories you’ve burned throughout the day are calculated based on the steps you’ve taken.
An easy to use mobile app displays your data, and provides personalised wellness insights to help you lead a more active, healthy lifestyle. As more individualised data is gathered, the WELT will become even more fine tuned to meet your fitness goals.
Lastly, the WELT comes in a variety of styles for men to match both casual and formal outfits seamlessly.
Investing in startups like WELT is a great way for Samsung to expand beyond its core offerings. By building the startup from scratch, Samsung successfully leveraged its considerable corporate assets to:
- Learn about a new market segment, with different needs and pain points than customers for the typical wrist wearable.
- Experiment with a new type of wearable technology and make adjustments based on customer feedback.
- Explore a new revenue stream that extends beyond Samsung’s core offering.
- Gain valuable customer data that can be used to enhance or create future offerings (e.g. wearables for the office vs sports wearables).
WELT also had a lot to gain through the backing of a tech giant like Samsung. The startup had a considerable headstart over competitors with access to corporate assets like funding, expertise, partnerships and even the physical structure that housed it during the incubation phase.
Since spinning out of C-Lab in 2016, WELT has come up with a new model, the Smart Belt Pro which was launched as the “world’s first fall prevention” wearable. According to the company website, falls among the elderly lead to over 2,8 million injuries, 800.000 hospitalisations and 27.000 deaths per year – so the technology fills a real need in the market.
The new feature helps prevent falls among the elderly by sensing unstable gait patterns (e.g. abnormal speed or symmetry) and sending a warning through the app on the user’s phone. This earned the startup the CES 2020 Innovation Award for wearable technologies. As described by co-founder, Ken Roh:
“For WELT, CES is like a contest that gives us a chance to show off our hard work in the past year. Starting with CES, we will enhance our brand value and begin global market entry in earnest through premium stores in our major markets in the United States and Europe.”
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