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Wearables: Mark Harris-led HeroWear raising Seed, maps Series A round
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CEO Mark Harris, PhD, MBA

CEO Mark Harris PhD confirmed for Venture Nashville that HeroWear, the manufacturer of an "exosuit" lift-assistance device that fits like clothing and offloads some energy from working low-back muscles, is raising $1.5MM in Seed capital.

Proceeds will go mainly toward ramping manufacturing -- initially in the U.S. -- to serve the global market with offerings derived from Vanderbilt University intellectual property, which the company has licensed.

The company had attracted $965K -- its first outside capital -- as of the filing yesterday. Investors totaled 12, at that point.

Asked about a Series A, Harris acknowledged that such a raise is likely to begin in 2H 2020. He declined to suggest a magnitude for that offering, but said that Seed proceeds are going mainly to ramping product manufacturing.

The low end of the value of the addressable U.S. market for HeroWear is at least $10BN and Harris said he believes it could manifest as large as $50BN or more. The HeroWear exosuit pricepoint is currently $1,200 each. The company is generating revenue.

VNC research shows that in award year 2019 the company also won at least one federal SBIR Phase I grant of nondilutive funding totaling $225K.

The SBIR grant's documentation says, in part, "The broader impact/commercial potential of this... project is to develop mechanized clothing technology to reduce physical disability, healthcare costs and missed work for material and package-handlers in the logistics industry. Workers in this industry are at high risk of developing low back pain (LBP) due to the physical demands of repeated leaning and lifting. There are currently no solutions for this occupation that are effective, affordable, practical and unobtrusive."

Karl Zelik PhD

Harris is named on a March 4 SEC filing by the company, along with Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer Karl Zelik PhD, investor and director Curt Thorne and VU Assistant Vice Chancellor Alan Bentley (head of VU technology transfer and commercialization).

Matt Yandell

Zelik and Matt Yandell PhD, the the company's chief innovation officer, are co-founders of the company. Google Patents shows Zelik wearable assistive devices USPTO filings here.

Zelik, an assistant professor in the Vanderbilt School of Engineering, represents HeroWear when participating in such programs as the exo-standards-setting efforts of ATM F48 Committee of the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM).

Thorne is, according to his LinkedIn, also an LP with Nashville-based Council Capital, and is the former CEO of Evercore (fka MedSolutions, sold to CareCore in 2014), and is an investor and director in Concert Genetics. Concert (originally NextGxDx) is the Nashville startup Harris previously founded and led and in which Thorne and Harris remain minority investors.

Harris said that among companies that might be considered competitors to HeroWear include exosuit-oriented, Tempe, Ariz.-based Kinetic Edge, and, exoskeleton-oriented, Netherlands-based LAEVO, and Emeryville-Calif.-based suitX.

The company has a three employees and nine or so outside advisors.

Among those advisors, Harris cited attorneys with DLA Piper, an international firm that has an Atlanta office; bankers with StudioBank; and, accounting services by Inflammo.

Marketing is currently assigned locally based Alpha Echo Agency LLC, formed two years ago by Co-founders Marc Acton and Eric Elmquist PhD. Elmquist is also executive director of BioTN Foundation, an affiliate of Life Science Tennessee.

The CEO said he learned of Zelik's technology while serving on the entrepreneurship advisory board of the VU Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization.

He explained that the thread that HeroWear and Concert Genetics represent in his career is woven around his recognition that the businesses had potential to create new marketplaces for much needed products and services.

There's perhaps no surprise that Harris is a guy who likes such challenges, given that he's also the fellow who not long ago enjoyed running rim-to-rim and back across the Grand Canyon, and currently recreates by doing technical Alpine climbing.

He's also an entrepreneur who was previously involved in Vanderbilt track, cross-country and triathlon events during the 10 years he spent on the VU campus, where he earned his bachelor's, Owen GSM MBA and PhD in cancer biology.

Harris, 38, is now in his third commercial venture. Prior to forming Concert Genetics, and while still working on his PhD, he created and operated four years TriathlonDVD Productions, which made training videos for participants in some of his favorite athletic pursuits. His LinkedIn profile is here.

Harris and his wife, and their two sons, reside in Davidson County. VNC's other HeroWear coverage here. VNC

. upper market size corrected 1144 last edit 1220 5 March 2020

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Tags: Alan Bentley, Alpha Echo Agency, apparel, commercialization, Concert Genetics, Curt Thorne, DLA Piper, Eric Elmquist, exoskeleton, exosuit, healthcare, HeroWear, Inflammo, Karl Zelik, Marc Acton, Mark Harris, Matt Yandell, NextGxDx, robotics, School of Engineering, Studio Bank, technology transfer, Vanderbilt University, wearables, workers

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