Every runner will attest to a fact Mio Global knows very well: Chest straps that monitor heart rates are bulky and annoying. Sure, runners try them because heart rate is a key to monitoring one’s fitness levels, but eventually, they toss them in the garage-sale pile. They’re just not practical.
Much like the Caramilk secret, the built-in heart-rate monitor had remained elusive for fitness-gear manufacturers until Mio Global, a Vancouver-based company, unlocked it.
“Traditionally, to get your heart-rate measure in sports, you need to wear chest straps,” said Mio Global CFO Antonio Arciniega. “They’re uncomfortable and annoying, particularly for women. People don’t wear them because of that, but it’s unfortunate because heart rate is the best indicator of the level of training needed and the level of fitness you’re at.”
With that challenge in mind, Mio figured out a way to measure heart rate at the wrist, making it possible to fit the technology into an unobtrusive watch, or an even simpler wrist band. And recently, one of the industry giants took notice.
Garmin Corp, an industry leader in the fitness sector, recently partnered with Mio through a licensing agreement, to incorporate this coveted technology into its Forerunner 225 watches that will show runners their heart-rate zone and beats-per-minute at a glance.
The tricky part for Mio was figuring out how to measure heart rate while the person is moving, Arciniega said. But Mio’s developers built an optical sensor that shines a light into a user’s skin and measures the amount of light returned. The sensor detects changes as blood pumps through the wrist and algorithms, in turn, translate the data into an accurate heart rate.
“The secret ingredient is in the algorithms that transform the data you capture through those optical sensors,” he said.
Mio itself makes several devices, including its top-of-the-line ALPHA 2, a sports watch that measures training activity, such as distance, speed, pace calories, and heart rate; the FUSE, which tracks your steps all day; and the LINK, which tracks only your heart rate during workouts.
Up until a month ago, Garmin watch users could either wear a chest band or buy a Mio LINK, but that meant two items on the wrist. Now, the technology is all in one Garmin watch.
And while industry watchers call Mio the only heart-rate monitor to trust, it’s not yet a household name for average consumers. But the partnership with Garmin should give Mio’s technology much broader visibility.
“Garmin is the 800-pound gorilla,” Arciniega said. “It is a leader and this deal elevates our brand name and makes us the standard in heart-rate technology.”
Mio’s unfettered growth
Mio is growing exponentially and has had its challenges with banks, which tend to be conservative when it comes to high-growth companies. Recently, Export Development Canada (EDC) provided them with a $1.5 million loan, which enabled them pay for some much-needed inventory.
“EDC understands the business we’re in,” Arciniega said. “The loan takes a huge load off our minds; now we can focus on growing the business.”
Revenues, including licensing deals such as the one signed with Garmin, were $14.8 in 2014 and are projected to hit $27 million this year, so the size of the loan is a game-changer for the company, Arciniega said.
As the name suggests, Mio Global is a truly international company. Only five per cent of its sales come from Canada, while 40 per cent come from the U.S. Europe accounts for 35 per cent of its sales, with Asia taking the balancing at almost 20 per cent.
For EDC, providing financing was an easy decision.
“Mio Global has an impressive product that required significant research and development to commercialize,” said EDC account manager Heather Stokes. “It is really great to work with Canadian SMEs like Mio, companies that are constantly innovating to remain competitive in a fast-paced industry along by taking on the challenge of selling internationally.”
What’s next for Mio? Watch for a next-gen fitness tracker that “has functionalities that aren’t out there in the market,” Arciniega said, offering only a small hint. “Imagine the best of a smart watch with the best of a sports watch.”