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Innovative Anchor Ventures Event on “The New Fabric of Baltimore” Featured in BBJ

Why tech folks need designers: ‘If it’s not easy to wear, people won’t wear it.’

Entrepreneur Frederic Chanay has been working for seven years to design T-shirts and sports bras that are able to constantly collect biomedical data on the people wearing them. But he’s also discovered how important it is for those clothes to look and feel cool.

Chanay’s Canada-based company OMsignal makes clothing outfitted with electrocardiography (ECG), respiration, and physical activity sensors. Information collected from the sensors is stored on a smartphone or in the cloud so patients with health conditions that may require longterm management, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can better track their own health data.

But often it doesn’t matter how cool or advanced a piece of technology is in a garment, Chanay told a crowd of tech businesspeople and students at an Anchor Ventures event Thursday. It is also important that the garment looks cool.

“If it’s not comfortable, if it’s not attractive, if it’s not easy to wear, people won’t wear it — even if their life depends on it,” he said.

Anchor Ventures, a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures, UM Ventures and the University System of Maryland, is a monthly techoriented event series. Chanay said he sees a lot of potential in Baltimore for innovative garment startups like his to grow, especially with the city’s strong history in manufacturing and expertise in tech and biotech among institutions like Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland, Baltimore.

Maryland Institute College of Art’s President Samuel Hoi, who spoke on a panel during Thursday’s event, agreed there is a lot of opportunity in Baltimore for tech and design experts to collaborate and build innovative new products.

“I think it’s about bringing different communities — the tech sector, the business sector, the creative sectors — together,” he said. “Technologies could be 100 times more successful if we build in user experience and design right from the get go.”

Some entrepreneurs are already looking to forge stronger relationships between the city’s tech and design worlds to revive the Baltimore garment manufacturing industry. Stacy Stube, a local designer and fashion entrepreneur in residence at University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is launching a new program aimed at providing mentorship and training to Baltimore’s growing community of fashion-related startups and small businesses.

Stube said she has seen a kind of revival of Baltimore’s fashion-making industry, but the definition of “fashion” has been shifting. She pointed to startups that are making clothes for a specific purpose, or incorporating wearable technologies.

The Anchor Ventures event featured several of those startups including At Night Athletic, a local startup which is developing workout clothes that light up so people can exercise safely at night, and Clear Mask, a startup that is developing new translucent surgical mask to facilitate better doctor-patient communication. MICA students also attended the event to represent the potential for incorporating design and aesthetics with wearable tech.

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