In this episode of the SLN Podcast, John Peters is joined by George Sun, the CEO and Founder of Nextiles, a materials science company who has patented the ability to sew circuitry directly into fabrics. George is no stranger to the lab, having completed his PhD in bioengineering from MIT where he was inspired to innovate a new solution for wearable technology through fabric and sewing. George spoke about the genesis of the company, early challenges presented during Covid-19, and the ability to pivot while navigating a fast-growing startup. George shared some great case studies for entrepreneurs as he explains how Nextiles has been building products for professional athletes and how sports found Nextiles as a solution to a major market need. George also spoke about the beauty of sewing technology and why he’s most bullish on leveraging fabrics as a platform for a more connected future.

Podcast Highlights

3:00 – Newlab and the community of engineers in Brooklyn: “It’s really a community of like-minded hardware engineers. So it’s very high hands-on high touch, there’s a tremendous amount of advanced technology and machines at our disposal. So 3D printing to CNC milling machines, to really a good infrastructure to have people in the New York community build things. Because what we don’t want to be is some kind of another platform where dating apps get spun out, we want to build technologies that really impact the world.”

7: 20 – Nextiles is a materials company, not a wearable company: “We are primarily a materials company. We’re a materials company that tries to take the best of both worlds, the fabric world, where it comes to the flexibility, the breathability, the versatility of fabrics with the unique properties of semiconductor devices, things that conduct electricity, things that can create data.”

8:30 – Nextiles is a redefinition of wearables: “We make the clothing themselves motion sensitive here. We’re able to track, you know, movement of the body. And I can tease this right now, but hopefully a future discussion also bot metrics or temperature sensing, EKG sensing and so on.”

10:42 – George’s background while working at Puma: “While I was at MIT, I had the privilege to work with Puma as a joint project with them. And that was essentially to design an instrumented shoe that has all the sensors on the sun, GPS pressure sensors and accelerometers, and so on. And one of the takeaways when you look at the wearable industry is that it’s very mucha a top-down technology.”

14:00 – Nextiles pivoting during COVID-19: “If I can build this for a doctor, it can easily be done for an athlete. And we realized just by listening to the market, rather than forcing the market, listening to the market and having them tell us.”

15:30 – What data points Nextiles is providing for athletes: “Our first customer was literally one of the best athletes in the world. Their demands, although complex, were straightforward for us. It was saying, I want to measure the elbow movement, I want to measure the range of motion, I want to measure the power from my throws. And from that we realized we were more of a gateway to a solution.”

22:00 – How Nextiles creates ‘highly conductive fabrics’: “What we do is we create highly conductive and semiconductive fabrics. So these fabrics are still your polyester, nylon, cotton, spandex. They still feel like they still have those properties, but coded around them and on their surfaces are conductive polymers or compounds. But because of that, because we’re making these conductive in my eyes, in an engineer’s eyes, these are now circuit devices. They now have circuit-like properties. And so when you sew these fibers together, and if you sew them in the correct architecture, you get different sensing modalities.”

24:20 – Nextiles measures Newtonian forces: “We measure the mechanical deformation of fabrics because we sew them in a way that has them bend and stretch and pressure. We can measure most of these mechanical motions.”

30:35 – Anyone who can sew, can do the work we’re doing: “Actually, my mom is probably better at my job than myself, because she’s definitely a better sower than me. And that’s really not a joke. It’s true. Anyone who understands sewing technology, anyone who can sew a seam to a button, to sewing a tag on your shirt, they have the know-how to do the technology that we’re building.”

37:04 – Fabric is the next silicon: “At Nextiles, but what we want to do is really just pioneer the idea that there’s more innovation to be had than Silicon.”