A wearable fitness tracker and an app that allows you to play fetch with Fido from afar were no match for the VaGenie — which literally turns Kegels into a game — at this year’s Pittsburgh-based International Hardware Cup.
At AlphaLab Gear in East Liberty on Wednesday night, the VaGenie was crowned winner, earning $50,000 in investment funds and other prizes, including a trophy made at TechShop.
The AlphaLab Gear International Hardware Cup started three years ago with a handful of cities and has grown to be one of the largest competitions in the world for early stage companies, Ilana Diamond, managing director of AlphaLab Gear, said as the competition began. For 2017, the final contest — yes, held in Pittsburgh — featured winners from seven regional contests in the U.S. and international contests in Canada, India, Israel, Japan and South Korea.
Atlas Wristband, a wearable device designed by the South Regional winner that’s “like a GPS for health and fitness,” placed second, winning $5,000. PlayDate, from the Southeast Regional, earned $3,000 for taking the third spot. The company created a robotic toy that pet owners can control from their cell phones to play with their cat or dog from afar.
All three beat out Pittsburgh-based Rubitection Inc., winner of the Mid-Atlantic Regional. The handheld device aims for early detection of bedsores and the companion software aids with patient care. All of the competitors, as well as several local companies, get to meet with potential investors Friday.
Hardware Cup champion Julia Rose said she picked a “cheeky” name for her company on purpose.
Rose told judges that she plans to infuse humor with women’s health to sell the VaGenie. Events like “VaGenie Martini” gatherings encourage women to talk about the product, which allows women to play games by doing Kegels and learn proper techniques to strengthen their pelvic floor and prevent a variety of health issues — such as lower back pain and organ prolapse — while tracking their progress. Its website urges “thinking inside the box” and to “exercise your inner strength.”