Fitness wearables bulk up as consolidation trends build

With the health and fitness wearables segment growing rapidly, big players are bulking up in order to compete in a fast growing global market.

In a recent article, TheStreet.com observes the mounting consolidation-related activity in the health wearables space. And with Woodside Capital Partners predicting global shipments of wearables to grow from 19.6 million units in 2014 to 126.1 million in 2019, investment in the segment that includes fitness and health wearables are growing at light speed.

The article cites the wave of consolidation that is beginning to become apparent in such deals as Nokia’s purchase of French consumer wearable-maker Withings and the acquisition of activity trackers Misfit by Texas-based watch maker Fossil Group.

“The big players are smelling a big market,” said Ventech managing partner Jean Bourcereau.

And the size of the company is particularly important for manufacturers of health and fitness wearable devices in this explosive market.

Emanuele Levi, general partner with Paris-based venture capital firm 360 Capital Partners estimates that only about 10 firms worldwide ship more than a million units per year. Meanwhile, the remainder of the market is made up of smaller players who do not understand they need to very rapidly become much bigger to remain competitive in such a fast-growing market.

“They think they can [make] a nice device, which is very similar to the existing ones, but maybe with a little twist, and they think they can build from scratch a business,” he said.

Levi also says that wearable manufacturers need to develop coherent strategies for effectively monetizing the huge amounts of data they are generating through their connected devices.

“The wearable business becomes extremely interesting if they monetize the data,” he said. “I’ve seen very few cases of wearable companies that are capable of developing a unique application and monetizing their user base or the data they collect.”

Fitness wearables firms aren’t waiting for suitors

And while acquisitions in the wearables space begins to gain momentum, some players are choosing to go it alone rather than pursue tie-ups.

Fitbit, the San Francisco-based industry leader in fitness bands, decided to go public in June 2015 to remain independent. Not only does staying independent allow tech firms to remain competitive with the big players, but it gives them added impetus when challenging increasing government regulation of data tracked by health and wellness devices.

“You need to be able to raise enough money before you go the regulators,” said Frederic Cazals, whose law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges advised Withings. “In the U.S., you have to discuss with the regulatory authorities and it’s not easy to be able to develop objects that you can sell all over the world.”

Meanwhile, European wearable manufacturers may find it more difficult to stay independent in the current environment. Which may be why Euro firms are beginning to explore the benefits of going public on Nasdaq after building a presence in America, where the majority of the current market is located. According to MaRS Discovery District North America comprised 52% of global sales value of medical wearable devices and 44% of connected fitness devices, versus only about 25% for Europe.

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