Wilton startup VKTRY Gear is quickly making its name as the go-to place for athletes nationwide looking to increase their performance.
But VKTRY Gear isn’t peddling an exercise regimen, diet or even apparel. Instead its entry in the sports market is a patented performance insole that it says has been scientifically proven to help athletes run faster, jump higher and train smarter.
Fabricated of aerospace-grade carbon fiber, VKTRY insoles weigh less than 1 ounce and are less than 1 millimeter thick. VKTRY Gear founder and President Matt Arciuolo explained that his product simply replaces the standard insoles that come with athletic shoes to provide more explosive power in all sports that require ground force.
Arciuolo is a board-certified pedorthist specializing in pain management and performance enhancement using custom footwear and orthotics, a specialty within the medical field making use of externally applied devices to modify the structural and functional characteristics of the neuromuscular and skeletal system.
Through his other company, Footstar Orthotics, which he still runs in Milford, Arciuolo was introduced to the 2006 U.S. Olympic bobsled and skeleton team training in Lake Placid by a physical therapist friend who served as its strength coach. There Arciuolo was given the mission of trying to improve the “push” phase of the team’s run.
“As I learned more about the sport, I realized that if I could make something for track shoes that could improve their speed by as little as two-to-three hundredths of a second, that would make a significant difference,” he said.
The key, Arciuolo said, was to improve an athlete’s “explosivity” by returning much of the energy expended by pressing one’s foot down back into the body. The VK is that solution, Arciuolo said. Its highly flexible properties were demonstrated to the Business Journal by VKTRY Gear CEO Steve Wasik, who bounced the insole around VKTRY’s office at 2 Hollyhock Lane with a simple flick of the wrist.
The carbon fiber technology necessary to manufacture the insoles has only been around for about 25 years, Arciuolo noted. “In fact, we originally were manufacturing them in Lithuania,” he said. Since January 2016, however, VKs have been manufactured in a plant near Athens, Georgia.
One could say that Arciuolo was born for this line of work. He’s the fourth generation of his family to own Arciuolo’s Shoes, which claims to be Connecticut’s oldest shoe store; it was opened in Milford by his great-grandfather Francesco in 1921. He joked that the store’s longevity is rivaled only by that of his father, Matthew, who recently observed his 100th birthday. “He still lifts weights every day, still drives, still watches Fox News,” he marveled.
The family connection has spilled over to VKTRY, where Arciuolo’s wife, Felicia, serves as treasurer and their son Christian as head of operations. The company has six employees in Wilton and 10 sales reps around the country.
Following VKTRY’s experiences with the Olympics — the company expects to be “very present” at next month’s games in South Korea, Wasik said — it quickly began to make a name for itself among pro and college athletes in a variety of sports. Those include Houston Astros outfielder George Springer, who won last year’s World Series M.V.P. Award; three-time track-and-field Olympic gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta; and Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins.
The insoles are usually purchased either by individual athletes or through a team’s athletic trainers. Wasik said the company typically will provide several pairs to teams for free to prove their superiority. He noted that a number of New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles players will be wearing VKs in the Feb. 4 Super Bowl.
All told, members of more than 120 teams, either professional or at the Division 1 college level, now use VKs, he said.
At a price of $199 per pair, VKs are likely to be bought only by athletes, which is VKTRY’s primary market, Wasik said. Non-athletes looking for therapeutic value are better served by products designed for that field, which typically cost around $70 a pair.
Nevertheless, Wasik said, “There are about 65 million athletes in the U.S. over 15 years old who participate in sports where ground force is a factor. We’ve got a lot of room to grow.”
VKTRY is just starting to dip its toe into international waters. Wasik said the company is testing its product in Australia and hopes to have a presence in three international markets by year’s end.
Wasik declined to give specific sales figures, but said the company grew five times on a year over year basis in 2017 and expects to grow 10 times larger this year. The company recently embarked upon a series A round of financing, and has engaged Stamford’s Hudson Partners Securities to help it raise $5 million in capital, he said.