“When coaches hear about this new technology, they don’t believe that it works. But once they see it in person, their jaws hit the ground,” jokes Lance Heron, Principal CEO for Armilla.
Lance’s career as a coach has taken him all over the world. He’s worked with teams of all sizes, including the NCAA and as a guest coach for the CFL. He’s also organized and run training camps for NFL players. During that time, he came to recognize the various challenges that impact how well he can perform his duties—only having a set amount of plays at a game, unreliable network connections for communicating, and teams stealing each other’s tactics.
On a November morning in 2019, Lance woke from a dream at his home in Salmon Arm, BC, with an idea in his head that would solve each of these problems. He imagined a set of devices that would allow football coaches to communicate with players on the field. On the surface, this seems like a straightforward application of tech in sports, but he soon realized the breadth of opportunity it would bring.
Introducing Armilla, a wearable device that allows athletes on the field to receive plays from the coach through a customized tablet. Working with Neuronic Works, an R&D firm in North York Toronto, Armilla was able to create a suite of benefits not previously seen to football teams, including a patented communication technology that ensures stable communication between the devices anywhere.
“An unintended benefit of the device is how it leverages how tuned in we are to our phones,” Lance calls out. “During a huddle, we saw all the players chatting away until the wristband vibrates when a play is received. They all stopped talking, read their screens, and focused on the next play.”
This technology has also created opportunities for more players to enjoy the sport. “Jarvis Anderson, a top college prospect out of Texas who’s been deaf since birth, needs a sign-language interpreter to run on the field if he’s going to receive a play. We received a letter from his father saying that Armilla was the answer to all his prayers. And that’s bigger than anything for me,” explains Lance.
Bringing more opportunities to players isn’t the only benefit Lance has seen. Since they started piloting their devices, Armilla has seen some incredible examples of how they’re able to change the game. “A Texas football team used our tech during practice for three weeks. With Armilla, they ran three times more plays than they normally do.”
Lance continued by highlighting a recent success story they had where a team was able to use their tech during a game, “the Langley Rams football team were using Armilla tech during the 113 Canadian Bowl in 2021 and they won their first-ever national championship.” Not only was it a historic win for the team, but the Rams shut out their opponents 37-0—something that hasn’t been done at the Canadian Bowl since 2003.
We designed this for everybody to use, not just big leagues.
Armilla’s logo is printed on the inside of the cover of the wristband. While this may feel like a missed opportunity for publicity, it’s actually an intentional decision. “We want teams to be able to go out and get sponsors to put their logos on the outside. That can pay for the wristband and the team to play. We even have people who will help teams find sponsors and share ideas on ways they can raise money. We designed this for everybody to use, not just big leagues.”
In the spring of 2020, Lance and his partner Gerhard DeBeer—a former player for the Green Bay Packers—joined Accelerate Okanagan’s Venture Acceleration Program (VAP). “I’ve been a coach and an undercover customs investigator, and DeBeer’s education is in computers, so the business training we got from Accelerate Okanagan really helped us get Armilla started.”
After graduating from VAP, Lance and Gerhard jumped right into the RevUP program. “Lance’s history and network within the sports community is incredible. He has an unbelievable ability to raise capital solely through his salesmanship and connections,” recalls Sheldon Gardiner, one of Accelerate Okanagan’s Executives in Residence that worked with Armilla.
Between the core staff, contractors and R&D employees, there are now nearly 50 people working for Armilla. And that’s not including the sales ambassadors working in different parts of the world finding new leads for the team. “Lance has been on our programs for almost 2 years, starting VAP with just an idea, and now he’s piloting the product and growing his team after completing RevUP,” explains Jenna Stasuk, Programs Manager for Accelerate Okanagan.
There is a chance this could benefit virtually every industry.
With the increasing popularity in Armilla’s tech, Lance holds firm that he will be staying in Salmon Arm. “My team isn’t all located in town, but they’re communicating remotely and finding success. We even have the potential to bring our manufacturing local once I’m able to make those connections,” Lance is quick to answer. “It might cost me a bit more, but it keeps the jobs and R&D in Canada. That’s what I want.”
As Lance has been meeting with coaches and leagues, he has been approached by other organizations that could benefit from his patented technology. “We’re football guys, so that’s what we thought of first. But think about warehouse task assignments, emergency alerts, or military communications. There is a chance this could benefit virtually every industry.”
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