George Pierce’s garage looks like combination of a running shoe store and a Franken-shoe workshop. There are shelves filled with dozens of brands of shoes, many of which George has ripped apart, modified and re-engineered all in with the aim of getting rid of the shoelaces.
Why? “I was losing time during duathlon transitions getting my shoes on and off. I wanted a better way,” George says. His better way – a Bend startup called Pierce Footwear – provides professional athletes, several local runners and the entire U.S. Special Olympics Winter Team with an innovative lace-less shoe.
Now George is starting to raise a Series A to ramp production of his shoes and make them even more widely available.
From couch to Worlds
George’s background is mix of tech, entrepreneurship and professional athletics. Before starting Pierce Footwear in 2013, he spent a decade working in Silicon Valley. He founded a tech company, which gave employers a way to track their employees’ wellness, that was acquired in 2008.
He was a professional, world champion duathlete from 1989 to 1999 and then raced again for the U.S. Team from 2011 to 2015. He’d retired in the interim when tragedy struck – George was hit by a car while riding his bike in 2010.
“I was almost killed. I broke my neck and back,” he says. George threw himself into his recovery, with the goal of making a comeback to not just duathlon races, but racing at the elite level again. He made the U.S. Team in 2011 and raced at the world duathlon championship that same year. “I went from the couch to the world championship in 16 months.”
An idea with legs – and feet
That brings us back up to where we started: George was racing again and wanted faster transition times. It was a problem that, of course, he figured he could solve himself by inventing better shoes. “I took my shoes and my idea to a cobbler and said can we do this?” George recalls. “We built the first prototype in two weeks.”
George started racing on his invention, and realized that indeed his transitions were getting faster. Convinced he had an idea with legs, he booked a ticket to Korea, which is the hub of all shoe manufacturing. He made 400 prototypes in his first year, selling them at cost to anyone who could offer feedback – professional athletes, neighbors, his kids.
People loved them. And George quickly realized that the fact that his shoes were so quick and easy to slip on made them great products not just for elite athletes, but for people with limited mobility, hard-to-fit feet and other shoe struggles. And another market was born.
Investing in a mission
The Pierce Footwear T-1s officially hit the market in March 2016. At that point the company was running on a seed round of investment and George’s passion for the product. They sponsored several athletes at the Special Olympic Nationals, and George began exploring a geographic move.
“It was hard to get any visibility in Silicon Valley; no one there cares about shoes” he says. “So I moved someplace where people actually use my stuff.” Several Bend athletes have tried Pierce Footwear, coming back with good reviews.
He’s gained even more visibility by sponsoring the entire U.S. Special Olympics team at the Winter Games in March of this year. The company is aiming to provide 2,000 pairs of shoes for the athletes and you can help that effort. And George is also raising a $2 million Series A in order to ramp up his manufacturing and spread the mission of Pierce Footwear around the world.
“We’re serving the underserved,” he says. “We want to get these shoes to people who can use them, and people who need them.”
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].