Where Bras Meet Software: Zyrra Raises Money From Jess McLear, Jean Hammond, & Local Angels For Its Bra Industry “Revolution”

10/19/10Follow @xconomy

Derek Ohly is known as the “bra guy,” both around the office at MassChallenge, the startup accelerator and entrepreneur competition, and throughout the Boston-area investor community, he says.

“I didn’t expect to end up in the world of bras, and here I am,” says Ohly, a graduate of Babson College’s MBA program (a likely story). “I have designed them, sewn them, fit them, and sourced them. As I like to put it, I have a PhD in bras.”

This isn’t just a weird hobby for Ohly. He’s CEO of Zyrra, a MassChallenge finalist company that’s using computer-aided-design (CAD) software, a patent-pending bra measurement system, and Tupperware-style parties to get custom-fit bras into the hands of women who just aren’t happy with how theirs currently fit.

“Bra guy” is a relatively new gig for Ohly, dating back to about 2004, when his MBA classmate and now Zyrra co-founder Christi Andersen mentioned that there was a pervasive problem with bra fit. So Ohly, who says he was overwhelmed by the number of women sharing Andersen’s gripes, set out in the bra business. He started by taking a sewing class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

“I said, ‘I’m here to learn how to make bras.’ It was a good moment,” he says, noting that he was the only guy in the class. The group of women responded, “Sign me up,” when he explained his aim to make better-fitting bras—early market validation for the company’s product, he says.

Zyrra incorporated in late 2004 and spent a few years designing, prototyping, and building the bra models and the sizing system to plug into the CAD platform in order to design them in a more individualized way, and came out with its first bra model around 2007. The startup worked out of office space in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood before moving to MassChallenge for the accelerator and business plan competition phase this summer.

Ohly and Andersen’s company isn’t just unique in that it’s applying software that’s typically been used for architecture and product development in the electronics, engineering, and furniture sectors to lingerie-making. The startup also has a different makeup of investors than most others in the tech space. The lead investor for its Series A financing, which is expected to close later this month in the range of $500,000 to $700,000, is angel investor Jess McLear, a member of angel group Golden Seeds and also a mentor at MassChallenge. Jean Hammond, another Golden Seeds member, has also backed the company.

“The angel community is about 90 percent men,” Ohly says. “We will have a slightly different breakdown.”

The company sells its bras (as well as matching underwear) through … Next Page »

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