Chip Wilson started an empire, now he’s trying to save the body that helped him build it.
The Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist rose to prominence through the late 90s and 2000s as the small yoga clothing company he started in Vancouver, lululemon athletica, took the apparel world by storm.
lululemon athletica would come to redefine how people dressed for exercise, and maybe more notably, how they dressed when they weren't exercising. Wilson’s work practically launched the athleisure style.
And yet, as he built his company around being active, he faced even greater challenges in staying active himself. At 32, doctors diagnosed him with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, or FSHD, a disease that would deteriorate his muscles and put his quality of life at risk.
Now, he’s fighting back. Last year, Wilson launched SOLVE FSHD, an organization to incentivize investments in finding novel technology and methods for a cure for FSHD. Wilson got the idea for the organization from a familiar place, “I started SOLVE FSHD in response to understanding how XPRIZE worked,” said Wilson, “I declared that I would put $100 million into solving the disease by December 31st, 2027.”
With the launch of XPRIZE Healthspan, he is moving past inspiration to co-title sponsorship, including a $10 million FSHD bonus prize to improve muscle function in those with FSHD. With the involvement of the XPRIZE community, Wilson hopes to extend not just the healthy lives of those like him with FSHD, but all humans. “It does not make any sense to have a long lifespan without being healthy. I am thrilled with thinking that I can be functionally healthy both mentally and physically until the end.”
To learn more about Wilson, SOLVE FSHD, and his involvement with XPRIZE, we spoke with the leader himself:
XPRIZE: When did you hear about XPRIZE & what inspired you to get involved?
CHIP WILSON: I first heard about XPRIZE at Abundance360, a conference focused on converging technologies of the future. I was inspired to be a part of this incredible venture by, I believe it was, the concept “Why should I die with money?” I can think of no better place to put my money than to extend the life of myself and the rest of the planet.
XP: What is your personal history with FSHD?
CW: I was diagnosed with FSHD at the age of 32. I was in denial of its long-term effects until I was in an airport in China when my newly-developed ‘drop foot’ collided with the marble floor and I fell flat on my face. Twice in 20 meters. I had lost my left tibia muscle to lift my foot up.
XP: How did your interest in finding a cure for FSHD align with XPRIZE’s goals?
CW: I realized I had the business acumen and the money to act to solve this form of muscular dystrophy. If a solution for FSHD can be accomplished at the same time as a mechanism to reverse muscle age, we have a win-win for everyone. Out of the $100 million funded in SOLVE FSHD, SOLVE FSHD has agreed to contribute an additional $10 million as the possible FSHD Bonus Prize for XPRIZE Healthspan. In addition, we decided to be a foundational funder of the $101 million XPRIZE Healthspan. Being in action keeps me on the court and not in the stands. If I feel I am contributing to science, my mental framework is enhanced.
XP: How do you imagine this work for XPRIZE Healthspan and the FSHD Bonus Prize will impact humans on a global scale?
CW: The number one reason for people dying is not necessarily heart disease, but that people lose their muscle, become frail, fall, and lose their will to live. It is impossible to document the effects of slow muscle loss, so it does not show up in statistics. If we can grow muscle faster than it depletes, we can increase the healthspan of every person on Earth by 10 years.
XP: What’s your personal vision for the future when it comes to healthy aging?
CW: I will be 156 years old at our family’s Thanksgiving dinner and my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren will be laughing at me because I am a loving, old, crotchety man with a twinkle in my eye. Family communication and love are something to dream of.