Oura wellness ring from Finland challenges activity bracelets

11/12/2015
What happens when you take Finnish design expertise, decades of experience in software and electronics, and world-class research, and combine these with a passion for improving health?

Add experience in consumer electronics with Nokia and Polar, and an international approach, and the result is a ring – designed and manufactured in Oulu – containing electronics that monitor body reactions, quality of sleep, activity and recovery.

"Activity bracelets are unable to monitor quality of sleep as accurately as a ring that optically monitors your heart rate, breathing rhythm and various physiological changes," says Chief Technology Officer Kari Kivelä.

"For instance, when you are at rest at night your heart rate provides plenty of information on how well your mind and body have recovered. "

This autumn, ŌURA, the ring-sized wellness computer and mobile phone application,
which visualises health data, is ready to conquer health technology markets in the United
States and elsewhere.

ŌURA team founders Kari Kivelä and CEO Petteri Lahtela, and Marketing Communications
Manager Marjut Uusitalo, see health technology moving to the next stage: activity bracelets have conquered the world, but their users only aim at 10,000 steps a day for a few months, or weeks in the worst-case scenario.

"Wellness technology needs more comprehensive, richer, personalised data that takes account of cause and effect relationships over a longer time-span and genuinely influences wellbeing through motivation and by providing the user with clear instructions on how to actually influence his or her wellbeing. Design and comfort of use are further key factors. The Apple Watch has already raised the value of design," says Petteri Lahtela.

This autumn has been exciting for the startup, which ran a crowdfunding campaign on the Kickstarter platform and raised over 650,000 US dollars in a short period of time. Production of rings is about to begin in Oulu, and a web shop was opened in late October.

"The campaign was our 'Early Adapter Customer Acquisition' test and a kind of 'Proof of Market Entry'," says Lahtela with a smile.

Crowdfunding campaigns always involve the risk of public failure. ŌURA considered its campaign for almost a year.

"On the other hand, it is the most cost-efficient way of gaining media exposure and testing how well potential buyers understand the advantages of the product, and whether they are ready to make a purchase decision on that basis. Before entering the market, we wanted to see whether this product category and form factor attracted enough interest."

Entry into the market ahead of competitors

During over two and a half years of product development, the startup has faced many tricky
questions. How to make electronics fit into a small ring and make it work without a hitch? How to present the key facts, based on rich data produced by complex algorithms, in a visual and understandable way? How to design the ring to make it comfortable to wear, waterproof and yet a beautiful piece of jewellery? How to manufacture the ring in large quantities?

"The Tekes product development loan was key in terms of our success. The creation of a new product category involved a massive effort," says Kari Kivelä.

The team that created the ring includes several partners and top experts, such as industrial
designer Harri Koskinen. A group of investors opened doors, and the ŌURA team is
extremely thankful for their efforts in forging contacts, challenging the team, and providing advice.

The backing team includes Jyri Engeström, Marko Ahtisaari, plus Timo Ahopelto and Petteri Koponen from LifeLine Ventures capital investment. The investment round, which ended last summer, saw a new group of highly experienced advisors and internationally renowned investors join the ranks of supporters, including Mårten Mickos, Ari Tulla and Dr Jerry Kram. Dr Kram is a sleep disorder researcher, the head of a sleep disorder research centre and a long-term board member of the National Sleep Foundation from California.

Networks are extremely valuable at the moment: "Market entry is very challenging, as you have no sales figures to display, the costs are front-loaded and no substantial public support is available for this phase," says Kivelä.

ŌURA's market launch was prepared over a long period in the main market area, the United
States. The company has forged contacts with opinion leaders and participated in several trade fairs. ŌURA has one employee in California, is currently recruiting more and the company's key persons have spent months on-site.

"You cannot understand the market properly unless you go and see it for yourself. Once the
product is ready, it is too late. Contacts have to be formed in advance."

 

Text: Eeva Landowski
Photo: ŌURA

Eeva Landowski
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