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ARION ultra-thin smart insoles with nano-tech sensors and advanced training pods

Please introduce yourself and your startup ARION to our readers!

I live in Eindhoven in the Netherlands but was originally born in the UK/Britain. I’ve always had a passion for technology and the human body and took this with me in many of the choices I’ve made. I studied Physics and also Sports, Exercise Sciences, and Biomechanics as a double major at Loughborough University and went on to do a PhD at the Sports Technology Institute. 

During my PhD I met with TNO, the Dutch National Research Institute, who were collaborating with the Sports Technology Institute on a project focused on 3D printing of running shoes. TNO ultimately invited me to come and work with them as part of a research group based in Eindhoven focused on wearable sensing systems to measure the human body for a variety of applications ranging from elderly fallers, rehabilitation, safety in the workplace, and a variety of sports of which running, and running related injuries was a key focus.

I was working on a project that was focused on measuring human biomechanics using sensors that included pressure sensing insoles, and co-ordinated research with several institutes across Europe including, the Luxembourg Institute of Health and Maastricht University. After almost 8 years of research we had established a number of patents and a huge amount of knowledge related to human movement, particularly in the field of running and running-related injuries which would ultimately form the basis for our ARION innovations.

How did you get the idea of ARION?

During my first research project at TNO, we were approached by Dutch elite running coaches that were searching for a way to better understand how their athletes were moving to be able to objectively measure and compare running biomechanics in the top athletes they were working with. At this time, back in 2008, it was about the time the very first iPhone was being introduced to the market, and most peoples ideal of wearable technology was a basic Nokia phone or a standard wrist watch, so most of the world was not familiar with such small compact sensing devices and it was the first time researchers were able to start making measurements in the field in scalable fashion and opened the door to a huge number of opportunities to learn how humans move in natural environments.

In my years of studying and researching the human body and the power of exercise on our physical and mental health, it became clear that there is a huge amount of science that can bring benefit to people around the world, but this science is often captured and trapped in research papers, and in the minds of experts and scientists. With ARION we aim to make exercise sciences accessible to anyone through the interactive experiences and visualisations that our products provide.

Why did you decide to start with ARION?

After almost 8 years of research and development, the patents and knowledge that we had developed at TNO could only reach users if all this work would be translated into products and a commercial proposition in the market. As a research institute, TNO was not in a position to do this, and required entrepreneurs or company’s to take over the knowledge position and translate it into products. With the years I had worked on this proposition and the potential I saw in the opportunity, I made the choice to leave the comfort and stability of my job at TNO and searched for a business partner that had the skills and experience to develop products. Ultimately I teamed up with Jurgen van den Berg and together we founded our first start-up company in 2015, which would ultimately lead to the creation of  ARION.

What is the vision behind ARION?

We believe that every runner, and every run, is completely unique. Because of this, we require a better understanding of ourselves as individual runners. Our unique metrics, the meaning behind them, and the relationships between them. Specific to our bodies, our technique and our goals. This is our individual Running Identity.

ARION is a next-generation innovation that grants you an unparalleled understanding of your Running Identity. Helping you to run faster, longer, and safer. At ARION we help people improve the way they move, by making cutting-edge movement and exercise sciences accessible and meaningful for everyone.

How difficult was the start and which challenges did you have to overcome?

Building a start-up is hugely challenging. We started our adventure with little more than personal savings and some patents and technical knowledge. Building a team with no resources is incredibly challenging, and it means everyone in the company has to learn and experience things well outside of their comfort zone, a lot of the things you might take for granted when working in a large organization. We had to be the legal department, the financial department, the sales and marketing department, build our own supply chain and production processes, and everything in between. All the time you’re trying to build the business, you also need to attract the attention of investors and try to raise funds to be able to hire a bigger team and move to market more quickly.

The early days of the start-up adventure are incredibly exciting but require a huge amount of tenacity, commitment and drive to get through some tough times when there’s little or no money to help solve your problems. In the beginning it’s a typical chicken and egg challenge, you need money to build and manufacture, or at least prototype, to get proof from the market that there is sufficient commercial opportunity for this truly innovative and new product. Investors can provide the funds you need, but they usually want to see proof that there’s a sufficient market to justify the investment.

In the end we unlocked this challenge over a period of more than 18 months by committing all our waking hours to building and testing our first basic concept products together with enthusiastic believers, and using tools like pre-orders to build sufficient proof points for the first investors to be sufficiently convinced to fund our proposition and allow us to build the foundations of the company we are today.

Who is your target audience?

As Nike says, “if you have a body, you are an athlete”. So we believe our innovations can benefit anyone looking to improve their mobility and movement. Our key audience right now are the specialists of the running industry, running brands, retailers, and runners that are passionate about running and everything it has to offer. Our earliest customers were runners themselves, dedicated enthusiasts that are inspiring athletes, participating in running events and marathons, and tend to be thought leaders and influencers in their local communities.

We have stayed close to the heart of the running community as we have increased our focus in running retail, working together with and supporting the hubs of the running communities, providing exceptional expertise and services, supported by our products. Today we are targeting strong partnerships with the most influential players in the industry, running centered brands that are leading shoe innovation, and retailers that are leading the way in next-generation retail experiences and digitization.

What is the USP of your startup?

Since founding the company in 2015 we have built a tightly knit, multidisciplinary team of talented individuals that have embraced and built upon the foundations of over a decade of research. This team translates the rich knowledge base, expertise, and patents into products that have formed the unique ARION eco-system. Capable of providing meaningful services at every level of the running industry. I think ARIONs extensive roots in science, research, and technical expertise is unique in this industry and means we are able to make cutting-edge movement and exercise sciences accessible to the world of running. 

Can you describe your typical workday?

Almost every day is different in the start-up world, so I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical workday. We usually start the day with a stand-up, each sub-team spends a few minutes together to align what they’re working on and where they are spending their time, identify bottlenecks and dependencies and ask for help from each other. I try to pull meetings next to each other, right at the beginning or end of the morning/afternoon to create space for focus blocks to spend uninterrupted time on my focus.

We try to hold a regular off-site strategy day once every quarter to give us space to think outside of day-to-day operations, and recheck our strategy and plans and make decisions regarding the course we are following. I also find it highly valuable to find opportunities to join sales team visits to customers from time to time. It can be very insightful to be able to hear and understand how customers look at your products and company.

Where do you see yourself and your startup ARIONin five years?

With ARION we are building an eco-system capable of providing services at every level of the running industry. In 5 years time we aim to be a key enabler in the industry, ensuring that runners are able to find shoes that perfectly match their personal biomechanics and movement patterns to reduce injury risk and improve performance.

We want to become part of the consideration process when buying new shoes, helping people understand their own unique running technique, and guiding them to select the optimal shoe technologies to match their individual needs

Ultimately we also aim to help shoe brands and manufacturers identify opportunities for new shoe innovations to create even better shoe designs. We are already working directly with retailers and brands to help create even better, faster, and safer running shoes based on the data and insights we have generated through our product innovations.

What 3 tips would you give to founders?

Don’t give up – it will get difficult, it will feel impossible at times, but tough times will pass and if you find a way through, you’ll know you’ve really achieved something.

Don’t be afraid to change your plans – whilst it’s important to test your plans and ideas fully, and this will mean investing time, money, and energy into them, there can be a point when it is important to make the decision to change course, and try another direction. Agility is one of the most powerful assets of a start-up. It’s not a failure, it takes bold and brave steps to change your plan when something is not working. You need to continually evolve and respond to the world around you.

Stay focused – whilst changing course is positive, you need to choose a course first to be able to change it. It’s very tempting to jump on every opportunity that comes across your path, especially when you might be short on funds or resources, but spreading yourself too thin will mean you don’t really validate if anything is, or is not, working. From making these mistakes ourselves, I would, and I’m sure the rest of our team would advocate focus, push all your energy into a clear course, then change the course if it doesn’t work.

Hedging your bets by doing too many things at once is a trap almost every entrepreneur will fall into. It’s incredibly hard to say no to tempting opportunities when you don’t know if your current plan will work out, but failing fast is now recognised as a strong strategy and is only possible when you have sufficient focus.

Thank you Andrew Statham for the Interview

Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.

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