“Yes, in England we are really on the map.” From the London marathon, April 22nd, Andrew Statham CEO of ATO-Gear traveled up and down from Eindhoven to England every week. Where they launched their smart insole, Arion. In 2015 they presented their technical ingenuity during the Eindhoven marathon. Three years later they set foot on the English market and won prizes: the Yahoo Sports Technology Awards and the SPIN Lab Award. They also settled at Loughborough University. The university where Statham studied and “the best university in the world for sports-related subjects”. They can think of no better place to set up a second office.

The launch during the London marathon was great, Statham says. In between everything, he put on his running shoes. At the exhibition of the London Marathon, you can run 400 meters on a huge treadmill at the marathon pace of Eliud Kipchoge, reigning Olympic champion at the marathon and winner London Marathon 2018. “That was ‘fun’.” Nowadays, the Englishman does not have much time for relaxation. Besides traveling up and down to England, he is also busy with ‘investor stuff’ as he calls it. The SPIN Lab award gives them access to international investors in the world of wearable sports technology. SPIN Lab is part of Hype Sports Innovation, a global ecosystem with more than 26,000 members from the sports world. Hype Sports Innovation organizes the SPIN Lab acceleration program in Australia, Italy and thus England, among other countries.

ATO-gear as ‘most investable company’

“We received the award as ‘the most investable company’. The jury said that of all the participants, Arion is one of the few companies they would invest in and the only CEO they would invest in.” This is important to Statham because these investors have experience with their market, that of wearable sports technology. It also provides access to an office at Loughborough University, from where the acceleration program was organized.

Their new employee and former member of Britain’s athlete’s team, Sonya Carrott, is the director of that office. She also holds a Ph.D. in sports technology and supported Statham with the pitches during SPIN Lab. Carrott was, as an 800-meter runner, selected twice for the Olympic Games. She had to leave the training camp both times because of injuries, Jurgen Krikke, business developer at ATO-Gear, says. “She can say with real conviction ‘if I had had an Arion in the time I was training, I would have been calmer in my training. Then I probably wouldn’t have had to fall out’.”

“The Yahoo Sports Technology Awards is as the Oscars for sports technology”

A week before the final of the SPIN Lab, Statham traveled to London to collect two other prizes. Together with the whole team, they watched the results of the Yahoo Sports Technology Awards for startups in Eindhoven, in the SX building. They won two prizes one for ‘Best Coaching, Athlete Performance & Welfare’ and one for ‘Best Web, Digital or Integrated platform’. 

Statham received a ticket for the big ceremony in London. “This award ceremony is a bit like the Oscars for sports technology. A big spectacle.” A ticket is very pricey, which is why all nominated startups were announced at home whether it was necessary to travel at all. There was a large number of ‘high profile UK celebrities’. Like former tennis player Martina Hingis, who Statham would have liked to have spoken with, but in the end, there was only time for a ‘hi’ and the star player had to get off again. The whole event was especially useful for networking and Statham spoke more extensively with Derek Redmond who suffered a hamstring injury during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. In the semi-final he got a hamstring injury at 250 meters and stumbled to the finish, helped by his father. Redmond is interested in Arion and we are looking to work together, Statham tells us.

Krikke goes on to say that winning the Yahoo Sports Technology Awards mainly generates a lot of publicity. Also, the London Marathon generated a lot of media exposure. They were there for the four days prior to the marathon at the runner’s fair. Krikke: “What makes this marathon so special is that 53,000 men from all over the world come to walk the whole marathon. And during those four days, they all come to the fair for a while or several times. It’s the nicest runner’s fair I’ve ever seen. And I’ve been at quite a few marathon fairs.” During the fair they were interviewed by the BBC World, the interviewer decided to run the marathon with the insoles in his shoes. That was filmed and appeared on the BBC World for the Arab countries. “I’m curious to see if there will be any reactions from that part of the world,” Krikke laughs.

“It is better to be in England now”

Gareth Beavis of TechRadar, the largest blog for sports technology area, ran the entire marathon also with Arion. “That is quite unique because at the fair we saw both interviewers for the first time. And that they ran the marathon a few days later, normally you don’t want to change anything anymore for such an event.”

“England is now our second home market.” And that, according to Krikke, is favorable because of the Brexit: “It’s better to be there now. England also has a larger market than the Netherlands and it gives access to America. “All this English publicity resulted in orders from the United States.” According to Krikke, the Dutch market is also somewhat more conservative than Anglo-Saxon countries, and America is even more progressive. The sale on the London marathon fair was also above expectations. “People who came by on Wednesday came back on Friday to buy Arion. Of course, it is not cheap (€ 259 for a complete package of red.) so you have to think about it. People in the Netherlands are a little slower to buy the insoles.”