Sports performance group has an Irish heartbeat but a global pulse

A who’s who of backers believes Brian Moore’s Orreco could become as big as Fitbit

Dr Brian Moore co-founder and CEO of Orreco, at Knocknarea Arena, Sligo. ‘We want to be the go-to place if you are looking for suggestions around your training or health, no matter at what level you are.’ Photograph: The Irish Times/James Connolly

Dr Brian Moore co-founder and CEO of Orreco, at Knocknarea Arena, Sligo. ‘We want to be the go-to place if you are looking for suggestions around your training or health, no matter at what level you are.’ Photograph: The Irish Times/James Connolly

 

Orreco might have some way to go before it becomes as recognisable a brand as Fitbit or Peloton, but that is where its ambitions lie.

And having landed the venture capital firm that helped put both those companies on the road to success as a backer, co-founder and chief executive Brian Moore sees no reason why the Irish sports tech company can’t also become a household name.

Orreco provides sports science and data-led tools for professional sports teams and athletes. Its technology allows athletes to sync their performance data, playing schedule, travel schedule and sleep data to keep an eye on how they are doing.

Its platform uses machine learning to aggregate multiple data sources and offers elite athletes real-time, actionable insights based on their biomarker results. It is used by well-known professionals such as golfers Graeme McDowell and Pádraig Harrington, as well as teams like Newcastle United and the Dallas Mavericks. Among other sports teams the company has worked with are the Atlanta Hawks and USA Swimming.

Orreco has also developed a female-focused performance platform called FitrWoman that has the ability to track periods and symptoms, along with added guidance for training and nutrition based around the menstrual cycle. The platform has been used by the US Women’s World Cup soccer team and Chelsea FC Women among others.

Backers

While still small, it has a who’s who of backers, including some of Ireland’s best-known entrepreneurs, who believe it could go all the way.

Silicon Valley-based True Ventures recently led a $3.6 million (€3 million) investment in the company, having originally backed them in a $1.3 million round nearly two years ago. Moore sees its continued support as a sign that Orreco is on the right path to achieving big success.

“True Ventures was the first institutional backer of both Fitbit and Peloton and, in us, they see the next evolution in sports technology, which is personalisation. With our platform, every individual will be able to access a science-backed solution that will guide their fitness,” he tells The Irish Times over Zoom from Sligo where he’s currently based.

The 45-year-old Galwegian, who has spent much of the last few years living and working in Los Angeles where the company has a performance centre, has taken his time building Orreco. While other companies might focus on scaling as quickly as they can, Moore has quietly beavered away compiling evidence that shows how Orreco’s solutions can help elite athletes and professional teams hit peak performance while spending less time on the sidelines due to injuries or exhaustion.

Now, Moore is looking to make the solutions he’s developed – essentially a blend of cutting-edge sports science and data-driven AI technologies – available to a wider audience of sporting enthusiasts. If he succeeds, he will become a very rich man.

Sports technology

The global sports technology market is projected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 2.14 per cent between 2020 and 2026, at which point it will be worth an estimated $41.8 billion (€34.3 billion), according to Research and Markets. Peloton alone recently forecast full-year revenues of $4 billion (€3.2 billion), while Google has just completed its $2.1 billion (€1.7 billion) acquisition of Fitbit.

With consumers willing to spend big on tech that helps them get the most out of their training, Orreco’s timing might be just right.

“We want to be the go-to place if you are looking for suggestions around your training or health, no matter at what level you are. We want everyone to know our name,” says Moore.

It might seem a tall order to get from here to there but Orreco has plenty of supporters.

Sonia O’Sullivan, who is godmother to his four-year-old son, credits Moore’s work on analysing athletes’ blood profiles to helping her bounce back and win a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 after she had hit a wall in training. That was when he was only at the start of his life’s work and before he had founded Orreco. Since then he’s gained McDowell and Harrington, and former NBA player Joe Dumars as investors.

Other well-known local backers from the world of business include Intercom co-founder Des Traynor, former Aryzta chief executive Kevin Toland and ex-Glanbia managing director John Moloney.

As if that weren’t enough, there is also NBA agent Todd Ramasar, Stride VC founder Harry Stebbings, Amazon’s former VP of technology Tom Killalea, and Jason Calacanis, who as entrepreneur-in-action at Sequoia Capital led early investments in companies including Uber.

The people working on the ground in Orreco are pretty impressive too. “Our team includes 16 PhDs who have published more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific papers between them, which underpins our work. But that is only the tip of the iceberg because we’ve been very selective in what we’ve published so as not to give away competitive advantage,” says Moore.

“The hardest place to prove what you’re doing is when working with the best athletes in the world because elite sport is ruthless and if you’re not adding value, you won’t be kept around. You have to be able to stack up what you’re doing time and again,” says Moore.

Consumer apps

Orreco’s technology for elite athletes will soon be made available to consumers as a series of apps that users will be able to sync with other fitness solutions such as Strava, Fitbit or Garmin products, to give them valuable information that will help them perform better.

“Imagine having the expertise of Sonia O’Sullivan’s coach in your pocket. That essentially is what we’re providing,” says Moore. “It could advise you on when best to take a run and how long to run for based on your recovery rate, how much sleep you’ve had and so on.”

The app, which is due to come out later this year, will have a free component with “affordable” pricing for other modules, including an option for blood markers. “This is for everyone, whether you’re a weekend warrior who is comfortable spending 10 grand on a bike or someone who is at a more basic level,” he says.

As the company prepares for the move beyond the world of elite athletes to target ordinary consumers, Moore makes no apologies for the time it has taken for Orreco to make it to this stage.

“We’re scientists so we don’t think the long way is the hard way,” Moore says. “Everything we’ve done has been about establishing our credibility and so it has been worth it.

“We’re now at that point where we’re very confident and comfortable with the technology in terms of what it can do, how it works and how we can scale it. The people who have joined us over the last funding rounds are people we’ve deliberately targeted who we believe can help us go all the way,” he adds.

Company roots

The idea for Orreco came while Moore was studying PE and sports science at St Mary’s University in London in the 1990s. Analysing blood samples, he found they offered clues as to why athletes can sometimes underperform.

That research led him to work with O’Sullivan and other athletes. He eventually moved to Canberra. There, he convinced the Australian Institute of Sport to take him on to help do EPO validation testing shortly after the body introduced it to help clean up athletics after years of doping.

Moore subsequently ended up in Kenya while doing his PhD. There, he worked with runners such as Moses Kiptanui, trying to learn more about how their iron levels were impacted by altitude and other factors. On his return to London, Moore spent a few years with the British Olympics track and field, triathlon and rowing teams for a number of years before moving back to Ireland.

Orreco was co-founded with consultant haematologist Dr Andrew Hodgson in 2009. Dr John Newell at NUI Galway assisted them in building the data mining and analytics platform.

The company’s first big break with elite teams came early on when Paul Catterson, then team doctor at Newcastle United, asked it to look at a player who had become fatigued and wasn’t playing at his normal standard. It began to become known in professional sports circles, largely as a result of word-of-mouth recommendations from backroom staff and athletes who were thankful to get back to peak performance.

There are a large number of sports tech companies, not least locally where the likes of Kitman Sports and StatsSports have made a name for themselves globally. Moore is an admirer of these and other firms, but is also keen to stress that what Orreco does is different.

“There has been an explosion in terms of the volume of data for sport and some great companies have emerged who do a great job but typically with singular inputs or accelerometry so they don’t have a complete picture, which is what we offer,” he says.

Doubling headcount

Moore and his wife Lorraine, who is a professional basketball player, have a four-year-old son and another child due shortly. He says the family have enjoyed being back home during the lockdown as he would typically spend most of the time on flights.

However, he expects the family will move back to LA once restrictions are loosened, given the inroads Orreco is making in the sports world there. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, is a customer while large numbers of athletes were early adopters of the company’s solutions.

Orreco is currently in the process of doubling headcount to 60 people across its operations. Moore is proud of the fact he’s achieved considerable success from the west of Ireland and is keen that it will remain the centre of the company’s activities.

“We have an Irish heartbeat, but a global pulse,” is how he puts it. “All our R&D, engineering and AI work is still based out of Ireland and I’ve loved the fact we’ve been able to get this going from a rocky outcrop on the periphery of Europe.

Moore says he is living his dream and that while, as CEO, he doesn’t get as much time to focus on the science as he’d like, he’s happy out.

“As a child, all I wanted to do was run in the Olympics and while I didn’t get to do that myself I got to help others achieve that. Now, we’re about to help more people than ever get the most out of their bodies and that is something that I’m really proud to see us do,” he adds.

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