1 June 2021|Brand Story, Latest Posts, Meet the Successful Founder
Chris Ruddock, 27, from Nottingham, has always been driven by a passion for technology and design since childhood and is the founder and lead-engineer at INCUS Performance, a fitness technology company who produce a one-of-a-kind wearable fitness tracker – the INCUS Nova. The Nova can measure and provide analytics across the three disciplines involved in triathlon (swimming, cycling and running), and is unique in the respect that it sits unobtrusively between the shoulder blades, allowing for a unique “whole-body” picture when compared to traditional wrist-based wearable tech. The company has recently announced an investment from double Olympic gold medal winning triathlete, Alistair Brownlee, so you know they mean business!
Chris attended George Spencer school in Nottingham prior to studying Product Design Engineering at Loughborough University School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering where he attained a First Class degree with honours. Ruddock’s degree course was uniquely accredited by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Institution of Engineering Designers (IED). During his final year at Loughborough, Ruddock was selected for the first ever entrepreneurship exchange programme between Loughborough and the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Focusing on the development of entrepreneurial skills within engineering gave Ruddock the foundation he needed to successfully lead a technology start-up.
Origins of INCUS
As a teenager Ruddock was an ambitious athlete, highly involved in club swimming and competitive life-guarding, which he competed in at a national level. At sixteen he had a very severe ear infection which eventually led to complete hearing loss in his left ear, making communication in the already challenging environment of the water, even more difficult. It was from this experience that the idea of INCUS was born.
“INCUS is something that has been in mind since 2009 – way before the technology existed that could deliver what I was thinking about”, Ruddock explains. Swimming and solving this problem remained a personal project throughout his studies “I understood that I could use data and numbers to assist with the communication problems I was having in the water created by my hearing loss.”
His hearing loss also provided INCUS with its name, “I don’t have an incus bone in my ear, it’s one of the smallest bones in the body but by missing that piece of the puzzle I can’t hear. In the cycling world we use the term ‘marginal gains’ – small details that can influence quite significant outcomes. Using INCUS, athletes and coaches can identify small differences in technique that can seriously benefit performance. As we say at INCUS, the medal is in the detail.” The first iteration of INCUS was made by Ruddock in his bedroom, he strapped it to his own back with gaffer tape for its first use, “ it looked horrible, but my first test proved the concept that multiple advanced performance statistics could be measured from a single device, in a single location with help from different clever algorithms.” Soon after this Ruddock enlisted Dimitrios Pantazis, through a mutual friend, and INCUS rapidly began to progress.
In the early days, we worked directly with athletes in Loughborough to deliver pilot analytics using our prototypes.
We wanted to make sure that the product was influenced by those performing at their best, and our network at the home of sport in Loughborough meant we were able to work alongside members of the GB performance swimming team and their coaches.
Our awareness grew from there – being down in the pool regularly, engaging people who would use the product and getting their input on the process. We also won a number of local awards which helped to boost our profile.
Ruddock is explicit in his ambitions, “I wanted to design something that performed on the world stage before I was 21; I developed the Team GB carbon-fibre tandem for the Rio Olympics. I just missed my second goal of bringing a product to market by the time I was 25, I was 26. The third goal is that by 30 I want to have built a global force in the technology market, it’s ambitious but we’re on track.” Speaking of the future he says, “I want to see INCUS as a leading performance analytics brand. To be the best in the world, it’s not just about making a great product. The entire experience needs to be seamless, elegant and exciting across the board. At INCUS, we focus on innovation – doing things differently, more thoughtfully, and ultimately better, to improve the athlete experience as a whole. Our mission to reinvent the sport of Triathlon through technology has started on a strong foot with swimming, and I look forward to sharing the next step in the journey very soon.”
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
Like many start-ups, our funding strategy has matured from early payments in enthusiasm, favours and savings, to more structured finance.
In 2016 we were awarded a development grant from the UK government, through its innovation agency, Innovate UK. This funded the starting team and costs that progressed early proof-of-concept prototypes to a completed system over a period of 18 months.
After successfully delivering that project, we had the foundation and confidence for external investors (Angels + VCs) to join the business as part of a Seed Round. By delivering promises from each step, we’re pleased to now be welcoming new investors to the journey, as part of a pre-Series A investment round that will close later this year. Limited investment opportunities are still available.
What are your key successes?
The way we approach things at INCUS, it’s the little steps each day that we celebrate. That said, we’ve had so many exceptional moments along the way that it’s hard not to single a few out. The best ones for me would certainly include: 1) the coach launch of our swim product last year, where we spent the day introducing our first customers to the experience we had developed for them, and shared in their excitement; 2) our collaborations with 2019 London Triathlon and Marathon Swims, where we delivered analytics to athletes as part of a national race experience and; 3) the growth of such an amazing team, both in our staff, and our partners including athletes Alistair Brownlee, Claire Cashmore and our other colleagues, who continually inspire me. We’re proud to have navigated the pandemic, and be in a stronger position coming out than we went in.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
As with all innovation-led companies, you’re trying to create a totally new experience that hasn’t been done before, and that isn’t easy. With INCUS, we’re effectively building three businesses in one – a hardware business, a software business, and a leading brand. The combination and integration of these experiences is what makes us unique, and allows us to provide information and insights that people have always needed, but have never been able to access, until now. Naturally, this comes with a variety of challenges that we’ve had to face over the years, from waterproofing the devices robustly, to delivering accurate analytics results across a range of techniques and styles.
We take a structured approach to problem solving, whether it’s technical, business, finance or brand related. We take manageable chunks of the problem, ask what the user needs/ outputs are, understand the constraints and deliver iterative steps that then build into a comprehensive solution.
We welcome constructive feedback and don’t fear failure. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and so long as you’re making progress, you just need to take one step at a time and you’ll reach your goal.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
The thing that inspires me about new technology, is that we have all the resources available to us now that we will and could ever have. Every future technology we will ever make is possible to make today. Every historical treasure that has been buried is quietly waiting somewhere – we just don’t know how to do it yet or where to look. It’s that process of discovery that excites me, and with each day that goes by, we’re using up the resources we had the day before, so the race is on!
For those looking to start their own venture, whether it’s innovation-led technology, a lifestyle business or a small side-hustle – it’s my belief that we’re measured by the positive impact we bring to others.
If your venture is something that’s going to bring joy or an experience to even a few people including yourself for a period of your life, I promise you won’t regret it.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
1. It’s called an (ad)venture for a reason. A business is a journey, not an end goal. Enjoy the process.
2. Fail fast. Get hands on. Get stuck in. Quickly.
If it doesn’t work, you’ve found another way how not to make a lightbulb. That’s good progress, and proof that you’re not wasting your time not finding your future solution.
3. Become your customer. You can’t sell to people you don’t know.
4. Celebrate the small wins. Small steps count. Each one moves you forward. If you don’t learn to appreciate the small things, you’ll burn out quickly.
5. If it doesn’t scare you at least a little bit, it’s probably not worth doing. If it scares you a little, it shows it’s pushing your boundaries, which can only ever mean growth and development in some form.
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Richard Buckminster Fuller – A true innovator who failed as many times as he succeeded, and was way ahead of his time. He inspires me to think differently, push boundaries and to do something because it’s different and better.
Dieter Rams – Curated the timeless design principles of simplicity that many of us now take for granted.
Miles Davis – Simple, honest dedication to craft that has stood the test of time.
Claire Cashmore @clairecashmore1 – An allround superstar. Top of her game.
What are your favourite inspirational /motivational quotes?
“Know your why” – Simon Sinek
“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.”
“Good design is something you want to lick” – Steve Jobs
“Mistakes are great, the more I make the smarter I get.” ― Buckminster Fuller
Website: INCUS Performance