Oura banks $100M as adoption of wearable technology accelerates during COVID-19

Oura said it will continue to develop within new use cases focused on recovery, activity, illness, mental health and women’s health. Wearable technology also shows promise for helping manage sleep apnea and high blood pressure conditions. (Oura Ring)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oura Ring quickly shifted from being just a consumer wearable to a key research tool for early detection of COVID-19 symptoms.

Oura Health's wellness ring was one of the first wearables used by an academic research institution, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to potentially predict illness symptoms. The company also donated rings to front-line healthcare workers who were likely to be affected by the virus.

When the NBA went into a bubble last July to resume playing its season, players and league staff were offered Oura Rings to measure body temperature and heart rate.

Oura has gone on to sign marquee partnerships with other sports leagues and organizations, including the WNBA and NASCAR, as they went back to work during the pandemic. 

The wearables company has experienced steady growth in the past year accelerated by its unique position during the pandemic, totaling over 500,000 rings sold to date.

RELATED: UCSF partners with Oura smart ring to study early detection of COVID-19

On the heels of this growth, the Finnish startup, which has U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, banked a $100 million series C funding round led by a diverse mix of healthcare, consumer and sports investors, including The Chernin Group and Elysian Park, the investment arm of the LA Dodgers.

Health investors Temasek, JAZZ Venture Partners and Eisai Co. Ltd. also participated along with growth investors Bedford Ridge and One Capital. Existing investors that participated in the round include Forerunner Ventures, Square, MSD Capital, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, Lifeline Ventures, Metaplanet Holdings and Next Ventures. 

Launched out of Finland by founders Petteri Lahtela, Kari Kivel and Markku Koskela, Oura rolled out its sleep tracking smart ring in 2015. The company has raised $148.3 million to date.

“The wearables industry is transitioning from activity trackers to health platforms that can improve people's lives," Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai said in a statement.

The latest funding round provides Oura with "substantial runway for important future opportunities," Rai wrote in a blog post.

"We aim to invest in all areas of the business including software and hardware development, people, R&D, as well as marketing and customer experience," he wrote.

The startup will also continue to develop within new use cases focused on recovery, activity, illness, mental health and women’s health. Wearable technology shows promise for helping manage sleep apnea and high blood pressure conditions, ultimately shifting the way people receive care for common, but serious, illnesses, Rai wrote.

RELATED: Fitbit joins growing list of companies offering back-to-work health screening tools

Oura will focus on enhancing its app experience to further prioritize guidance in order to help people better understand what to do with the data they are given.

Unlike many other consumer wearable companies that focus on monitoring activity, Oura initially targeted sleep tracking.

"Oura focused first on sleep n focused because it’s a daily habit, and lack of sleep has been linked to worsening health conditions including diabetes, cardiac disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, poor mental health and more," Rai said.

The Oura Ring's form factor was chosen because the finger results in a stronger signal, according to Rai. "It’s the only wearable that directly measures from the arteries in your fingers (just like doctors do), where the pulse is about 100x stronger than the wrist. Additionally, Oura is one of the only wearables that measures continuous temperature directly from the skin 24/7," he wrote in the blog post. 

Oura provides users with health scores across readiness, sleep and activity. 

The UCSF research team recently published its first peer-reviewed findings from the TemPredict study of 65,000 participants demonstrating the connection between Oura Ring’s temperature data and the detection of fever onset.  

"The pandemic showcased how crucial our health is to everyone in our day-to-day lives, and the consumer mindset has shifted even more towards having agency and understanding over individual health. Eventually, wearable technology will change the way health is practiced by consumers and the healthcare industry, and we’re excited to continue to grow and invest in this area. We want to help every person own and better understand their health, so they can be the best version of themselves," he said.

RELATED: Google expands into health tracking using smartphone cameras to monitor heart, respiratory rates

Oura Rings have also been used in recent research studies at West Virginia University’s Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute and the Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit, contributing to a growing body of research on illness detection, symptom profiles and recovery.

The company also announced that it hired Shyamal Patel as head of science and Tommi Heinonen as site leader in Oulu, as well as the promotion of Daniel Welch to chief financial officer. 

“This year has shined a spotlight on gaps in our healthcare industry, and the increasing need for each of us to take control over our own health. Oura is emerging as the trusted leader and community in the space by empowering people with personalized data that provides actionable insights for health improvement,” said Eurie Kim, managing director Forerunner Ventures, in a statement.

“The awareness of the importance of sleep on every aspect of life and health is just beginning to hit an inflection point; and, with Oura, people can gain meaningful understanding and guidance around their sleep, activity, and overall well-being in a way that makes managing health an integral, achievable part of our daily lives," Kim said.