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Cambridge company’s app-based scanner puts bar-coding on fully digital footing



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Orca Scan’s footwork since offering its initial barcode scanner software in 2016 has been faultless.

John Doherty, founder and CEO of Orca Scan, with son Owen Doherty, customer success manager. Picture: David Johnson
John Doherty, founder and CEO of Orca Scan, with son Owen Doherty, customer success manager. Picture: David Johnson

A main product was launched in 2017, the team joined Cambridge Accelerate in 2018, and in 2019 a small seed round was completed. That was followed by expansion to the US – and this year the pace has kicked on, with a bridge round completed and a new finance round due in September.

It will be an attractive prospect because its software – which end-to-end tracks products from healthcare devices to car parts – is already being used by Apple.

“I know you’ll understand I can’t say exactly how they use it,” says founder John Doherty. “That’s a commercial secret. But I can tell you it’s for an important part of their operations.”

The idea for the company emerged when John’s son Owen – who now works for the company as customer success manager – worked for a solar energy company.

“It started as a project to help my son,” explains John, who was working as a full stack developer for Cambridge Assessment at the time. “Owen was working with a small energy company trading in solar panels, it was a summer job. I asked him how it was going and he said ‘great, but my manager needs this information.’

“Owen asked if it was possible to capture multiple barcodes with GPS location using a smartphone. I developed a solution and it worked.”

When they released the software it got “thousands of downloads”, one of whom was Toyota.

“Organisations from Toyota to Apple had the exact same problem as the solar panel company, and I decided to address that.”

Orca Scan is a software-based bar code system which tracks products through the entire distribution network. Picture: David Johnson
Orca Scan is a software-based bar code system which tracks products through the entire distribution network. Picture: David Johnson

The first sale was in 2018: it became apparent Orca Scan had solved a hitherto-unresolved issue.

“Barcodes have been around for 45 years,” continues John. “All large organisations need to be able to track their products – it could be a bottle of water or a medical device – through various points in the journey, but not everyone has access to a barcode scanner.”

However, pretty much everyone has a smartphone, so the solution was obvious – download the free Orca Scan mobile app and use the camera on your phone (Android or Apple).

“It uses the camera, but you can connect Bluetooth scanners – or install the software on Honeywell and Zebra devices. This lowers the barriers to entry, so anyone can use it.”

Around 60 per cent of current customers are in the US, thanks to a strategic decision: “I decided to get profitability via the US as it’s such a huge market.”

He spent a few weeks with Lime, an electric scooter company in San Francisco.

“Quite a lot of electric scooter companies use our products, including Lime and Voi,” John says. “Because they are very new, they don’t have complex legacy barcode systems.”

Voi: not having legacy bar code infrastructure makes it easier to adapt Orca Scan technology
Voi: not having legacy bar code infrastructure makes it easier to adapt Orca Scan technology

Another client is Winesecrets.

“Winesecrets is based in California, what they’ve got to do is look after hugely expensive wine filtration machines, they scan barcodes on machinery to keep preventative maintenance logs – they just type the values from the machinery into the mobile.”

Next up was a hospital in Washington state.

“They were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock because they’d not noticed mechanical heart components were passing their expiration date.”

Tracking products is vital for effective product recalls, from hearts to carburettors, and avoids waste. Orca Scan’s finance model involves a free download for a single user, with charges kicking in when you want to connect to other users. The company currently employs seven people, and is looking for two more.

“We need a junior designer and a junior developer,” says John. “It might be nice to have a bit of gender diversity – currently we’re all male, though we all have different nationalities – and like any good business, we’re keen to reflect all the communities we serve.”



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