Novo Nordisk spins cycling into diabetes awareness with pro racing team

More than two years ago, Novo Nordisk ($NVO) teamed with diabetes advocate and professional cyclist Phil Southerland to create Team Novo Nordisk, the first pro cycling team made entirely of athletes with diabetes. The 18-member team pedals into Philadelphia this week as part of the International Cycling Union (UCI) Professional Continental Tour, but its mission has grown far beyond competition.

Novo marketing chief Jakob Riis

"First and foremost, we want to inspire people to dream," said Novo's marketing chief, Jakob Riis, in an email interview. It doesn't hurt, of course that Novo's specialty is diabetes drugs, and the team brings its logo to races around the world.

Founded by Southerland in 2005 as Team Type 1, the original pro team's mission was to inspire and unite people with diabetes, and it included some cyclists who had the disease. When Novo Nordisk joined up as sponsor in 2012, they decided to create the first all-diabetes pro cycling team.

That decision pointed to Novo's goals--inspiration, coupled with a strong dose of example-setting. "We want parents of children with diabetes to see that their children can pursue any dream that they want, and that as long as they work with their healthcare provider to create and following a plan for diabetes management, exercise and nutrition--coupled with talent, hard work and perseverance--those dreams may just come true," said Riis after Novo reupped on its sponsorship earlier this month. "And we want to show adults with diabetes that having a serious chronic condition doesn't have to stop you from following your dreams."

Team Novo Nordisk

Southerland, CEO and co-founder, is still the chief talent scout, searching the world for Team Novo Nordisk members. Talent camps--first held last year in Atlanta--bring in teenagers to try out for junior and developmental teams. So far, almost 50 have registered for the 2015 camps. The full Team Novo Nordisk includes cyclo-cross and mountain bikers, women cyclists, runners and triathletes who compete in races around the world--all of whom have diabetes.

Riis said most of the marketing around the team is done by the athletes themselves, online at the team's website and through social media. Two TV spots have run on a limited basis in the U.S., on sports channels, featuring the current team and an invitation to join, according to iSpot.

"We see the impact of what they're doing everywhere they compete. Kids and their families affected by diabetes are coming to the races to see these incredible athletes compete and be inspired," Riis said.

Exercise is obviously one key element of diabetes management, and the cycling team helps deliver that message. It's part of Novo's overall awareness and education efforts, which include other bicycle-centered initiatives. Focusing on urban diabetes, the company has helped fund bicycle lanes in cities. Employees use leased bicycles to get around its headquarters in Baagsverd, Denmark--and then when the lease is up, those used bikes go to Africa, where they're retrofitted for local use.

- see the Novo release
- and the team's website

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