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A sporting chance to row in with the top business leaders

  • Date: Thu, Oct 10, 2019

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A chance meeting at an event in Boston led to Output Sports chief executive Dr Martin O’Reilly taking part in a rowing race against teams of Irish business executives on the Potomac River in Washington, DC last June as part of the UCD Smurfit Senior Leadership Programme.

O’Reilly was in Boston in February for the MIT Sloane Sports Analytics Conference with co-founders Julian Eberle and Dr Darragh Whelan, when he met Ciaran Hynes of Cosimo Venture Partners, who is also a member of the UCD Smurfit Business School North American Advisory Board. He expressed an interesting in meeting with the UCD spinout founders to discuss the business.

“We had a meeting in Boston and about six or seven weeks later I got a call from Smurfit saying I had been selected for a scholarship on the Senior Leadership Programme,” Dr O’Reilly says.

The programme took place in May and June in the Smurfit school in Dublin and in Darden School of Business in Washington DC, where the rowing race took place. “That was among the most memorable parts of the programme,” he says. “We got to reflect on our performance afterwards with Olympic gold medallists. We really felt stroke for stroke in alignment with each other as a team. There was a real sense of individual accountability and on functioning as a high-performing team.”

Sports dimension
It was little surprise that he found the sports dimension so appealing given the nature of his business. Output Sports works with strength and conditioning coaches and physiotherapists to develop a scientifically driven, one-stop tool for athlete performance optimisation.

This tool offers the ability to test an athlete’s performance profile – including strength, power, balance, speed and mobility – and track strength training and rehabilitation. This is achieved using off-the-shelf wearable sensors and applying sophisticated signal processing and machine learning applications to the sensor data. The system automatically amalgamates and analyses all the data to ensure that coaches and medical staff truly understand their athletes.

The company has its origins in a hobby wearable sensors project developed by O’Reilly during a placement with Shimmer Sensing in 2012. This grew to be his final-year project in NUI Galway, and he received PhD funding for further R&D from the Irish Research Council in 2013. The current version of the product is the result of six years’ work; the team has talked to more than 60 strength coaches and medics who work with Premier League teams, professional rugby organisations and Olympic athletes, and who assisted with its refinement.

The Smurfit Senior Leadership Programme is already having an impact on the business.

“Completing the programme had a great impact on me both professionally and even in my personal life,” says O’Reilly. “The course content allowed me to reflect on my strengths and weaknesses as a leader, identify key focus areas for growth and learn structures and skills to achieve this. The learnings were deep and diverse and can be attributed to great tuition from the teams in Smurfit and Darden as well as an incredible peer-learning group.”

Group coaching sessions
Highlights for him included the group coaching sessions and, of course, the rowing.

“The group coaching sessions were a completely novel experience for me,” he says. “Not only did the sessions allow me to strongly reflect on my leadership style and potential at this current time, they allowed me to consider this into the long term. In particular, the importance of a healthy and sustainable work-life balance was discussed extensively.

“The rowing experience was a special one for me,” he adds. “It was a privilege to spend the first morning in Darden learning from Olympic gold medallists about the many important factors in creating a high-performance team. Being out on the river, experiencing the learnings with every sense made it truly unforgettable.”

He is already putting some of the learnings into action. “The multi-faceted nature of the programme meant that there was a lot of data-gathering about key areas for transformation post-programme. The programme also provided a toolkit to act on these. I have already taken some of these into my day-to-day work.”

Back in the day job, Output Sports is in a pre-commercialisation phase funded through Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund for third level researchers. “We are closing a seed round at the moment which will sustain us for the next two years,” says O’Reilly. “We hope to generate a recurring revenue base during that time. We plan to do a Series A funding round in 2021 and to become cash flow positive the same year. We have built a technology with applications for both elite and recreational sport. Our initial focus will be on the higher end, which will validate the product. We will then move into recreational sport.”

And he believes the UCD Smurfit Senior Leadership Programme will help the company to attain those milestones. “I left with the programme with a great network of support if I ever need to bounce ideas off people or ask for advice. That’s something I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”


Originally published in the Irish Times.

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