Our Start-up of the Week is Output Sports, a UCD spin-out developing athlete performance testing and tracking technology to improve training programmes and reduce injury risk.
With experience in physiotherapy, sports medicine and sports science, the team behind Output Sports recognised plenty of room for improvement in athlete testing and tracking.
The process currently involves the use of cumbersome, bespoke equipment that measures a small subset of fitness attributes, making testing and tracking a resource-intensive exercise for elite athletes, in terms of both time and money.
According to Output Sports co-founder and chief scientific officer Dr Darragh Whelan, current testing and tracking procedures take strength coaches and medics away from the job that they love doing, which is coaching and rehabilitating athletes.
To try and solve both of these problems, Whelan co-founded University College Dublin (UCD) spin-out Output Sports, a company that is developing an end-to-end solution to test and track athletic performance with laboratory grade accuracy.
Through the Output Sports platform, sports clubs and athletes can integrate collected data to create improved training programmes, identify talent and reduce the risk of injury.
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com, Whelan said: “Output Sports technology spans the intersect of the sports player tracking and performance sports technology market. This market is a multibillion-dollar industry and growing with a high compound annual growth rate (CAGR).”
Explaining the initial idea behind Output Sports, which was developed by the co-founders through PhD research at UCD, he said: “This work involved investigating how wearable technology could be used to augment strength training and injury risk assessment and modification.
“However, the product has been refined through a persistent feedback loop with end users. The team has talked to hundreds of strength coaches and medics who work with Premier League teams, professional rugby organisations and Olympic athletes.”
Through these discussions, the company began developing its first two products – Output Capture and Output Hub. Capture consists of a single-sensor solution capable of testing an athlete’s performance profile (strength, power, balance, speed, mobility, etc.) and tracking their strength training and rehabilitation.
“It’s like a Swiss-army knife for strength and conditioning and physiotherapy,” Whelan said.
The Output Hub amalgamates this data and allows for data visualisation, report generation and programming so that practitioners can leverage this data to optimise athletic performance.
Whelan said: “The ultimate goal of Output Sports is to make performance grade testing and tracking as ubiquitous as possible. Initially this involves providing laboratory grade data to practitioners who work in clinic or gym environments, where the cost and size of equipment often preclude this type of analysis.
“Longer term, we hope to make this technology available to athletes and gym users at all levels so they can ensure they can reach their target fitness goals more safely and effectively than previously possible.”
Whelan has a decade of clinical experience as a sports physiotherapist, along with a master’s in sports and exercise medicine and a PhD in from UCD in wearable sensor systems for athlete injury risk screening. He now serves as the company’s chief scientific officer.
He co-founded the company with Dr Martin O’Reilly, Julian Eberle and Prof Brian Caulfield. Eberle is the company’s chief technology officer (CTO), O’Reilly is the CEO, while Caulfield sits on the board of advisers.
Eberle completed his degree in theoretical physics at UCD in 2015, winning the university’s Gold Medal for Science for each year of the programme. He then spent three years with Citigroup working on its next generation data platform, where he progressed from graduate to team lead. Eberle is also an international athlete, with more than 30 caps with the Irish Olympic handball team.
O’Reilly’s background is in sports science and engineering, which enables him to bridge the gap between the sports science and technical domains needed to develop Output Sports. He did his PhD in UCD, where he focused on utilising machine learning to extract the maximal value from minimal sensor sets during exercise analysis.
Along with Caulfield on the board of advisers is Dr Tom Comyns from the UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science; Kieran Daly, CTO of HealthBeacon; and Dr Catherine Mooney who specialises in machine learning and how it can be used to solve real-world issues.
The journey so far
“We launched our first product in March 2020, which seems like a lifetime ago now,” Whelan explained. “While Covid-19 has affected the sports industry in a very obvious way, it has meant that some of our unique selling points have become more pertinent to practitioners.”
Whelan said that the start-up has seen an increase in demand for its technology from physio clinics and universities that are utilising Output Sports to allow for rehab and laboratory tests to be completed remotely.
“Furthermore, we have also used the time to refine our product offering and launch our second product – Output Hub – ahead of time,” Whelan added. “This is really exciting for us.”
The company recently closed a €1.3m funding round led by Atlantic Bridge University Fund back in February 2020. The firm is using the seed funding to expand Output Sports into the elite and sub-elite sports markets in the UK and Europe, while building on key partnerships established in the US.
According to Whelan, the company plans to raise a Series A funding round in 2021 to enable further expansion in these markets and begin targeting recreational athletes.
“Output has received fantastic financial and business development support as it transition from research into a product offering,” Whelan said. “The science underpinning Output Sports was supported by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Irish Research Council (IRC).”
The start-up has also received commercialisation funding from Enterprise Ireland to support its market discovery, prototype development and its efforts to gather feedback.
Whelan said: “One of the most enjoyable things about Output Sports is working with our team and advisers to continuously improve our offerings and the business.”
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