Sunday 19 January 2020

Stars of track and fields see next challenge on startup line

Former Irish Olympian Derval O'Rourke. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Former Irish Olympian Derval O'Rourke. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile Newsdesk Newsdesk

SPORTS stars are being encouraged to learn how to start a business in a new Local Enterprise Offices initiative.

Sport to Startup holds its first session Friday at the Sport Ireland Institute in Abbotstown, Dublin.

Two backers, sprint-hurdler Derval O’Rourke and Dundalk FC captain Brian Gartland, say athletes face a unique challenge as their sports careers end. O’Rourke said her own 2014 retirement "was an odd experience; people kept talking about me in the past tense, like I was dead".

But armed with a masters degree in business, she wrote two cookbooks and worked with a Local Enterprise Office to launch an online wellness firm.

"There was no real pathway into business when you finish sport. I had to find my own way," she said.

Gartland, the captain and centre-back for reigning League of Ireland champions Dundalk FC, is already making business plans for when retirement comes – and urges his teammates to do the same.

"I’ve always felt the need to have something else outside of football," said Gartland, who has forged a business running children’s basketball camps and is mulling a second firm.

"The League of Ireland is fickle, so whether players are full-time or part-time, they should try to have something else on the go," he said. "A lot of lads in the league want to be involved in business, or have ideas, but are not quite sure how to go about it. So a programme like this is the perfect stepping stone."

The programme – run by Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) with funding from Enterprise Ireland and support from Sport Ireland – will offer eight weeks of seminars for athletes on how to develop a business plan, from conception to an investment-grade proposal.

Oisín Geoghegan, chair of the LEO network, said many full-time athletes simply needed "a pathway into entrepreneurship".

"Sports stars can open doors that a normal entrepreneur can’t. In most cases, their name will get them an initial meeting or call, when others can’t. This is a real competitive advantage," he said.

"Drive, determination, planning, discipline, goal-setting are all characteristics we want to see in a person starting a business or coming to us with an idea. We felt this was the perfect way to help transition this group into enterprise."

Former Olympic canoer Eoin Rheinisch, head of performance life skills at Sport Ireland, said the classes will allow athletes to "work around their own training and timetable."

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