Yvonne Comer is the CEO and co-founder of RugbySmarts, a start-up that delivers game-changing technology through automated, real-time video analytics that harnesses artificial intelligence, machine learning and computer vision. Together with co-founder and CTO William Johnstone, Yvonne is aiming to make it easier for teams to get the data they need to help push performance to the next level.
Already, RugbySmarts have been nominated for several awards and have garnered lots of industry-wide recognition. Most recently, they won the Emerging Tech Startup gong at the Itag Awards, which goes some way to showing how much progress they have made since they were founded in 2021.
Yvonne, who is a former Ireland international and Connacht player, recently spoke with us for the PorterShed blog about how the software is helping teams, how it is already being trialled, what the company’s plans are for the future, and lots more.
“We’re getting more and more teams on trialling at the moment and quite a few of them have brought it to committees,” Yvonne said.
“A lot of them are not just looking to introduce this to one team, but are looking to bring it in club-wide. It’s particularly useful for those amateur coaches who don’t have an analyst to help them out; instead of just going on gut instinct, they now have solid data to back what they’re saying, and that’s much more powerful to players.”
Indeed, many analysts – whether at an amateur or professional level – would surely benefit from RugbySmarts’ technology because it saves them a lot of wasted time doing ordinarily manual and tedious analyses. RugbySmarts makes everything more seamless, intuitive, and importantly, more useful.
Teams across Ireland and the UK are trialling it – across both men’s and women’s rugby and Yvonne says that the feedback has been hugely positive to date.
Above all else, perhaps, the tech is easy to use. Simply, someone films the action as it happens, uploads the footage through the cloud, and the system analyzes the file to provide those insights and results that coaches – and players – need and want.
Yvonne and William are both constantly busy finding new ways to learn, explore innovations, and tap into the connection ecosystem that lives as much online now as it does in person. In fact, by way of example, they both attended a meeting recently in the PorterShed to finalize a deal to team up with one of Japan’s leading enterprise bodies, as Yvonne explained.
“One of our biggest achievements to date is becoming a client of JETRO [Japanese External Trade Organization] which opens up that huge Asian market. The growth of rugby in Japan since the World Cup – and in Asia, in general – has been immense. So to be able to tap into that market and have that partnership with a body as well-regarded as JETRO is massive in getting us to that next stage.”
It’s all part of their ambition to continue improving the way teams and analysts collect and manifest data for the improvement of performance. Equally, it’s part of their push to become an international powerhouse.
“We want to globalize. Rugby is a global sport and we’re aiming for the Tier 1 and Tier 2 rugby-playing countries initially,” Yvonne said.
“We have the networks in Ireland ourselves, so getting the networks globally is a big step, and we’re hoping then that this will have a snowball effect. We’ve got some contacts in the States, but gaining that backing and that credibility from Enterprise Ireland and companies like JETRO is huge for us.”
Japan would surely be an amazing market to tap into from a rugby perspective, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that RugbySmarts could easily be used to help analyze other sports, too, like Gaelic Games. No doubt, there are so many avenues for Yvonne and William to explore, and they have already come so far in not much longer than a year.
So, what lessons does Yvonne think fellow founders could learn from her start-up journey – and what advice does she give to those starting out?
“They have to have the belief in what they are doing and believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve. The biggest thing is – do your business plan and set out the goals, but be ambitious with those goals and don’t limit yourself and don’t limit your thinking around that. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, no-one else will.”
As most great sports athletes do, Yvonne certainly has the belief needed to succeed, and that’s translating across to her work with RugbySmarts, too. Because while it’s still early days in the company’s journey, it’s inspiring to see so many big wins going their way, and it’s easy to see how this idea could score them a lot of points with teams, analysts, and players in the years to come.
By Trevor Murray