Jamie Heaslip Backs UrbanVolt And Food Venture

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Rugby star talks pruning his portfolio, interning at Google and why he invests in his passions

Rugby star Jamie Heaslip has backed an Irish search app and is planning a new food venture.

The Leinster and Ireland player also invested in lighting business UrbanVolt at the end of last year, he told the Sunday Independent, after meeting its founders through mutual friends.

UrbanVolt retrofits commercial premises with LED lights for zero capital cost, significantly reducing clients lighting bills. Client companies pay UrbanVolt an agreed monthly fee for five years, with companies receiving an average 25pc reduction in total lighting costs as well as enjoying a full LED retrofit

He exited the Dublin restaurant chain Jo’burger at the start of 2016, but maintains a stake in online media company LovinDublin and Ballsbridge pub The Bridge. He is planning a new Dublin food venture with teammate Rob Kearney and has also invested in Pointy, an Irish search platform that helps users find all sorts of goods and services in their local area, and Coco5, a coconut drinks business.

“Off the pitch, what I’m trying to do is… I have been dreaming about playing rugby since I was eight, for as long as I can remember I’ve always played rugby. For it to become my job was a dream come true sort of thing… It’s amazing to do something you love.

“But at the same time, when I was in my mid-20s playing rugby, thinking it was awesome, I was seeing mates still struggling to figure out what they wanted to do and getting down about it and going through that grind.

“When that was happening to them I was thinking, down the line, at some stage I would have to come out of rugby and into the real world too. So what the hell would I want to do?”

Heaslip studied medical engineering at Dublin City University, but knew early on that was not for him. “I want to do something I’m really passionate about… I’m massively into the sports business world, I’m interested in marketing, sponsorship, digital. I touch so many things through rugby that it has exposed me to a lot of different industries. When I finish rugby I want to make sure I can do something I’m really passionate about.”

He is one of a number of Irish sports stars putting money into start-ups and building professional CVs with their post-pitch livelihoods in mind; Rob Kearney is an investor in recruitment firm Mason Alexander, for example, while Paul O’Connell is involved in energy provider Pinergy. The Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association has made a concerted effort to encourage players to diversify their interests and seek out business opportunities, under chief executive Omar Hassanein.

“Omar has really transformed IRUPA,” says Heaslip. “Rob Kearney is chairman of the board now too and they have done some amazing work. We now have development officers in each province who help us upskill ourselves – they might get you a business mentor in an area you are interested in…

“Or the young guys coming through, they will help to manage their time and their relationships with their college and so on. IRUPA has really come on leaps and bounds.”

Heaslip interned at Google after meeting John Herlihy when the search engine’s former boss gave a talk to the Irish team.

“I sought him out afterwards and he brought me in for a week or so. It was really a crash course in what they are doing here in the Dublin office.

“I was surprised by just how many different types of business they do here. They showed me about nine different parts, from YouTube to the engineers. It was an eye-opener.

“The last job I did before I played rugby was probably working in a cinema or cleaning plates in a golf club kitchen, working in a pub in Johnstown, doing security in Tallaght square. They are the kind of jobs I had before rugby. So now is my chance to get involved in all sorts of different businesses that will help me to sustain life after rugby.”

Has he lost money on any of his investments yet?

“Not yet. I’m sure at some stage… just like sport, you win some and you lose some. But you hope to win more than you lose.

“Rugby players get paid really well for what we do. But it’s not soccer-player money. So you have to be smart with what you put your money into if that’s what you are going to do.”

His restaurant interests have proved to be the toughest so far. “It’s cash flow, you’re managing stock – perishable stock – you’re working against the seasons almost, trends, staff – it throws a lot of issues up.

“The food and drinks industry in Dublin in the last three years, four years – it’s gotten really competitive because so many people have come back to the country with all these different ideas. It’s challenging. But it’s also great because it ups the standard for everyone.

“That’s part of the reason why I got involved in LovinDublin [a Dublin lifestyle website]. It’s such a great city and such a melting pot… I’m not even from Dublin, I’m from Naas – but I love this city.”

By Sarah McCabe

Anne James