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Using science and Big Data analysis to create a talent identification platform

Profile 90 aims to take the guesswork out of talent spotting in sport

Dr Jag Basra, co-founder & chief executive of Profile 90, with fellow co-founder and business development manager Trevor Keane. Photograph: Shane O’Neill

For generations those in the sporting world have used instinct, hunches and gut feeling to identify talent, but that could all change if the new scouting technology created by Dublin-based startup, Profile 90, catches on. 

The company is using science and Big Data analysis to create a talent identification platform that co-founder, psychiatrist Dr Jag Basra, says will revolutionise how talent is identified and measured. “It is the first scouting technology to combine a multi-focus on physical attributes, mental fitness and the social behaviour of players,” she says. 

The platform is not sport specific, however the company’s initial focus is on UK and US soccer with rugby and cricket to follow. So far Profile 90 has gone live with UK clubs, Burnley and Peterborough United while another 11 clubs across the UK, Europe, the US and India have signed up for paid trials. 

Basra says football academy success rates are very low at 3-5 per cent and this hasn’t changed much in 20 years. On the other hand, football transfer fees have increased 40-fold since the 1990s. “Profile 90 will improve success rates for academies, ultimately reducing the cost of first team player acquisitions and generating revenue from the sale of better academy talent,” she says. “When talents like Neymar (a Brazilian player) go for record-breaking numbers in excess of €200m, identifying youth talent better becomes increasingly more important as this is what adds monetary value to a club.” 

Profile 90 was set up in October 2016 and employs seven with more jobs on the way. The team behind the company includes Basra who has experience of working with UEFA, the IFA and Premier League clubs on mental health, skills and resilience and co-founder, Trevor Keane, who established sports-related startup, Sportego, in 2015. The company’s commercial and finance boss is Mal Brannigan, former chief executive of Sheffield United and its technical partner is Zoosh whose chief executive, Mervyn Graham (a former head of business planning and operations at Nokia/Siemens), has been the project’s technical lead. 

“The idea came from Trev’s previous experience in sport and my experience in working with UEFA with coaches and footballers,” Basra says.  “I was constantly being asked how we could capture and understand someone’s mindset and how my insights (from psychiatry) could be used to identify top-level talent more effectively. They knew the technical, tactical and physical aspects required for a top player, but wanted to learn about the psychological aspect. Our unique selling point is that we can provide digital psychological profiling that allows clubs to understand who their players are before they sign them. 

“The Football Association has four cornerstone pillars when they are looking at talent: physical/tactical, technical, psychological and social. The interesting thing for us was 50 per cent of the pillars – the psychological and social – were being missed,” Basra adds. “This led us to start carrying out qualitative and quantitative research on the talent identification process. We quickly realised the problem of low success rates was monumental and solutions limited.” 

Clubs signing up to Profile 90 pay a monthly subscription rate and must commit for a year. The cost varies depending on the level of service a club wants. Profile 90 works on any digital device but will typically be used as a phone app by talent scouts who will input all the data they have on a young talent and then request a psychological profile to round out the picture. The young person completes the profiling questions privately on their phone or tablet. 

It has cost around €150,000 to bring the business this far. Funding has come from the founders, Zoosh and the NDRC where the company recently finished the Launchpad accelerator. Profile 90 is in the process of raising €500,000 to accelerate its roll out in the US.

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