Business story: Mel O’Connor, Managing Director of Okkulo

Business story: Mel O’Connor, Managing Director of Okkulo

20th January 2020

Okkulo is a sports training system which uses light to improve the performance of athletes, improving reaction time by up to 20%. It can be used across a range of sports including football, cricket, baseball and tennis.

Can you remember your ‘lightbulb’ moment when you first came up with the idea for Okkulo?

I actually first came up with the concept about 20 years ago. At the time I was playing for my local football team and while I was watching the team train, I started thinking about how we could improve. My day job was in the film industry and I worked a lot with light, and around the same time, I came across a piece of research on how light affects animals’ vision. I started thinking about how we could use light in a sporting environment to alter perception and ultimately get faster reaction times and better results.

Were you employed at the time in another job, or working for yourself?

I was working as a film runner and used the time I had between film jobs to work on the business. It meant very long hours and it was a slog, but in a good way!

What motivated you to take the leap and start your own business? Why was the time right then?

The scientist who worked on that initial piece of research was based at Newcastle University so I got in touch and we worked together on studies in various sporting environments. I knew I could create a business around this and I couldn’t let it go, so I began looking for investment. The business launched in January 2018.

Did you found the business on your own or was it as part of a team?

I founded the business on my own but now I have a team in place. The idea behind the business is important, but the team is equally important. The team we have now is perfect and it feels right.

What business support and advice did you access to help turn your business idea into a reality?

At the start I worked on my own but more recently I have worked with a mentor, through the North East Growth Hub, and the support I’ve received has been great. From meeting with the North East Growth Hub, that’s where my business has accelerated and the mentoring I’ve received has been vital for me.

Can you share some of the highs and lows you’ve experienced along the way?

Once the team was finalised and I could start to see everything coming into place and being tangible, that was really great. It’s all starting to happen and I feel 10 feet tall. I love telling the story of the business and getting people involved. There can be lows though. You can think you’re getting there and then suddenly things change, but I’m resilient and I push ahead.

What support do entrepreneurs need to turn their business idea into a reality?

You’ve got to speak to someone who is impartial to make sure your product can work. Access to people who have grown a business before and who can help you to keep going is vital.

Why is the North East a great place to start a business?

The North East business network is fantastic. I’ve been surprised at how much people have got on board and helped me. It’s easy to access all our suppliers in the region and the support has been huge. We’re a North East company and that’s an important part of our story.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?

Firstly, make sure you have a good product and know your market. Make sure you pick the right people to be a part of your team. And you need to persevere; you will have ups and downs but perseverance and enthusiasm gets you a long way.

Do you dream of starting your own business? The High Potential Startups programme can help your big idea become big business. Find out more now.