Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - Submitted by Tina Girdler
Check your pre-conceived notions about our imports into the boards. Ryan Lowe, a former AIHL import who played 51-games with the Canberra Knights and Sydney Bears (and one game as a backup goalie for the San Jose Sharks) proves being a professional journeyman in ice hockey has been the perfect incubator for entrepreneurship.
Lowe’s career has taken him across the world, helping give him the confidence and knowledge needed to launch uSPORT, a one-stop site for athletes to track and share their career with coaches and fans. By highlighting statistics and allowing athletes at any level to upload videos of their performances, uSPORT will help players track their careers in a easily consumable package.
Building a company from the ground up wasn’t easy but a career in hockey had prepared Lowe well for the challenges.
“I’ve played hockey for years; from competitive youth hockey, high school, collegiate and semi-professional to my climax, one game with the San Jose Sharks in the National Hockey League in 2014,” Lowe said. “One thing I’ve learnt after all the years on buses, living in three bedroom apartments with eight other players and driving my ‘95 Toyota 4Runner anywhere I was called upon to put the pads on, often to just sit on the bench, is this – there has to be an easier way for athletes to track achievements and quickly share them with the people in their sports network who are important.
“Pro athletes have professional agents and recruiters to manage their career and find opportunities. Yet, for the 99% of athletes who aren’t in the big leagues, the burden falls onto their own shoulders to manage their sports lives, and most of us are ill equipped and under informed to do so.”
The life for the majority of minor league hockey players involves not only on-ice skill but also persistence and perhaps even creativity in order to continue the dream. For Lowe, one of these moments came after being released from an ECHL training camp with the Fresno Falcons for the second year in a row.
“Having spent the previous two years bouncing around single A leagues in the Eastern US, I spent my nights trying to figure out where I could continue my hockey dream,” Lowe said. “I sent email after email to leagues in the US and Europe, attaching a hockey resume, stat sheet, a link to a crudely made highlight video, letters from coaches I had played for and against, and repeating this hundreds of times a week. It was extremely time consuming and inefficient, but it's what I had to do if I wanted to keep playing hockey.”
While back home in San Jose, a knee injury to then San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov gave Lowe the opportunity of a lifetime - sharing the ice with an NHL team.
“After receiving the call to fill in as a practice goalie with the Sharks, the experience was everything you’d dream it to be,” Lowe said. “At the end of the week when Sharks Assistant GM Wayne Thomas approached me to say thanks for helping out and asked if he could give me some sticks as a thank you, I took the initiative to instead ask him to write me a letter essentially vouching, "Ryan Lowe is certified to stop pucks at high levels of hockey", on an official Sharks letterhead. I immediately began using this letter to lead in with my emails to teams.”
Growing up on the beaches of LA, the opportunity to continue the hockey dream for Lowe in Australia seemed a natural fit, and it was all thanks to one simple letter.
“After contacting every team in the AIHL league with my usual goalie sales pitch, I was stoked to find success with a team,” Lowe said. “Stuart Philps, the then player/coach for the Canberra Knights responded. He said the Knights were interested in bringing me down and I was booking my flights down under the next day.”
“Fast-forward 10 or so games into the season in Canberra. I was talking with Stuart about the many emails teams receive from interested imports each season and how he juggles all of the requests. I asked him what about my ‘application’ convinced him to give me a shot. He said ‘The letter from a NHL team Assistant General Manager’ was his response. An idea started to form in my head.”
Despite a lifetime of hard work and dedication, not every player will make it to the NHL but that doesn't mean they can't be successful professionals at other levels.
“Over the next two seasons playing for the Knights, I began to talk to many players in the league about their processes of finding places to play,” Lowe said. “Some made phone calls, some sent emails, some created highlight videos, and the rare few had agents. I also began to talk with coaches not only in the AIHL, but at all levels of hockey about the process they go through each season trying to identify the right talent and players for their teams.
“I widened the lens and started looking at all levels of sports. From youth club sports through to college and pro, this was a problem experienced by countless athletes and coaches. Players were unsure how to best answer the question of who they are and what they can do and coaches were overwhelmed sorting through hundreds of candidates home-made resume's and applications each season.”
With the concept now in mind, Lowe began learning the industry by working in Software Sales in Silicon Valley for 3+ years to gather market research. After getting one last opportunity in 2013 to play for the Sydney Bears after an injury to their import goaltender, Lowe felt he had a strong grasp on the done enough market research and uncovered enough ‘pain’ experienced in the recruiting process by players and coaches at all levels of sport and was ready to take a shot at building a solution.
“I returned to the US, and gave notice at my job,” Lowe said. “I spent 6+ months recruiting a team of top engineers to join me in this mission. For over a year we have worked to create uSPORT. uSPORT is the one place, any athlete needs to track and share their sports and share who they are as an athlete with any Coach or Fan. Think LinkedIn meets ESPN for amateur sports.”
“Everything from my sports resume, my stat sheets, my videos, my letters from coaches, can live on my uSPORT player card. Instead of sending email after email, with countless attachments, uSPORT lets me share one link, giving coaches and fans everything they want to know about who I am as a hockey player, accessible from any smartphone.”
Hockey inspires players to be resilient, innovative and passionate for the sport, which manifests itself professionally for entrepreneurs to be extremely dedicated to their business while surrounding themselves with a team of credible, hardworking people. For Ryan Lowe, building uSport wasn’t easy but with a dedicated team they have he found a way to provide every athlete a spotlight through which to tell their story.
“Building uSPORT has definitely been a challenge, not been easy and it took a lot more work and effort than what I immediately anticipated,” Lowe began. “But, after talking with hundreds, if not thousands of athletes, and understanding the pain that exists for them today in not only tracking what they accomplish on the ice or field, but also how they communicate who they are and what they can do for teams and coaches at higher levels, I feel we have the opportunity to build something great that can help improve how amateur athletes worldwide tell their stories and that is something we are extremely excited about.”