Pictured: Dr Kevin O’Toole, Co-Founder and MD at Exergyn
Dr Kevin O’Toole is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Exergyn, a creative Irish clean-tech company developing unique SMAs replacing harmful refrigerants while simultaneously generating energy. Founded in 2012, Exergyn hopes to contribute to the changing climate policies in Ireland. The company has raised over €7 million from private investors. Dr O’Toole explains his future hopes for the business.
What was your first job?
I worked as a shop assistant in a garage beside where I grew up in Dublin. I was 16 at the time and the days felt endless! However, it taught me a valuable lesson in that I should really go find a career in which I enjoyed the work and felt challenged.
What would you regard as your greatest achievement to date?
Above everything else in my professional life, my greatest achievement – and one which will never change – is having a healthy, happy family who I am hugely proud of. My desire to succeed is driven to ensure that they can have as good a life as possible.
Professionally, it was standing in front of a room of the best and brightest engineers in the world in our industry, and demonstrating our product in action for the first time – much to their surprise. Our technology effectively reinvents air-conditioning so seeing a group of people who have spent their entire careers pursuing the traditional approach become so excited by our novel approach was in itself exciting. The recognition I and the team received following 15 years of hard work leading up to that moment was very satisfying.
In three words or less, how do you define success?
Content, comfortable, happy.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Always remember that everybody is the centre of their own universe which is just as complex as your own with a myriad of characters and beliefs formed over decades.”
As a result of that simple insight, and when interacting with others, I try to see things from their perspective, see what motivates them, what their limits are, what their beliefs are, how we can find a way to agree and work together for our mutual benefit. But also, it means that some people will just never agree with my views and I don’t take it personally or waste too much time trying to overhaul their inner beliefs if possible. Easier said than done but something that I think is worth aspiring to.
How do you motivate yourself and your staff?
I’m intellectually curious. I’m lucky to be working in a field that is emerging and
which has massive potential, whilst also contributing towards a cleaner, more sustainable environment. The combination of my inner curiosity and a new field to explore means that I am constantly interested and excited to see just how far we can push our technology.
From the team perspective, they are similarly very interested and motivated by driving new technology into existence. Therefore presenting the possibilities on one hand, and allowing them the freedom to input their own thoughts and ideas into how we can progress from the macro to micro-level appears to get the best from them. Our team members have always been integral to the success of the company, I wouldn’t be in this position if not for them.
How do you relax?
I’m family-focused so mostly I spend time with my wife and two little girls. On the rare occasions that it is sunny in Dublin I like to go to the local beach with them which I find great for being able to switch off completely from work-related issues. Other than that I like to read when I can or play the piano. Traveling used to be up there too as a primary interest before the pandemic struck so hopefully, that will be possible again in the near future!
What’s your motto?
Try to find a balance in everything.
What are your aspirations for the future of the business?
I think we are at a very exciting juncture at the moment. We have now demonstrated the world’s largest solid-state heat pump, which has beaten all our performance expectations. There are also a myriad of fresh opportunities emerging across the industrial landscape, anything from cooling systems in electric vehicles to waste heat recovery in geothermal plants. My aspiration for Exergyn is for us to lead from the front in driving a clean sustainable revolution in heating, cooling, and power generation. I would like to see Exergyn continuing to be the world’s leading SMA research company, bridging the gap between the underlying material science and the commercial realisation of large-scale systems utilising the effects exhibited by the material.