Ireland’s innovation agency is helping to improve road usability, quality, access and most importantly safety writes Laura Brocklebank, Enterprise Ireland’s Manchester based UK Local Authorities Lead

Roads are our primary infrastructure. Without them, we’re not going anywhere, literally.

Keeping them open is vital to our economic health. As access routes for emergency services and conduits to work for essential workers, they are important to our physical health. They are a critical link in the supply chain too.

But maintaining the road network is an ongoing and expensive activity. For local authorities and road authorities keeping them in good repair – in all-weather – means identifying problems early and undertaking remedial work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As road authorities everywhere know, that is easier said than done. Ensuring a smooth ride for passengers and road freight is hugely challenging. In England alone, some 184,000 miles of roads are maintained by local authorities and across the UK it is estimated that a council fixes a pothole every 17 seconds.

Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s innovation agency, has a portfolio of client companies that can help with these challenges. They provide innovative technologies to make the road network more durable, reliable and, most important of all, safer.

It is vital work, which is why, even at the height of pandemic restrictions, the companies that help keep our roads safe and accessible are recognised as essential workers. The work they do helps other key workers get to work too, including emergency services.

But roadways contribute to the health of communities too, providing access and connectivity for both individuals and businesses, of the kind that help regions to thrive.

Indeed, the government’s commitment to ‘levelling up’ depends on the kind of increased connectivity between key regions that good road networks provide.

After all, even in today’s hyper-connected, internet of things based 5G world, roads remain the primary building block of connectivity. Just ask the local courier, on whose ability to get from A to B so much of global eCommerce depends.

Ireland has a fleet of companies which specialise in making roads safer and more reliable. Many of them work with local authorities across the UK.

These include Archway Roadmaster which, as you’ll see from the adjacent case study, delivers high-quality spray injected patching vehicles. They are a single person operation and have come into their own in the pandemic, as social distancing is simply not a problem. The Roadmaster brings innovation and high quality to highways departments, which is why the company currently works with more than 60 UK local authorities and won a Causeway Award for Irish Exporter to Scotland award 2020.

Multihog’s vehicles offer a wide range of functions. The machine, which is distributed in the UK by Multevo, offers a range of different applications including snow clearance, grass mowing, road repair, brush cutting and weed control.

It’s already working with a third of all UK local authorities including Derby City Council, where it provides road repair services and is used to de-ice cycleways in winter. It even has a water pump that can help reduce the driver risks associated with flooding in times of severe wet weather.

Technology company RetroTek’s measurement systems allow road authorities and road maintenance contractors to survey the road network to ensure reflective markings are operating to required standards by both day and night.

It is of huge benefit to road authorities everywhere as it both supports road user safety and reduces the risk of legal liability issues. Lack of proper visibility impacts on a local authority’s ability to collect fine revenue.

RetroTek provides greater efficiencies too, being vehicle front-mounted rather than truck mounted. Its smart reporting software enables councils to survey more roadway, faster. This is because it can cover a stretch that would previously have taken two passes, in just one pass, cutting drive time by half and reducing a local authority’s carbon footprint.

IDASO makes traffic monitoring, surveying and data collection easier, again saving time and money, while producing greater insight. It helps local authorities to make better informed decisions in relation to strategic planning, traffic impact assessments and property management, by making it easier to assess the impact on traffic of new developments. Through leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence and cloud-based software solutions, IDASO supply timely, accurate and understandable baseline data and has been working with Lancashire County Council.

This is just a snapshot of the Irish innovators helping to smooth the road ahead for councils all over the UK. To find out more, contact Laura Brocklebank, UK Local Authorities Lead, Enterprise Ireland UK laura.brocklebank@enterprise-ireland.com

Enterprise Ireland is a valuable strategic partner to UK local authorities. Its value as a resource comes from linking innovation-led Irish companies with the UK local authorities that can best benefit from their products and services.

It’s why so many Irish companies are already partnering successfully with UK councils and local authorities, supporting them in their social and economic strategies and helping them to deliver on the objectives that will improve the lives of their citizens.

Right now smart city solutions are playing a central role in many of these partnerships. Smart city development is about using sensor-based technology in urban areas to allow for greater collaboration between stakeholders such as citizens, city authorities, entrepreneurs, innovators and the wider business community, as well as academia.

All of this collaboration is being driven by the rapidly accelerating Internet of Things (IOT) sector. It is already responsible for billions of connected devices, from fridges that reorder your shopping to traffic flow monitoring.

As IoT technology develops, the potential it will offer for ever more connected homes, and ever-smarter cities, means it already takes centre-stage for councils looking to improve standards of living and future-proof infrastructure needs.

That’s exactly where Enterprise Ireland can help.

Ireland’s innovation agency has a large portfolio of government-backed client companies which offer innovative technological solutions to a range of new and emerging smart city challenges.

These solutions can support councils both by alleviating the issues they face today and by facilitating the smarter, greener, more sustainable connected communities of tomorrow.

Here’s how

Taoglas Crowd Insights provides footfall analytics and intelligence – via existing the Wi-Fi infrastructure – to measure, monitor, predict, alert and notify of potential mass gatherings in physical venues and outdoor locations.

In so doing it can help keep communities safe and support social distancing but also assist with planning, crowd management and traffic management in urban areas. It can provide a ‘before and after’ view as well as real-time status.

It allows local authorities to monitor and manage the economic impact of events by understanding volumes of people, how long they stay and how they move, where they come from and go to. In doing so it provides valuable data to assist with a range of decisions, from property asset valuation to advertising locations and the positioning of street furniture.

It also helps councils to understand the movement of shoppers and tourists, providing both real-time and historic insights for a range of stakeholders.

PEL Waste Reduction Equipment is already working with UK councils to provide ‘smart’ waste collection services. The company’s latest product, a solar-powered, smart compacting bin, can also be seen on streets around the UK.

Using integrated IoT technology it provides for more efficient public services, monitoring waste in real-time and helping councils to make informed decisions and reduce unnecessary lifts.

Aico, a connected home company, is pioneering new technologies that bring benefits to social housing landlords by incorporating IoT sensors into domestic fire and carbon monoxide (CO) products, capturing valuable information from sensors in homes and uploading it to the cloud.

Danalto provides smart district and smart building solutions throughout the UK. Its mission is to make IoT technology adoption and deployment easy for councils everywhere.

It delivers flexible, low-cost connectivity solutions which release the potential of low-power sensors for asset tracking and management, key focus areas in which Danalto supports public sector projects.

It is an inspiring company that has already assisted the Orkney Islands in Scotland to become smarter, greener, more sustainable and better connected. In fact, its technology has touched nearly every part of the Orkney Islands’ community, being deployed in its schools, libraries, council offices, sports centres and care homes.

These and many more Enterprise Ireland client companies are all using smart technologies to help UK local authorities improve service delivery and address a range of economic, social and environmental challenges.

In so doing they are supporting UK local authorities to enhance the lives of their citizens now – and in the future.

To find out how Enterprise Ireland can help your team, contact Laura Brocklebank, its Manchester based Local Authority Lead laura.brocklebank@enterprise-ireland.com

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Before the onset of Covid-19, there was a global focus on the very real need for industry across every sector to factor sustainability and environmental impact into their future plans. And while this has been somewhat overshadowed by the immediate needs to address the current crisis, reducing waste, recycling and minimising carbon footprint remains as important as ever.

Tommy Griffith of PEL Waste Reduction Equipment, is well aware of this and since starting the company in 2005, has gone from strength to strength, locating areas where change can be made and developing ideas to enable businesses and society to become more environmentally aware.

Initially developing products for reducing glass waste with a patented range of glass crushing equipment for use in the hospitality industry, the Mayo entrepreneur saw an opening for ‘smart’ waste collection and the company’s latest product, solar smart compacting bins, are in demand not only in Ireland, but also in the UK and beyond.

“We have been developing products throughout our business life and these new bins are proving to be the way forward,” says Griffith. “We supply them to councils in Ireland, Britain, Europe and the US and the beauty of them is that they reduce the need for street bin collections by up to ten times less than would have been previously required.

“Our software – Britebin – allows users to log on at any time, see the exact fill level of the bin, how many people have used it, when they were last emptied and when they need to be emptied. They also get a text or email to notify them when the bin needs emptying and this creates efficiency within busy centres, reduces carbon emissions as there are fewer trucks on the road and, because the bins are sealed, the contents can’t be accessed by vermin.

“Also, it means less interference and disturbance for the general public – so if you take Galway city for example, before the council started using our bins, they were being checked up to five times a day. That meant the public was being disrupted by the truck going down (often a pedestrian) street, bags were being pulled out and refuse collectors were getting in people’s way. Now they are being emptied every second day at 6am, so there is no disruption for anyone, and it is a much more efficient system for the council.”

Along with these very apparent benefits, the Britebin is also very useful during the Covid-19 pandemic and this has meant that the company, which has 25 in-house staff and up to 50 subcontractors, has been able to weather the ongoing crisis which has affected so many businesses.

“Like everyone else, when Covid 19 happened initially, we were affected badly, but I believe that there will always be a silver lining somewhere,” says the CEO. “Our bins are non-touch as they are opened by a foot pedal, so they are very hygienic. And because they are sealed, refuse, including the seemingly endless number of disposable masks which are often littered about, can’t blow out on the street. So from a hygiene point of view, our bins are perfect, they are also solar-powered, which is another bonus and we have had had a lot of interest in recent months.”

So while the current global crisis has in fact been good for business, it was the last recession which saw the firm branch out into overseas markets.

“In the middle of the last crash, we knew that we had to expand out of Ireland in order to survive and generate sales, so we decided to see how we got on in the UK,” says Griffith. “We started selling to that market in 2009/2010 and then in 2011, we decided to open an office there as we believed it was really important to have someone on the ground targeting the hospitality and retail sector.

“In the last three years, we began approaching the councils and we now have about five or six UK councils using our products and are currently involved in several other tenders with different councils around the UK. We have found them to be very direct and straight, easy to work with and couldn’t fault them at all.

“In fact, in some ways the UK is almost a home market as it is so close to us geographically and of course there is no language barrier either. And obviously now with Covid making travel much more difficult, it has been great having an office over there and being able to easily trade with the market which is closest to us – so we are currently targeting hard across the UK with virtual meetings and there is definitely a lot of interest.”

Britebin is the only product of its kind selling both in Ireland and in the UK. And while Griffith says there are some other competitors from abroad interested in entering the market, he believes they cannot be beaten on quality and price.

And to keep things that way, the company is staying on top of its game and has plenty of other ideas in the pipeline.

“When you look at our business, we have gone from developing products to developing technology and this is going to continue to be the way forward for us,” says Griffith. “There are so many add-ons we can develop for our product as we go forward and learn what the customer needs. And because we are very visible and the product is out on the streets, this is also very good for the promotion of our brand – we are in so many locations across this country and the UK and in fact, I was watching news on Israel the other evening and saw one of our bins in the shot – so they are definitely getting around.

“There is so much potential for our product as every city in every country needs waste collection so there are lots of possibilities for new business. And to that end, Enterprise Ireland has been a huge support every step of the way with grants for R&D, strategic marketing, and financial planning as well as mentoring and support before and after Covid.

“And right now, we are working on R&D and have established our own technology department – so the world is our oyster in relation to smart cities and I believe we are ticking all the right boxes with regard to emerging technology and reducing carbon footprint.”

If you’d like to connect with innovative Irish companies, click here.

By Jack Callaghan, Senior Vice President (Digital Technology)

Digital Transformation of the modern workplace remains a crucial factor in preserving company culture, staying competitive, and enhancing customer connection.

The Covid-19 health crisis has resulted in extreme changes throughout the workplace which will have a lasting impact on various issues including how teams collaborate and interact, what tools and resources are available and what methods organisations engage to connect with customers.

And while there is no doubt that the pandemic posed many challenges across every sector, the mass transition to a more digital workplace has provided businesses with a taste of some of the productivity gains which can be achieved by the adoption of modern workplace applications and future workplace practices.

In this article, we will delve into the future of the workplace, the primary drivers of digital transformation and the advantages of becoming an intelligent enterprise by investing in digital modern workplace solutions.

What is a Digital Modern Workplace?

The Digital Modern Workplace consists of digital processes and platforms which address the way organisational teams interact, drive insights, automate business processes, and sell effectively.

Every company’s digital workplace is customised by a toolbox of solutions chosen to best support their employees’ work practices, to preserve company culture, and also to strengthen their connection to the customer.

And the four key pillars which must be considered when organisations first implement their internal digital strategy are as follows:

  1. Collaboration: This refers to the tools, software applications and systems designed to promote workplace collaboration, workflow productivity, and the sharing of project and task related information across teams
  2. Automation: The processes which reduce the amount of time spent handling mundane and repetitive tasks which will free employees up to work on more creative briefs. Automation includes artificial intelligence solutions, robotic process automation, bots, and virtual assistants
  3. Sales Enablement: These are the solutions which support sales and marketing teams to engage customers more efficiently, sell more effectively, and keep connected
  4. Security: This is a major consideration when it comes to digital modern workplace applications, so it is vital to have adequate controls to protect the business

The marketplace for digital modern workplace applications has also undergone significant change. Most notably, the Cloud continues to redefine the channels which connect digital modern workplace solutions to end users by making solutions more accessible (i.e. multi-cloud services & commercial cloud marketplaces) and enabling more functional integrations across applications.

This means that the process of deploying workplace software solutions has been made easier for organisations, allowing them to become more agile and flexible with the types of technologies they have in use while simultaneously saving significant expense and time – something which is necessary to onboard and scale new technologies as they become available.

Key Drivers of Digital Modern Workplace

While Covid-19 has had a severe impact on industry across all sectors globally, it is also true to say that even without it, we were heading into one of the most defining half decade periods for major changes to the workplace.

How businesses prioritise digital transformation after the current crisis will play a major role in their ability to compete in the not-so-distant future. And a long-existing driver of this transformation has come from how we are evolving socially. So while undoubtedly, digital transformation has been accelerated by the pandemic, it hasn’t actually been the primary driver.

Currently millennials make up less than 50% of the workplace, but by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be made up by this age bracket – the majority of whom believe in having the option to work from anywhere and also to focus on working intelligently rather than harder.

So as more and more millennials take over decision making roles, the direction of the workplace will change to favour digital tools and processes which facilitate remote working, improve communication, and increase both accessibility to information and digital task management for teams.

Also, the next wave of disruptive technology will be another impacting factor. Artificial intelligence and machine learning will not only improve business efficiency, it will also reduce the number of mundane tasks employees are currently having to perform, freeing them to focus on more meaningful and creative briefs, and further speeding up the innovation cycle.

We have already seen early examples of workplace AI including chatbots, virtual assistants, intelligent analytics, and robotic process automation. But over the next five years the reliance on solutions utilising AI will become much more instrumental in all competitive workplaces.

Lastly, as customer expectations continue to rise, so too does the need for businesses to embrace solutions which more effectively connect sales and marketing teams to meet the needs of the customers.

Digital workplace applications have opened more and more channels which connect organisations to customers, and they continue to transform how we approach sales, marketing, and customer experience. Commonly known examples may include Sales Force Automation (SFA) technology and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions, which improve selling efficiency by allowing organisations to collect huge amounts of highly useful data which will continue to have an impact on future selling strategies.

Ireland as a Hub for Digital Modern Workplace Solutions

Irish companies are at the forefront of innovation in the digital workplace and are well-positioned to compete globally as companies seek new solutions to support employees digitally, preserve culture, automate process, and connect with their customer.

And below is a snapshot of some of the Irish innovators aligned to Collaboration Tech, Workplace AI Solutions, Sales Enablement and Customer Experience.

Collaboration & Workflow Management Solutions

Teamwork is a work and project management tool which helps both in-house and remote teams to improve collaboration, visibility, accountability and ultimately end results. Founded in Cork in 2007, Teamwork has continued to expand globally and currently they have seven offices worldwide, serving over 22,000 customers in 184 countries.

Workvivo is an internal communication and employee engagement platform which has been designed to connect employees with the goals and values of their organisation, build a strong culture of recognition, and promote collaboration across teams. Workvivo serves as the primary intranet for many of its customers, with companies ranging in size from 200 people to 85,000 people globally. In February 2020 it announced the opening of its first overseas office in San Francisco, and shortly afterwards closed its series A round with Tiger Global Management and Frontline Ventures.

Poppulo is a global leader in employee communications technology offering pioneering software and expert advisory services to enable organisations to plan, target, publish, and measure the impact of their communications across multiple digital channels, all in one place.

Workplace AI Solutions

Boxever is a personalisation platform which uses data and AI to help the world’s biggest brands make every customer interaction smarter and deliver game-changing customer experience. Boxever’s platform capabilities include omnichannel personalisation, customer segmentation, customer journey automation, optimisation and testing, and also analytics.

Webio, the Conversational Middleware Company, is on a mission to automate the worlds business to consumer conversations. Webio has built an interface platform which enables enterprises to automatically conduct all its existing customer interactions over any messaging platform. It is channel agnostic and is a fantastic solution which links information and services APIs to deliver the conversational interface.

Sales Enablement

Channel Mechanics transforms channel offerings through their Cloud based channel enablement PRM Platform, allowing vendors to rapidly deploy programmes with precision targeting and have real-time visibility into ROI. Ultimately this creates competitive advantage as it enables sales ideas to be quickly transformed into targeted and focused offers giving partners the offer they need, when they need them and eliminating the old ‘Spay and Pray’ approach.

Solgari is the enterprise solution for organizations with demanding, multi-channel needs, who are looking to increase efficiency and effectiveness, meet all related compliance requirements, and to delight customers. Their solution has made a global impact and is being used in over 40 countries to-date, serving customers across financial services, fintech, retail, e-commerce and many more, all on a per user per month SaaS model.

If you’d like to connect with innovative Irish companies, click here .

Based in its state-of-the-art distribution and training facility in Oswestry in Shropshire, Aico has been a market leader in domestic fire and carbon monoxide (CO) protection for the past three decades. Pioneering new technologies, the company offers high-quality alarms designed, developed and manufactured in its parent company’s factory in Shannon on Ireland’s western seaboard.

The partnership between Aico and EI Electronics, its parent, dates back to 1990 and between them they now employ 930 people across the UK, Ireland and Europe, with annual sales reaching €240 million in 2019. “Our success is built not only on producing the highest-quality alarms, but also through passionate people, continued innovation, exceptional service and unrivalled support,” says Aico National Sales Manager Steve Trafford.

EI Electronics was founded in Ireland in 1963 as a subsidiary of US multinational GE. When GE entered the fire alarm market in the early 1970s, EI Electronics was awarded the manufacturing and R&D mandates for the new product line. That was followed by a significant reorganisation at GE which saw three senior executives buy out the Irish subsidiary.

“That was the beginning of EI Electronics as a private Irish company,” comments EI Director Brendan Barry.

Demand for domestic fire protection products had surged in the UK following the tragic King’s Cross fire in 1987 and EI Electronics was selling into the market through a tie-in with Black & Decker. That company subsequently exited the fire alarm and security market, leaving EI Electronics with the task of developing its own consumer brand.

That’s when a newly established distribution company came calling. “Aico approached us in 1990 to supply our products to them,” Barry recalls. “It was an easy decision for us to make. We were hungry for business at the time, but we couldn’t have foreseen what this partnership would lead to.”

Another critical milestone on the Aico journey came in 1992 with a change to the UK Building Regulations which required mains-powered smoke alarms to be fitted in all new homes. That saw the beginning of a very strong relationship with local authorities and social landlords throughout the UK.

“I was working in the social housing sector in the late 1990s,” Steve Trafford points out. “The 1992 Building Regulations had been followed by the introduction of new standards for fire alarms in 1995. We fitted a lot of Aico detectors back then. We always used the specified brand and that tended to be Aico. We weren’t very comfortable with other brands, Aico was trusted and proven. The underlying technology may have changed and improved over the years, but nothing has changed in relation to quality. Nothing is batch tested. Every product is individually tested four times before it leaves the factory.”

The company was well placed to respond to these market changes, according to Barry. “We had the right products at the right time, and we grew very quickly in the social landlord and local authority market. Our success is built on having really good complementary operations in the UK and Shannon.”

Continuous improvement and product development are also central to Aico’s success. “We introduced Kaizen manufacturing methodology in the 1990s and we continuously improve our products and processes,” says Barry.

Innovation comes from both arms of the company. “It can be Aico-led in some cases, and if it’s under the cover, it is led from here,” Barry explains. “There is very strong creative cross-over. Aico works very closely with our customers and listens to them so that we can continue to fulfil their changing needs.”

So strong was the relationship between the two companies that EI Electronics acquired Aico in 2004. “When the owner wanted to sell the business, it was a natural move for us to acquire it. The partnership had worked so well for us up until then we wanted to continue with it. I can’t remember a year since then when we haven’t had double-digit growth.”

Aico works very closely with the contractors who install its products. “Education is critical to everything we do,” says Trafford. “Educating our own people, educating the market in terms of changing standards. We have trained more than 25,000 electrical contractors in the UK free of charge over the years. It’s part of their continuing professional development. When we change a product, we offer free training to update them on it. We have four mobile training facilities out on the road supported by our Centre of Excellence in Oswestry.”

Looking to the future, Trafford notes that advances in connected home technology will bring further benefits to customers. “We are incorporating IoT technologies into our products. This will enable customers to get a lot more information from sensors in homes and upload it to the cloud. For example, our biggest social landlord customers might have 100,000 properties, with four or five devices in each. If someone has had an alarm activation in London or tampered with a device in Edinburgh, they will know about it immediately if the devices are connected to our home gateway.”

That capability also has implications for social care. “Our ageing population means that a lot of tenants may require additional care,” Trafford adds. “If the landlord is able to get information about the temperature in the home, they will know if the tenant is heating it properly. And that’s just the beginning.”

Turnover has been doubling every five years. “We believe this will continue and that we will reach €400 million by 2023,” says Barry. “Our main markets at present are the UK, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Australia. We are selling into a number of other European markets, including Finland, Norway and France, and we are at the initial stages in North America.”

Listen to Episode 4 of the Enterprise Ireland Evolve UK Podcast with EI Electronics/AICO on how collaboration across the Irish Sea led to unprecedented growth for the Irish Company

Immersive technologies such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) experiences are finally becoming an integral part of our lives, with many Irish companies producing innovative solutions in several industries. These industries include education & training, manufacturing & industrial, and the original use case of AR/VR, gaming & entertainment.

 

Education and Training

The use of immersive technology for education and training is anticipated to be one of the largest areas of growth, with predictions stating that it has the potential to boost global GDP by $294 billion by 2030. Fortune 500 companies including UPS and Walmart have introduced immersive technologies for employee training and development with Walmart reporting an increase in user retention across their academies of between by 10-15%.

Irish technology companies have been responding to this trend, creating innovative and authentic training experiences to be consumed in an immersive environment. Irish VR production studio VRAI creates powerful VR training experiences with a focus on hazardous material training. Their platform Hazardous Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) uses both VR and artificial intelligence (AI) to make training more authentic and measurable, while reducing risk to the employee. HEAT allows employers to track and measure progress over time by using AI to generate reports and insights to track training effectiveness and identify predictive indicators of future performance

Branching out from their traditional broadcast and media focus, Digisoft is using digital twin technology to create training environments for life sciences labs. Their product CyberTwin creates a digital replicate of labs and facilities to ensure an efficient and safe working environment by eliminating unnecessary visitors. This allows for new recruits to be kept away from the production area until they are ready to enter, while also ensuring a deeper level of learning through interactive engagement.

 

Improving accuracy and efficiency

Immersive technologies are also being used across the manufacturing, energy and utilities sectors to improve efficiency and accuracy of workflows. For example, Boeing uses AR glasses to guide technicians as they wire aircraft, reducing production times by 25% and error rates to almost zero.

Irish company Utility AR creates AR solutions for sectors including manufacturing, pharmaceutical and utilities that allow the user to interact with the real world while accessing existing databases and software systems. Their Remote Advisor platform allows a more experienced technician use the forward-facing camera on a pair of AR smart glasses to see what the local technician is seeing. They can then provide feedback via audio or using onscreen markups. These technologies can prevent delays in getting crucial work completed while also helping to reduce the experience gap.

 

Immersive Gaming and Entertainment

AR/VR technologies originally had the most impact in the gaming industry, and this market still accounts for approximately 50% of total VR software sales. A well-known success in this space is Pokemon Go, an AR mobile app that garnered more than 500 million downloads and $470 million in revenue in its first 80 days.

Founded by Nikki Lannen in 2013, Irish game development studio War Ducks has released several best-selling VR games including Sneaky Bears and Rollercoaster Legends. The studio is now in the process of developing one of the industry’s most anticipated AR game for mobile, which will be released later this year.

In addition, holograms, 3D images created by photographic projections, have been steadily gaining momentum in the space. Volograms, a spin-out from Trinity College Dublin, has taken this technology to the next level. Their platform enables the capture of real people into volumetric holograms, volograms, which can be enjoyed within all kinds of AR & VR experiences, apps and social media.

Finally, not all immersive experiences need to be enjoyed in a headset or a through a screen, with immersive in-person events increasing in popularity as society demands more interactive experiences and brands work to create more engaging live content. Creative production studio Algorithm specialises in creating powerful immersive experiences using a variety of creative technologies including 3D mapping projections, LED arrays and holograms. Their focus on live experiences ensures the audience member watches the real world interact with the digital as part of artistic performances, festivals and events.

Immersive technologies are on their way to becoming significant parts of both our personal and professional lives. At Enterprise Ireland, we are committed to working closely with Irish companies that are becoming major global players in this exciting sector.

For more information, please get in touch with our San Francisco-based market advisor, Hannah Dobson – hannah.dobson@enterprise-ireland.com

 

 

 

With a huge leap in the number of people out of work around the world and some employers lacking the confidence to hire right now given wider macroeconomic uncertainties, it can seem like a bleak time for the jobs market.

It’s not all bad news, however, with many sectors temporarily stopped or slowed down rather than being in a long-term funk, meaning hiring plans are still active, if delayed in some cases. In some sectors hiring is continuing at pace, but recruitment teams can find themselves overwhelmed or frustrated by bottlenecks.

Two Irish talent tech companies offer solutions that not only enable companies to source their talent pipelines in a much more efficient, engaging and forward-thinking way, but also enable them to level up their entire candidate management process.

Rezoomo: future-focused talent acquisition

For companies anticipating increased workforce needs down the line, talent acquisition software firm Rezoomo has the answer. With its Future Roles feature, companies can post roles they expect to need to fill in three, six or 12 months’ time. Not only does this offer hope to candidates, but it also enables companies to build up talent pools.

“We have companies use it to build up a database of talent when they know they have an upcoming project or will be opening a new office or, in the case of hospitals, adding a new ward,” says Cathal Doorley, founder and CEO of Rezoomo.

This feature is just one element of Rezoomo’s recruitment software. “It includes an applicant tracking system, candidate relationship management, employer branding, candidate experience and candidate management into one intuitive all-inclusive solution with video at its core,” says Doorley. “Effectively, we take the offerings of four or five companies and roll them into one easy-to-use, intuitive platform.”

Video has become critical to companies seeking to recruit at scale, he says, pointing out that candidates are more likely to look at video first than any other information in a job ad. “We see job ads with video get 34% more applications,” he says.

Rezoomo comes with a built-in recording system, making it easy to create rich and engaging recruitment campaigns, but also to send video and audio messages to candidates during the hiring process.

“Every time you engage with a candidate, you can send a video or audio message instead of a text message. For example, you could make a video rejection or thank you. It creates a more personalised approach for candidates and allows recruiters to build a rapport with them.”

Furthermore, if someone applies for a job, they can update it any time they want, meaning the employer always has an updated version of that CV if they are reviewing their pipeline of potential candidates.

Set up seven years ago and used by hotel groups, retail groups and food service chains among others, Rezoomo also counts multiple hospitals and healthcare providers among its users. “It’s built to be used by any company of any size anywhere,” says Doorley.

vsource: boosting efficiency and diversity in hiring

When it comes to scaling recruitment efforts, companies can feel they have to choose between recruitment software companies that use machine learning to find candidates or recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firms that use people to recruit candidates. You can have the best of both worlds, however. vsource combines both approaches, using technology and human input.

A talent sourcing and engagement platform, vsource uses artificial intelligence, search algorithms and skilled human insights to find and engage with candidates, including passive candidates who are not actively seeking a new role. Household name global tech companies, including Amazon, Cisco, Google, McAfee and Pandora, use it to hire for open positions, scale projects and expand the talent pool in their pipelines.

“It’s about transforming the recruitment process from a relationship-based activity based on gut feel to a data-informed broader system,” says James Galvin, founder and CEO of vsource. Furthermore, he says, it can reduce bottlenecks and make hiring fairer, especially as remote work is commonplace now, says Galvin.

“Up to now, recruiters have often ended up hiring people they already know, but if you want to really scale and be fair to people from different backgrounds, you need to know who is out there and the skills they have.”

As recruiters reimagine how they work, it’s also an ideal time to shift to hiring based on potential rather than seeking candidates who are an exact fit based on current needs. vsource offers that talent pipeline and also enables recruiters to build networks of candidates for the future.

“They might think, ‘Well, in three years we expect we will be hiring a lot of people similar to this candidate’, so they can start talking to and getting to know people in the pipeline. Instead of looking at the same small group of candidates, they can cast the net much wider. It is much fairer from a diversity perspective — it’s all about the pond you’re fishing in.”

Despite the initial shock of Covid-19, many firms are now seeing this period of disruption as an opportunity to reassess and improve how they care for and develop employees, and ultimately build better organisations.

These three Irish talent tech firms are supporting HR teams and managers at global firms as they examine how a push for employee development, behavioural change and organisational transformation can help businesses build strong capability for the future, whatever it may bring.

Our Tandem: Helping to shape workplace culture

While companies have had many organisational challenges in adjusting to the ‘new normal’, the human side of remote working has been the most critical.

“We are all social beings,” says Jim O’Brien, one of the co-founders of Our Tandem, a performance management technology company based in Ireland, with offices in London, New York and Toronto. “We have lost that time we used to have to interact with colleagues and build trust in the workplace, so organisations are looking for ways to replace it.”

Our Tandem re-imagines the world of work to provide a digital employee experience and engagement solution, designed to ignite and sustain a workplace culture that inspires all employees. With a new vision for performance management, Our Tandem delivers a toolkit in the form of a desktop site or an app, to develop the people in the organisation, break down barriers and deliver a rich and meaningful solution.

Initially, Our Tandem was more focused on being a feedback channel, but it has evolved, says O’Brien. “It is now a culture change tool, helping you to shift the culture from one of low feedback or judgmental feedback, to one where the entire employee experience – from feedback, to goals and check-ins and surveys are an everyday experience, with no surprise or fear involved.”

Our Tandem includes crowdsourced real time feedback, regular check-ins and goals (which accelerates the capability of managers to coach), pulse surveys, structured 360s and insightful analytics, meaning the entire employee experience can be measured at every touchpoint. It integrates with existing HR and comms tools, and Our Tandem has also partnered with Willis Towers Watson to provide change management services and training.

“There is always an element of change management with the rollout of an Our Tandem implementation and is something that is very important to us as an organisation,” says O’Brien. “The tech itself isn’t a silver bullet, but the platform encourages this culture change.”

These include nudge functionality, which encourages managers to share feedback with team members, and prompts to push feedback recipients to engage with those who send feedback — which helps to foster supportive employee relationships.

Founded in 2016, Our Tandem has built a large client base across Europe, mostly comprising enterprise customers. Among others, these include financial firms such as Swiss Re, Abn Amro, Axa, and Société Générale and luxury brands such as Cartier and Mont Blanc.

PulseLearning: caring for employees, caring for business

In these challenging times, it’s vital for employers to have a culture of safety and care, says Pa Fealy, CEO of PulseLearning, an award-winning, global learning company founded in 1999.

“People often have a deep desire to help each other but they’re not sure what to do. On the flipside, we all need help sometimes, but we are not sure how to ask for it PulseLearning seeks to bridge the gap between someone who has a willingness to help and someone who needs help.”

PulseLearning created the I Am Here employee mental health and wellbeing programme with clinical experts to facilitate cultural change within organisations. It promotes an environment where asking for help is encouraged and facilitated. It has already been launched to more than 850,000 people.

As part of theI Am Here programme, all team members begin to understand the importance of mental health and wellbeing. Some choose to become more actively involved by becoming Tribe Members or Ambassadors. This affords them the opportunity to take a lead role to ensure I Am Here is embraced within the organisation.. “With support including scenario-based training, we give teams the courage, confidence and skills to show they care, ask the question and call for help,” says Fealy.

PulseLearning’s I Am Here programme is demonstrating that clients using I Am Here, see an increase in the use of employee assistance programmes and a significant, sustained reduction in sick days and workers’ compensation claims for clients.

“We believe an evidence-based mental health programmes is a unique differentiator for businesses and shows measurable financial impact,” says Fealy, pointing to a recent Deloitte study which found one-sixth of workers in the UK have a mental health problem at any one time, with stress, anxiety and depression causing almost half of all working days lost.

“I Am Here fundamentally creates a behavioural and cultural change in an organisation. Mental health and wellbeing supports are not just a nice-to-have, they are a need-to-have. Loss of time in the business by a Team Member has a business impact as well as a human impact.”

Beyond mental health and wellbeing, PulseLearning also provides learning solutions on topics as diverse as induction and onboarding, sales enablement, compliance and more to clients globally. It has subsidiaries in Australia, Canada and the US. Its clients include Adobe, Ericsson, Nissan, Roche, Sage and many other global names across multiple sectors.
Register for I Am Here at www.iamheretribe.com

Code Institute: upskilling for digital transformation

Upskilling is a real concern for any company engaged in digital transformation, especially as it can leave experienced employees doing their best with outmoded skills.

Time and again, however, the Code Institute has seen large firms being able to take their seasoned employees and help them adapt, thereby benefitting both the workers and their employers.

“Take BT, which is a huge telecoms giant,” says Jane Gormley, Director of Employer Engagement at the Code Institute. “It had a really large network of hardware engineers who understood the mechanics of the business and the industry, but whose skills were becoming outdated as BT moved to a digital network.

“Our talent assessment tool can be rolled out to 10,000 people at once. BT used it to find the people were interested in and suited to becoming a developer, and put them through a training programme.”

Both companies and workers are increasingly realising, she adds, that training is an ongoing process. “Giving existing staff new skills is vital to successful digital transformation and also supports internal mobility for employees. We all know there is a massive digital skills shortage, but it is really positive to be able to retain your existing experienced staff. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The Code Institute’s core product is a university-accredited diploma in full stack web development. Its content is reviewed quarterly under the auspices of an industry council, which includes representatives from Accenture, Intercom, Microsoft and PayPal, among others. While individuals can sign up to study, the Code Institute also works closely with HR and learning and development teams within corporate clients.

The online learning environment includes 24/7 student chat support, a personal tutor and the learning management system itself, which is primarily video-based and which tracks students so they can be contacted and supported if they are falling behind. Each student is also assigned a developer working in industry to act as their mentor.

In this era of widespread remote working, employee engagement and wellbeing matter more than ever. Isolated workers need to feel a sense of community and get support from their employers in line with their company’s values.

From boosting physical and psychological health to enabling better employee communications and performance management, Irish talent tech companies are leading the way.

The five companies showcased below provide companies around the world with cutting-edge digital solutions to enable streamlined, effective work by HR departments, managers and employees.

Most are also focused on integrating with the existing technologies used by companies, meaning those in charge of IT budgets can maximise their legacy investments.

Workvivo: Engaging employees with a highly social experience

Workvivo is an enterprise social network, designed to enable organisations to engage as well as communicate with their employee communities.

“We took activities such as posting, liking and sharing content to an activity feed, which people are used to on social media apps outside the workplace, but developed them in a business context, enabling people to more easily engage with one another and with their company.” says Pete Rawlinson, Chief Marketing Officer at Workvivo.

“Disengagement was an issue for as many as 70% of businesses before the pandemic,” he adds. “One-to-one communication tools such as email or messaging facilitate communication but don’t do anything to provide that sense of community and culture. People need to feel part of something, especially when they are working remotely.”

Since the pandemic spread, Workvivo has seen a significant increase in enquiries. “Companies are seeing that many remote workers can feel isolated. Our platform helps bring employees together through a highly social experience. We see customers using the platform to host activities such as quizzes and competitions that really help create that important sense of community….and fun!”

Woodies, an Irish chain of DIY stores, found that its Workvivo activity went up when its workers were furloughed due to Covid-19. “These were mainly employees with no work email account or company device, but they wanted to stay engaged,” says Rawlinson.

Workvivo has sought to ensure it can integrate with existing communication tools such as Slack, Zoom and Workday, and also includes built-in engagement analysis through pulse surveys, he says, adding that many customers report higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement than before they implemented the platform. “Higher engagement typically leads to increases in talent retention and acquisition,” he said.

Established three years ago, Workvivo now has customers in 35 countries with over 150,000 users on the platform, including NETGEAR. The company is headquartered in Cork, Ireland and has recently opened an office in Sacramento, California. Having recently secured $16m (€14.2m) in Series A funding, and with Eric Yuan of Zoom as an existing investor, it is now focused on expanding its US client base and accelerating its product development plans.

Frankli: automating continuous performance management

While performance review cycles can strike dread into both managers and employees, Frankli aims to make performance management easier and more intuitive with its end-to-end platform.

“Our product allows managers to have much more meaningful conversations with people and support their development,” says Noel Dykes, founder and CEO of Frankli, which is headquartered in Sligo. “This approach is transformative and agile — we don’t set out to be a once-a-year annual cycle of goal-setting and meetings.”

A software engineer by background, Dykes worked as a consultancy practice manager in New Zealand and saw first-hand that younger employees were particularly keen on continuous feedback and recognition.

“People want to be truly connected to the work,” he says. “They want to understand their purpose. Why are they there? What is the company they are working for trying to achieve?”

He adds that purpose-driven organisations will thrive, especially as remote working opens up a global marketplace.

“Managers are going to become coaches, rather than engaging in direct management in the office where they can see employees and know what they are working on. From now on, they will have to trust people and give them much more autonomy.”

Within Frankli, managers can set up regular recurring one-to-one meetings with their team members, setting priorities, agreeing action items and supporting accountability on both sides. The software suggests recommended talking points, based on insights from organisational psychology. Employees can also contribute comments and suggestions.

The product also enables businesses to offer more tailored learning and development opportunities, including a two-sided mentor marketplace tool.

Frankli has customers of all sizes in Ireland, the UK, Poland and New Zealand. While its core focus is midsize companies looking to scale, it already supports workforces of as many as 70,000 employees.

Empeal: personalised employee wellbeing at scale

While many employee wellbeing platforms work on a one-to-many scale, says Sohini De, founder of data-driven start-up Empeal, her business aims to deliver 1:1 wellbeing support at scale.

“If someone is having trouble with sleep, perhaps not doing too much exercise, eating unhealthy food or generally falling into bad habits, they can go through the programme on our system,” she explains.

“They start by completing interactive questionnaires and we can also integrate data from their wearable devices. They could be given a personalised programme to improve their sleep hygiene, for example. If they continue to have problems, their case is escalated to a sleep expert.”

With users in Ireland and India, including ABP, one of the biggest media houses in India and Kingston Technologies a multinational hardware manufacturer, Empeal is now focused on expanding those markets and pushing into both the UAE and the UK.
So far, it has seen engagement rates of 60% on average, which De says is high for a wellbeing app. “We have also seen very encouraging results in terms of people achieving their health goals,” she says.

In addition to helping employees improve their wellbeing, Empeal also provides anonymised aggregate data to employers to enable them to make better decisions, improve staff retention rates and attract more talent.

To help companies navigate the coronavirus crisis, Empeal produced a free toolkit of resources and also made its community-level module free. “We were finding a lot of employers were asking, ‘How can we take care of our people at this time?’ — they were very concerned about how everyone in remote locations was coping not in touch with their workplace or workmates,” says De.

“The community engagement part of the platform, which includes fun challenges and community boards, helps employees feel connected and it’s very simple to roll out for HR teams.”

Peptalk: building community through connection and wellbeing

The three founders of workplace wellbeing platform Peptalk — all former sports stars, including , Michelle Fogarty, former Head of HR in EMEA for Twitter — know more than most the value of wellbeing when it comes to performance.

“We had all been involved in high performance sports,” says CEO James Brogan. “We had seen that to get the best out of people, their lives need to be in balance. What you do off the pitch is as important as what you do on it.”

Peptalk aims to help companies build sustainable high performance cultures through its community-driven employee experience platform. The product includes an insights tool, management toolkits, an employee app and a real-time measurement dashboard.

“We’re helping organisations with those off-the-pitch activities. We’re helping humans to be better at what they do, to have more energy, and to be more focused and resilient,” says Brogan.

He adds that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the issue of work-life balance: “Senior leaders have seen a different side to their staff. They’re now acutely aware that, unless people have proper support, they won’t be able to work to the best of their ability.”

During the crisis, Peptalk has seen increased engagement from existing clients, while also doubling its usual number of demos to potential customers.

Set up in late 2016, Peptalk has a global user base in over 10 countries, including PayPal, AIB and Northern Trust. “This is a global challenge faced by multinationals. We offer one solution that works across an organisation, so there is no sense of disconnection with different offices doing different things,” says Brogan.

With serious plans to scale further, Peptalk expects to close out its current funding round later in 2020. “This is the time for us to get out and support as many organisations as we can,” says Brogan. “It’s a challenging time and the need has never been greater for the type of services we offer.”

Wrkit: easy to implement and clinically-backed

Founded two decades ago, Wrkit was originally a group benefits scheme, which evolved into an employee discount scheme. While users can still access thousands of discounts on holidays, food, clothes and other products, Wrkit has expanded to offer other services, including a learning portal with 4,500 personal and professional courses, a recognition portal and a wellbeing portal called Powr.

“POWR stands for Positive Occupational Wellness Resources and offers tools such as meditation, breathing exercises and reflective journalling,” explains Jason Brennan, Wrkit’s Director of Wellbeing and Leadership.

“The big differentiator between Powr and similar apps is that it offers 430 clinically based behavioural plans put together by psychologists,” says Brennan. “These are based on six paths — mind, sleep, work, life, food and active. When users answer the questionnaires for these paths, they are given a personalised plan.”

“POWR users begin by finding out how they score clinically in the 6 areas of wellbeing and are instantly provided with personalised clinically based plans to improve engagement and growth in each area. During Covid for example we saw a huge up take in the activity, work and life plans, helping not only users but employers by feeding back what is happening in real time with their anonymised and aggregated dashboard”.

Wrkit is based in Dublin, but also has offices in London and Massachusetts. Its clients include multinationals such as KPMG, FedEx and Boston Scientific. Its internet-based application can be launched quickly as it requires no specific IT infrastructure, says Brennan.

“All we need to launch is the list of employee ID numbers, and we provide lots of webinars and video tutorials to help staff engage with the tool, which is of course completely confidential.”

When Covid-19 struck, Wrkit quickly found demand rose. “We launched to 60 companies in eight weeks,” says Brennan. “We also quickly created a Coping with Covid portal to help users.”

Enterprise Ireland client companies have helped put Ireland into the top echelon of countries whose innovative solutions are helping to reduce the impact of Covid-19.

A global survey ranks Ireland among the top countries in the world for producing innovative solutions to the current crisis.  Ireland has come sixth in a global ranking of those responding best in terms of innovation to the pandemic.

Inventive solutions coming out of Ireland span everything from med tech devices to diagnostics solutions and contact tracing software, and place the country just behind innovators such as the US, Canada and Israel.

The survey is compiled by StartupBlink, a Swiss-Israeli producer of global startup ecosystem maps, in association with the UN-backed Health Innovation Index (HIEx) and partners such as Crunchbase, a US business information platform.

Ireland’s top ranking position reflects the fact that within weeks of the World Health Organisation declaring the pandemic, on 11th March, more than 100 Enterprise Ireland client companies had responded with innovative solutions.

As a result Ireland is one of just a few in the Top 20 country ranking which is singled out by the report’s authors for “over-performing in Covid-related innovation”.

The rankings consider the number of innovations in each country, giving extra points for those which it selects as ‘outstanding’ in the fight against the virus.

The scale and scope of Ireland’s innovation response to the pandemic is immense. It includes examples such as nutraceuticals firm Mervue Labs in Cork partnering with iconic drinks maker Irish Distillers to create hand sanitisers.

Similar initiatives are to be seen among human and animal health companies such as Univet, Chanelle and Ovelle.

Irish mask maker Irema, a contract manufacturer to US conglomerate 3M and other medical device suppliers, has expanded its workforce and built a new production line to ramp up production of reusable respirator-grade masks.

Ireland’s engineering sector stepped up to the plate quickly too. Long established companies such as Automatic Plastics and Key Plastics, whose clients range from pharmaceutical and food packaging to telecoms and aerospace, pivoted to manufacture face shields for use by health service workers.

High potential start ups are responding fast too, with CALT Dynamics, a 3-D printing company backed by Stanley Black & Decker, making protective visors.

Software companies have risen to the challenge with alacrity.  Clinical practice management solutions company Wellola launched a secure patient communication portal for general practitioners in Ireland’s national health service, the HSE. By providing treatment remotely, it is helping to keep queues and wait times down, while at the same time protecting both doctor and patient from the spread of Covid-19.

Scheduling software company Swiftqueue is optimising appointments at Covid-19 urgent test centres.

Irish medical devices innovators are coming to the rescue too. PMD Solutions, creator of pioneering patient monitoring devices, is trialling a new respiratory monitoring solution in one of Dublin’s biggest hospitals.

Jinga Life allows people to securely record, store and share their own medical information. By providing for the digital transfer of things such as CT scans, MRIs and x-rays, it reduces the risk of infection from handling current technologies such as CDs.

Digital healthcare company PatientMpower provides tech solutions for people living with long term illnesses. Its remote monitoring enables clinicians to provide continued high quality care to vulnerable patients without the need for hospital visits during the Covid-19 crisis.

One of the world’s leading digital mental health providers, SilverCloud Health, is opening up part of its platform free of charge to help millions of people cope with the impact of Covid-19.

The Irish company has offices in Boston, Dublin and London and clients such as Ireland’s HSE and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and Canadian retail pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart. It is providing programmes on stress, sleep and resilience for free to its clients’ 150 million customers.

Tracking and tracing is an effective weapon in the fight against Covid-19 and Waterford based software development company NearForm is working with Ireland’s HSE to develop a mobile tracing app for the disease.

The potentially life-saving app will facilitate the rapid notification of people who have been in contact with someone who is subsequently been found have tested positive for the virus.

Irish artificial intelligence start up Oblivious AI has developed a Covid19 contact tracing solution that provides accurate information at speed while at the same time protecting people’s privacy. It is being piloted in India.

Internet of Things specialist Taoglas is helping public and private sector organisations to manage crowd sizes in order to maintain social distancing in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Augmented reality hand washing app SureWash, which is already used by healthcare workers globally to ensure proper hand hygiene, has been made available by the company to the general public, to stem the spread of the virus in the community.

Dublin based HiberGene Diagnostics, a developer of molecular diagnostics tests for human infectious diseases, is developing a new and rapid test for the novel coronavirus, based on non-invasive human samples such as swabs.

Because it is a “near patient test”, samples will be taken and tested on location, without needing to be sent offsite to a laboratory. It could produce a positive COVID 19 result many times faster than the fastest existing molecular diagnostic tests.

Fellow Irish biotech company Aalto Bio Reagents has launched a new protein with the power to fight the Covid-19 on three fronts – diagnosis, vaccines and research.

Irish med tech company Aerogen has pioneered new ways to help people in respiratory distress using aerosol drug delivery technology.

Unlike conventional nebulisers, Aerogen has an in-line circuit design, which means the ventilation circuit does not need to be broken for drug delivery. Its management team believes it could therefore be a viable option to help deliver industry-leading care to patients infected with Covid-19.

Finally, innovative plasma technology developed by Irish company Novaerus is helping to close the infection control loop of hands, surfaces and now air. It uses a patented technology that kills airborne viruses by sucking air from a room and passing it through patented plasma coils which destroy them, reducing the risk of cross-infection.

Irish companies are continuing to respond to the pandemic challenge with resourcefulness and creativity, says Tom Kelly, Enterprise Ireland’s divisional manager for innovation and competitiveness. “We are seeing companies innovating, adapting and creating new solutions.”

In the global quest for talent, there was a time when the name Enterprise Ireland may have flown somewhat under the international radar. Today, Ireland’s national export agency invests in a staggering 200 or so start-ups every year.

As one of the most prolific seed investors in the world, Enterprise Ireland places an especially high value on what it defines as High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs). These fall under the remit of Divisional Manager for HPSUs, Joe Healy, who explains how the agency operates – and what they look for.

What is the the role of Enterprise Ireland?

Our role is to develop the companies of tomorrow – those that will drive the Irish economy. We try and help those companies on their journey.

Enterprise Ireland has a 20-year track record of supporting companies with a strong international ambition. We have worked with hundreds of founders, taking a hands-on role to give these fledgling companies the benefit of our vast experience and knowledge.

Where does Enterprise Ireland sit in a global start-up context?

In terms of deal flow and volume of investment, we’re ranked third in Europe right now. We have a portfolio of more than 1500 companies across all sectors and of all sizes, including our HPSUs.

We make equity investments in approximately 200 early-stage companies per year. Last year, we invested €31 (£27) million in HPSUs, in addition to our wider investment strategy. We try to give companies that have potential the opportunity to succeed by giving the right level of support in terms of both funding and mentorship.

What do you look for in an early-stage start-up?

At a minimum, we look for a viable product plus evidence that there’s a market for that product. We also look for a team. That’s crucial. We ask: “Does this [founder] have what it takes to get people in who can help?”

Once those milestones have been reached, we set off on an 18-month project, collaborating and supporting the business where help is needed. It usually takes at least 18 months to raise the first round of proper investment.

How do you identify HPSUs?

We’re very active at trade and industry events. We also have a strong regional network to help ensure a continuous flow of entrepreneurs and founders. Whatever stage they’re at, we have people and resources in place to help them. These are not linear journeys and of course no two companies are the same, but it all starts with a conversation. Whatever the need, we have people to talk to and signposts that give clarity and direction.

For example, if you’re still at the idea stage we will encourage you towards our New Frontiers program. If you have a clear concept, you’ll probably start talking to your Local Enterprise Office. If you have a product that’s been validated, you’ll be working with Enterprise Ireland. And if you’ve fleshed out the market opportunity and devised a pathway to sales, then we’ll probably look to invest [and scale].

Do you gravitate towards some sectors more than others?

Quality projects and committed founders are always welcome. If you talk about sectors, right now probably two-thirds of our HPSU investments are in the technology or software field. Those companies, when they succeed, are easier to scale. That’s the fact of the matter. We also have a small but strong cohort of medical device companies. But again, there are no limits on good ideas.

What are the rewards on offer – for the start-ups and for Enterprise Ireland?

Our reward, as a Government agency, is that we’re building the next generation of Irish industry.

For the entrepreneurs, the reward is obvious – they want to work for themselves and we can help make that happen. But they must have the drive to pursue their vision. It can be a tough journey. It’s a 24/7 commitment so they need to be passionate about what they’re doing.

What are the challenges?

Our main challenge is to continuously identify viable projects and businesses. That puts us in the risk business. We accept that. We do everything in our power to help companies succeed, but in the end it’s down to the market. Ultimately it’s whether they can convince customers to buy.

For founders, the big challenge is funding. No surprise there. It can be extremely hard to find risk capital. One of the big tests is whether or not other investors believe in projects as much as we do.

Who are some of the role models HPSUs can look up to?

You look at Ergo, led by John Purdy, and Taxback by Terry Clune, both examples of Irish entrepreneurs who not only started innovative companies but also led them to commercial success. Others scaling well include Nearform led by Cian O’Maidín, Boxever led by David O’Flanagan and CurrencyFair led by Paul Byrne. We also have high hopes for rising stars such as Glofox led by Conor O’Loughlin and SalesOptimize led by Liz Fulham.

What makes Ireland such a fertile breeding ground for start-ups?

Ireland is a dynamic country with a very strong ecosystem for innovation. We have a culture of entrepreneurship that benefits from a fast-growing economy and a young, highly-employable population.

All the ingredients are there for start-ups. But it’s not for everyone. The things you have to do might not be sophisticated, but they can be hard. What could be harder than building things you want people to pay money for? Anyone who chooses that path deserves the very best support they can get. That’s what Enterprise Ireland tries to do.

Fast-growing Irish agritech company Herdwatch has been awarded the Silver Online Innovation Award at the UK’s leading agriculture and machinery show.

Herdwatch, based in Roscrea, Co Tipperary, was honoured by LAMMA 2019 for the new Farm Medicine Scanner feature on its farm management app. Ireland is playing a major part in the global agritech sector.

The Farm Medicine Scanner allows beef, dairy and sheep farmers to scan animal medicines and record their use with a smartphone. The Herdwatch app uses the phone’s camera to read the barcode or QR code on a medicine container and run the information directly into the app.

The scanner is able to identify the medicine, its corresponding Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) number, and also its batch number and expiry date.

The feature saves time, increases medicine traceability and compliance on farms, and provides assurance to farmers that their records are 100% accurate.

In just five years, Herdwatch has grown to become the second largest farm management app and platform in the world by making it easy for dairy, suckler, beef and arable farmers to comply with animal welfare and traceability regulations at all times.

The Herdwatch app is used on more than 10,000 farms across the UK and Ireland. It saves farmers an estimated two to three hours of paperwork every week by recording farm and animal events digitally as they happen.

The company has won multiple awards in Ireland and the UK since launching its app in 2014, and CEO Fabien Peyaud said that this latest success was testament to the hard work of all of Herdwatch’s 14 employees, half of whom work in research and development.

Mr Peyaud said: “The amount of work which goes into something which looks so simple, like the Farm Medicine Scanner, is phenomenal so an award like this is a huge boost for us.

“It’s recognition for the team and all their hard work. It’s also confirmation that we’ve done something that makes a difference for farmers.

“The LAMMA Awards have a reputation for recognising ground-breaking innovation and advances in agricultural machinery, technology and services. This is our second award there – we won a merit certificate in 2016 – and it motivates us to continue to innovate for farmers in Ireland and the UK.”

For more information on Irish agritech companies, please see Irish Advantage.