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.

By Jack Finucane-Clarke, Market Advisor, Fintech

Fintech is no longer seen as an existential threat to banks but as a deliverer of new possibilities for them. It’s something Ireland’s innovative fintech companies readily understood, which is why the country has emerged as a hotbed of fintech innovation, helping the industry respond not just to the challenges but to the opportunities arising from the digitisation of banking, payments and regulation.

It no doubt helped that Ireland has a long tradition of fintech. Irish company Fexco, a pioneer in payments, dates to 1981 – aeons in technology terms. Since then the country has successfully developed a strong cohort of companies providing a myriad of clever solutions to increasingly complex banking problems.

It’s a pedigree that includes mold-breaking companies such as dynamic currency conversion inventor Monex and international tax refunds and payments company Taxback, as well as online payments platform Stripe.

Ireland’s CV in this space includes international payments solutions provider Sentenial and global payments company Transfermate, as well as Leveris, whose Core Banking Platform caters to both newly minted challengers and forward-thinking legacy banks alike.

On the regtech side, Ireland is home to pioneers such as Corlytics, a world leader in regulatory risk intelligence, and Fenergo, developer of client lifecycle management technology that is used by major banks in every corner of the globe.

Ireland’s strength in the field is further reflected in having seven companies featured in the RegTech 100, a global index. Given that Ireland has a – young, dynamic and highly educated but still small – population of less than 5 million, it’s a clear indication of the wealth of expertise the country has in this field.

What’s more, the level of fintech innovation coming out of Ireland isn’t just continuing, it’s gathering pace, a fact seen in the growth of Irish financial services exports globally.

Regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations, the UK will remain a leading global financial services hub – and one whose activities are increasingly powered by innovative fintech Ireland solutions. Those bonds are already being actively strengthened and deepened on both sides, as Enterprise Ireland’s 13th annual financial services dinner in London made clear.

Michael D’Arcy TD, Ireland’s Minister for Financial Services and Insurance, spoke at the event on the importance of strengthening ties between both nations.

He mentioned that driving continuous innovation and research in the international financial services industry is a “key priority” for the Irish Government.

He added that this is supported by Ireland’s Financial Services Strategy (IFS2020), the government’s blueprint to providing clear and coordinated direction for Ireland as a financial services centre, and one that is supported and driven by all relevant public and private stakeholders.,” he said.

He, also mentioned that Enterprise Ireland clients in this sector generated exports of almost €700 million last year, up 11% on 2016 and experienced growth in the UK at 8%, despite the challenges of Brexit.

Fintech Ireland- and regtech – companies are helping the world’s financial services industry respond to the challenges and opportunities it faces, from the digitisation of banking to new payments models and the ever-moving goalposts of compliance.

They are developing unique, innovative and robust solutions, from payments to regtech and cybersecurity, as well as developing applications that can power everything from mobile banking and crowdfunding to cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

Exciting prospects for the Irish supply chain in world leading offshore wind market

Written by Darragh Cotter: Enterprise Ireland Cleantech Market Advisor

 

The ambitious industry plan recently presented by the UK Offshore Wind Industry Council (OWIC) includes plans to generate 30GW of offshore wind power by 2030, up from a current operational capacity of 7GW, with a further 7GW already consented or under construction. The 2030 vision will require a £48 billion investment in UK infrastructural spending, supporting upwards of 27,000 skilled jobs. The plan will provide more than one third of the UK’s electricity needs and strengthen the UK’s position as the global leader in offshore wind.

The commitment by the UK offshore wind industry to work with the UK Government on an ambitious and transformative sector deal will require a significant mobilisation of the supply chain and Irish companies are ready to go. Enterprise Ireland research shows that there are well over 50 Irish companies with proven capability and experience across the offshore wind supply chain. Additionally, many companies possess the ability to quickly and effectively pivot in to the sector to provide reliable and innovative products and services to an ever-growing industry.

There is a well-established history of Irish companies driving growth within the offshore wind sector, going back to Arklow Bank in 2004. Located 12km off Ireland’s east coast, Arklow Bank was one of the first offshore wind farms to be developed in either Ireland or the UK. Commissioned in 2004 by Irish owned Airtricity (now part of SSE plc), the project brought over 25MW of clean renewable electricity to the grid. Airtricity subsequently brought their Arklow Bank experience to the 504MW Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm off the Suffolk coast, where construction was completed in 2012.

The Irish influence in the UK can further be seen in the Hornsea One project off the Yorkshire coast. One of the world’s biggest (Round 3) windfarms, it was developed by Irish company, Mainstream Renewable Power, who also developed the Neart Na Gaoithe zone off the East coast of Scotland prior to its recent sale to EDF.

When it comes to maintaining windfarms, Irish companies come to the fore. Irish Sea Contractors work with Ørsted to provide subsea inspections for its offshore assets around the UK coast. The same company is also leading on innovation in the subsea cable repair supply chain with its patented Habitat solution. Other Irish companies, such as Xocean, use unique Unmanned Surface Vehicles to provide seabed mapping and turnkey data collections services for the offshore wind industry. Furthermore, Irish companies bring excellent geotechnical and environmental engineering experience to the offshore wind industry. For example, companies such as Gavin and Doherty Geosolutions work with offshore wind developers to identify uncertainties, risks and challenges in the design, installation and operations of offshore wind farms such as Neart na Gaoithe.

Vessel design and build are also strong areas of Irish expertise. For example, Irish vessel builders such as Mooney Boats and Arklow Marine have substantial experience building support vessels for the UK offshore wind industry, with several Irish companies also involved in vessel management.

With ever increasing offshore wind generation, demand side response services offered by GridBeyond are essential to ensure flexibility and a stable supply of electricity to the grid. The importance of grid solutions to the future of the energy industry is reflected in the establishment of an Enterprise Ireland Smart Grid cluster in 2018, which showcases the collective Irish capability in this space. Increased requirements for grid connections and the construction of power transmission and substation infrastructure will also be a key element of the industry’s growth. Irish strength in this space can be seen in companies such as H&MV Engineering, Kirby Group Engineering, Suir Engineering and Gaeltec Utilities.

On the research front, Ireland’s universities and research centres such as the Centre for Marine and Renewable Energy (MaREI) have been at the cutting edge in the development and testing of next generation technologies and systems.

Irish companies are primed and well positioned to help the UK meet its 2030 targets and this was illustrated during a recent Enterprise Ireland and SSE Offshore Wind Exchange at SSE’s Glasgow office. An Irish delegation of 15 companies met with senior SSE executives to showcase Irish expertise, discuss SSE’s future project plans, and discuss how the Irish supply chain can support the development of the UK offshore wind industry.

With a new trading relationship between the UK and the EU on the horizon, Enterprise Ireland-backed companies remain wholeheartedly committed to working with and supporting our nearest neighbours in the development of its offshore wind industry. To further highlight this commitment to the UK market, Enterprise Ireland will host a UK offshore wind industry delegation to Ireland in March 2019 to deepen collaboration and highlight the crucial areas of support that the Irish supply chain can provide across the UK offshore wind industry.

For more information on Ireland’s capability in the offshore wind sector and on the UK delegation visit to Ireland, please contact Darragh Cotter in Enterprise Ireland’s London office at Darragh.Cotter@enterprise-ireland.com

 

With the growing UK need for aerospace skills and manufacturing capabilities, Takumi Precision Engineering is in the perfect position to deliver.

Takumi Precision Engineering is an Irish-based precision component and manufacturing partner and provider of sub-contract engineering services. Founded by a team of three in 1998, the company started life as a domestic manufacturer in the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. In 2012, the company diversified into aerospace. Six years later, aerospace accounts for 50% of the business, which was valued at £2 million in November 2017.

Takumi is now on track to double its revenues, as it serves soaring demand for the manufacturing of parts across sectors such as aerospace in the UK.

Aerospace in the UK

The UK is the world’s second-largest aerospace sector, directly employing 120,000 people and supporting a further 118,000 jobs indirectly. The need for such a large base of employees is reflected in the growth of UK aerospace output, up by 39% since 2011. The aerospace industry is not only booming in the UK, however. Worth €4.1 billion to the Irish economy, Ireland’s aerospace industry is accelerating faster than ever, opening up opportunities for Takumi and other companies in the sector.

Gerry Reynolds, Managing Director at Takumi Precision Engineering, said, “We have experienced tremendous growth during the past two years and have ‘wings’ to grow even further. Capitalising on the need for batch production and model-based manufacture and inspection, we already hold substantial contracts with Bombardier in the UK, GKN in the Isle of Wight and are now looking to expand our portfolio by working with Airbus in Europe and Boeing in the US.”

Takumi engineers the future

Between 2016 and 2020, Takumi will have invested £4 million in improving and scaling the business and Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency and third-largest seed investor in Europe according to PitchBook, provides ongoing assistance to the business in investments of this nature.

“With a growing appetite for aerospace products and a finite manufacturing capacity, the timing couldn’t be more perfect for us”, commented Gerry who is working with Enterprise Ireland to help provide a solution to this increasing UK demand and subsequently fill a skills gap in the market.

By defining clear strategies for both online and sales, Enterprise Ireland has helped accelerate the company’s growth as well as achieve a stronger market entrance in the UK and internationally. This, in turn, has resulted in an increased participation in global trade show events while also building awareness. Its success is clear, as Takumi has recorded a 50% increase in both turnover and headcount.

With over 50% of the industry’s global spend being managed by aircraft leasing companies based in Ireland, Ireland is uniquely positioned to drive the industry’s innovation forward.

Innovative digital and off-site solutions are in the spotlight again, with recent developments in VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) technologies demonstrating incredible potential. UK construction designs are being optimised digitally in ways that would take weeks or even months if done by traditional methods.

In parallel to these developments, trade in Irish construction products and services to the UK has increased by 68% in the last five years. This increase, combined with trade of €1.29 billion of construction products and services to the UK in 2016 alone, indicates a clear upward trend in demand for innovative digital and off-site construction solutions provided by Irish companies.

Here are five key trends to watch:

  1. BIM: The future for the built environment

Last year, the UK Government made use of Building Information Modelling (BIM) mandatory for new capital funded public sector projects. As many Irish construction services and engineering companies gain a foothold in the UK market, they have access to BIM frameworks and guidelines for projects and products of this nature.

Technologies that once seemed only imaginable in science fiction, such as connected data, robots and VR, have become familiar solutions and procedures. As the trend moves towards BIM Level 3, 3D printing is reaching a point where components can be printed rather than shipped, opening up the option of virtual walkthroughs and intelligent smart cities.

  1. The growth of digital disruptors

Companies such as Uber and Airbnb have disrupted their industries and with new business models on the rise, we are likely to see the trend replicated across the construction industry. Disruptors challenge the status quo and this is what we are seeing in construction as technology evolves rapidly.

One of the key reasons Irish companies are so successful in UK construction, often winning contracts for complex, high-tech builds, including data centres, hospitals and commercial buildings, is because they are at the forefront of innovation in the sector. According to the BIM report, published in May 2017 by Construction IT Alliance (CiTA) in association with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, Ireland has made remarkable progress in recent years in advancing BIM capability. The report found that 76% of Irish respondents were confident in their organisation’s BIM skills and knowledge.

Embracing BIM as more than a tool, and instead considering it as a a series of processes that help to speed up the building programme and provide structured, accessible information for clients once a project is completed, is key. There is also an opportunity for companies to extend BIM even further by incorporating 4D and 5D modelling, which allows real-time visualisation of a project’s progress and for individual costs to be attached to different, specific elements.

  1. Looking to off-site construction and support

Another key area of innovation that Irish companies have focused on is off-site fabrication. Manufacturing components off-site allows less room and opportunity for mistakes. It also enables Irish companies to carry out a considerable amount of work before a building project starts on site.

Kirby Group Engineering took advantage of both prefabrication and BIM in a recent project that involved converting an existing warehouse and office building into a mission critical Tier 3 data centre for a leading provider of carrier-neutral data centres. Through digital fabrication and modelling, the process was completed in just 20 weeks.

  1. Build-to-Rent vs Build-to-Sell

It was estimated that the British construction sector needs to bring in one new recruit every 77 seconds to solve the country’s housing crisis – a staggering statistic. The supply of new homes through the “Build to Sell” model is constrained by a number of factors, including land availability, affordability, uncertain duration for ownership and increases in tax, duty and regulations. At the same time, the planning pipeline of the build-to-rent market is growing.

Irish companies that can help tackle the current industry supply issues around skills and capacity shortages are of particular interest to the UK. Companies like Extraspace Solutions, Cygnum Timber Frame and Techrete offer off-site manufacturing capability that reduces the number of operatives on site.

  1. A lean future for UK construction

Lean methods and processes across the supply chain are contributing to improvements in quality, productivity and the health and safety of Ireland’s construction industry. Benefits are accrued through the elimination of wasted time and from fewer delays on site.

Several Irish multinationals are embracing lean principles to win business abroad and construction companies like Jones Group, Mercury Engineering and Kirby are already exporting lean services abroad – securing more work, reducing costs, and offering better value to clients.

As a new chapter of economic uncertainty begins, Ireland continues to be a first-point partner for the UK and we expect trade relationships between the UK and Ireland to deepen even further over the coming years.

An increasingly complex workplace requires an increasingly skilled recruitment sector, attendees at the World Employment Conference, sponsored by national export agency Enterprise Ireland, heard.

Radical changes in how organisations are structured and how employees work, driven by fast-changing technology, means that “where once people had a narrow career path and a defined skill set which they could trade on, they are now engaging in a kaleidoscope career,” said Colette Darcy, Dean of the School of Business at National College of Ireland, and a senior lecturer in HR.

NCI is working with Ireland’s National Recruitment Federation to find ways in which the recruitment industry can best respond to changes that are taking place in client organisations. The project has identified a need to professionalise the industry, “so that clients can have comfort in the quality of recruiters they are engaging with,” Darcy said.

Professionalising the recruitment industry

“If you are a professional recruiter, what does that mean? And how can we ensure there is a common understanding of what that means in the wider working world?”

To begin with, the industry aims to develop professional apprenticeships, similar to those recently introduced in the financial services domain. The apprenticeship model would combine academic learning with on-the-job application, which would be of value to the rapidly-changing recruitment industry.

Having suitably qualified staff could become an important differentiator for agencies in a crowded market and the intention is also to develop programmes at higher professional levels.

Education is now of strategic importance to the industry, said Karen O’Flaherty, chief operating officer at Morgan McKinley, the recruitment agency.

“The entire recruitment role has fundamentally changed over the past five or 10 years, and with pace over the past two years. Without question, it has become more sophisticated. Consultants now not only need industry expertise but marketing skills and have an understanding of AI and data, as well as understanding how to use digital technology in different ways.”

It takes a significant length of time to onboard staff in the industry and the level of attrition is high. Apprenticeships offer the potential to attract staff to individual agencies, as well as boost the profile of the recruitment sector as an employer overall, she said.

Such accreditation will be welcomed by clients, particularly multinational ones for whom an employment agency “has changed from being what used to be a transactional need to fill a role, to how they can develop a better pipeline of future talent for the organisation,” said O’Flaherty.

The impact of technology on skills

Just as book keeping evolved into accountancy, thanks to education and increased professionalisation, recruitment can evolve too, said Jonny Campbell, CEO of Social Talent, an Irish recruitment training company.

“The more transactional tasks are increasingly being automated by technology. These are not the core skills we need anymore. We require people to be advisors, experts, data poets and analysts, and not just do the transactional work. That is a very sophisticated role and it requires us to take a different approach to the education of those individuals, both upfront and on a continuous basis.”

Better recruiters mean better matches for clients. For example, social skills are increasingly required by clients, particularly in project management and IT. “Clients are looking for candidates with high-level interpersonal skills, who are able to relate to people across all levels of an organisation. The irony is, the more digital we become, the less capable people are of doing that,” said O’Flaherty.

“That’s where I see the real value-add within the specialist profession of recruitment, being highly attuned – almost a psychologist – to finding the right mix, to matching the kind of talent that can come in and make a difference to that organisation.”

This chimes with Campbell’s experience developing curricula for recruiters over the past eight years. “I’ve seen the evolution of what we deliver to customers go from very technical tools, processes and technologies to our top requests now, which are around project management, leadership, psychology, influence and storytelling,” he said.

Renewed importance of soft skills

Often disparagingly referred to as ‘soft skills’, they are “arguably the most important base skills because they are universal and transferable,” he said. “We have lessened the investment we have put into these base skills that will always be needed. We focus too much instead on the type of tech training which eventually can be replaced by machines.”

Recruitment is “one of those roles where you have to do the job to understand it,” said Campbell, which is why on-the-job training, either via apprenticeship or through bite-sized online chunks on-demand, are so valuable.

“We see formal education as one piece of the pie, and that continuing professional development has to be there as well,” said Darcy.

“The rate of change is such that it’s a nonsense to say that someone could do a programme of study three years ago and still be current. You need to maintain your currency. In a professional recruitment sector the CPD element has to be visible, attractive, monitored and valued by employers – and their clients.”

Composing short term, freelance, on demand, and contingent workers, the gig economy is currently valued at US $3.5 (£2.7) trillion globally, according to Barry Asin, president of San Francisco-based Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA).

“That puts it on a scale with just about any major industry in the world, including oil, gas and retail,” said Asin, speaking at the World Employment Conference in Dublin, sponsored by national export agency Enterprise Ireland.

A recent SIA survey asked Fortune 500 companies what they are doing to manage gig work. More than 70% said they are using a vendor management system (VMS), an electronic platform to track all suppliers. Over 60% have a network service provider in place to help with IT systems.

“That change has disrupted the recruitment industry over the last decade. There are also other changes, including more analytics, outsourcing, and consolidating suppliers.”

Total talent acquisition

Looking to the future, most respondents reported that contingent work is now part of strategic planning – something they are thinking about long term, as opposed to tactically, Asin noted.

It is one reason why the concept of total talent acquisition (TTA) is gaining currency within organisations.

“The question is – what is the right resource in the organisation? Is it a permanent worker, a gig worker, temporary agency worker, or an outsourced service? Those questions are top of mind among large companies and are driving the way they organise themselves.”

The human cloud

Some companies are choosing to self-source, using their own career site to attract contingent workers.

While the tech story of the past decade has been the growth of VMSs and jobs boards, as ways of connecting talent and companies, the new story is the growth of online platforms, forming what SIA calls the ‘human cloud’.

“Labour markets are tight right now, and recruiters are competing for talent with online platforms that have made it easy for people to get jobs and to work when they want,” Asin said, citing the rise of Uber and Deliveroo as examples.

Such companies allow people to choose when they want to work, without the need for a human intermediary.

These activities are less common in the B2B space, valued at US $5 (£3.9) billion globally, and much smaller than agency or temp work, “but growing faster than anything else in the industry,” Asin noted, “and growing faster than any other category we track.”

While large companies often lead staffing trends, the gig economy is being driven by SMEs, using platforms such as Upwork. “Most of this work can be done remotely. Companies can connect to people who can do a piece of work for them anywhere in the world, mostly in roles that are easily digital – IT, marketing, creative.”

Improving access to talent

Contrary to popular perception, the trend is not about sourcing cheaper labour but access to talent, “because talent is in great shortage,” Asin said.

While only 13% of large companies surveyed by SIA currently use online staffing, their interest in doing so has grown significantly.

It remains to be seen to what extent it will disrupt the traditional recruitment industry. “The answer is about human behaviour, and what it takes to get people to adopt [new solutions],” he said, noting that only 24% of large companies had a VMS in place before the 2008 recession.

As the global economy moved out of recession in 2011, 64% of large companies had a VMS. “Companies change when they have to. They needed to get more creative and find ways to reduce cost, hence the big growth in VMS adoption. I suspect that might be the way things will play out for online platforms.”

Disrupt or be disrupted

For those in the traditional recruitment industry, it is time to adopt a “disrupt or be disrupted” mindset, Asin said.

“What is your business?” he asked recruitment agencies. “Is it branches and recruiters, or is it connecting people and work? I would argue it is the latter. Therefore, find the best way for you to connect people and work, which may be new ways of doing your work.”

A raft of hybrid tech-rich recruiters have emerged that are doing just that, combining both human and platform elements, including ShiftGig in the US.

There has been convergence in the industry too, such as Randstad’s purchase of freelance platform Twago, and the purchase by global HR services firm Adecco of digital recruiter Vettery.

True Blue is the US’s largest industrial staffer, with JobStack its internal take on an online platform. Within two years of JobStack’s launch, 25% of its placements are filled with no human intervention.

“And the tech is not stopping, which is, mostly, a good news story for the industry,” Asin said, improving efficiencies and automating tedious manual work, such as scheduling interviews. Chat bots are already moving into the area and could well move into matching, he said.

“Do we need a recruiter to pick the top three candidates for a particular job, if AI can do it quicker and more efficiently? In many cases, it can but the good news is that it is the human intuition of the recruiter – plus the AI – that will make it an even better match.”

Blockchain technology has been in development since the 1990s but only came to global prominence in 2009 as a component of the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

As bitcoin has become synonymous with financial risk, the blockchain technology behind it has been lauded as revolutionary for its wide-ranging potential.

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In essence, blockchain is a series of records – or blocks – with each block securely linked to every other block in the chain. Secure linking means that any one block cannot be altered without altering all the blocks in the chain.

Those blocks can be thought of like entries in a ledger, and the ledger can be distributed among users in an open and transparent way. Interested parties can see each transaction in the ledger and therefore fully trust the records.

Application of blockchain has potential to revolutionise industries

“In practical terms, blockchain allows people to send money or records in an open, transparent and identifiable way. Its application has the potential to revolutionise entire sectors,” says Eoin Fitzgerald, senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency.

The agency recently launched a fintech and deep tech fund for start-ups based in Ireland, which will invest in technologies like proptech, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, the internet of things, cloud, and blockchain.

It is the first time that Enterprise Ireland has sought investments in blockchain.

“I think that the time is right for us to invest in blockchain. It has certainly come of age and we are starting to see concrete examples of how beneficial this technology is. It is no longer the tech which runs bitcoin.”

Recently, a business chamber in England certified an export consignment from an engineering company using blockchain. A certificate of origin is used to prove where goods were made for customs purposes.

The development has been described as a possible solution for Brexit if such certificates are required in bulk. Such information is stored via blockchain and tracked with a QR code. As the technology is extremely secure, it would be very difficult to falsify a certificate.

“As blockchain is perfect for sending relatively small amounts of data – not millions and billions of records – it has many varied uses in any supply chain or distribution network,” explains Fitzgerald.

How Irish start-up AID:Tech leverages blockchain

Recently Enterprise Ireland made its first direct investment in blockchain by backing Irish start-up AID:Tech.

By utilising blockchain technology, the company’s software creates secure digital identities for people. Once you have a secure identity, aid, welfare or remittances can be safely tracked and delivered to individuals.

“AID:Tech’s leveraging of blockchain is a great example of how you can safely and securely transfer money or aid from an organisation to a person, no matter where they are,” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald points to the trouble NGOs have in distributing aid and how a certain amount can get lost through poor processes or fraud. If your digital identity is proven via blockchain, and you are armed with a QR code, then you will be entitled to whatever your records state you are.

“While AID-Tech is operating in the NGO sector, there is tremendous scale in what they can achieve and over the next year we expect to see such solutions being adopted wholescale by companies which need to track the transfer of payments or records,” says Fitzgerald.

Other Irish companies developing blockchain products include TravaCoin. It has created a payment solution which enables airlines to compensate and refund passengers.

While GECKO Governance has developed a number of blockchain-integrated products which allow fund managers and banks to schedule all end-to-end compliance and regulatory tasks on a single platform.

GECKO Governance believes that the technology is the future for regtech – regulation and compliance in financial services.

“What we are seeing in Ireland is the rapid growth and maturity of blockchain. It’s only a matter of time before we see governments using the technology. State healthcare services and social welfare payments are perfectly positioned to adopt such technology,” explains Fitzgerald.

Ireland’s fintech ecosystem is helping companies in the country to leading the way in innovating such solutions.

“When I think of blockchain, I see Ireland becoming a centre of excellence for the technology,” says Fitzgerald.

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland, describes why fintech investors should keep a close eye on the government agency’s investments.

Enterprise Ireland is most likely the biggest fintech investor you’ve never heard of. While Y Combinator may be a start-up machine, Enterprise Ireland is a fintech factory.

The Irish government agency responsible for supporting Irish businesses and helping them to internationalise, is also one of the largest and most successful fintech investors in the world.

Enterprise Ireland actively supports a portfolio of more than 1500 companies with equity investments at any time, spanning almost all sectors, including large and small businesses, and what it defines as ‘High Potential Start-Ups’.

In 2017, Enterprise Ireland invested more than €30 million in over 200 companies, of which 90 were HPSUs.

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland.

Some Enterprise Ireland-backed companies are pure financial service plays. Others focus on selling ICT solutions into financial services. But more than 200 are fintechs, and roughly half of those are start-ups.

To put Enterprise Ireland’s investment activities into perspective, the most active fintech investor in the world is California’s Y Combinator. It is famously characterised by the New York Times as a ‘start-up machine’. Last year it invested in 29 companies.

The second most active fintech investor in the world was Enterprise Ireland, with 23.

That positions the agency ahead of high-profile players such as Digital Currency Group and Accel Partners, who backed 19 companies each, as well as iconic Silicon Valley-based operators such as 500 Startups (17), and venture capital titans like Sequoia (15).

As a state agency, our primary driver is unapologetically jobs growth, while other investors may focus exclusively on financial metrics. They are not, of course, mutually exclusive.

Rather, they are two sides of one coin, a fact underscored by Enterprise Ireland’s strike-rate. Over a ten-year period, the agency’s fintech return on investment stands well above the industry average.

Payments pedigree starts with Fexco

It helps to have a pedigree that goes back to Ireland’s very first fintech, international payments firm Fexco, which was set up in 1981.

Today Enterprise Ireland’s expert fintech team handles all companies in the sector, from two-person start-ups to 500 employee growth-stage enterprises, providing an unrivalled depth of knowledge.

It’s the same holistic approach Enterprise Ireland takes to food, for which Ireland has a long-established global reputation for excellence.

Ireland’s reputation for fintech excellence is growing, with Enterprise Ireland playing an active and central role. Activity ranges from contributing to national policy through instruments such as IFS2020, Ireland’s ‘whole of Government’ approach to driving growth in the financial services sector, to actively taking an equity stake in promising fintechs.

€1 billion in revenues generated by fintech portfolio in 2016

In 2016, Enterprise Ireland’s portfolio of 200+ fintech companies generated over €1 billion in revenues, an enormous success story for Ireland but one which is not as well-known as it should be. Fintech investors worldwide should recognise that an Enterprise Ireland-backed company comes with a significant seal of approval.

Such a company is, by necessity, internationally focused and will have been, from a very early stage, taking on markets worldwide.

Enterprise Ireland’s deal-making experience also sets such companies apart.

A typical VC will do two or perhaps three fintech deals a year. By contrast, between 2014 and 2017 serious players such as 500 Startups and Y Combinator did 105 and 102 deals respectively. Enterprise Ireland did 85.

Why Ireland for fintech?

What makes a small country like Ireland, with a population just 4.5 million, such a fertile seedbed for fintech? It can be attributed to a unique set of fruitful circumstances.

Firstly, Ireland’s fintech sector benefits from an exceptionally collaborative culture. Unusually for any entrepreneurial ecosystem, this collaborative approach includes significant government and state agency support, with fintech treated as a national priority.

Biggest names in tech and global financial services

Ireland also benefits from an exceptional selection of international players. It is home to the operations of nine of the world’s top 10 technology companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon. That’s the ‘tech’ side.

Ireland is also home to some of the biggest names in global financial services, from Bank of America Merill Lynch, to Barclays and Sumitomo Mitsui. Ireland is the fourth-largest exporter of financial services in the world. That’s the ‘fin’ side.

While Ireland hosts all of these international tech and financial services companies, none of them competes with each other for customers in Ireland, allowing for extraordinary levels of collaboration.

It also allows Irish fintechs an unrivalled ability to secure expertise. Many of Ireland’s fintech and regtech founders know first-hand the pinch points of the sector, having held senior positions.

And Enterprise Ireland actively supports them. We don’t seek to sit on the board of investee companies, and we are not driven by the same return as other investors but, like them, we aim to back successful, scalable, international businesses.

We do it day in day out. No other agency anywhere in the world is fostering fintech success on the same scale as Enterprise Ireland.  Y Combinator may be a start-up machine, but Enterprise Ireland is a fintech factory.

With Building Information Modelling technology offering significant reductions in project costs and delivery times, Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, is supporting its adoption.

The construction industry has never been slow to embrace new technologies. Sophisticated computer-aided design systems have long been a feature of Irish architectural and engineering practices, while many building components are now precision-made in computer-aided manufacturing facilities.

The latest wave of virtual and augmented reality technologies is enabling clients to take virtual “walks” through buildings, long before a shovel has touched soil.

At the same time, contractors have invested heavily in advanced systems to manage all aspects of projects – from resource planning through cost control and beyond.

However, the various pieces of software and systems employed on projects do not necessarily communicate or connect with one another in a coherent fashion. Each element of the project – design, construction, supplies – may be operating efficiently, but the project may be suboptimal in key respects such as cost and schedule.

What exactly is BIM?

That is where Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology comes in. Put simply, BIM is a digital representation of all aspects and characteristics of a building, both physical and functional. It is a shared pool of knowledge which all stakeholders can utilise from the moment design of the building commences right through the life-cycle – from construction through completion, ongoing maintenance and management, eventually to the point where it is demolished.

It is wrongly assumed in some quarters that BIM is essentially a digital 3D model of a building but it is far more than that. It includes the original specifications for every block and board, fixture and fitting employed in the building, and goes further by including data on time, cost and operation – sometimes referred to as the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions of a building.

Advantages of BIM

This makes BIM an enormously powerful decision support and conflict avoidance tool. At a very basic level, cost or time overruns in even quite minor areas of the project are notified before they can become problems, thus allowing swift remedial action to be taken.

The key aspect of BIM is the fact that it is a shared resource. Everyone who has to interact with a building at any stage has access to it. The subcontractors who arrive on site months after construction has begun have access to fully updated information about the project and their role in delivering it. Indeed, they can utilise the model long before they go on-site to clear up any potential problems or difficulties before they arise.

The same applies to the facilities manager who takes charge of the building following completion. Even the most complex maintenance and repair tasks are made far simpler as a result of having all data relating to building services and their location to hand in a single resource.

Also of key importance is the fact that the BIM is the property of all stakeholders. This means that everyone on the project team is responsible for updating it. Information is therefore up to date and spans all aspect of the project thereby greatly reducing the margin for error and the costs associated with making good discrepancies.

In this context, it is little wonder that Ireland’s National BIM Council (NBC) has estimated that the reduction of wasteful practices in construction as a result of BIM will result in costs being brought down by as much as 20%. The council also asserts that construction exports could be increased by 20% through enhanced productivity and knowledge leadership, which will enable Irish firms to drive and support the advancement of digital construction across overseas markets. The NBC also believes that project delivery time schedules will be reduced by 20%.

There will also be a societal gain. The information gathered through BIM will mean that every construction project will contribute valuable digital data to smart communities, smart cities and smart economy, which in turn will position Ireland at the forefront of the digital transformation across Europe and globally.