Inventive tech firms get head start in our economy's race to recovery
A growing cohort of Irish companies are coming up with exciting ideas that could make them -- and us -- the next big thing, writes Roisin Burke
Published 02/05/2010 | 05:00
The economy might be shell-shocked but innovation isn't standing still. There are some fledgling Irish companies with big exciting ideas that could be on the cusp of going really big. Here's the lowdown on some of them.
Equinome's top-secret thoroughbred horse gene knowledge has cracked the science behind spotting a winner.
Not much has changed in 300 years of horse racing but this could prove revolutionary.
The firm has invented the world's first genetic test that determines a horse's racing speed. "The gene also test determines the optimum racing distance for a particular horse," MD Donal Ryan explains. The tests tells whether the horse is faster over short sprints, middle distance or longer runs, so that it can be pegged for the right type of racing events.
Trainer legend Jim Bolger is a backer, and founder Dr Emmeline Hill is the daughter of Cheltenham legend Dawn Run's owner Charmain Hill, and one of the key researchers of horse genetics in the world.
Equinome just went commercial at the start of this year and already has bloodstock and breeder clients all over the world.
"It's completely confidential -- breeders don't even have to fill out the horses name on the documentation," says Ryan, crushing the Sunday Independent business desk's high hopes for a bank-holiday racing win.
This Dublin-based outfit has hit on a ramped-up version of solar power that can charge up iPhones, ebook readers, and other devices, but the genius factor is that it doesn't need the sun -- it will actually work with your standard electric light.
A screen-printed solar panel, applied the same way you put print on a T-shirt, it can be attached to cars, or electronic devices to boost their batteries.
"What's unique about it is it produces energy from a whole range of light sources," CEO Roy Horgan says, "from very low light, like your ambient living room light, to direct sunlight for devices that don't consume huge power." It could be seriously attractive applications for the likes of Sony, Apple and Samsung, Horgan says, but also for car manufacturers.
The company is part of an EU-sponsored project with a big carmaker name, looking at how screen-printed solar panels might be embedded in the surface of a vehicle to top up its battery. "It doesn't need direct sunlight to work, and indoor light from say a garage could be a power source," Horgan says.
Its pilot production line is up and running at its Sandyford plant. "We'll start high volume manufacturing soon -- we're on the cusp of commercialisation," says Horgan.
Long-time former CEO of chemicals giant Ciba, Brendan Cummins, is an adviser to Solarprint, and its main backer is Custom House Capital Wealth Management.
"Nobody thought you could have a solar industry in Ireland, there was huge scepticism -- now we would be one of the leaders in third-generation solar technology."
"It's a multi-billion euro opportunity. If we tap into even 1 per cent of it that would be phenomenal for Ireland.
Intune's big idea uses nothing but light to harness power, and that could save big telecoms hundreds of millions.
Backed by Bebo investor Balderton and with €45m in funding, the firm has produced a brand new laser-based innovation which is poised to go live this September.
The business desk does not pretend to fully understand it, but CEO Tom Fritzley says the breakthrough is a Holy Grail achievement that many others have been hoping for, but which the two Irish PhDs who founded the company finally figured out.
John Dunne and Tom Farrell chipped away at the concept behind Intune from 1994 and still own the intellectual property behind it, so could hit serious pay dirt if things go well.
"This is something that could be used by every big telco network operation in the world," Fritzley says. Intune has trialled its beta product with three large international networks in several countries, the hard science bit is done and now it's about testing and licences in the run up to the big launch.
With technology licensed from Intel, Shimmer is making wireless body sensors that are already proving life-changing in health care.
Big heart monitors with a maze of electrodes and heavyweight equipment could be replaced with a matchbox-sized wireless sensor device.
Likewise, that medallion with the big red button alarm that your granny wears could be swapped for something much more discreet and dignified by using a Shimmer gizmo.
"Instead of the big red button, it's a wireless device smaller than a matchbox that could clip to a belt," business development VP Kieran Daly says. "It's a very low power, smaller than a matchbox."
The sensor can pick up anything from a fall to a cardiac arrest and send a signal to the emergency services or a neighbour or relative, wherever it needs to go.
"It can also be useful in diagnosing conditions such as Alzheimer's much earlier. It could pick up things like a slight shift in someone's gait six months earlier, which can be very valuable for early treatment."
The sports world has picked up on the gizmo's uses, with the German Olympic archery team using it to improve their aim with devices attached to both the arch and the bows.
A UV sensor version of the device could flag when you need to top up sun cream or get out of the sun if you have a skin condition.
The science bit is being developed with Irish universities and with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US. Shimmer has also teamed with US biotech Insight Diagnostics on development.
"We're in the late stages of FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) approval and looking at going to market in the last quarter of this year in the US," says Daly.
kore virtual machines
Irish game developer Havok became a huge global success and now its founders have another game venture on the go.
Kore provides middleware for international game developers like Sega, Bungie and Lionhead.
"We create the layer between designing a game and the script making the design stage quicker and more effective," CEO Hugh Reynolds says. "We launched in late 2008 and Kore is now starting to really go after customers and deliver.
"It's been a very turbulent time, but we've big ambitions and we're trying to stay close to the market and see where it's going."
AIB Capital Funding is a backer.
What do you do after you've sold your company for €70m? Start all over again, if you're Perlico founder Iain MacDonald.
Vodafone bought his telco and now he's set up Weedle with ex-Perlico chief technical officer (CTO) Michael Gallagher. Gallagher designed Perlico's €150m worth of electronic billing system and has designed the Weedle set up.
Packaging tycoon Michael Smurfit is a backer along with Enterprise Ireland. The firm recently raised €3m funding.
The selling point is a concept that might wipe networking site Linked In's eye. It brings your job hunt or employee-seeking mission to the top of the Google search pile, cutting through the clutter of the search engine optimisation maze.
"If you Google 'tax specialist' and 'San Francisco' it will usually come up as the first page, or 'radio presenter' and 'Dublin' or 'social media specialist' and 'Dublin' -- Weedle should be the top page," MacDonald says of its winning search advantage.
MacDonald and co-founder Gallagher soft-launched the site in March to see how it flew in Ireland, but users all over the world have started picking up on it.
Jobseekers and service providers create a Weedle page and can upload video, MP3 files and other content. "If you're a guitar teacher you could upload a sample of course notes you give; if you're an architect designing houses in the west of Ireland you can put up examples of the houses you've designed."
As well as showing the job skill profile, it will list any connections you have -- if you went to the same school, if a friend or neighbour used their service.
"We've been focused on development, but from next month it's all about user growth."
The tech firm has just made leading analyst group Gartner's 'Cool Vendor' list.
CEO Gary Moroney and CTO Chris McCauley already have one winner behind them, having sold their Similarity Systems to US data giant Informatics for €55m a few years back. The tech firm makes cloud technology products for businesses with huge amounts of data, like travel agents and airlines.
Backed to the tune of €2.1m by several British VC firms and by Irish VC name, Delta, It's on a major sales drive in the US at the moment.
The Belfast mobile tech outfit's revenues will hit €10m this year and it recently struck a deal with US entertainment giant Fox Entertainment Group worth millions over the next five years.
CEO Nic Stirk cut his teeth in telcos as Denis O'Brien's head of engineering at Esat Telecom and founded SLA Mobile in 2003. It recently clinched a deal with a household telecoms name to provide mobile advertising and service content worldwide.
They're self-funded and not looking for an investor or an equity deal, Stirk says. "But of course we'd look at the right offer if it came along," he adds.
Placed third on the Deloitte Fast 50 list it has offices in London, Germany, Australasia and the Middle East.