Tuesday 27 September 2016

Irish startup with plans for internet of things

Published 11/06/2015 | 02:30

Cesanta's founders Anatoly Lebedev and Sergey Lyubka
Cesanta's founders Anatoly Lebedev and Sergey Lyubka

How many indigenous Irish IT engineering startups can you name? For all of the hype, Dublin produces relatively few high-tech startups. While plenty of emerging firms mix media or marketing into digital platforms, there are few who actually create the new platforms.

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A collection of high-powered former engineers from Google's Dublin base say they have assembled the most tech-literate team in Ireland.

Their Dublin-based startup, Cesanta, is busy creating a new software platform to let everyday objects connect to each other.

"We want to do for manufacturing or healthcare or aerospace what Nest has done for thermostats," said Sergey Lyubka, co-founder and chief technology officer of the new enterprise.

The company's heavyweight engineers -- including some who have contributed to Google's core search engine technology -- have quickly snapped up a seed round of funding from high-end investors that include Eventbrite founder and Airbnb advisor Kevin Hartz.

The startup is swelling fast, having already reached 10 people. But the company is still "aggressively" recruiting, says Lyubka.

"We have the strongest engineering team in Ireland," he says. "It's mainly made up of top level engineers that came over from Google to us. The only way to build what we're trying to build is to have the absolute best engineers."

What Cesanta is trying to do is to create a standardised way for big companies -- possibly entire industries -- to make their products 'smart'. In other words, if you make bicycles and want a tracking or diagnostics system that the customer can access on a phone, you can simply stick a small chip inside the bike's frame and Cesanta will create the internet software platform that lets you customise your phone-based bicycle diagnostic system. And not just for bicycle makers or tracking systems, but for multiple 'vertical' uses. The concept is to allow industries without great IT skillsets get involved with the current trend toward an 'internet of things'.

"Look at what's happening around us right now," said John O'Sullivan, managing director at ACT Venture Capital, which oversees investment by AIB in the firm. "Today, people want to connect thousands of devices. Now multiply that by 10,000 and that's what we might well see in the future. We're talking about millions and billions of users."

The problem, says O'Sullivan, is that there's no common standard for this to be done easily and cheaply. Big companies who want to add connected qualities to everyday products have to consider costly industrial redesign processes and creating new high-end IT programming teams to make everything work. Cesanta, he says, is offering an alternative: an open standard that makes it easier for medium-skilled IT engineers to work on.

"Everyone is saying that the internet of things will happen but no-one is saying how," says Anatoly Lebedev, co-founder and chief executive of the startup. "Big companies are spending millions on the internet of things because they think they have to but they don't know exactly what to do. We're creating a platform for this so that it takes a shorter period of time for those who want to program for connected things."

The company has also lured business development executives from Twitter and Hubspot, says Lebedev. They're making the leap from multinational colossuses to a startup, he says, because they want to have a greater impact on product development.

"At some point you want to make a difference," he says. "What do you want to do with your life? We want to have an impact."

Why Dublin, though? For a deep-diving engineering project such as this, Silicon Valley is still the centre of gravity for engineering brains.

"In the end, we're now Irish," says Lebedev. "We've been here for years and we like it. We've been back and forth to Silicon Valley many times and we had a chance to move the startup anywhere. But it was a conscious decision to locate it here. Everyone says you have to be in Silicon Valley, but companies in Europe can be quite successful. And anyway, competition for the best engineers is even fiercer in Silicon Valley than it is here."

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