Tuesday 23 December 2014

Why Galway city makes a difference to these companies

Published 14/08/2014 | 02:30

Three tech companies who have succeeded from their Galway base.

Fitzgerald turns the page with success worldwide

Company: OnePageCRM

Founder: Mic Fitzgerald

What it does: online customer service software

One of the trickiest things for a small business trying to get their heads around moving operations online is how to get some sort of intelligent customer database going. Old-fashioned software is all well and good, but it causes chaos when you try to update your systems. One way around this is modern online customer relationship software. And that is exactly what Mic Fitzgerald’s OnePageCRM has nailed. The company he founded is going gangbusters in the US thanks to the ease of use of the customer software his engineers have made.

“We have 13 employees and zero marketing,” said Fitzgerald. “So far, the product has spoken for itself.”

Fitzgerald’s firm is coming into a crucial period of expansion. Having finished honing the product, the company will soon look to scale rapidly.

“We’re about to release our first native Android app and then we’ll do the same for iPhones and the iPad later in the year,” he said. “We’ll be looking for Series A funding soon. But it’s looking very good so far.”

For Fitzgerald, the issue is not Dublin or Galway. It’s Ireland or California.

“The big question now is whether we go to San Francisco,” he said. “I reckon if we’re going to go, it will be soon.”

That doesn’t mean leaving Galway, though.

“We recently converted an old building and now have the coolest office in Galway,” he said. “One good thing is that people like to live in Galway. We’ve never had a problem trying to get people here.”

And he remains an evangelist for Galway as a place to do business in Ireland.

“The talent here is really good,” he said. “We’ve some smart, smart engineers, real top guys. We’re also seeing some really smart graduates come out of NUIG. The only thing we’re really missing is product guys, but there’s a shortage of them everywhere.”

Soaring Creaven is in her element

 Name: Element Wave

 What it does: gives user feedback from within apps

 Founders: Dorothy Creaven  and James Harkin

Figures released recently show that there are almost one million jobs in Europe directly associated with the burgeoning ‘app economy’. There’s no shortage of apps either, with 1.2 million apps in Apple’s App Store and around the same number in Google’s Play Store. But companies that commission apps are increasingly running into problems trying to understand what their customers are actually doing with their apps. This is where Galway’s Element Software comes in. Founders Dorothy Creaven and James Harkin have come up with a way for companies to better understand how people are really using their apps.

“A lot of companies have their online operations nailed,” said Dorothy Creaven. “But for mobile, they’re still guessing. We’ve learned everything to know about mobile CRM (customer relationship management software] and what the major drop-off points are. We can tell you how people are using you app, when they get annoyed with your app, when they stop engaging your app, and lots more things like that.”

Unsurprisingly, many companies and organisations – including RTE and the GAA – are finding this depth of analysis into their mobile products very useful.

“We have around 20 customers using the product and are close to signing two major contracts with international players,” said Creaven. “Companies are finding that this can help them to understand their app’s life cycle and develop practical responses, such as to develop push notifications when needed.”

One area has emerged to become more lucrative than others. Mobile gaming (‘iGaming’) is more dependent than most on making revenue directly from the right features and experiences within an app.

“We’re becoming quite well known in the iGaming sector,” said Creaven. “A lot of the work we’ve done is now paying off in terms of getting our brand out there.”

Cumulatively, things are going from strength to strength for Element Software. If the two international deals Creaven speaks of are concluded, the company is likely to hire “between four and six people”. That would bring the number of employees into double figures, just three years after it started.

Being located in Galway has a few challenges, she said.

“Galway is a really good city to launch a start-up,” said Creaven. “The only con is that, in some ways, the major hub is still in Dublin. But now that it’s just two hours down the road, it’s not really a big deal. Also, for a company like ours, travelling out of the country is very important as most of our customers are in the UK or Germany. Shannon is good, though it’s an hour away.”

The positives to growing a company in the area are many, she said.

“In a way it’s good to be based outside Dublin. It’s easier to focus on what you want to do. Some aspects of the start-up scene in Dublin can be very distracting. Also, we can hang on to resources better, in that we’re not competing with as many start-ups who might try to poach staff, which is a big issue when you’re trying to grow a company.”

Why the city makes a material difference to Dia Nia

 Company: Dia Nia

 Founders: Sinead Kenny, Mark Mellett

 What it does: develops new materials for medical catheters and related products

The booming medical technology industry has a strong base in Galway, which is considered to be one of the biggest hubs in Europe for the industry. The ecosystem is strong enough for staff with good ideas to strike out on their own, which is exactly what Sinead Kenny, an industrial designer in medical technology did.

“I was working in (Galway-based medical device manufacturer) Creganna and had been working in design on catheter products for some time,” said Kenny. “It struck me that the some materials for these products weren’t being used to the best of their abilities.”

So, in 2012, Kenny struck out on her own with support from husband Mark Mellett, an accountant in a multinational medical device firm. Kenny, who has a PhD in material science, is creating materials to improve on existing technology in the area.

“There are polymers and other materials used in something like a urinary catheter,” she said. “But there can be a lot of friction between devices, materials and the human body when comes to catheters and polymers.”

Teflon is commonly used in the process, but this is difficult to use when attempting to bond another material to a device, she said.

“One of things we’re doing is to develop a chemical bond to help the whole process. Overall, benefits to manufacturers will include being able to put more features on their devices.”

Regulatory approval is critical to success in the medical devices industry. Acceptance of Dia Nia’s material development will take time among key customers.

“A lot of companies are afraid to use new materials because of the regulatory process,” said Kenny. “One way we’re tackling this is to develop a full urinary product using the materials and then get FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] approval for it. That way, customers can see that it has passed and won’t’ be afraid to use it in their own products.”

For Kenny, Galway is the perfect place to be located. “I go up and down to Dublin for some start-up-related networking and other activity,” she said. “But in terms of where the customers are and the business is, it’s mostly in Connaught.”

Kenny is using her experience and contacts in the local area to outsource some aspects of product development. “There are experienced people that have helped me and a lot of companies to draw on. Things like the annual med-tech conference in Galway help too.”

Kenny recently received a financial boost thanks to Enterprise Ireland’s €50,000 Competitive Start Fund grant. She hopes to hire another full-time person by the end of the year, with “four to six people” expected to be hired within two years.

“I hope to have FDA approval within two years and that will really see things move.”

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