'We are helping to save lives with our cutting edge search-and-rescue technology'
As a former engineer for the Irish Coast Guard, Robin Blandford (30) realised that there were lots of ways that technology could improve the delivery of emergency services. His Howth-based company D4H Technologies now provides data analysis to search-and-rescue teams and other organisations around the word. He spoke to Sarah McCabe:
"I studied engineering at DCU and was an engineer with the Irish Coast Guard for several years. I still volunteer with the cliff rescue team at Howth.
"The Coast Guard works with around 1,000 volunteers and is a very big and busy organisation. I realised we could collect and monitor its activities to improve its service.
"I built a basic software programme that collected data, such as the time and date of incidents, and mapped where they occurred. The results that it produced were useful straight away – they allowed us to identify on which days accidents are mostly like to happen, for example, which helped with rostering enough staff in advance.
"I realised there was a commercial opportunity and started my company on the back of it, originally called Decisions for Heroes.
"I spent the first year and a half selling to search-and-rescue organisations – we are used by teams in 11 countries, including the US and Canada.
"Now we are targeting new territory, offering our software as a way to improve industrial safety standards in sectors like oil and gas mining and pharmaceutical manufacturing.
"I started the company on my own, but there are now seven people working on the business.
"It was quite a steep learning curve, especially since it was my first company. Everything you read about running a business is geared towards selling to consumers, but business-to-business selling is very different.
"For example, I launched the company with a credit card system that businesses could use to pay a monthly subscription.
"But an organisation that commits to investing in our idea and changing the way they work isn't interested in a monthly subscription – they want to do a five-year deal. So now we operate a one-, three- or five-year licence model.
"One of the most important things is that our system is easy to use. When we started out I decided that if we needed to write a user manual, it had become too complicated. It's very intuitive, so there's not much training necessary.
"The people that use it might be firefighters or medical teams – so they need to be able to use it quickly, on the move and in bad conditions.
"The user rate is very high, so we have succeeded there."