30 under 30: From robotics to medtech to clothes-sharing - meet Ireland's young guns striving to break new ground
From medtech workers along the Shannon to exporters in China, some of Ireland's most exciting business talents under the age of 30 convened at the new Devlin Hotel in Ranelagh, Dublin to meet Fearghal O'Connor, Michael Cogley and Adrian Weckler
30 under thirty.
Matthew McCann (29)
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Matthew McCann wants mobile and browser based Access Earth to become as well known as TripAdvisor - but in the area of accessibility.
Supported by Enterprise Ireland, it records, hosts and distributes location-specific accessibility information to a growing user base, with each user availing of a unique accessibility profile.
McCann came up with the idea after a trip to the Paralympics in London. He says: "The hotel said the room was wheelchair-friendly, but the main entrance had steps with no ramp or lift for an alternative route. I ended up having to get a different hotel altogether."
Now Access Earth highlights the best places to sleep, shop and experience a city. "If you are in an electric wheelchair you can see places that other people who are also in an electric wheelchair have verified," says McCann. "Everyone's accessibility needs are different. We provide clear, unambiguous information so all users can determine whether a location is right for them."
Aisling Byrne (25)
The Nu Wardrobe
Clothes-sharing is at the heart of Aisling Byrne's future. Her business, the Nu Wardrobe, was born after she witnessed the "devastating social and environmental impacts of the fashion industry first hand" while volunteering in India.
"The apparel industry accounts for 10pc of global carbon emissions and human rights violations are rampant within the fashion supply chain. On returning to Ireland I found it hard to find alternatives to fast-fashion and felt guilty every time I wanted to wear something new," she says.
The platform works on a membership basis - once you are a member and have contributed three items of clothes of your own, you're free to borrow an unlimited amount of clothes. Plans for the future include a global scaling of the business by 2028 and lobbying for policy changes in Ireland and the UK to ensure a "sustainable and ethical" fashion industry.
Peter O'Malley (26)
While there is no shortage of recruitment firms in Ireland, Peter O'Malley's new outfit is worth keeping an eye on. Together with co-founder Galen Lowney, the former Web Summit and Pointy.com executive has zeroed in on what may be the most lucrative part of the market right now: high-end freelance technology and marketing executives for short-term projects and contracts.
His startup has caught the eye of some of Ireland's most well clued-in technology and marketing figures. Already €1m of funding has been raised from a panel of angel investors that includes Paddy Cosgrave, CPL's Anne Heraty, former Paddy Power Betfair boss Breon Corcoran, and Handy co-founder Oisin Hanrahan. So far, he has placed people in companies ranging from startups to multinationals such as SAP. With the money raised, O'Malley is going to try growing the company at home and abroad in San Francisco.
Charlie Byrne (28)
Engager captures detailed audience engagement information about what viewers are watching on TV and streaming media using social media.
Founder Charlie Byrne says the company - which has offices in Dublin and Los Angeles - provides real-time detailed insights and data analytics via annual subscriptions to TV networks, production companies, advertising agencies and distributors.
"We capture all of the viewership audience engagement on social media. So if somebody is talking about a show on social media, we capture what they are saying."
Engager then ranks all TV shows in the Irish and UK market. The current system, he says, is based on older technology and a very small sample size.
"We are expanding into the US as well at the end of next year," says Byrne.
Engager has worked with RTE, TAM Ireland and has a trial lined up with Channel 4. It is currently closing a fundraising with Enterprise Ireland and a large strategic investor.
Jack (29) and Theo (28) Kirwan
Sprout & Co
The Kirwan brothers have built a brand that has become synonymous with healthy eating in Dublin. Sprout and Co, which was founded in 2015 following a successful start as a juice bar in Avoca Handweavers, serves locally-grown seasonal food.
Jack, a former international hockey player, studied history and economics in Loughborough University before arriving home to work as a full-time chef. Theo started out studying drama in DIT before working in a variety of cafes and bars in London and Dublin.
The pair have six stores dotted throughout Dublin with a team of more than 100 people. Most recently they opened an organic leaf farm in Kildare to supply their restaurants. The Kirwans have plans on significant ambitions on expansion in Dublin with another five stores in the pipeline.
Another city is also on the cards for Sprout, which intends to bring its locally-owned farm model wherever it expands to.
Evan Darcy (20) and Adam Dalton (20)
So you want to teach a classroom full of kids about robotics but can't afford the robots? Call Robotify. Founders Evan D'Arcy and Adam Dalton run a laboratory of robots in DCU that children around the world can program and control from their own classrooms, while watching via a live stream.
The pair originally started teaching children to code in classes and introduced robots because they saw how that increased their students' attention. Plan A was to build and supply the hardware but that proved too expensive.
"We met our co-founder, Andrew Murphy, 12 months ago at a mentoring session and he suggested that instead of trying to sell €200 robots, we should build software to control the robots remotely."
Robotify now has a contract with the European Space Agency and also has plans to get on to the US school curriculum.
Conall Laverty (29)
Belfast-born Laverty had a number of career avenues open to him, having played piano 'off Broadway' and studied games development.
But after completing a Master's in Queens University and doing a stint in the Belfast design firm Big Motive, he started his own consultancy ('Woogie', in homage to his piano-playing background) before forming his own startup called Wia Technologies.
Based in Dublin's CHQ building, Wia is an 'internet of things' firm that helps companies to build things and connect them online. One aspect to this is a fast prototyping model that gives companies something to work with in a much quicker period than normal.
With around €1m in funding so far, it has developed a major business relationship with Vodafone (which is itself trying to build a large IoT business for its own corporate clients) and will soon be releasing hardware for developers.
Anika Riley (23)
Originally a student of politics, Anika realised that it was not for her. Following on from a startup in Berlin, Riley decided to do a Master's in entrepreneurship in Trinity.
After university she set about reforming the freelance industry through her payments company, Work Smarter.
"By mid-2020, half the population will be freelancing and that has serious repercussions," she says. "Traditionally, clients could trust a larger business would do good work and employees could trust their company would pay them on time - in a freelance relationship, both sides must trust individuals they often know little about. That's why we're making it easy to hold deposits and payments in escrow, providing peace of mind for those transactions."
Riley plans to raise seed capital so that the product can be fully launched. She plans on scaling out of Ireland and into the UK quite quickly.
Gareth Hickey (27) and Shane Ennis (28)
News Over Audio
Gareth Hickey and Shane Ennis - founders of News Over Audio (Noa) - want to make staying informed a little easier.
"It's our job to filter through the abundance of daily news flow in order to place the very best articles over audio, and then package them in a way that makes discovery easy," says co-founder and CEO Gareth Hickey.
Using professional narrators, they partner with the likes of The New York Times and the Financial Times to deliver a daily selection of opinion, features and analysis as audio articles via Noa's iPhone, Android, web, smart speaker and in-car applications.
The co-founder and head of product, Shane Ennis, believes Noa is changing the news experience and creating a connected learning experience. He says it's "one that's adaptable to your daily schedule. This is a true first in the news industry. And the more people listen the more personalised Noa will become".
Hugh Doyle (29)
Hugh Doyle started out as an investor in the Dublin startup Pointy, but liked the company's retail idea so much that he joined it. Now he's a pivotal figure in developing hardware and software, which lets general retailers list their products online so that they're discoverable on Google and other engines. Pointy raised €10m in funding earlier this year, bringing its total to €15m. It is soaring in adoption, claiming now to be in 1pc of all retail outlets in the US.
Doyle comes from an entrepreneurial background. He acted as a general manager in the family business, Donnybrook Fair. He then led the negotiations in the sale of that retail and food chain to Musgrave earlier this year. Before that, he was a consultant in Deloitte, having studied at Trinity College where he completed an MBA.
Paul Moore (26)
Four years into the creation of his own chilli business, Paul Moore now has his eyes on the UK and ultimately the US. The Cork-based Rebel Chilli is now stocked nationally in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, and a number of SuperValu and independent outlets. The product is also available from healthy fast food chain Chopped.
"Ultimately, I want a bottle of Rebel Chilli in every fridge in Ireland," Moore says. "I want it to become a household name, and a product that everyone uses. We are planning to expand into the UK in 2019, and then focus on getting our products over to the USA."
Moore graduated from UCC with a degree in business information systems in 2014. During his time there he travelled to various food festivals across the country with his chilli, where he found an appetite for high-quality sauces. The UCC graduate has also plans to open his own restaurant that would focus on simple food that was "big on flavour".
Padraic Hayes (24)
Padraic Hayes was so exasperated by the health drinks on the market that he created his very own nutritional beverage-dispensing system, MyBev. It allows consumers to customise nutritional drinks to suit their own individual needs and preferred taste.
"I was frustrated with the selection of healthy alternative beverages on offer, especially given that we all do our best these days to avoid sugar on the go," says Padraic. "I simply found the nutritional drinks space to be confusing - you'd nearly need a degree to read the labels."
MyBev also has the world's first vegan-friendly plant-based protein for juice-based beverages.
He secured initial funding through the Ireland's Best Young Entrepreneur, which he entered through the Limerick Local Enterprise Office (LEO), who, he says, have been a fantastic support to him. He plans raising further capital ahead of a planned market launch in the first half of 2019.
Emma Walker (27)
Emma Walker, the managing director of Wachsman in Ireland, has overseen the establishment of the blockchain services firm's European headquarters. Blockchain is a new type of database technology that underpins cryptocurrencies. Now leading a team of 40, with a further 50 on the way, Walker has achieved a lot by the age of 27 and is showing no sign of slowing down. "I've had to learn a little about a lot, skilling up in all aspects of the business from accounts, to legal to building new business verticals such as an events department," she says. "In all of this I've been supported immensely from above by our global CEO, David Wachsman, and below by our incredible team."
Holding a degree in Spanish and sociology from Trinity as well as a diploma in public relations from the Fitzwilliam Institute, she has just registered for a graduate course in organisational behaviour in Harvard.
Ciaran Gorman (28)
Craft beer can bring joy but for Ciaran Gorman it also brought a business idea: canning. His company, BevCraft, a process and packaging specialist for the craft beverage industry, was one of the first mobile contract canning services in Europe. Since 2016 it has processed over 2.5 million cans on behalf of over 50 Irish microbreweries.
"If there is a beverage producer anywhere on this island and they want to reach new markets we will source cans to their specification and brand. In a single day, we will convert a tank of product into pallets of high-quality stock ready for immediate distribution and export."
MyBev has had funding support from Westmeath Local Enterprise Office, AIB, Bank of Ireland, Microfinance Ireland and personal investments, raising over €500,000 to date.
"We expect to more than double this investment over the coming 12 months," says Gorman.
Stephen Malone (28)
Dublin native Stephen Malone has identified a gap in the restaurant sector. Affordable, effective social media management is an area that he claims the industry has lacked to date. Socio Local provides a range of services for companies including social media, email, messaging and reputation.
"The idea for Socio Local actually came from a previous venture in which we sought to work with restaurants and, believe it or not, create a market place," Malone says. "I met with many restaurateurs and the conversations invariably veered towards the challenges of marketing a restaurant in today's ever-changing digital world."
He says he is focused on growth and execution and that the company has a strong footprint in Ireland and the UK and a small one in the US. Malone spent a couple of years in a startup development house, giving him the opportunity to learn from the pitfalls of others.
Pamela Laird (29)
Pamela Laird says her Moxi Loves range of cosmetics was "created off the back of many lazy nights, work trips and weekends away travelling".
She launched her first product, Eye Catcher, in 2016, since listing it with Penneys and 800 pharmacies across Ireland. A second product - Tan Aid - caught the eye of the Kardashian Glam Squad and in early November, Moxi Loves launched Bare Faced, an alternative to wet wipes which are, says Pamela, kind to both your skin and the environment.
"Most of the product ideas I developed while working alongside makeup artists and from my own experiences working in my mum's beauty salon," she says.
Pamela started beauty training at 15 while still in school. She made a name for herself in the nail industry and has worked on many cover shoots for magazines, most recently painting Saoirse Ronan's nails for the cover of Vogue USA.
Arthur Pierse (29)
Pierse is behind a predominantly UK-based company called Borrowfox. Dubbed an "Airbnb for camera equipment", the site enables users to lend their creative equipment on a peer-to-peer basis. Creatives can hire anything from drones to DJ decks through Borrowfox, which each item fully insured. It currently has more than £50m worth of gear listed in Dublin alone.
Borrowfox gives users the opportunity to rent high-end equipment without putting down a deposit. Instead it verifies its users and creates a risk profile on them prior to approving their requests. "Borrowers get access to equipment for a fraction of the cost of what they would have paid previously, and lenders can monetise their equipment while they are not using it," Pierse says.
The Trinity College graduate worked in the financial sector in London for four years before packing it all in to set up Borrowfox.
Martin O'Reilly (27)
Martin O'Reilly is the chief executive and co-founder of Output Sports, a wearable motion sensor that gives coaches an understanding of their athletes. The monitors provide trainers with an array of insights, including injury risk factors like balance control, movement technique and mobility.
O'Reilly developed the idea during the last two years of his undergraduate degree in sports and exercise engineering at NUI Galway, where he topped his class.
"Output Sports are currently completing a number of product-market fit experiments, gaining user feedback on our systems from over 20 partners in the elite and sub-elite sports performance markets," he says.
"By late summer next year, we hope to grow our offerings in this space, providing an efficient, practical and accurate method for coaches to truly understand their athletes and optimise their performance."
Conor Lyden (24)
Conor Lyden's transaction platform, Trustap, is, he says, the safest way to buy and sell online. It is designed to protect buyers and sellers when they're dealing with people they don't know.
"Other payment platforms make transferring money very quick and easy but not safe to do with a stranger," says Lyden. "Trustap uniquely combines payment, delivery and escrow milestones to ensure you can transact with anyone, safe in the knowledge that you won't be scammed."
The idea came to him after getting scammed by ticket sellers online when travelling over to watch Liverpool FC games. "I thought 'There must be a better way of doing this'," he says.
So far, Trustap has raised funding through its Local Enterprise Office in South Cork and plans to close a larger seed round shortly from a mix of Irish and UK investors to fund its ambitious growth plans.
Jessica Kavanagh (27)
When Jess Kavanagh was in her final year in fashion design she struggled to source wearable coloured yarn to use for her knitwear designs. So, inspired by her surroundings in rural Co Cavan, she created Olann to creates artisan hand-dyed, ethically sourced yarns, inspired by Irish culture and landscape.
Olann - the Irish word for wool - now has a range of more than 16 different yarns, with more than 200 repeatable colours to choose from, all dyed in its workshop in Co Cavan.
With support from Cavan Local Enterprise Office, Olann is becoming the trend-setter in the growing yarn industry, says Jess.
"We are stocked across the globe from the US to Hong Kong. All our yarn is ethically sourced with non-toxic dyes used. Long term, we want to create a sustainable yarn to sweater cycle on-site from our studio by rearing our own flock of rare-breed sheep."
James McElroy (27)
In a previous life, James McElroy spent his time building websites for small and medium enterprises. Now, he and his brother Timothy have recently closed an £850,000 funding round for HouseMyDog, a dog-sitting website. The company connects thousands of dog owners with vetted dog boarding and dog daycare, as well as dog-walking professionals.
"Despite over €100bn being spent each year globally on pet care, more than 85pc of dog owners refuse to use current solutions and are actively seeking alternatives due to caged environments, offline payments and lack of trust," he says.
McElroy plans to continue scaling the business, which is now operating in more than 30 cities across Europe. HouseMyDog also has offices in Dublin, London and Berlin. Once he finished college, they set out to build the company full-time and take on their first customers.
Pierce Dargan (25), Finlay Dargan (28) AND Simon Hillary (26)
Veterinary record-keeping has largely been kept on paper up to this point, causing a litany of obvious problems for the sector.
Pierce and Finlay Dargan as well as Simon Hillary have set about moving the industry in to the 21st century with their cloud-based database. Steeped in horse-racing heritage and enterprise education, the trio are raising seed capital ahead of a move into the French market.
"Our system makes sure records are filled out correctly, ensuring compliance, while also greatly cutting down the time spend on paperwork," Pierce Dargan says. "Inspection times are also a lot shorter as records can be sent on digitally instead of being inspected on the yard. This dramatically cuts down costs, both financially and time spend on regulatory documentation, for the equine industry at large."
Louise Egan (19)
University of Limerick business student Louise Egan - co-founder and CEO of I-Spy.ie clothing - is building an online business based on her passion for sport and fitness.
The idea started when her mother, Paulette, a yoga teacher for 20 years, talked to her in Transition Year about the various problems that she saw in her yoga classes every single day. The pair decided to join forces to develop a range of fitness, lifestyle and yoga clothing for women.
"The number one focus for us since the very start was to target the problem of see-through leggings," she says. "We plan to grow our share of the Irish market and become a household name. We have already shipped to 10 different countries worldwide so export markets will also be a huge part of our plans and we're focused on expanding our online reach through social media," she says.
Karl Roe (26) and Callan Eldon (28)
Karl Roe and Callan Eldon plan on revolutionising cycling in Ireland, the UK and beyond with their new smart light, called Kogii.
The device, which was borne out of UCD's computer science masters programme, changes flashing patterns depending on a cyclist's own unique movement. The company plans to use data from every light to evaluate what makes a dangerous road dangerous.
"This data will be given to cities to assist them in improving their infrastructure," Roe said. "We will also feed information back to individual cyclists in real-time, informing them if they are in a dangerous area based on other cyclists' past experiences."
Trials of the lights will be tested on electric bikes early next year with assistance from Science Foundation Ireland. Roe and Co also scooped the UCD Start-Up Stars this summer.
Emmet Nolan (23)
The Nolan brothers have taken aim at long distribution channels that are holding up high-end furnishings for the residential and hospitality sectors. Request It is a business-to-business provider of bespoke flooring, lighting, furniture and stone. It operates in Dublin, Shenzhen, Boston, New York, and Melbourne.
Most recently they were involved in delivering a number of products for the Iveagh Garden Hotel in Dublin. Brian has lived in China for eight years and speaks fluent Mandarin. The idea for the business came about on one of Emmet's visits to his brother.
"I travelled to rural China in 2012 to attend a school where Brian was teaching," Emmet says. "The strength of the language barrier always stayed with me. I realized how difficult it must be to buy from China on large scale if you didn't speak the language. Brian became fully fluent a few years later and we decided to set up Request It."
Robbie Skuse (26)
Kollect founder Robbie Skuse is applying new thinking to an old problem. His business model is similar to an on-demand taxi platform. "But instead of moving people, Kollect moves waste," he says.
Customers can book and pay online for bin collections, junk removal or skip hire and receive a quote and date for collection. Skuse, from a technology background, joined forces with co-founder John O'Connor who had previously set up a forecourt-based waste business.
"We knew if we could figure out a way to go to the customer's home, we would be onto a winner."
Kollect has raised €100,000 to date - with support from its Local Enterprise Office - and is profitable. It plans raising a bigger round to fund growth in Ireland and into the UK, with full-time staff numbers in Waterford expected to grow from 20 to 30 by the end of 2019.
Daniel Loftus (29)
When Co Mayo-based Daniel Loftus was planning his artificial intelligence-driven anti-fraud company UrbanFox he didn't just talk to fraud victims. He talked to the fraudsters too.
He learned that UrbanFox could target fraud groups that create multiple personas from real world details to exploit stolen credit card data.
"This type of fraud is incredibly difficult to detect," he says. But UrbanFox uses a proprietary mix of artificial intelligence, behavioural and economic analysis to track fraudulent behaviour.
"In essence we are teaching an AI to think like a fraudster in order to spot them in transaction streams."
UrbanFox started life as a marketing tool but with €150,000 funding and advice from Enterprise Ireland and the NDRC it switched focus to fraud prevention. A seed round is planned for 2019 and the US market is key. "Our goal is to build here and sell there," says Loftus.
Alan Farrelly (27) and Brian O'Rourke (28)
Buses are in Alan Farrelly's blood, with his family running a successful Longford-based coach company. Matching his skills to those of school-friend Brian O'Rourke - a data-technology expert - they created Cityswifter, which wants to do for buses what Ryanair did for airplanes. Its promise to increase the reliability and efficiency of existing urban routes has won the Co Galway company a largely UK client base including some of the world's largest transport companies and authorities.
"We're one of the first companies to gain traction using a mix of Big Data and the latest technologies to optimise urban bus networks, which we have proven to be significantly more effective than traditional network redesign methods," says Alan.
Self-funded through strong sales revenue, family investment and Enterprise Ireland's Competitive Start Fund, they have just closed a venture funding round with participation from EI and "a number of Ireland's most successful entrepreneurs".
Malindi (27) and Elena (23) Demery
The Demery sisters hit it big when they secured the distribution contract for Freddy Jeans in Ireland. Since then they have gone from strength to strength and are seeking to expand their business into the UAE and Spain. They have also added four further brands, including Quay Australia Sunglasses and Svea Winter Wear.
"We would love to be based in a hot country, without the rain of Dublin, and launch our own fashion line," Malindi says.
"Our mission and mindset has been to dress ourselves, only sourcing clothes that we see overseas that we want to be able to buy closer to home. We don't see this changing, but instead of just sourcing other brands that aren't available in the UK or Ireland we want to design our own clothes and build our own range - if other people then like the style then great, but we'll stay true to our mission and only produce what we'd like to wear."
Chris Kelly (21), Eoin O'Brien (22) and Fionn Barron (22)
The youthful trio behind Pinpoint have tapped into mass inefficiencies at hospitals by tagging both patients and assets using a device called Tracworx. They say that $2m is lost every year by hospitals due to the underuse of operating rooms.
The Tracworx band monitors the location of patients and gives hospitals an overview of which of their beds and rooms are in use. The device can also limit the risk of infection as doctors will be able to see exactly who patients interacted with.
Chris Kelly previously spent time at Emutex, andIntel's R&D department in Shannon, Co Clare. Eoin O'Brien worked as a lead developer at Talamh Innovations, developing web platforms, while Fionn Barron developed Java applications at Cashbook Ltd and spent time at Eishtec.
"Pinpoint doesn't require hospitals to invest large amounts of capital in infrastructure specific to this system as it has the ability to work off existing wifi networks, thus making the system much more cost-effective, leading to a better return on investment," Kelly says.
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