Monday 23 October 2017

The next Stripe: Ireland's hottest startups

From drones and robot beer makers to big data and virtual shopping, here are 30 of the smartest young Irish firms shaping the future

Wai-Mei Chew and Ciara Clancy of Beats Medical
Wai-Mei Chew and Ciara Clancy of Beats Medical
Ian Harkin, director of Arklu
Gareth Devenny of Farmflo
Eva Milka of Gaelic Escargot
Eamon Keane of Xpreso

Britebill. To say that five-year-old Britebill is flying is an understatement. The Dublin-based telecoms billing software company, founded by ex-Accenture executive Alan Coleman and ex-RTE technology executive Jim Hannon, is getting started on a recruitment round of 100 people and has just won a big contract to handle billing issues for US mobile giant Sprint.

Offices in London, Shanghai and San Francisco are in place and the company is backed by VC firm Delta Partners and Ulster Bank's Diageo Venture Fund as well as Alan Coleman.

Cubic Telecom

What started out as a discount roaming operation will soon have over €25m of funding, thanks to its move into the world of virtual mobile networks and 'machine-to-machine' deals with big IT and car manufacturers.

Founded by entrepreneurs Barry Napier and Gerry McQuaid, the company now holds 'virtual' mobile licenses across Europe, North America and Asia uses these to connect manufacturers' devices to internet services.

Key customers include Elon Musk's electric car manufacturer Tesla. The company is in discussions with a major European car manufacturer and other sports car builders. It also struck a deal in February with Digicel, the mobile operator run by businessman Denis O'Brien across the Caribbean, Central America and Asia Pacific.

Novaerus

One of the longest standing Irish technology executives-cum-investors, ex-CBT/Smartforce founder Bill McCabe, sees his air-purifying company growing fast and taking on significant funding.

Novaerus specialises in removing bacteria and other airborne nasties from clean-air environments such as hospitals. It has signed a number of major deals in the US with hospitals and nursing homes, where airborne pathogens can be fatal. The startup has also closed a €7.3m funding round late last year from Noel Ruane's Polaris Partners and US biomedical venture fund Fidelity Biosciences.

Verifly

Hailo co-founder Jay Bregman has chosen Ireland to kick off his latest ambitious startup.

Verifly aims to become the world's central "verification" control system for drones in order to stop them crashing into things entering closed airspace. Bregman, who helped build Hailo into an app service with over $100m in funding, says the start-up is close to finalising a round of funding. It has also taken on Eugene Hertz, who sold diapers.com to Amazon for $540m, on as co-founder.

Bregman has a nose for the next big thing, with e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba both testing drones as delivery vehicles for small packages.

Anam Technologies

There aren't too many companies making money from old-fashioned SMS texting these days, but Anam Technologies is one of them.

While conventional wisdom holds that it's all about 'over the top' services such as Whatsapp, the Dublin-based startup has landed several deals around the world that allow mobile operators to make more money from SMS.

Founder and CEO Louise O'Sullivan is one of the few female founders of a growing Irish tech firm, while backers include windfarm investor and Kentz co-founder Noel Kelly. They are expected to announce the completion of a new funding round in coming weeks.

Let's Get Checked

Not many of the companies on this list advertise on dating website Grindr, but Let's Get Checked isn't your average company.

It allows people to get tested for sexually transmitted infections from the privacy of their homes. The customer receives a testing kit in the post and send their samples back.

Though there are other remote STI testing companies in other parts of the world, Let's Get Checked is unique in that it offers tests for a total of eight infections including HIV. It is partnered with private hospital group Himuris Health and St James Hospital. Dr Dominic Rowley, one of only six GUM consultants in the country, sits on the board.

The company's founders, Dubliners Peter Foley and Mark Byrne, have avoided giving away equity so far - but are now in the process of fundraising.

Farmflo

Donegal-based Farmflo helps farmers meet the wave of new EU reporting requirements facing food producers.

Their app stores everything from animal medication doses to the pesticides used on crops and then sends it directly to the relevant government department. They have signed up 500 farms and are now planning to expand in the UK, Poland and other European markets.

The company was launched last year by brothers Gareth and Jason Devenney; Gareth is a farmer and Jason a software developer. They will have a team of 30 by the end of 2015. Farmflo's backers include Enterprise Ireland and British cloud computing investor Peter Brooks.

Von Bismark

Another start-up from Mark Byrne. He and business partner Eoghan O'Sullivan are onto something big with Von Bismark, which is based between Dublin and London.

They've just won the sole exploration rights to develop the shopping platform for Xbox One, which has sold more than 10 million units globally and has become a media hub in the home.

Owner Microsoft wants to take advantage of this huge pool of potential customers and create a shopping platform to rival Amazon. Uniquely, the app will allow shoppers to "try on" and get a sense of the size of items they are buying, using Xbox Kinect's 3D technology.

Von Bismark was founded in 2011 as part of NDRC's Launchpad programme, the university accelerator for new companies. Investors include the Dublin-based Lucey Technology Fund and Enterprise Ireland.

It will seek pre-series A-funding in the next 12 months, which means between €500,000 and €2m in funding. This will be followed by a larger fundraising effort to finance the expansion required by the Xbox deal.

Brewbot

Riding the crest of the craft beer revolution, Brewbot is a robot, controlled by a smartphone app, that brews beer. The team behind it is Belfast-based Cargo, whose founders are unsurprisingly beer aficionados.

They built it in response to their experiences of home brewing; they found good equipment clunky and difficult to fine tune, with a low degree of repeatability involved - it was very hard to brew the same beer twice.

Brewbot is a relatively svelte design that is about the size of a standard wardrobe. Using a smartphone app brewers can finesse the flavours in their brew or brew based on popular recipes, with everything easily repeatable.

This format also allows brewers the opportunity to share and distribute their beer globally without ever shipping a bottle.

The downside is it's not cheap. A unit costs around £2,200 (€3,000) all-in. The Belfast company crowd-funded the project via Kickstarter and then a €1.4m seed round from investors including Bebo founder Michael Birch. It is now based between Austin and Belfast and has appointed ex-Apple and IBM executive Sebastian Hassinger as chief operating officer.

Orreco

Sligo sports science player Orreco has signed up some big kahunas to its board, including executives from Amazon, Glanbia and Nike.

The company specialises in blood analysis for elite athletes. It analyses biomarkers in the blood to allow early detection of injuries and fatigue and help athletes put together specialised training programmes.

It recently raised $1m to help it expand in the US where clients already include Nike Running, New Balance, an NBA team and Major League Baseball franchises.

Investors in Orreco include golfers Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington, who was using the company's services when he won the Honda Classic.

Restored Hearing

Eimear O'Carroll and Rhona Togher won the runners-up prize at the Young Scientists competition in 2009, for a project on treating the hearing affliction tinnitus. Five years on and their company Restored Hearing has just raised €750,000, a deal that values the business at around €2.5m.

Their core product is a sound treatment programme that customers around the world can access online via headphones. Now they are moving into the hardware business, building pre-prepared headsets for older customers who do not have access to the internet.

They are also designing a device that allows workers in loud environments to hear one another talk while protected from background noise, at a fraction of the cost of competitors. They recently inked a corporate partnership deal with the British Tinnitus Association.

Wyldsson Elite Nutrition

Tallaght-based Wyldsson makes healthy snacks, from porridge toppings to nut butters, targeted at athletes. They are free from gluten, dairy, added sugar, sweeteners, colourings or preservatives.

The ingredients include seriously glamorous superfoods, from Guayan mango to organic goldenberries from Columbia. But it is Wyldsson's customer list that is really impressive - members of the Irish, English and Scottish national rugby teams as well as Ulster, Leinster and Harlequins players, Team Sky Cycling, pro-snowboarder Aimee Fuller, stars of LA Lakers and QPR plus plenty of GAA players, Rory McIlroy and European Tour golfer Thorbjorn Oleson.

Founder Dave McGeady keeps costs down by cutting out the middleman, selling online only with no plans to move into stores.

Nearform

Waterford-based Nearform helps big brands to use cloud computing, the data storage revolution hailed as equally revolutionary as the advent of the smartphone.

They have a contract with Vogue publisher Conde Nast and 95pc of their customers are US-based. They've grown staff numbers from three to 40 in three years.

Arklu

Royal Wedding fever powered Arklu into profitability - its first doll, the Princess Catherine Engagement Doll, sold out in the UK. But the company has since left the antiquated royals in the dust and gone in a different direction.

Its Lottie doll is designed to look like a real child, a world away from stick-thin Barbies. Lotties don't wear make-up, high-heels or jewellery, and come in a range of skin colours.

The international doll market is fiercely competitive, with 80pc controlled by Mattel - making Lottie's progress all the more impressive. Since launching in 2012 the doll has won 21 international awards and sells in 30 countries.

Arklu recently teamed up with the European Space Agency to release the Stargazer Lottie doll, complete with realistic telescope and accessories include profiles of famous female astronomers.

Wattspot

The brainchild of 21-year-olds Conor Nolan and Conor McGowan, Wattspot makes table-top universal phone chargers ideal for coffee shops. It supplies units to Insomnia and Topaz and has just moved into Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel and William Hill in the UK.

The youngsters have gone it alone thus far. Despite approaches from potential investors, each still owns 50pc of the business.

Grid Finance

Grid taps into the rapidly growing peer-to-peer lending market. Popular Dublin cafe chain KC Peaches is among the companies to have raised money on the platform.

The man behind it is Derek Butler, a former country director with Goal. He and rivals Linked Finance are pushing the Government to introduce regulation for the sector to increase public confidence.

Grid's backers include Enda O'Coineen's Kilcullen Kapital. It recently appointed Damian Young, Bank of Ireland's former head of deposits, to its board.

Cleverbug

Earlier this year Kealan Lennon's greeting card company announced it was looking for fresh funding of up to $20m (€19m). Lennon wants the company, which allows users to create personalised greetings cards, to move international.

The firm is already backed to the tune of $7.5m by Delta Partners.

"We would like to be bigger than Hallmark. We want hundreds of millions of customers in five years, our ambition is to become the largest social gifting business in the world," Lennon said.

Xpreso

Xpreso is a delivery company that routes products to people rather than places. Among the founders are Cyclone Couriers managing director Simon Pleass and Eamon Keane, who dropped out of a PhD in engineering to set up the firm.

Its software allows users to communicate with delivery drivers in real time and redirect packages elsewhere if necessary.

Fenu Health

Teenage sisters Kate and Annie Madden are the team behind Fenu Health, whose flavourings for horse feed encourage the animals to chow down.

The Maddens won second place in their category at the Young Scientists and are in Germany this weekend to exhibit their products at the Equitana trade fair.

Alltech's Pearse Lyons helped them reduce raw material costs by 90pc, and the girls were also helped by a €1,200 loan from their parents. Animal feed firms Connolly's Red Mills and Foran's Equine Supplements are involved too.

Food Cloud

The brainchild of Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien, this charity helps businesses donate food waste to good causes. Ward is a former Trinity business student of the year and was named one of Time magazine's 'Next Generation Leaders'.

Foodcloud has signed a national partnership deal with Tesco that connects charities all over the country with the retailer's surplus food. It is being rolled out to 90 of Tesco's 147 Irish stores. Foodcloud recently won €140,000 from Social Entrepreneurship Ireland.

Hassle.com

Former management consultant and Leixlip native Jules Coleman is the brains behind this website, which allows users to book cleaners online for €12 an hour.

Coleman taught herself how to code in order to get the business running. It started in London and recently expanded to Dublin and France. Hassle has raised $6m from Accel Partners and came through the springboard programme now called Tech Stars London.

Coindrum

Coindrum's machines, which it installs at airports, allow travellers to convert unwanted coins into duty-free retail vouchers. It also adds an extra 10pc free shopping credit on all coins deposited. There is one available in Dublin Airport's Terminal One.

Over €2.5bn in coins passes through departure gates within the Euro zone every year.

The all-star board includes Declan Ryan (co-founder of Ryanair), Declan Fearon (CEO of Tipperary Crystal) and Frank Roche (chair of the Dublin Business Innovation Centre and deputy principal of UCD's Business and Law School). German founder Lucas Decker is a UCD business graduate.

Nutriband

Three years ago, founder Gareth Sheridan realised that the patch technology used to deliver pain relief, nicotine, and HRT medication through the skin could be adapted to deliver minerals and nutrition.

His Dublin company now makes three transdermal patches: one containing nutrients designed to boost energy, another containing multi-vitamins and one formulated for use during weight loss. Mr Sheridan aims to have a distribution agreement in place in every continent by mid 2015.

Beats Medical

Ciara Clancy's smartphone app helps Parkinson's patients with mobility problems.

The 24-year-old chartered physiotherapist from Skerries designed the app after realising that traditional sound-based treatments for nervous system affliction Parkinson's could be delivered remotely via smartphone and headphones.

Having only launched this year, she has already opened a UK office and is selling online around the world. Beats Medical has signed up heavy-hitting board members including tech entrepreneur Sean Melly of Etel; Dr Emma Stokes, VP of the World Confederation of Physical Therapy; and Graham Merriman, former head of online global sales at Phillips.

One of its testers, John McAphee, walked the length of the UK aided by the app.

Boxever

Boxever develops and sells software that allows airlines and travel agents to tailor their marketing to individual customers by sending specific messages and offers. Clients include Ryanair and Tiger Air.

Boxever has raised€6m in funding from venture capital firms like Frontline Ventures, in which Declan Ryan's Irelandia is an investor.

Guide Central

Guidecentral is a free DIY app that lets users browse how-to guides for hobbies and projects - everything from home decor to fashion and beauty trends and recipes.

Users can also buy individual kits or subscribe to receive a monthly kit full of all the materials you'll need to recreate the most popular Guidecentral projects. It is based in Dublin and has more than 600,000 members globally.

Co-founded by Gaston Irigoyen, an Argentinian who came to Dublin to work for Google, it is based in start-up hub Dogpatch in the CHQ building.

Arralis

This Limerick company has just won a contract with the UK's Ministry of Defence to build a minute, state-of-the-art GPS tracking device that can be stitched into soldiers' clothing.

The device will be far more accurate than normal GPS units and can locate an object to within millimetres, anywhere in the world. A prototype is underway.

If successful, should turn into a multimillion order. Its technology works by accessing a vast array of satellites, including those owned by the US and Russia as well as Europe. Most GPS systems can only access one satellite.

Arralis was co-founded in 2013 by product designer Barry Lunn and Mike Gleaves, a former RAF radar engineer. It has offices in Belfast and Limerick. Investors include Enterprise Ireland, Kernel Capital and ACT Venture Capital.

Gaelic Escargot

Polish entrepreneur Eva Milka is building up a snail empire from a farm in Co Carlow. The idea first took hold during a visit to France, where Milka and her partner developed a taste for snails.

They imported some to Ireland and bred them for their own consumption. Numbers swelled, she saw her chance, and rented a site in Carlow while importing 20,000 breeding snails from Poland.

Milka's had to develop unique breeding approaches adapted to the Irish climate. Her snails are free range and the brand capitalises on Ireland's reputation as a high-quality food exporter. She has her sights set on exports. There is an international shortage - and the industry is worth €115m in France and even more in Italy. She aims to produce 10 tonnes in 2015.

Tenderscout

Dublin-based Tenderscout helps small businesses win government tenders all over Europe, matching opportunities with their experience and expertise.

Founder Tony Corrigan says €200m a year is spent on bidding for government contracts in Ireland alone - and only 20pc of proposals are successful. He set up the business up in 2013 and claims that four out of five businesses who use Tenderscout win the tenders they compete for.

Oxymem

Founded in late 2013, Oxymem's technology addresses the need for more energy efficient wastewater treatment methods.

Wastewater treatment is an extremely energy intensive process, which uses up to 2.5pc of all electrical power produced in a developed country. Athlone-based Oxymem found a way to aerate waste water much more efficiently, cutting costs substantially.

UCD professor Eoin Casey developed the process while the firm is led by Wayne Byrne, the man who restructured waste equipment business Manvik Group.

The company has secured more than €1.85m in funding over the last 18 months and plans to grow its manufacturing capacity eight-fold over 2015. Over 90pc of turnover is expected to come from exports and key markets will be Europe, North and South America, the Middle East and China.

Jobbio

Developed by Irish brothers Stephen and John Quinn, Jobbio is a recruitment platform that allows jobseekers to upload interactive CVs including video clips.

Companies using its services include Unilever, Ryanair and Dropbox. It has also received interest from Australia and South Africa.

They recently announced it was expanding into the US after securing €1m via the AIB Seed Capital Fund, MXC Capital, Enterprise Ireland and private investors.

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