THE Irish start-up sector is smoking hot, with some unbelievably smart young companies and entrepreneurs developing extremely cool technology and coming up with game-changing ideas. They could even be the next Google, Twitter or Facebook.
The founder of Stockbyte and Tweak says that there are a number of promising start-ups he would point to right now. "They're all trying to change the world in their respective market sectors," he says.
Endeavour programme graduate Activemind Technology founder John McGuire's GameGolf is a Tuam guy who went to San Francisco to build a team and get funding for his golf game tracking device that is backed by some of the world's top pros.
Dr Ann Shortt and her husband Paul McCarthy run Fullhealth.ie, which is revolutionising the way medics produce detailed health reports at scale, giving a complete analysis of health and lifestyle after just a few tests.
Gerard Forde of Bizimply.com -- another Endeavour graduate -- has a suite of apps for managing restaurants that is about to be unleashed on an industry screaming for efficiency.
Derek Counihan, a former Stockbyte employee, has set up Tipple.me -- a novel way to buy someone a drink through Facebook with Voucherlink.
Aoife Ni Mhuiri of SportsClinic Plus is solving the problems of those like myself who get physio exercises and execute them badly. With her medical background, she's providing exercise videos through an app so that physios and sports organisations can communicate exercise routines more clearly for rehabilitation and prevention."
HP Ireland boss Martin Murphy runs one of the country's biggest multinational and technology companies. There are two start-ups that have really caught his eye.
Oneview is an Irish software firm that specialises in the development of innovative technology solutions and patient engagement services for the healthcare sector. Mark McCloskey's Oneview was established with the objective of enabling hospitals to make better use of technology to drive improvements in cost efficiencies, clinical outcomes and patient satisfaction, leading to excellence in quality care.
Stylefinch is an Irish software company that offers integrated supply chain and ecommerce solutions for small- to medium-sized retailers and wholesalers. Stylefinch's Storpal platform allows retailers to deliver a better customer experience both in-store and online while increasing revenue, decreasing costs and improving cash flow in the supply chain. Established by Mark Flanagan in 2013, Stylefinch recently won investment from O2 Telefonica and the Lucey Fund and is based in the Wayra Incubator in Dublin's Docklands.
Coming off a stonkingly good return from its stake in Mark Little's Storyful, which was sold to Rupert Murdoch for €25m before Christmas, Bill Liao's venture capital firm announced it would be backing Cork-based bioscience firm Metabolomic Diagnostics with an investment of €750,000.
The money will assist the firm's work in developing innovative predictive pregnancy diagnostics -- something that's very close to Liao's heart.
"What's really cool about it is the first thing they're going after is pre-eclampsia -- a disease of pregnancy. My own wife actually had pre-eclampsia and nearly died," explains Liao. "If you can detect it it's actually a very simple treatment -- it's bed rest and aspirin. But if you detect it late it's an emergency caesarean and a possible early death for mother and child.
"So here is one of those rare examples of where there's a very good business model, it's likely to be highly profitable, it can be scaled to many different conditions, but the first condition they're looking at actually saves the lives of young mothers and their soon-to-be born or newborn babies.
"You don't often get the privilege as an investor to tick all those boxes."
An influential figure in the Irish technology sector, among the Australian-born Liao's other project is CoderDojo, a not-for-profit network of coding clubs for five- to 17-year-olds that began life in Cork and has spread as far as Japan, Australia, India and Brazil.
The founder and chief executive of PCH International says he fancies Adaptics, a wireless hardware company.
It's one of the few Irish start-ups selected for PCH's prestigious Highway1, an angel investor programme that takes promising early-stage outfits and hooks them up with Silicon Valley mentors and expertise to help get them to market.
Started by Tim Redfern and Ben Harris, Adaptics technology builds a bridge between specialised electronic tools and your smartphone, connecting state-of-the art hardware wirelessly to your device. Adaptics' hook-up with PCH gives it a killer advantage in accessing markets in Asia.
Noel is the European Venture Partner, of Boston-based Polaris Partners -- one of the most active technology investment funds in Ireland at present. Last year it invested more than €25m in Dublin-based start-ups.
The investment firm led a €10m funding round for UCD spinout Logentries, which Ruane has tipped for "market leadership" into the future.
"I'm very bullish about many of the companies emerging out of Ireland," says Noel. "I think that's reflected by the fact that we've invested so much money here over the past year. Many of the companies we've backed do have a strong chance of claiming leadership in their markets."
Logentries, co-founded by Trevor Parsons and Viliam Holub, analyses log data for developers and engineers, making development processes smoother and cheaper.
Ruane also tips payments firm CurrencyFair, which allows the transfer of foreign currency at lower rates to banking services, to prosper. The Dublin-based start-up was co-founded by Australian Brett Meyers, Jonathan Potter, Sean Barrett and David Christian.
"CurrencyFair is unique in that it's trying to build out a consumer facing market place," said Ruane.
"All the rest are in high velocity business models and cloud software as a service."
Ruane also piinpoints customer service communications firm Intercom, price intelligence firm Profitero, security start-up Trustev and airline big data firm Boxever to succeed in 2014.
"It's great to see so many of these great companies emerging out of Ireland," he says.
The CEO and founder of Realex Payments and Realex Fire has a few favourites.
"CurrencyFair and Trustev are two that stand out at the moment for me -- I like them both because I've met and know their founders well.
"What's interesting about CurrencyFair is that they and our own RealexFire are the only two regulated online payment systems here.
"CurrencyFair have solved a problem, helping their customers save substantial amounts of money when they exchange currency and transfer it, they've raised money recently and are in a substantial global market space.
"They're very focused on what they're trying to achieve and they're getting a lot of traction and raising money. I think they're going to do extremely well.
"Something that has helped CurrencyFair is that there's a very strong ecosystem in the payment space here in Ireland, so there's a group that I'm helping to set up called Payments Ireland to try and promote Ireland as a hub for innovation in the payments space.
"Pat Phelan at Trustev (which has a system for real-time online identity verification and payment fraud prevention) is well connected and fearless, and he has great belief in himself and his vision for the company.
"They demonstrate that potentially world-leading tech businesses can be started in Cork as well."
Fromer Dragons' Den investor and early backers of Google and other top US start-ups, Sean O'Sullivan, is now well engrained in the Irish start-up space.
"My favourite Irish tech company? Car.ma, where I am managing director," he said.
"I could do whatever I want with my time, anywhere in the world -- but the reason I've thrown myself at Carma [a car-pooling smartphone app] is because I like to take on world-scale problems that, no matter how impossible, once solved, hold the promise to reinvent our society and improve the human condition.
"Transportation is one of the universal challenges for our daily life, and too often it is a frustrating and costly experience to simply go to work in the morning rush-hour and come home in the evening. Carma is tackling a big, unsolved problem.
"People at Carma love this challenge, and we've got an amazing team because of the commitment we have toward this mission. Once we crack it, in a matter of years people will forget what life was like before Carma existed. When we finish our job, the lives of billions of people on the planet will be improved immeasurably."
The co-founder of two tech companies and partner at venture capitalists DFJ Esprit sees much promise in Ireland.
"If I had to point to one of the companies we at DFJ Esprit have backed, it would be Movidius, which could underpin the next revolution in smartphone imaging," he says.
"The founders Sean Mitchell and David Moloney have a background in hardware and they've found a way to solve a technological problem."
Movidius, which employs 50 people and has raised €37m to date, is designing ultra high-power smartphone chips which won't drain the battery while carrying out functions such as visual search, high definition zooming, 3D scanning, eye or gesture controls and augmented reality simulation using the device's camera.
"I also like Soundwave a lot," says Caulfield. "They built a great product and they got it out there. They've exceeded the targets they set themselves.
"Intercom are very, very interesting. They have an unusually strong cross-functional team of engineers who also understand user experience.
"There's a very large market opportunity for what they're doing. I like that they're hugely ambitious and if they can build their go-to-market sales and marketing capability to scale up what they do, they can be a great company.
"I would single them out, and would loved to have invested in them," he laments.
"Three other notable companies I would point to are Boxever (a big data software developer for airlines), Swrve (a mobile app analytics and improvement firm) and LogEntries (a developer of log management and analytics software)."
The co-founder of Orchestra and EngineYard Dublin is an investor in a number of Irish start-ups.
"I'm an amateur investor, so it's not a full-time job and it's just me with my own money, investing at a super early stage, within the first year of a company," he explains.
"If it wasn't clear to me that two of the start-ups I've invested in were going to be successes at what they do, I wouldn't have invested.
"Intercom, which was founded in 2011 and raised €4.4m in series A funding last June, are considered leaders in the software design and web product development community. They're making it easier for businesses to get to know their customers.
"The four founders (in their late 20s and early 30s) and some of the key people they've hired (which includes former Facebook head of brand design Paul Adams) are indications of a very good future for the company."
Intercom employs 35 people in Dublin and 10 in the US, and all of its founders had worked together in Dublin in a web and software design consultancy. To date, it has raised €5.7m in funding.
"A much younger company I would point to is Trustev, which announced that they had raised €2.2m ($3m) in a seed funding round at the Web Summit last October.
"They've having some great conversations and look very promising."