John McGee: 'Our innovative mediatech startups need more help'
Popertee is a Dublin-based start-up that was founded in 2016 by Lucinda Kelly. The company provides a range of analytical tools, using artificial intelligence, to match brands with audiences in physical locations like retail outlets, pop-up stores or event venues. TVadSync, meanwhile, is a Dublin-based provider of technology to bridge the advertising gap between TV and second-screen devices like mobile phones and tablets, allowing brands the ability to re-target real-time TV ads to people who are on their mobile phone as they watch TV. Yes, every household has at least one, if not more, guilty culprit.
Over in Galway, 9th Impact has won considerable acclaim in the international entertainment sector by developing official games for popular TV shows including, Biker Mice from Mars and Danger Mouse. Meanwhile, the Liffey Trust-based Readersight uses AI to give online publishers the ability to match reader preferences with specific content in the hope that they will then become paying customers, the holy grail of online publishing.
What they have in common is that they represent a new breed of Irish startups that have taken a brave step into wider marketing, advertising and media industries with ground-breaking technologies and service offerings that, hopefully, will allow them to add value to their clients' business and, obviously, their own. They are also part of a growing cohort of Enterprise Ireland-backed companies that are called High Potential Start-ups (HPSUs) and, as such, have been singled out for their potential to grow on the international stage.
To its credit, Enterprise Ireland has backed numerous startups involved in the wider marketing, advertising, entertainment and media industries. Ten years ago, this would have been unheard of. Now, it is estimated that there are in excess of 30 indigenous startups operating these sectors from a variety of incubator and accelerator programmes around the country.
While it is highly unlikely that the next Facebook or Google will emerge from the current crop of Irish startups, it is heartening to see so many companies willing to take a punt on sectors facing massive structural upheaval.
Innovation has, in theory anyway, always been at the heart of marketing, advertising and, to a lesser extent, media. Sweeping advances in technology over the past 10 years, however, combined with enormous changes in consumer behaviour, have allowed new and old brands, agencies and content creators access to audiences that were once hard to target.
"It will be the innovators and disruptors that question and challenge the norm that reap the dividends in 2019 and that includes their clients," says Mark McCann, managing director of the Dublin agency Oliver. "Any business willing to break the mould of the traditional approach to business, and work closer than ever before with their clients, will deliver more relevant, cost-effective results. Call it innovation, but it's really just common sense," he says.
The need to innovate in marketing, in particular, has become even more important and that old adage, innovate or die, has never been truer. Many of the big brands get this, others don't. For many of the newer usurpers, innovation and disruption is baked into their DNA.
The same applies to advertising. And if one looks to the advertising world to see where the smart money is going in terms of M&A activity, it's clear that areas like data and analytics - and anything else that helps brands understand and get closer to their customers - are the businesses that are much sought-after by investors.
But we could do with a lot more innovation in media and while there are many interesting startups operating in this space, we need a lot more. Given the substantial presence of mediatech companies such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Oath as well as other tech players such as Microsoft and Oracle, there are hundreds of people with the skill sets and knowledge who, with the right support and backing, would be more than capable of developing their own startups in this space.
While the Irish market is awash with venture capital - €994m was invested by VCs in 2017 - as well as funding from other sources like Enterprise Ireland, there has been a noticeable shortage of seed capital in the market this year. While some of this relates to the wind-up of existing seed funds and delays in the launch of newer funds that will be launched in 2019, it is a big risk for somebody to jump ship from Google or Facebook without the safety net that seed funding can offer. With the right strategies and funding in place, however, this can be easily addressed.
But on a wider level, there is no reason why we shouldn't be doing more to shout about and encourage startups like TVadSync or Readersight to set up shop while continuing to build on the success of both the indigenous and multinational mediatech space. The Irish fintech sector is doing a pretty good job of it at the moment while our thriving medtech sector has been doing it for years. We just need a lot more joined-up thinking.
Sunday Indo Business