Friday 24 January 2020

Tech entrepreneur enjoys success as his startup goes down the drain

SwiftComply founder Michael O'Dwyer and his team are living off the fat of the land. Their idea? To make it easier for companies to clean up their waste act - and protect our cities' infrastructure, reports our Technology Editor

Michael O'Dwyer, founder, SwiftComply, with head of product Lindsey Nguyen and chief operations officer David Gibbons
Michael O'Dwyer, founder, SwiftComply, with head of product Lindsey Nguyen and chief operations officer David Gibbons
Thames Water workers inspect drains in London, a city which has suffered from issues surrounding fat waste
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Last year, water officials in London uncovered a gruesome sight. A 10-tonne blob of fat, grease and other detritus had congealed into a giant structure over 40 yards in length. It was so large that it broke several pipes, costing local authorities over €500,000 in repairs.

It's not the first time such a block of oozing muck has caused havoc with civic infrastructure. Authorities even have a name for the phenomenon - 'fatbergs'.

They come largely from domestic homes and business ignoring rules that are supposed to stop them stuffing fat, oil and grease (nicknamed 'Fog' in the civil engineering and hospitality industries) down their sinks.

And they're becoming such a problem for cities around the world that environmental agencies and local government bodies are starting to crack down with enforcement measures.

That's where Dublin-based startup SwiftComply comes in. It has come up with an online platform that links up hotels, restaurants and other big users of city sewers with local government regulators and compliance service firms.

In other words, a restaurant can book and complete a compliance service in plain sight of appropriate authorities.

"We basically offer it through the city so that it becomes a city-backed platform," said Michael O'Dwyer, founder of the company.

"The restaurant can log in to see their compliance history and then a calendar-style view of what they need to do. There's a button to purchase and schedule a service.

"We connect them with a service provider online and the restaurant can pay them online. Then the city gets a notification that the restaurant has had, for example, their grease cleaned out."

O'Dwyer, from Knocklyon in Dublin, came up with the idea during his eight years working for Dublin City Council. "I used to work for the council as an engineer in drainage and wastewater services," he said.

"I was put in charge in of the fat, oil and grease programme. Its aim was to prevent the build-up of the stuff in sewers.

"But I soon saw that we needed better technology. It really is a huge challenge for restaurants to meet their compliance obligations. There's nobody really helping them, only someone telling them what's expected and then fining them if they get it wrong."

O'Dwyer's solution is, he admits, "a basic cloud platform". But it is being introduced to a sector that is traditionally slow at adopting new technology.

"Some restaurants are still writing cheques to pay for things," he said. "What we're doing is bringing the whole thing online. The service provider is creating a digital record instead of a paper one. And restaurants don't have the pain of managing their compliance with inspectors constantly busting their balls. If they play by the rules, they're guaranteed compliance."

SwiftComply may have come at the right time. Having been accepted into London's prestigious 'Techstars' incubator programme, it is launching in the Californian city of San José in October. It has four people working full time and is currently raising €1m in funding before a move to Silicon Valley.

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