Are we entering a golden age for Irish startups? Is an ecosystem seeded by tech giants here starting to yield a crop of homegrown innovators?
A cursory glance at the space would seem to suggest so.
This year alone, Irish or Irish-led (US-based) tech start-ups have landed well over €100m in investment funding. And it’s more than just global superstars such as Patrick and Collison, the two Limerick brothers whose four year old Stripe online payments startup is now valued at around €2bn.
Home grown startups such as Intercom, Trustev, Kwikdesk, Cleverbug and Boxfish are just some of the ventures that have stepped into the path of serious cash investments in the tech space over the past year. Others, such as Storyful's Mark Little or Waterford-based Feedhenry, have gone a step further, achieving exits to the tune of many millions.
And there are many more Irish-led startups abroad, such as Oisin Hanrahan’s Handy or Jules Coleman’s Hassle.com, that are shining in their markets.
Indeed, seasoned industry observers now detect a step up in the quality of some of new Irish startups
"I’m blown away by the depth and quality of startup pitches I’m seeing here right now," said Marcus Segal, former chief operations officer for Zynga, creator of Farmville and one of the world’s largest 'social gaming' companies in the world.
Segal, who is now the Web Summit's ‘entrepreneur in residence’, was a judge at a recent Dublin startup contest where hundreds entered.
“You just don't normally see this kind of quality,” he said. "So much so that I've told some of them I'm interested in looking helping them and with questions they have on further funding."
This week, hundreds of the world’s best startups will descend on the Web Summit. Here are three promising Irish ones we think are worth a look.
With a seemingly bottomless list of investors for software and online services such as Stripe (€80m), Uber (€700m), and homegrown firms such as Intercom (€17m), is the world now a place solely for software startups? Dubliner Ben Harris thinks not.
His smart kitchen scales startup, Drop, has just received €1.5m in seed funding. And with an expedited route to market provided by heavyweight supply chain manufacturing expert Liam Casey (see page 12), the enterprise is has bright prospects.
"There are very few technology hardware companies that come out of Dublin," he says. "We know that this is pretty unusual. We do all the design and development from here [an office in the IFSC] and then the marketing is being done out of San Francisco."
Drop, is part of an iPad (and iPhone) system to simplify cooking and baking. For novices -- which is at least four fifths of kitchen users -- the device aims to bring 21st century nous to a process that has not been significantly improved upon for decades.
The physical product – an iPad connected weighing scale – links to an online recipe platform. Users choose a recipe, place a mixing bowl on top of the scale, and follow the on-screen instructions, which update automatically as the ingredients are added, so that they don’t have to touch the screen with flour-covered fingers.
Harris, an award-winning designer in his own right, is joined in Drop by noted designers Tim Redfern, Johnny McCauley and Jack Phelan.
The Drop smart scales is the first in a number of products planned from Harris.
"This is really something to get people back into the kitchen making decent food," says Harris. "But we think people will want to buy it. Because our recipe guidance is more accurate than anything else on the planet."
The device costs €70 and is expected to be in shops for Christmas.
Injuries are a million dollar problem. Whether it’s premier league managers raging against national team coaches for incurring injuries through training inconsistencies or quirks in players’ own physiques, good data on the subject is at a premium. And that’s the idea behind Iarfhlaith Kelly’s ground-breaking new startup, Kitman Labs.
The enterprise uses sophisticated data collection and analysis to improve elite athlete performance and reduce injury risk. And it is now making its name worldwide, thanks to some heavy-hitting backers. Chief among these is the A-list Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Malloy, a man who turned an initial €3m investment in PayPal into hundreds of millions when the services was sold to eBay in 2002.
The introduction to Malloy, a rugby fan, was made by the Irish rugby star Jamie Heaslip.
“Jamie ended up having a chat with John Malloy at the Web Summit last year,” says Kelly. “He was very interested in what we were doing. Subsequently, John invited us over to Silicon Valley to meet the rest of his partners. He helped us greatly over the next few months, shaping a business plan, working out how much investment we needed and how to break into the US market. And in the end he led our Series A round of investment, which we closed in August for $4m.”
His co-founder Steve Smith, who had been working in sports science with Leinster Rugby for the past seven years, then quit his old job to go full-time with Kitman earlier this year.
Now, the company is poised to push into the elite areas of US sports.
“Our clients already include the Irish rugby team, Leinster, Munster and Connacht, English Premier League teams including Everton and in the US, FC Dallas and the LA Dodgers,” says Kelly. “We are starting to expand pilots in baseball and soccer.”
If Kelly has one tip for other startups? Ask for advice at events like the Web Summit. “It doesn’t cost you much to sit down and have a coffee with people,” he says.
Many talk about 3D printing as a technology ‘of the future’. But Kate and Aoibheann O’Daly, together with their sister Emer, are making it a reality for everyday online shopping.
The sisters have combined their respective expertise in architecture, design, computer science and project management to create a unique online shopping service.
Together with co-founder Miguel Alonso, the O’Dalys created FabAllThings, now rebranded as LoveAndRobots.com. It’s an online shop that allows ordinary people to pick out everyday items such as clocks or smartphone cases. But, in a twist, they can choose to either order the fully made product via the post or simply to download the ‘3D design’. If the latter, they can simply send it to their nearest 3D printing shop (and there is a growing number of them about) to expedite the whole thing. Although novel, the idea isn’t a lonely one: the startup is set to be one of the first European businesses to be part of Amazon’s new 3D printing store.
“While some of the designs are our own, we also put out design calls and challenges around the world,” says Emer O’Daly. “For our last design challenge, we had 226 design entries from everywhere. We have thousands of designers from 48 countries around the world and this is growing fast.”
The company is currently raising funding from a combination of investment angels and an unspecified venture capital firm.
It has also been targeted as a high potential startup by Enterprise Ireland, qualifying for its Competitive Startup Fund. Most recently, it was accepted into Seedcamp in London, which promises a “founder sponsor pack” worth €200,000. It is also one of three startups to win the recent ESB Spark Of Genius Awards, fiercely contested by a shortlist of 30 finalists from over 300 entrants. As such, it enters the final round of Europe’s largest startup competition, Pitch, at the 2014 Web Summit in Dublin in early November.