Tuesday 25 June 2019

Top 30 under 30: The brightest young entrepreneurs who are putting ideas to work

The Sunday Independent's ‘Top 30 Under 30’ list reveals the top young Irish entrepreneurs doing the business

Toast of the town: Simone Rocha had a fabulous London Fashion Week
Toast of the town: Simone Rocha had a fabulous London Fashion Week
Jonathan Cloonan
James Whelton
Patrick Collison
Cristina Luminea
Danielle Ryan
Sophie Morris

Compiled by Nick Webb, John Reynolds, Dean Van Nguyen, Harry Leech & Tom Lyons

THEY are young. They are successful. They are not always rich, but they certainly have ideas.

Technology attracts more hot young whizz-kids than any other sector and it certainly dominates this year's Top 30 Under 30 list. But we also highlight entrepreneurs doing well in food, biotech, helping others, and even property (albeit abroad).

Jonathan Cloonan (28)


At the tender age of 28, Jonathan Cloonan is already making a splash in the city that never sleeps and the Belvedere old boy and Smurfit graduate was a surprise inclusion on the Forbes 30 under 30 list last year.

Cloonan is currently working with VICE Media, the hipster bible that has turned itself into a genuine player in the creative media industry, and in which his employer, the advertising giant WPP, took a stake last year.

Cloonan began working for WPP at JWT London and then had a stint working as an account director in Group M in Singapore before moving to New York last year.


Chris Kennedy (28)


Described as the “lead architect” and evil genius behind Trustev, the company he co-founded with CEO Pat Phelan, Chris Kennedy clearly has a sense of humour as well as a great head for combining coding and business.

Trustev uses social data and a number of additional dynamic data sources to verify a potential customer’s identity, ensuring that an online merchant can be assured they are transacting with a real individual. It's a complicated sell to the non-techy but basically the company makes it safer to buy stuff online, which the business community clearly thinks is a good thing.

The company has won numerous awards for its idea, including a Best Start-Up award from the European Commission earlier this year.


James Whelton (21)


James Whelton, 21, is best-known for co-founding CoderDojo, an acclaimed network of coding clubs for kids.

Started only two years ago, not-for-profit CoderDojo is training the next generation of tech heads not just in towns all over Ireland but also as far afield as Japan, Brazil and India.

Whelton runs his own social media start-up Disruptive Developments and is hacker-in-residence with billion dollar American private equity firm, Resolute Venture Capital.

Whelton's other achievements include being the first person to hack the iPod Nano and being named an Ashoka Fellow for his social entrepreneurship.


Keith McCormac (23)

Glass Robot Studios

Mobile games boss Keith McCormac co-founded Glass Robot Studios straight out of college with three other college pals. McCormac, who holds a first class honours BSc in Computer Science from Dublin Institute of Technology, launched his first game earlier this year called Blake Justice: Project Hero. The game is described as being like “Super Mario meets Batman” where users can make their own levels and set challenges for their friends. Glass Robot has to date attracted a €50,000 investment from the Telefonica-backed Wayra Academy to help get the company off the ground


Richard Whelan (23)


Social commerce business Popdeem's founders, Richard Whelan, Gavin Hayes, Matteo Zambon and Conor Mongey, are all under the age of 25. The UCD graduates have created an online rewards app that allows shops and banks target individual customers with offers that are redeemable in store. Consumers earn points by interacting with brands using Facebook and Twitter. Users who are identified as most influential among their peers get extra offers.

Led by Whelan, 23, Popdeem is seen as one of Ireland's hottest start-ups as it helps brands get to the hard-to-reach cool kids.


Patrick (24) and John (22) Collison


Brothers Patrick and John Collison could be Ireland's greatest ever start-up kingpins.

Stripe, their online payments firm, was valued at $500m earlier this year but already this is looking like being on the low side. The two Limerick brothers are rumoured to have recently turned down a fortune from PayPal for their business, based in San Francisco.

The calibre of investors backing Stripe gives an indication of just how hot their company is considered: Andreessen Horowitz (a previous backer of Skype and Digg); Sequoia Capital (an investor in PayPal and Apple); and angel investors Peter Thiel and Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal.

The sky is the limit for these two down-to-earth nice guys.


Jeff Harte and Dan Kersten (28)


Despite being one of the hottest start-ups around, Conker’s premise is one that UCD graduate Jeff Harte and

DCU grad Dan Kersten sometimes have to explain slowly.

Although they are a gaming ‘middleware' company, they don't actually make games. Instead they make games profitable through a tool that uses predictive behavioural analytics to allow developers who make free games ensure that they are selling the right products within those games to the right customer at the right time.

Earlier this year the start-up won a place on Telefonica's prestigious accelerator for tech start-ups which is valued at €40,000.


Cristina Luminea (28)


Cristina Luminea is the founder and CEO of ThoughtBox, an experiential marketing company which uses ‘gameful learning' to teach people at their own pace in a way which increases the likelihood of them retaining the knowledge.

The idea is to help children treat maths and science like a game and encourage them to learn the subjects in a way that is easier on the brain and less likely to lead to boredom.

The company's first product is Numerosity, an iPad app designed to teach maths by challenging the player with increasingly difficult puzzles.

It's a growth area and if Thoughtbox can crack the market, it could be on to a real winner.


Danielle Ryan (29)

Roads Group

Danielle Ryan's family has a little history in entrepreneurial activity — her grandfather was the late aviation tycoon Tony Ryan.

The Roads Group is a diversified group which includes publishing and luxury scents as part of its portfolio. Roads Publishing printed its first titles this summer, a range of 18th- and 19th-century classic titles with stylishly illustrated covers by an Irish design team.

The company also launched a range of fragrances at the prestigious Pitti Immagine fragrance fair in Florence last month, and has a range of luxury body products slated for a 2014 launch.

Sophie Morris (29)

Kooky Dough

Many students come back from their J1 trips in the US with a confused accent, a hangover and a massive credit card bill. Instead Sophie Morris came back with an idea for a company that has landed major contracts with Tesco UK & Ireland, among others.

The idea behind the business is deliciously simple — make cookie dough that consumers can buy, then slice and bake in eight minutes.

Morris couldn't understand why the idea hadn't taken off in Europe and it seems the company has seen a good gap in the market. Three years on, the company is going strong and is looking at expanding outside Ireland and the UK.


Patrick Walsh (29)


Patrick Walsh set up Paymins (along with the former head of technology at ezetop, Mike Tesar) after a three-year stint at KPMG.

He met Tesar at ezetop where he worked as a product manager, leading the development and deployment of a white label mobile online top-up system for Digicel.

Paymins is a platform that allows people to accept payment from customers’ mobile phones instead of credit cards or PayPal. The pair are clearly on to a good idea as Telefonica, former owner of the O2 brand in Ireland, has invested in the start-up.


Ed McElroy (24)

Social Arcade

After leaving art school, Ed McElroy worked as a game designer at Hard Glitch Software for two years before a spell at iPad and iPhone games firm Redwind Software, where he worked on redesigning good old-fashioned noughts & crosses.

McElroy is also a whizz at industrial design, coming up with some incredibly innovative products ranging from chair design and children's toys to barbecues and an uber smart free running system.

The 24-year-old Dublin-based designer set up Social Arcade which develops viral branded games, quizzes and puzzles for the likes of Facebook and other social media platforms. The company was set up in 2012 with Mariano Di Murro and Zafer Balbous.

The idea is that the games promote the client brand, vastly increasing consumer awareness of the product or company. Smart or what.

The brands are also able to build up a better picture of potential clients. The Adventures of King Croc may become desperately addictive.


Iseult Ward (22) and Aoibheann O'Brien (28)


Dubliners Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien, both students at Trinity College, founded this web and app-based social enterprise in a bid to help businesses with food surpluses connect with charities and community groups that need it for their beneficiaries.

They were spurred into action after learning in the course of a university dissertation that Ireland wastes one million tonnes of food every year while 600,000 people experience food poverty. Thanks to their work over 5,000 people have been fed with food that would have otherwise ended up in the bin.

Targeting hotels, caterers, supermarkets, shops and restaurants, and with a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland award under their belt, they are taking part in Trinity's start-up programme Launchbox, partnering with Tesco and seeking funding to help scale their venture across Dublin after a trial in the inner city.


Stephen O'Brien (25)

Southern Fried Chicken

After studying business management under a sports scholarship at North Kentucky University in the US, Clontarf native O'Brien is taking on Colonel Sanders' Kentucky Fried Chicken and its 18 outlets here with a new franchise of the US-inspired but British-founded Southern Fried Chicken take-away chain.

Southern Fried Chicken’s first outlet, beside the Olympia Theatre on Dame Street, which has taken about €200,000 to get off the ground, employs 12 people. O'Brien and his small group of investors hope to open a second outlet early next year, possibly a drive-through or shopping centre outlet. Their plan is to open at least two more in Dublin that would see them create at least 50 jobs, and they have an eye on further expansion nationwide.

Southern Fried Chicken has over 600 outlets across 30 countries and in contrast to some other fast-food chains, all its food is sourced locally and prepared on the premises.

Brendan O'Driscoll (26)


Inspired when he saw a Swedish blonde walk into a tree because she was so engrossed in the song she was

listening to, the music discovery and sharing app that Brendan O'Driscoll and his co-founders launched in June has been endorsed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and English actor and uber-tweeter Stephen Fry among others.

Allowing users to see what their friends, their favourite bands or celebrities are listening to in real time, the data created will also enable the music industry to see what is trending generally or being played in a specific location.

Earnings will come from commissions on songs that its users (it currently has half a million) purchase through its app and hopefully fees from music industry users who want access to its valuable data.

Backed by Enterprise Ireland, ACT Venture Capital and Mark Cuban (star of TV's Entourage and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team), Soundwave has raised €700,000 to date and employs nine people.


Patrick Leddy (26)

Furious Tribe

Computer science graduate and serial entrepreneur Patrick Leddy has counted RTE Sport, TV3, Vodafone and giants in banking and insurance such as Citibank and Axa among his clients at Furious Tribe, the phone app design and mobile business strategy company that he founded in Dun Laoghaire in 2010.

With offices in Dublin, London and New York, it employs over 30 people and achieved all of its rapid growth by bootstrapping — without outside investment — Leddy said last year.

After stumbling on a software idea which he describes as game-changing, Leddy stepped down as CEO in August and is working quietly on a new start-up. He remains founder and chairman of Furious Tribe and since January has also been co-founder of TechForce, a recruiter and manager of teams of software developers in Poland.


Jennie McGinn (29)


Having spent four years running the popular fashion blog What Will I Wear Today, Jennie McGinn, along with sisters Sarah and Grace, made the bold move of monetising their online content by co-founding Prowlster in September of last year.

Billing itself as an “online lifestyle magazine you can shop”, the site was an immediate success, taking the Outstanding Marketing Award at the Irish Internet Association's bi-annual Lift Off event just three months after its launch.

Last month, Prowlster was acquired by Sweatshop.ie and Le Cool Dublin, and McGinn is currently focusing on a new shopping platform, which she plans to unveil at the Dublin Web Summit later this month.

In addition, the creative London College of Fashion alumna has occasionally moonlighted as a freelance journalist, visual arts coordinator and youth worker.


Stephen Kelly (27)

Studio Powwow

Stephen Kelly amassed an impressive body of work during stints with Dublin-based animation companies Boulder Media and Kavaleer Productions, including serving as an animator on the BAFTA award-winning TV show The Amazing World of Gumball for Cartoon Network and the Sesame Street iPad game, Elmo Loves ABCs.

Channelling these experiences, last year the 27-year-old co-founded entertainment company Studio Powwow, where he now serves as the firm's animation director and lead game designer. The company has since been chosen as a high-potential digital start-up by the NDRC LaunchPad Accelerator Program and has received Enterprise Ireland backing through the Competitive Start Fund.

Kelly's latest project is The World of ShipAntics, a puzzle adventure game for eight- to 10-year-olds.

James McNamara (28)


CleverMiles was founded to commercialise the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2011 winning project Hermes, an innovative system that allows drivers to analyse their own performance and behaviour, enabling them to compare their performance with fellow users.

The idea was designed to reduce road accidents and it brought James McNamara and the Hermes team — who all hail from IT Sligo — an incredible victory at what is the world's largest student technology competition.

McNamara served as CEO of CleverMiles from the company's February 2012 inception to November, when he moved to the role of chief technology officer.

Prior to his Imagine Cup success, he worked with window and doors supplier Grady Joinery, developing a business application for the company.


Scott Kennedy (25) and Cian Brassil (22)


Entering the in-vogue world of cloud computing, Scott Kennedy and Cian Brassil are the duo behind CloudDock, a service that collaborates users' various storage systems, ensuring that they all work in harmony.

Reflecting the company's ingenuity, CloudDock was recently accepted onto the NDRC's LaunchPad 8 accelerator programme, where Kennedy and Brassil are currently working to further develop the business.

Both are graduates of NUI Galway. Kennedy recently completed an MSc in Corporate Strategy that involved a three-month project on reviewing the implementation of the Lean Six Sigma managerial concept in a major US multinational and creating an inventive implementation scheme.

Prior to founding CloudDock, Brassil started WestCoastSurfer.com, an online store for surfing goods. In 2011, he scooped the NUI Galway Student Enterprise Awards for his work on the site, securing €15,000 to grow and develop the business.

Eamon Keane (27)

Xpreso Software Ltd

Described by its creators as “like Hailo for eCommerce”, Xpreso software allows internet shoppers to follow their orders while in transit, providing live map-based tracking and accurate arrival times.

Emerging from a UCD engineering research group, the company was founded by Eamon Keane, one-time winner of the university's the Institute of Mechanical Engineers best student certificate.

Keane now acts as the Xpreso Software Ltd CEO and, along with 23-year-old chief technical officer Paulo Tubbert-Semiao, he has steered the fledgling start-up to a spot on the Enterprise Ireland-backed New Frontiers programme and a place in NDRC's Launchpad incubator, Ireland's leading digital accelerator.

Ben Teeling (28)

Allogen Biotech

After earning a degree in Mechanical Engineering from IT Tallaght and completing his masters in Biomedical Engineering at Trinity, Ben Teeling briefly worked as a

clinical engineer before the burgeoning entrepreneur opted to strike out on his own.

Founding Allogen Biotech in 2011 along with Derek Graydon, a former student engineer for Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council whom Teeling met at an entrepreneurship course, the dynamic duo have developed a product that meets what Teeling describes as “an unmet demand for rapid, high sensitivity food allergen testing”.

Having secured private investment and entering into Enterprise Ireland Innovative High Potential Start-up Fund, Biotech is developing its prototype and hopes to have it operational in the coming months.

Mark Moore (26)


Billing itself as “the world's first dental check-up service via SmartPhone”, OralEye is a revolutionary app that allows users to send high quality images of their teeth and gums to a dentist for assessment without actually visiting a dental office.

Founded by Mark Moore in 2011, OralEye has since spread to the US, and the Dubliner now splits his time between Ireland and San Francisco.

Prior to establishing the firm, Moore's first attempt to develop an app came in 2010 with MyTipOff, a service that offered real-time information on the latest special offers and cut price deals users could avail of. However, the idea was shelved in advance of the development of OralEye.

Georgie Smithwick (24)


Inspired by her own dissatisfaction with a third-level education course which she perceived to be very different than what had been outlined, Georgie Smithwick founded CourseHub.ie, a website that allows students past and present to provide prospective attendees information on their college experience.

Partnering with Taxback Group CEO Terry Clune, Smithwick has built CourseHub.ie into Ireland's largest education assessment website with over 15,000 reviews and its success has projected the 24-year-old into the public sphere. She now makes frequent guest appearances on radio, providing opinion and analysis on many third-level education issues and has spoken at various high-profile events, including the Undergraduate Academic Awards summit and the Young Entrepreneur Bootcamp 2013.

Derek Counihan (29)

The Voucher Link

Having spent seven years working at Kerry-based stock photography company Stockbyte, Derek Counihan received a lump sum when the business was sold for $135m to Getty Images in 2006.

Investing the money in commercial property smartly has provided the young entrepreneur with the cash flow that now enables him to concentrate on Voucherlink, a mobile phone app that allows users to purchase drinks with a one-click payment system.

Under the brand name Tipple.me, the app (which its creators say solves “a critical need of global brands by making payment and gifting easier for consumers”) will be available to the public later this month.


Simone Rocha (27)


Simone Rocha, the daughter of design-great John Rocha, has successfully carved out her own identity since graduating in 2010 with a Fashion MA from St Martin's College, London.

Her collections have made it into Dover Street Market in London, Colette in Paris and 10 Corso Como in Milan. Her recent collection at London Fashion Week was well received and Rocha recently said she plans to move more into shoe design.


Jonathan William Anderson (29)

JW Anderson

Earlier this month, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy reached a deal with designer JW Anderson which made him creative director for its high-end handbag brand Loewe. LVMH also took a minority stake in JW Anderson's label which the Northern Irish-born designer only launched in 2008.

Known as J-Dubs to his friends, the designer's father is rugby legend Willie Anderson. The investment from one of the world's biggest luxury goods makers will allow him expand his design labels range as well as help push it into new markets.


Dean McKillen (27)

Property and restaurants

In April, Dean McKillen, the son of Belfast-born developer Paddy McKillen, hit the headlines when he sold a mansion he revamped to Sam Nazarian, an Iranian hotel and nightclub tycoon, nicknamed Los Angeles's ‘King of the Night.' The price-tag was $39m for the lavish home which was once owned by Naked Gun villain Ricardo Montalban.

Dean also owns the hip Laurel Hardware restaurant and nightclub on Santa Monica Boulevard and has other interests in California.

Dean's older brother Paddy Jr, 31, is behind nightclub Everleigh Gardens on Harcourt Street and the Bison Bar on Wellington Quay, among other Dublin venues.

Darren Ryan (29)

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

‘Head of Engagement' at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, Darren Ryan has helped shape an ecosystem for charities and social-minded start-ups. SEI has invested €4.9m since 2004 in 161 different proposals aimed at making Ireland a better place including Hireland, Fighting Words and Grow it Yourself Ireland.

A top networker, Ryan is also a young leader in the Ireland Funds; a member of the Sandbox Network for global young entrepreneurs; and the first chairperson of the Suas Alumni Network, a network of young professionals committed to social change. Knows everybody in his space.


Gary Martin (25)

Martin Construction

At the age of 15, Gary Martin was asked to run a bar and nightclub for a relative. The money he made allowed him move into property and by the age of 18, he had made his first million.

Martin made a stack of money in Irish property during the bubble but got out in time. In 2009, he moved to London and set up Martin Construction which is developing office blocks.

His company turns over £10m-plus per year. Martin recently featured in the BBC's Million Dollar Intern series where young business people try to turn around struggling firms.


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