From tech enthusiast to industry innovator – How Immersive VR is revolutionising education

“It’s not just the money that HPSU provides. It’s the information, contacts, and the advice they give you.”
David Whelan, Founder, Immersive VR Education

Overview:

  • Immersive VR Education was founded in 2014 based on the belief that virtual reality has the power to transform how training and educational content is delivered and consumed globally.
  • The business was ushered into the New Frontiers Entrepreneurial Development programme before qualifying for High Potential Start-Up support, which was used for product development, talent acquisition, conference attendance and more.
  • Today, Immersive VR Education has a staff of 40 people and sales of its applications and education licenses are growing at an average of 50% each year.

 

Case Study: Immersive VR

David Whelan is a self-taught web developer and all-round tech enthusiast. When he came across the first model of the Oculus virtual reality headset on the fundraising website Kickstarter, he was intrigued. The recession had hit Ireland and money was tight, but Whelan still spent his last €300 to purchase the cutting-edge product.

Inspired by the new technology, Whelan built one of the very first review websites for virtual reality. He realised that, despite the potential power of this tech to impact learning, most existing VR content consisted of video games and entertainment. It’s true that NASA and several medical research facilities were using virtual reality for training, but access to these experiences was extremely expensive. He had identified a glaring gap in the VR market: educational material for the average consumer. That’s when Whelan decided to start his own virtual reality business: Immersive VR Education.

Whelan was convinced that his idea held merit for educators worldwide, but in order to make it happen, he needed funding. He paid a visit to his local Enterprise Ireland office in Waterford, bringing along the VR headset.

“When pitching my idea, the first thing I had to do was explain VR,” says Whelan. “Then I would let them try it. People were always blown away by the experience. They definitely thought I was crazy, but they could see I was committed. It’s hard to deny the power of VR once you’ve tried it.

Enterprise Ireland agreed that the start-up had huge global potential. Immersive VR Education was ushered into the New Frontiers Entrepreneurial Development programme with the goal of eventually qualifying for High Potential Start-Up support. Its partnership with Enterprise Ireland generated funding used for product development and enabled Whelan to bring his wife and co-founder, Sandra, on staff. The start-up’s HPSU development advisor, who came from a similar business and technical background, suggested applying for grant funding, so it participated in the HPSU Feasibility Study, which contributed toward costs to attend conferences in relevant industries.

 

Enterprise Ireland introduced Immersive VR Education to their overseas offices in places like New York, Tokyo, and London. Whelan says these international teams were extremely helpful and happy to advise whether the new VR products would be well received within their respective markets.

Whelan says, “I couldn’t have started a business anywhere but here. Enterprise Ireland vetted us and vouched for us, which gave investors confidence in our business idea. This opened important doors to funding and helped us to no end.”

 

Shoot for the moon

Most of the early fundraising went toward building Immersive VR Education’s first application: the Apollo 11 virtual reality experience. Whelan describes the 1969 moon landing as “a shining beacon in history.” He and his team of developers worked hard to build a virtual reality experience that would transport viewers directly to the surface of the moon with the Apollo 11 crew. He believed that this type of immersive learning would mean much more to students than simply reading about the event in a textbook.

When the demo for Apollo 11 VR was launched, Facebook used it in conjunction with the release of its new Oculus headset. The partnership gave Immersive VR Education the remaining funds needed to complete the application. When all was said and done, Apollo 11 VR cost about $100,000 to build and went out as a top title on the Oculus Rift VR headset. Since then, the application has generated over $2 million.

 

Education for everyone

Following the roaring success of Immersive VR Education’s first application, it began to build out its business and hire more staff. Whelan took the education angle to a whole new level, creating a virtual university where educators can teach anyone in the world via its virtual classrooms.

“We want a future where education is accessible to everyone,” says Whelan. “I fully believe there is another young Einstein out there, missing his chance to change the world because he doesn’t have access to quality education. We’re here to change that.”

Immersive VR Education hopes that in the future, we will see virtual universities around the world. Whelan dreams of providing the opportunity for students to attend a physics class at MIT in the morning and literature at Oxford in the afternoon. He also sees potential for exposing home-schooled students to the social benefits of the classroom experience, helping to alleviate isolation for children who are not involved in traditional schooling. The possibilities, he says, are endless.

 

Exceptional growth with Enterprise Ireland

Today, Immersive VR Education has a staff of 40 people. Sales of its applications and education licenses are growing at an average of 50% each year. The company sells products online globally, with its highest numbers coming from the US, UK, and Korea.

Although Immersive VR Education flew through the official HPSU programme in just under three years, Whelan says that Enterprise Ireland is still very much part of their daily operations. They regularly send advisors to Waterford, provide advice and industry connections, and enable access to further support and grants.

The company’s latest goal is to expand and hire more staff. Recently, it availed of the Enterprise Ireland GradStart programme, which Whelan says is invaluable when it comes to sourcing new recruits. Immersive VR Education expects to see exponential growth over the next three to five years as the company continues its work of revolutionising education around the globe.

Is your business ready to take the next step towards becoming a HPSU? Contact our Start-Up Enquiries Team to find out more.

Click here to learn more about becoming a HPSU or contact our Start-Up Enquiries Team to find out more.

Is your business ready to take the next step to becoming a HPSU? Click here to learn more or contact our Start-Up Enquiries Team

How Manna Drone Delivery is changing the global delivery industry

“Indigenous tech is at a huge disadvantage compared to FDI companies. Enterprise Ireland gives us policy support and the advantage we need in order to scale.”

Bobby Healy, Founder, Manna Drone Delivery

Overview:

  • Serial entrepreneur Bobby Healy of CarTrawler fame founded Manna Drone Delivery in 2017 to revolutionise food delivery.
  • The High Potential Start-Up team provided invaluable logistical support, training, and market access.
  • Healy plans to begin scaling the company globally in the next 18-24 months.

Case Study: Manna Drone Delivery

Bobby Healy is an experienced entrepreneur, but his latest idea is probably his most revolutionary yet. For the last three years, he’s been building Manna Drone Delivery, a service with which he plans to revolutionise the world of online food delivery. Healy says he noticed that major food platforms don’t deliver to suburban Ireland. The reason? It is nearly impossible to drive or deliver food profitably. The practice is cost-prohibitive but still needed in many areas. He saw an opportunity to use new technology as a solution to the problem: drones. Healy founded Manna and began hiring experts who could turn his idea into reality.

A computer programmer by trade, Healy began his career writing video games for Nintendo. Since then, he has founded and led two successful businesses, including CarTrawler, the world’s largest mobility marketplace for airlines. Healy’s programming expertise was also the foundation for his drone delivery idea. Over the last two years, the Manna team has built and tested custom software, hardware, and batteries. They are also working with aviation regulators in multiple markets about airspace law. The end goal is to “make a 3-minute, low-cost food delivery service as pervasive as running water in Europe and the USA.”

Anywhere there’s an economy where food delivery is growing, we should be there. By 2021, we’ll begin to scale and then enter markets everywhere.” says Healy.

The entrepreneur’s last two businesses were supported by Enterprise Ireland, so it was only natural that Healy went to them with his newest idea. He says that onboarding with the High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) team was a straightforward process.

“The HPSU team were always available to meet and help us understand what they needed for us to qualify. It’s not a rigid organisation. They do everything they can to take care of formalities in the background as you get going on the work,” Healy says.

 

HPSU making headway on foreign soil

Currently, there are 23 people working for Manna. Healy says that with Enterprise Ireland’s guidance, he plans to begin commercially scaling the company in the next 18 to 24 months. He predicts HPSU will be invaluable when it comes to logistical support, training, and market access. He plans to lean on HPSU as he pushes Manna’s service into the global marketplace.

One of the biggest challenges to launching international drone operations is airspace regulation. Flight rules vary from country to country and Healy’s team will need to negotiate with lawmakers in each region where they hope to fly. The partnership with Enterprise Ireland will be crucial for gaining permission to operate in foreign airspace. The key to success is access to the people who control those regulations.

“Enterprise Ireland is there to help with introductions to regulators in foreign countries,” Healy says. “They offer an industrial international presence.”

Healy admits that his company is facing some inordinately large challenges, saying it is probably the most complex business you could build. Manna must find solutions for custom cloud services, market integration, new hardware, regulations, certification, and licensing. On top of everything else, there is the matter of finance. Healy says the first hurdle in fundraising was educating and convincing investors that his idea was viable. The scale and audacity of the plan can be hard to fathom for some.

Healy says, “Most businesses are predictable and believable. Ours is beyond cutting edge. We’re doing something totally new, but we’ve overcome disbelief and begun to successfully raise significant levels of capital.”

The international business community has shown faith in the fledgling company’s new ideas. In addition to regulatory access across borders, Enterprise Ireland has been working to assist Manna throughout the fundraising process.

“The team in San Francisco have been instrumental in opening doors for us as we raise funds,” says Healy. “They give us respectability and prominence in the industry.”

 

Sights set on more than just food

Manna is launching as a food delivery service, but Healy says the start-up won’t stop there. He decided to hone in on the food industry because the volume of potential deliveries is so high. Healy says this will allow the new business to be capital efficient. Once the infrastructure is in place, however, it plans to also roll out services for pharmacies, hardware stores, butcher shops, bookstores, and anything else that fuels a local economy.

In order to reach these goals, Healy says talent acquisition will be important. As drone technology continues to develop, Manna will need more high-quality technicians, designers, and programmers on board to keep up. He predicts that the company’s ongoing relationship with HPSU and Enterprise Ireland will once again be valuable as it scales.

“A small start-up company needs an endorsement that says, ‘These guys are a team to work with’. We’re competing with the big guys for talent, so HPSU helps address that imbalance.” says Healy.

 

Dmac Media Director of Sales

Dmac Media – attracting new talent with GradStart

Tech graduates are highly desirable and form a key part of our growth plans.  We had issues competing for that talent and GradStart allowed us to offer a much more attractive package to graduates.”

Dave McEvoy, Sales Director, Dmac Media

Overview:

  • Dmac Media is a web design agency offering a full suite of web solutions including web design, eCommerce platforms, content management and digital marketing.
  • With offices in Dublin, Sligo and Cork the company used Enterprise Ireland’s GradStart initiative to attract fresh graduate talent and drive business activity.
  • The GradStart programme offers salary support of up to 70% for the employment of graduate talent to assist companies when expanding into new markets.

1. What attracted you to get involved in GradStart?

Tech graduates are highly desirable and form a key part of our growth plans.  We had issues competing for that talent and Enterprise Ireland‘s GradStart allowed us to offer a much more attractive package to graduates.

 

2. What did GradStart allow you to do that you wouldn’t have done otherwise?

Bringing in fresh talent to our business allowed us to focus more heavily on business development as a daily activity rather than a paper based plan.

 

3. What challenges and/or opportunities did GradStart help you address?

With qualified personnel we had lower training and induction costs this allowed us to keep up in a fast paced sector in a sustainable way.  The challenge (as always) was finding the right graduates.

 

4. Which areas of the business did the graduate contribute to?

Our graduates have broadened both our technical skillset as well as our graphic design and process management skills.  The impact was noticeable from day one.

 

5. How did participating in GradStart impact your business positively?

GradStart gave us a headstart on developing new products which in turn has brought our entry into new markets considerably closer.

 

6. Were there any learnings from your participation in GradStart that you have taken forward into your business?

We have evolved from a company with very standard and fixed methodologies to one that is now willing to experiment and develop better strategies.

 

7. Would you recommend GradStart to your business peers? If so, why?

Yes, it gives you time to focus on the business rather than just working in the business.

Learn more about GradStart and how it can support your business growth.

Loci Orthopaedics

How the Innovation Partnership Programme is helping Loci Orthopaedics de-risk product development

“NUIG has the expertise and the equipment to develop this technology much faster and more efficiently that we would be able to do in-house.”

Dr. Brendan Boland, Co-founder, Loci Orthodopaedics

Overview:

  • Galway company Loci Orthopaedics is developing innovative implants to address unmet need in the orthopaedic extremities space.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation Partnership Programme enabled the company to work with experts in the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) to optimise technology to improve implant fixation.
  • The company will be undertaking its first clinical trials in Europe later this year.

Case study: Loci Orthopaedics

‘Thumbs, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes’ is (almost) what the song says, and it more or less sums up the orthopaedic space within which NUIG spin-out company Loci Orthopaedics is operating. Co-founded in 2017 by Dr. Brendan Boland (CEO) and Gerry Clarke (CTO), the multi-award-winning company is targeting the fastest growing area in orthopaedic medicine – orthopaedic extremities.

“In 2013, I became a fellow in the BioInnovate programme, where I met Gerry. We identified the unmet clinical need of treating upper limb arthritic conditions. That led to the establishment of Loci Orthopaedics and the development of our primary product, the InDx implant, which can mimic the complex motions of the thumb base joint,” explains Boland.

The company then began work on a second product, a shoulder implant. Recognising that achieving good primary fixation is problematic for patients with poor bone stock, it licensed OsteoAnchor – technology that had been developed by Dr. Noel Harrison of the School of Engineering at NUIG, who is a leader in the field of additive manufacturing (3D printing).

“The OsteoAnchor technology allows implants to better adhere to the bone by providing a roughened surface that the person’s own bone can grow into….” 

We felt that this technology fitted our focus but we needed to optimise its effectiveness and de-risk it to give us the confidence to invest in developing new products using it. Having benefitted in the past from excellent support from Enterprise Ireland, we turned to its Innovation Partnership Programme for help,” says Boland.” 

 

The power of partnership

The Innovation Partnership Programme enables companies to access expertise within universities and research institutes and covers up to 80% of the cost of a research project. With NUIG’s recently opened Advanced Manufacturing Lab (developed by Dr. Harrison) located just metres from Loci Orthopaedics, it made sense to ask Harrison’s team to lead the Innovation Partnership Programme project.

“They have the expertise and the equipment to develop the OsteoAnchor technology much faster and more efficiently than we would be able to do in-house,” says Boland.

Dr. Eimear O’Hara is the technical lead and project manager. “It’s an ambitious six-month project,” she says. “We’re taking a concept implant and doing the design, prototyping and mechanical testing here in the lab, where we have extensive 3D printing capability. The deliverable will be a metal 3D printed shoulder implant.”

The Innovation Partnership Programme will deliver benefits to both the company and the university.

“As well as de-risking the technology, the Innovation Partnership Programme validates it to external parties because the project goes through commercial assessment,” says Boland.  “And there’s the potential for the Innovation Partnership Programme collaboration to lead to further innovation.” 

From NUIG’s perspective it’s the chance to engage with industry to get insights into real world applications of 3D printing and to demonstrate the capability of its 3D metal printer.

“This kind of collaboration also informs the content of my lectures, helping to keep Mechanical Engineering students up to date about additive manufacturing processes, materials and product design,” says Harrison.

“It’s the first time we’ve used the 3D metal printer for an industry-based project. We’re hoping that many more companies will be interested in working with us on using our suite of 3D printers, not just in the medtech space but across all manufacturing,” he adds.

 

The journey to market

With the combined value of the markets for its shoulder and thumb base implants currently sitting at around US $2 billion, the outcome of the Innovation Partnership Programme project will be an important milestone for Loci Orthopaedics, enabling it to take the next steps on its journey to market.

“Our primary market is the US and this year we’ll be making a regulatory submission relating to our InDx product in advance of commercialisation in the US in 2021. We’re aiming to do our first clinical trial of InDx in Europe in June and are anticipating commercialisation in the EU in 2022,” says Boland.

The same process will apply to the shoulder implant, following about two years behind.

“Meanwhile we’ll have an active in-house innovation and R&D programme. We’ve already secured patents, have four more filed and 16 more in development. Over the next five years we’re hoping to roll out a whole suite of products.says Boland. 

Until the products hit the market the company will run lean, maintaining just three staff and using manufacturing and processing partners. Financing currently comes from €6 million secured from seed funding, grants and prizes.

 

The Innovation Partnership Programme experience

Loci Orthopaedics received a grant of €85,000 from the Innovation Partnership Programme and contributed €16,000 to the project.

“For a modest sum of money, we are getting a great deal of work done, a good bang for your buck, as they say. Moreover, applying for the Innovation Partnership Programme grant is relatively straightforward and Enterprise Ireland ensures that the IPP agreement clearly sets out what is expected from each party and what each will get out of it, for example, in the area of intellectual property or how new innovations resulting from the project will be handled. This project is enabling us to add to our R&D pipeline and increase our product portfolio,” says Boland.

Dr. Harrison encourages companies to think big when considering the Innovation Partnership Programme: “A company may have a technical problem that they need help on but they’re thinking about it in terms of their bandwidth. Through the Innovation Partnership Programme, they can get access to a university’s massive suite of equipment, expert personnel and state-of-the-art facilities.”

 

 

Beats Medical CEO Ciara Clancy

Beats Medical: changing the approach to neurological disease

“It’s a huge honour to be supported by the European Commission and really push the limits of what we are doing with this technology….this grant will support us in having the impact we’ve always wanted to have.”

Dr. Ciara Clancy, CEO, Beats Medical

Overview:

  • Founded in 2012, Beats Medical is a game-changing medtech company developing new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease, speech and fine motor skills.
  • It has received feasibility funding, CSF and HPSU support from Enterprise Ireland.
  • In September 2019, Beats Medical was awarded a co-financing grant of €2.4 million from the Horizon 2020 Enhanced European Innovation Council Accelerator Pilot.
  • Today, Beats Medical delivers therapies to people in more than 44 countries and has offices in Dublin and Lisbon.

Case study: Beats Medical

At the age of 22, Ciara Clancy set up Beats Medical, a game-changing medtech company determined to find new ways to treat Parkinson’s disease. “From the start, I was interested in what is now called ‘digital therapeutics’,” she says, “It’s an established field of healthcare now, but then there was no name for it.”

 

Falling short

As a practitioner, Clancy was impressed by the ability of ‘metronome therapy’ to alleviate Parkinson’s walking symptoms. Through an auditory cue system, the therapy replaces the brain signals that are impaired by the disease, helping to overcome the shuffling walk, shortness of breath and freezing so often associated with the disease. While she had no doubt about the efficacy of the therapy, Clancy wanted her clients to enjoy its benefits not only in the hospital, but in their own homes.

 

“For people with neurological conditions,” Clancy explains, “the symptoms vary not only from person to person but from day to day and hour to hour – no one solution fits all.” 

This means that the therapy must be tailored regularly and precisely, making it challenging to prescribe it as ‘homework’.

If she could find a way to deliver these therapies remotely, however, Clancy believed she could dramatically improve the lives of countless people living with Parkinson’s, giving them more control over their symptoms every day.

When, in 2012, Clancy founded Beats Medical, her aim was to design a device that would give those with Parkinson’s access to therapy between hospital visits. She needed to create a device that could analyse individual needs and generate tailored metronome therapy prescriptions.

“I had support from Enterprise Ireland at this stage,” explains Clancy, “as well as feasibility funding and Competitive Start Fund (CSF) support. The initial years of research were about seeing if it was even possible to do this.”

 

The next step

It was soon clear that Clancy was onto something. In 2015, she was named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative and the same year Beats Medical became one of Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-ups, giving Clancy the financial support needed to start building a team.

“One of the first people I brought on board was Dr. Wui-Mei Chew, a medical doctor and researcher specialising in molecular medicine,” says Clancy. “We had met at university.”

A year later, she won Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur and Best Established Business awards, which together earned her €60,000 via an investment fund from Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices.

With their hard-won R&D funding, the team spent two years developing algorithmic and analytical processes and building the initial prototype. They then went on to test the device with a number of Irish universities, as well as with the UK’s largest Parkinson’s charity, Parkinson’s UK.

After some trial and error, Beats Medical had developed a core technology platform that could deliver cost-effective daily assessments and individually tailored therapy to clients.

 

The risk

Despite these developments, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the young company. Not satisfied to stop there, Clancy had her sights set on expanding the technology to treat speech and fine motor skills. Beats Medical reported financial losses two years running while it tried to develop and expand its product but continued to make its existing device available to those with Parkinson’s.

This tenacity paid off. In 2018, Clancy’s company launched one of the first digital therapeutics in Europe to attain direct reimbursement, with the Beats Medical Dyspraxia app covered by Vhi Healthcare.

Today, the company employs twelve people and has offices in Dublin and Lisbon. It delivers therapies to people in over 44 countries.

 

Change on the horizon

Beats Medical has seen for itself how ambition can threaten financial viability. For SMEs like this, the high risk associated with innovative solutions can prevent ideas from reaching their full potential.

This is where Horizon 2020 comes in. The EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation aims at helping to mitigate the hurdles to scientific development and innovation in Europe by supporting high potential SMEs. The fund provides direct financial support to selected SMEs, as well as nourishing innovation capacities.

The Horizon 2020 Enhanced European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot is an incarnation of its ‘SME Instrument’. The pilot has €149 million funding available to distribute as grants to 83 SMEs and start-ups around Europe.

“We applied for the EIC Pilot to be able scale up our current core technology platform in order to further deploy the technology in more disease areas,” says Clancy.

In September 2019, Beats Medical was one of eight Irish SMEs to be awarded the pilot’s full-cycle business innovation support. It received a co-financing grant of €2.4 million, as well as coaching and mentoring.

“For us, it’s a huge honour to be supported by the European Commission and really push the limits of what we are doing with this technology,” says Clancy. “Now, we can expand our product and research activities to multiple neurological conditions. We want to continue to better treat these patients and inform the health sector as a whole. The grant will support us in having the impact that we’ve always wanted to have.”

The EIC Pilot will fund a two-year project as part of Clancy’s ambitious five-year plan to not only transform the way neurological conditions are treated but generate a better understanding of the brain. Already, the company has started new and promising research, and has just been assigned their EIC business coach.

“The EIC Accelerator Pilot is a great programme,’ adds Clancy. “It’s really important that other companies focused on deep research and innovation know about this.”

 

Evercam drone install

How Agile Innovation Enabled Evercam to Capitalise on the AI Revolution

“Construction is high value so when things go wrong, it’s expensive. We’ve become that single source of truth.”

Marco Herbst, CEO, Evercams

Overview:

  • Enterprise Ireland’s RD&I funding enabled Evercam to apply AI and machine-learning algorithms to its time-lapse videos.
  • Cameras extract useful, actionable data for project managers, contractors and engineers and generate valuable reports about activity and progress.
  • Partnerships with installation companies are key to Evercam’s growth in international markets.

Construction cranes are redrawing the Dublin skyline and building rates are back at boom-time levels, transforming the city into a world-leading centre of finance and technology  — and Evercam, which supplies time-lapse and project management cameras to the construction industry, is capturing the progress as it happens.

“We’re putting cameras on construction sites for marketing purposes, for project management and for dispute avoidance,” shares Evercam CEO Marco Herbst, who co-founded the company with Vinnie Quinn in 2010.

“We wanted to use cameras for more than just security and we always felt that images and pictures could be used for a much more productive, proactive, communicative purpose to try and improve how people do their jobs,” Marco explains, adding, “We spent quite a while trying out different business models and industries until we found construction about four years ago.”

Evercam’s products are now used by a number of high-profile construction companies including BAM, SISK, Bennett and Stewart on projects for the likes of Google, Facebook, ESB and Central Bank, to name a few.

“Construction is high value so when things go wrong, it’s expensive,” Marco says. “And construction sites are complicated environments with lots of moving parts and a lot of issues around trust, what happened when and who did what. Pictures, images and video are just beautiful ways of capturing all that so that everybody is on the same page.”

 

Harnessing the power of AI

Evercam cameraTime-lapse is an incredible way to visually display progress but Marco and his team saw potential in video analytics, a technology that applies artificial intelligence and  machine-learning algorithms to video feeds — thereby allowing cameras to instantly recognise people, objects and situations.

“Customers were already using our videos to check how many trucks arrived at the construction site, how long the crane was on-site, how many people were on-site at any given moment, but we weren’t using video analytics,” Marco says. “We had the data, we had real customer problems to solve but we needed data scientists and hardware and for a company at our stage of growth, it could be risky to suddenly shift a load of our resources into an R&D project.”

That’s why Evercam decided to apply to Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund for support, which offers up to 50% funding to a maximum of €150,000 in grant aid for innovation projects with a total cost of up to €300,000.

With Enterprise Ireland’s support, we were able to buy GPUs (graphics processing units), hire developers and researchers, spend time in iterative dialogue with customers and spend time designing the product,” Marco explains.

“The Agile fund is a very holistic, wholesome support and Enterprise Ireland is happy to support all of those different moving parts, not just financially but also with advice, letting us know where to spend our energy.”

Evercam now combines the latest developments in machine learning and AI to construction site videos to extract useful, actionable data for project managers, contractors and engineers and generate valuable reports about activity and progress.

“We’ve become that single source of truth,” Marco states.

 

Next steps in Evercam’s growth strategy

Evercam’s customer base today is predominantly in Ireland and the UK, the latter of which relies on channel partners such as CCTV installers.

“From the customer’s point of view, the end-user, they get the time-lapse video which they need and want from their existing CCTV supplier which is great because they don’t need to have an extra person on-site — they can buy it from somebody they’re already working with,” Marco explains, adding, “That’s been key to us growing in the UK, particularly in London, and now we’re actively setting that up everywhere else.”

And the company’s products continue to evolve. One of the most popular features is Snapmail, which captures key stages in a project and emails them to those who need it. Another is a tool that compares before and after images from any point in time.

Evercam plans to open an office in New Zealand in February as well as grow its presence in markets such as Singapore and the US where it’s already started selling its cameras.

“Enterprise Ireland has been amazing at making introductions in new markets, from New York to Paris to Amsterdam, steering us towards the types of people we want to hire or the kinds of companies we want to talk to,” Marco says. “2020 is our rest-of-world year.”

Learn how the Agile Innovation Fund can support your R&D ambitions.

 

Alpha Wireless, CEO Fergal Lawlor

Loose Wires: Laois-based Alpha Wireless takes on the global market

“It’s our ability to innovate that sets us apart,” explains Lawlor. “If the right antenna does not exist, we are committed to creating it.”

Fergal Lawlor, CEO Alpha Wireless

Overview:

Alpha Wireless is a market-leading specialist in high performing, superior quality antenna solutions covering macro to small cell antennas.

The company exports to 22 countries worldwide and has opened its first research and development office in Australia.

Enterprise Ireland supports include research and development projects, trade shows, market development programmes, and access to overseas networks.

By the time Fergal Lawlor discovered that the company he worked for was closing, he was already too invested to stop: “By then I had been a designer for two very innovative antenna companies that were disruptive in the market and were coming out with new products and challenging the incumbents that were there,” he says. “I had seen how that worked and I very much liked being part of that.”

Lawlor had spent several years designing wireless solutions with Argus Technologies in Australia, before returning to Ireland to work for an independent company, Sigma Wireless: “We were working on a number of innovative designs in the 3G space at the time,” he explains, “We had good products and we understood what the customer was doing.”

In 2005, US company PCTEL bought the Finglas-based business. “In 2007, they closed their Irish operations.”

 

Unfinished business

For Lawlor, there was too much good work being left behind in Ireland: “I didn’t feel we were finished, so to speak. I knew the antenna designs, I knew a lot of the customers we were talking to, and I knew there was a skilled workforce in Ireland.”

Lawlor approached Enterprise Ireland, who helped him to conduct a feasibility study into the potential for continuing some of this work.

We looked at the various market segments that I had been working in previously,” he says. “Because we were a newer company, we had to come in with something that wasn’t already there…

We came up with the conclusion that, yeah, there is a potential market there in this new emerging WiMAX for 4G. We went ahead and set up Alpha Wireless in 2007.”

 

Global ambition from the middle of Ireland

Lawlor describes the gruelling process of expanding from a small office to a global business: “From day one we aimed at becoming a global player. Enterprise Ireland helped us through multiple rounds of funding, market development programmes, research and development projects, and trade shows. They also really helped us with contacts. This market is changing all the time. By focusing on new solutions, we have been able to break into overseas markets from our headquarters in Ballybrittas, Co. Laois – smack bang in the middle of Ireland.”

Lawlor’s previous designs had been tailored primarily for tier-one operators like Vodafone, and o2. “As a new company starting up, there was no chance we were going to be able to sell back into those tier one customers,” he explains, “so we picked a different market segment – WiMAX for 4G – where there wasn’t this existing relationship with vendors going back over the years. We were able to bring our expertise working with these tier ones to this market. It allowed us to go in and become the preferred antenna company for many radio vendors in this emerging market.”

 Alpha Wireless had soon won their first contract from Israeli company, Airspan Networks.

“A meeting with Airspan in Israel brought an opportunity to participate in a trial in Romania – giving just 12 hours’ notice. Martin Barrett quickly responded by booking a flight to Romania and hand-carried the AW3023 antenna for the forthcoming trial. All testing went very well, and the trial resulted in Alpha Wireless winning a contract for 1,500 antennas.” This is testament to Alpha Wireless’ agility and responsiveness providing fast and efficient solutions for their customers.

As the company grew, he brought in some of the designers and engineers who had worked together at Sigma: “We started our business by taking the good learnings to build something new,” he says. “The way we broke in was by finding new markets and knowing what kind of customers we wanted: we wanted customers who needed solutions that weren’t available off the shelf; where we could go in and work really closely with them to create a solution.”

 

How Alpha Wireless has built its foundations

As a young company, Alpha Wireless was one of Enterprise Ireland’s 15 new companies at their exhibition stand at the Pavilion in Dublin. “Sometimes it’s hard to quantify what you get out of these fairs, but you have to keep going to them. It helps to raise awareness and to scale up. We exhibited at a show in Chicago,” adds Lawlor, “which Enterprise Ireland also funds, and that’s how we got Samsung back in 2010

Now, the company is at a level where they have their own booth at these fairs: “Today, the Mobile World Congress Barcelona is our most important show.”

 

Support on the ground

“As you start getting access to bigger customers, you need local support,” says Lawlor, “and Enterprise Ireland helped us to understand local markets and set up offices in the US. They were able to connect us with operators and make the right introductions. Because of them, we have been able to do things that you normally have to wait much longer for.”

Only 12 years’ from its inception, Alpha Wireless has now become a market-leading specialist in high performing, superior quality antenna solutions covering macro to small cell antennas. The brand now exports to 22 countries worldwide and last year it opened its first research and development office in Australia.

“It’s our ability to innovate that sets us apart,” explains Lawlor. “If the right antenna does not exist, we are committed to creating it.”

To find out more visit alphawireless.com.

GMIT 2 - How the Commercialisation Fund supports the journey from lab to market

How the Commercialisation Fund supports the journey from lab to market

“The Commercialisation Specialist has been excellent in terms of advice and pushing the commercial agenda.

Dr Liam Morris, Senior Principal Investigator, GMIT

Key Takeouts:

  • Researchers in Enterprise Ireland’s Medical & Engineering Technology Gateway in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology are developing a novel device for treating heart failure.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund is supporting the development of the technology and the validation of its commercial potential.
  • The team has applied for a patent and are planning further research before spin-out.

Case Study: Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology

Dr. Liam Morris is a lecturer and co-principal investigator in the Medical & Engineering Technology Gateway in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). He’s currently undertaking research and development on a device for the treatment of heart failure and has received support from Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund to investigate its commercial potential.

GMIT 4 - How the Commercialisation Fund supports the journey from lab to market “The idea for the device came about when we were approached by industry people who were looking for a solution relating to treating heart failure in a specific way. We had developed a solution related to aneurysms so we decided to take that and evolve it so that it could be repurposed and applied to another heart failure indication.

“As an Institute of Technology we are more on the applied science side of things so there is a good fit with the idea of commercialisation,” says Morris.

Having been involved with Commercialisation Fund projects before, including working on the first product to be licensed in the GMIT, Morris knew that Enterprise Ireland should be his first port of call. With advice and input from colleagues and from an Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Specialist, he applied for and secured Commercialisation Fund support.

 

Building the team

Recognising that having the right technical and commercial skill sets in place is vital for project delivery and success, Morris then turned to the crucial task of building the team to take forward the project.

“It’s all about getting the right individuals around you,” says Morris. “You need to know what that team should look like. The Commercialisation Specialist’s advice was invaluable to me in terms of detailing the skill sets that we needed.

“You also need to look realistically at the salaries you’re offering because you want to attract the right people and you’ll be competing with industry for them.”

Through the Commercialisation Fund, Enterprise Ireland ensured that Morris could offer salaries that would attract the skill sets and experience needed for the project.

Sharon White joined the team in 2017 as the senior engineer. With industry and regulatory experience in a multinational company she was exactly what Morris was looking for.GMIT 3 - How the Commercialisation Fund supports the journey from lab to market

After 13 years in industry, White was looking for a change and became aware of the project through industry contacts.

“This project was a chance to be involved in something from the start, which is not an opportunity you get in industry,” says White.

Also you have the scope to build the device in the way you want to rather than doing what layers of management above you are telling you. It really appealed to me. I could bring my own knowledge into it but I’d learn a huge amount as well.”

Neither Morris nor White had any real business experience, which they knew was critical to the project. That role has now been filled by Jonathan Bouchier-Hayes who works as the project’s commercial executive.

“Jonathan has really made a difference to the project. Whereas Liam and I look at things purely from a technology perspective, Jonathan will ask – who is going to buy it? Is it viable commercially? Are we VC ready? He looks at things in a different way. We’ve learnt that it may take a side-step from where you are to get where you need to be,” says White.

“In terms of the next challenges Jonathan has given us a very good understanding of what we need to do,” adds Morris. “We’re applying for a patent and he has brought a fresh pair of eyes to that and a commercial head. He also has lots of contacts so we’ve been able to talk to people who are in a similar position.”

 

Planning the next steps

Securing their intellectual property is a critical element but research is also required to fully develop the device so the team has applied for funding through the European Research Council.

“The Commercialisation Specialist has been excellent in terms of pushing the commercial agenda. They advised us on all aspects of funding and introduced us to people who can give us insights into the funding process. They also put us in contact with an expert on clinical research who is advising us on the pre-clinical testing needed for the device,” says Morris.

GMIT 5 - How the Commercialisation Fund supports the journey from lab to market This clinical perspective has been essential for advancing the prototype development and potential clinical value of the technology.

Further support on the business side has come through Enterprise Ireland’s Mentor Programme.

“The mentor acts as a sounding board. Our mentor has a multinational perspective so that brings another dimension to the business side of things,” says Morris.

Morris and White have also benefited from attending some Enterprise Ireland medtech events.

“It’s useful to hear venture capitalists explain what they’re looking for and it helps to see what other people are doing and what the standard is from the spin-out perspective,” says Morris.

White adds: “The Big Ideas event was very beneficial. It was a great networking opportunity and opened doors to venture capitalists.”

For more information about applying for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, contact your Technology Transfer Office.

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund 2

“The bottom line is that without the Commercialisation Fund, Senoptica wouldn’t exist.

Dr. Rachel Evans, Co-founder, Senoptica Technologies

Key Takeouts:

  • Senoptica Technologies has developed innovative technology that identifies the gas content of modified atmosphere packaging.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund supported a feasibility study and technical and commercial development of the technology.
  • The company is currently negotiating a licensing agreement with Trinity College Dublin prior to spinning out from the university.

Case Study: Senoptica

As part of her PhD studies, Dr. Rachel Evans developed a novel idea for an optical sensor technology, but it wasn’t until one of Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Specialists knocked on her door many years later that the transformation of the idea into a commercial product began.

“At the time I was a lecturer in Trinity College Dublin and one day a Commercialisation Specialist stopped by to find out if I was involved in anything that was appropriate for Enterprise Ireland funding. I had been thinking about how I could develop the sensor technology and identify a specific application for it.

“The Commercialisation Specialist advised me to carry out a feasibility study to test the market, which I did, with support from Enterprise Ireland. They helped me to find someone with experience in the food sector to act as a consultant on the study and he was critical in identifying where the market might be for the technology. We found that a lot of companies were interested.”

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund 3With strong indications that there was a market for the sensors, particularly in the meat industry, the next step was to do a proof of concept study. In 2013, Evans secured Commercialisation Fund support and in 2014 brought Dr. Steve Comby, a postdoctoral researcher and a specialist in molecular optical sensors, on board for the project.

“Rachel and I had matching and complementary skills so we had all the expertise we needed from the point of view of technology to make the project successful,” says Comby.

By the end of the project the technology was proved at a small scale but it was not industry ready.

 

Support to increase the technology readiness level

“We needed to adapt elements of our product to enable us to create something that is more industrially relevant and that could be manufactured in large quantities,” says Comby. “So we applied for a follow-on Commercialisation Fund.”

Evans explains: “The market isn’t interested in 5–10 years’ development time, they want the technology now. But there’s a huge leap from doing something in a lab on a small scale to doing it on an industrial level. In the first Commercialisation Fund project we were producing an A4 size of film, by the second we were producing 5km of film. We couldn’t have achieved that scaling without Enterprise Ireland’s support.”

Further support came from CRANN, the Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices and AMBER, the centre for Advanced Materials and Bio Engineering Research, both in Trinity College, which supplied bridge funding to keep the project going between the first and follow-on Commercialisation Funds. Importantly they also gave the team access to a portfolio of companies.

“As an academic you can be reluctant to speak to industry, but CRANN and AMBER knew how to do that, which was extremely helpful. They are still very supportive,” says Comby.

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund 4Evans admits that the pathway to commercialisation wasn’t straightforward.

“We needed to develop an approach to integrating our sensor formulations within food packaging. There are a lot of stakeholders in the food industry’s production and distribution chain so we had to talk to many different companies and that was really challenging.”

But the team found that with the project’s Commercialisation Specialist working in tandem with Trinity’s Technology Transfer Officers and the Commercialisation Manager at AMBER, they had a powerful network of support.

“The Commercialisation Specialist was very helpful in making contacts and setting up meetings. The support I got internally in Trinity from Technology Transfer Officers and the Commercialisation Managers at Amber was also hugely important in getting us to the stage we’re at,” says Evans.

Throughout the project the team met regularly with Enterprise Ireland advisors. “That was useful as they had an overall view while we were immersed in the technology, so they could see challenges or solutions to challenges that we’d overlooked,” says Comby.

 

From concept to company

Senoptica was incorporated in 2018 and, to complement Evans’s and Comby’s skills, Brendan Rice joined as Chief Executive Officer to focus on business development. His appointment was facilitated by Enterprise Ireland’s Business Partner Programme.

“Brendan’s appointment was essential for the development of the company. We needed to strengthen the business side of things and Brendan has extensive experience in the food industry. He was able to quantify the size of the opportunity,” says Comby.

By then Evans had taken up a full-time position in Cambridge University and although she remains a director and consultant to the company, its future development will be driven by Comby and Rice.

“I had to let go and that’s been really hard as the technology was my idea,” she says. “The reality is that there are few academics who will quit their jobs to become CEO of a company so someone else has to take it forward and you have to let go and look at the bigger picture. The important thing for me is to focus on what my motivation was in bringing my idea to market and how much satisfaction I will get from seeing it launched.”

Senoptica aims to reduce food waste through smart packaging with Commercialisation Fund 5Having taken the early stage research to successful industrial scale production, Comby is well placed to direct the future development of the technology. And he feels he has acquired new skills along the way.

“I’ve learnt about project development, scheduling, scaling up and achieving clear deliverables. I also learnt massively from the interactions with industry representatives,” he says.

“I’d say to others, if you think you have technology that could be commercialised start with the feasibility study and you will find out if people are interested in what you are doing. And don’t be afraid, because the Commercialisation Fund is a great support.”

For more information about applying for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, contact your Technology Transfer Office.

How Cala Medical turned academic research into life-saving technology

How Cala Medical turned academic research into life-saving technology

Key Takeouts:

  • Cala Medical, a spin-out from the University of Limerick, has developed a ground-breaking treatment for sepsis.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund supported the technical development of the product and the validation of its commercial potential.
  • The company has recently secured funding to enable it to move to clinical trials.

Case Study: Cala Medical on Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund

Getting research out of the laboratory and into the marketplace requires vision, hard work, commitment, teamwork and more than a dash of courage. That’s something Dr. Jakki Cooney, Chief Scientific Officer at Cala Medical, a spin-out from the University of Limerick, knows only too well.

The tenured academic, who still works part time as a senior lecturer, was researching an enzyme that destroys a molecule called C5a, with her colleague Todd Kagawa, when the prospect of commercialising their work raised its head.

“We realised that we could turn this enzyme into a powerful therapy for sepsis. There was no going back from that. I felt we were obliged to go down the commercialisation route,” says Cooney.

I’m an academic, get me out of here!

Cala Medical on Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund 2

“One of the issues for me was that I don’t have a commercial bone in my body and no desire to be CEO of a company,” says Cooney. “I knew I’d need support on the business side. I was aware of Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund and with help from the university’s excellent research office I filled in the application form. Then I reached out to a former colleague, Dr. Brian Noonan.”

With 16 years as Director of Research at AstraZeneca in the US, Noonan’s background was turning science into products. “I’d known Jakki for many years,” says Noonan. “I knew the quality of her work and came on board with the project, initially part time. My first role was to work with Jakki and Todd to turn a really interesting research idea into something commercial, looking at how we could fine tune it and find a market for it.”

The financial support provided by the Commercialisation Fund was essential in enabling Noonan and Kagawa to join Cooney on the team.

“I knew how important it is to fund the skills level that you need on the project. I needed senior staff and Enterprise Ireland recognised and supported that. Their input at this stage also helped to hone the project,” says Cooney.

With the team established and Commercialisation Fund supports in place, including a dedicated Commercialisation Specialist, the team set about developing its proof of concept.

“One of the challenges for me at this stage was what I call backfilling,” says Noonan. “The initial product and data were great but because the team weren’t originally thinking about it as a product there are things that you have to go back and do to make the story more complete. There’s a different set of criteria that have to be looked at if you want to bring something to market.

“It can also be a challenge to distill the idea down into something that you can pitch to investors so it was my job to work with Jakki and Todd to cut through the detail to achieve that.”

As they worked to achieve proof of concept, the team was supported Case Study: Cala Medical on Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation 3by the Commercialisation Specialist who facilitated introductions and enabled access to Enterprise Ireland’s library of specialist reports.

Cala Medical spun out in 2017 and since then has strengthened its team with the addition of business and clinical experts. It secured follow on-funding from Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-up Fund and has also attracted angel investment.

“Our next step is to move to clinical trials over the next two to three years, with the prospect of then achieving CE marking and getting to market within four years,” says Noonan.

 

Facing the challenge as a team

Cooney admits that there are pressure points along the commercialisation journey. “There was a period between the Commercialisation Fund project ending and getting investors on board, when the company just couldn’t pay out salaries. I still had my university work but Todd and Brian had to run on faith. We got through it because we were committed and stubborn, and it’s paying dividends now,” says Cooney.

“Academics can be shy and unwilling to come out of their labs but it’s important that their ideas do get out. This experience has taught me not to be afraid; if another idea came along I would definitely go for it. I understand what’s involved on the business side now but I still couldn’t do that side of it. I believe the team is as important as the idea. Look at your skills and get other people on board to do what you can’t. And make use of the support available.”

For more information about applying for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, contact your Technology Transfer Office.

AudioSource 2

Revolutionary sound separation technology takes AudioSourceRE from the Beach Boys to commercial success

Key Takeouts:

  • AudioSourceRE, a recent spin-out from Cork institute of Technology, has developed innovative audio separation technology.
  • Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund supported the development of the product and research into its commercial potential.
  • The company has launched three products and is developing the technology for wider application.

Case Study: AudioSourceRE on Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund

When the Beach Boys come calling to ask if they can use your technology, you know you’ve done something right. In 2012, Dr. Derry Fitzgerald, who had spent 12 years researching the manipulation of audio in Cork Institute of Technology, got such a request.

“They asked me to use the audio separation technology that I’d developed to split some songs that had been recorded in mono and remix them in stereo. I ended up getting credited on four Beach Boys reissues!” says Fitzgerald.

It was more than enough to convince him that he was on to something that had commercial value.

“I knew then that the tech was ready to be used in the real world and I began thinking about how I could make it commercially useful, because at that stage it was just a bunch of scripts on my computer that nobody else could use.”

Fitzgerald applied for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Feasibility Study, which enabled him to do some market research. He then embarked on a Commercialisation Fund project, carried out in Cork School of Music in CIT, to develop his first commercial product.

 

Preparing for spin-out

“I’m not a business guy, I’m a tech guy. So as part of the project I had to find a business partner and I did that through Enterprise Ireland’s Business Partners Programme,” says Fitzgerald.

Businessman John O’ Connell, now CEO of AudioSourceRE, was one of the business partners contacted by Enterprise Ireland. He recognised that there was potential in the technology but that more needed to be done.

“I met Derry and he showed me what the technology was,” says O’Connell. “It was in a very raw state so I gave some feedback and asked him to give me a call when it reached the beta stage, when it could be shown to some people in the market. Nine months later, I got the call and went back and started working with Derry to create a minimum viable product.”

The team focused on creating a prototype and got the opportunity to demonstrate it at Abbey Road Studios in London. The feedback was very positive.

AudioSourceRE, a recent spin-out from Cork institute of Technology, has developed innovative audio separation technology

“At that stage, John came on board full time and started to develop the business plan for the company, so that left me able to focus on making the software as good as possible. He pushed us to clarify what we were trying to get out of the project,” says Fitzgerald.

O’ Connell explains: “There’s a lot of research required to find out if something that’s created in a university can be developed into a commercial product. So, it takes a lot of work to get to spin-out stage. One of the biggest challenges is that the world of academia and the commercial world are poles apart in terms of mindset.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Fitzgerald. “Personally I found the biggest challenge was getting things done faster, and moving on to the next thing. It was about changing the way I worked.  I learnt an awful lot about things I never expected to learn about – how business plans are structured, financial aspects, day-to-day business operations. So I went relatively quickly from being a very traditional academic researcher to someone who had a strong business head.”

With O’Connell’s input the project became more focused, developing a strong commercial roadmap that enabled the team to progress quickly towards a commercially feasible product. Feedback from musicians and audio professionals helped clarify what the market wanted and just three months after setting up the company in 2018, AudioSourceRE launched its first two products, DeMIX Pro and Essentials, at a major music fair in New York.

AudioSourceRE, a recent spin-out from Cork institute of Technology, has developed innovative audio separation technology

The journey continues

“We’ve been selling products for the last year, relying on the initial seed fund money that John and I put in and funding we got through Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, but we know there is still a way to go to make a profitable business,” says Fitzgerald. AudioSourceRE on Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund

O’Connell and Fitzgerald are now in discussions with venture capitalists and Enterprise Ireland about getting investment to grow. “We feel that we’re at the point now that with a little more R&D we can open up a whole range of creativity for audio manipulation,” says O’ Connell.

With plans to have nine employees by the end of year one, and to use AI to complement Fitzgerald’s skills, the company has a strong sense of where it is going.

Reflecting on the journey so far, Fitzgerald says: “My experience of spinning out AudioSourceRE has been overwhelmingly positive, so my advice to other academics would be, be brave and go for it. Start off with the objective of creating something that can be sold in the real world, not just completing an academic project.”

O’ Connell adds: “Getting a business person on board as early as possible on the journey will really help with guiding the direction of the project, deciding where the funding should be spent, and where the research should be focused to find out if it’s really suitable for commercialisation.

“Enterprise Ireland’s support was invaluable. We were able to ask for advice and get introductions to other people who have done something in a similar field. They give you the opportunity to take something and with a little bit of investment see what the commercial potential is.”

For more information about applying for Enterprise Ireland’s Commercialisation Fund, contact your Technology Transfer Office.

How Modubuild Became the Go-To Contractor for Global Data Centre Providers

“When we did finally take the plunge to grow our business internationally, our growth skyrocketed and today we’re delivering multiple multimillion-euro projects  simultaneously.” 

Kevin Brennan, co-founder and managing director of Modubuild

Overview:

  • Sector: Construction, Data Centre industry, Biopharma and Pharma
  • Markets: Netherland, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Finland,
  • Supports: Job Expansion Fund, Enterprise Ireland’s International Office Network

Case Study: Modubuild

The world is producing more data than ever and the need for high-capacity storage systems has never been greater. In fact, TechNavio said it expects the data centre market in Europe to surpass $25 billion in 2023, a compound annual growth rate of 11% since 2019 — and Kilkenny-based Modubuild is banking on being a big part of that.

Established in 2006, Modubuild provides on-site modular construction solutions on some of Europe’s largest high-tech projects, primarily in the data centre, biopharmaceutical and pharmaceutical sectors. The company also operates a 140,000-square-foot off-site production facility in Castlecomer, where entire high-tech building modules are constructed within the factory and then transported to sites across Europe.

Modubuild has grown an average of 45% year-on-year for the last six years, with significant contracts in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, the UK and Finland. Its customers include leading global data centre providers, as well as biopharma companies such as Amgen, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, MSD and more.

“We were a small Irish company for a number of years. When we did finally take the plunge to grow our business internationally, our growth skyrocketed and today we’re delivering multiple multimillion-euro projects simultaneously,” reveals Kevin Brennan, co-founder and managing director of Modubuild, noting that the right support has been essential to the company achieving its global ambitions — and Enterprise Ireland has been a key partner on its path to growth.

 

The Netherlands: a gateway to Europe’s data centre industry

Modubuild wasn’t always in the data centre business. Back in its early days, the company provided specialist modular fire and explosion systems for pharmaceutical companies and infrastructure projects such as the Limerick Tunnel and Dublin Airport. But it wasn’t long before Kevin and his team noticed a gap in the market for companies that could deliver high-tech data centre systems quickly and in multiple locations throughout Northern Europe.

“We wanted to grow the company internationally and we wanted to become the leading international player in high-tech modular construction, to do this we knew we needed to grow our team and partner with the right organisations in our target markets,” Kevin says, explaining the reason behind Modubuild becoming an Enterprise Ireland client company in 2014. “We knew that Enterprise Ireland could introduce us to various partners in target markets and could also help us with funding to hire the additional staff we needed at the time.”

With the help of Enterprise Ireland’s Job Expansion Fund, which provides grant support of up to €150,000 towards the recruitment of additional employees, Modubuild was able to grow from 10 to 20 employees, enabling it to invest in picking up opportunities in new markets.

“A lot of small businesses might think twice about hiring people because of the cost blow,” Kevin says. “Whereas, if you have the financial support behind you from Enterprise Ireland, it makes it that little bit easier to overhire people in advance of winning contracts.”

In 2015, Modubuild won its first large international contract — a data centre project in the Netherlands, worth €8 million, for a client that the company had previously worked for in Ireland.

“That was our biggest contract up to that point and it was in a new market so it was a double win for us,” Kevin recalls, adding, “From this, we developed a reputation as a company that could deliver large, complex, fast-track projects internationally. At the time, it was one of the largest data centre projects in Europe.”

That said, there was more to entering the Dutch market than winning a contract there — Modubuild needed local advisors and partners that could guide the company on the legal and tax compliance front. Enterprise Ireland recommended a law firm that could offer advice around contract, legal and tax requirements as well as an accountancy firm that could help with day-to-day work related to labour, payroll and local compliance.

Since then the company has continued to ramp up work in the Netherlands — there are currently multiple multi-million projects ongoing — and, with Enterprise Ireland’s support and guidance, opened an office in Amsterdam in January of this year.

“Enterprise Ireland arranged for Kevin Kelly, the Ambassador of Ireland to the Netherlands, to attend the official opening and we got a nice bit of PR around that,” Kevin says, adding that something similar is planned in the coming months when the company will announce the opening of a new office in Brussels. “We recently set up a regional office in Belgium where we have won our largest project to date. We have also secured significant contracts in Finland and Sweden, so we expect to see continued strong growth across the Benelux and Nordics regions in addition to Ireland and the UK.”

 

Scaling for future growth

With the digital universe expected to reach 44 zettabytes by 2020, fuelled by the Internet of Things and the use of connected devices, the global data centre industry shows no signs of slowing down — and either does Modubuild.

“We’ll continue to grow our international data centre business. Every year we’re picking up more contracts and larger contracts, which is causing us to grow across Northern Europe and we expect to enter some new markets within the next year such as Norway,” Kevin says.

He also sees the off-site facility as a major factor in Modubuild’s future growth.

“We’re the only company in Europe with an off-site facility that can produce these high-tech buildings and it allows us greater control of quality, greater efficiency and enables us to export a higher value product, meaning we can do more of the value-add within Ireland before we ship out the buildings” states Brennan.

And because a strong team will be central to such growth, Modubuild is in the middle of a major recruitment drive and has hired 20 additional people in the last 12 months, bringing its total to 45 direct staff as well as over 200 indirect employees.

“I expect that Enterprise Ireland will help us with more job expansion funding and by making key introductions as we enter new markets,” Kevin shares, adding that he’d urge any Irish company that’s considering a move to talk to Enterprise Ireland and to other companies who have successfully diversified their client base. “It’s extremely worthwhile to move into new markets. The benefit of scaling your business internationally is that you’re not dependent on any particular market. Even if things are quieter in Ireland, when you have multiple different markets, you spread your risk.”

Read more on the supports available to help your business diversify into new markets or speak to your Development Advisor today.