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.

 

Abcon

How Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre helped Abcon to break new markets

“You need to be constantly selling and expanding your customer base. You can’t depend on a particular country or territory or one big customer.” 

Lyn Sharkey, Abcon Sales and Marketing Director

Overview:

  • Sector: Design and Manufacturing
  • Markets: Germany, France, UK, Nordics, Eastern Europe
  • Supports:  Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre
  • Goals: To increase exports to mainland European countries
  • Challenges: Abcon needed help identifying and accessing people in key EU markets
  • Results: Abcon has transitioned from  a company whose exports were almost all to the UK to trading in multiple European markets

Case Study: Abcon

A decade ago, the UK was effectively Abcon’s entire export market, says Lyn Sharkey, the company’s Sales and Marketing Director. While Abcon had focused on increasing exports to other markets over the past ten years, Brexit accelerated its efforts.

Abcon

Working with Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre helped Abcon to pinpoint new markets with the potential to grow the business and to gain expert insights into how to compete in them.

Based in Cootehill, Co. Cavan, the Abrasives and Industrial Hose Manufacturer currently employs 155 people. Its Industrial Hose Division markets its goods under the CavMac brand, which Abcon acquired in 2007 and serves sectors including oil and gas, mining and aggregates, food and beverage, and portside services and dredging. The Abrasives Division serves totally different sectors including stainless steel fabrication, joinery, aerospace, and automotive. Exports are hugely important to both.

A number of Market Research Centre supports helped Abcon to increase exports to European countries. These included independent and reliable information from blue-chip providers, such as Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, Mintel and others, databases of potential leads and prospects, guidance on the right trade events to attend, and in-market knowledge. 

Sharkey emphasised that obtaining such information would have been much more difficult without the help of the Market Research Centre.

With a high volume of sales driven by internet searches, accurate information about the names of products in local languages is essential to underpinning successful international digital marketing tactics. Assistance with learning how its products are described in the languages of key overseas markets proved to be one of the most useful services.

 

Support for moving beyond the UK as your sole export market

Long before Brexit made diversification a matter of urgency, Abcon understood that relying on a single market, or a small number of large customers, was a risk. Sharkey says, “We are very conscious that, over the years, some customers for whatever reason come and go. You need to be constantly selling and expanding your customer base. You can’t depend on a particular country or territory or one big customer.”

While the opportunity to enter new markets is one every ambitious Irish company should consider, authoritative market research is critical to such business decisions. With support from the Market Research Centre’s information specialists, Abcon realised that a strategy of increasing exports to countries beyond the UK would help the company to grow and diversify the business. 

Over the last ten years, we have been steadily growing export sales to territories outside the UK, because initially the UK was our only export market.” explains Sharkey.

The UK, nevertheless, remains an important market for Abcon, accounting for 27% of turnover.

 

Dipping into Deutschland

In recent years, Germany has become an important market for the business. Sharkey offers some advice for other Irish companies aiming to increase exports to the Eurozone’s largest economy: “Know who your target customers are. You have to visit them, attend the shows. We recommend staying in touch with the Enterprise Ireland office in that territory because they can let you know about appropriate events to attend and give you an insight into how that market operates. At International Markets Week, the team told us about events they host, to which companies backed by Enterprise Ireland can invite potential customers. It’s all about relationships at the end of the day. You need to get in front of the customer and understand what they need.”

Germany is not Abcon’s only European market. Its CavMac division engages in significant volumes of business across the Nordic countries. Other important markets include the Netherlands, Italy, France, and the Czech Republic.

While none of these markets are primarily English speaking, Abcon’s experience has been that the need to hire staff with native language skills varies depending on the territory.

In central and eastern Europe, where English isn’t as widely spoken, it’s definitely helpful that we have Russian, Polish and Latvian speakers in our company.” says Sharkey.

The Market Research Centre helps companies backed by Enterprise Ireland to explore opportunities and to compete in international markets. If your company is considering breaking into new markets, struggling with Brexit or dealing with thorny strategic issues, the Research Centre’s extensive resources and expertise should be your first port of call.

Sharkey strongly recommends that companies similarly positioned take advantage of this support, concluding: “I definitely would. First of all, it’s a free service to client companies. You’re not paying for lists that may be out of date, as can be a risk elsewhere. Their information specialists work to keep them updated and the searches are quite versatile. The support you receive from the Market Research Centre is really helpful. The team can help you to understand and refine the searches. They want to make sure you go away with a meaningful list. Their customer service is really good”.

 

Key takeouts:

  • Working with the Market Research Centre helped Abcon to find new markets and to decide how to compete in them.

  • Supports accessed included independent and reliable information from blue-chip providers, such as Gartner, Frost & Sullivan, and Mintel, databases of potential leads and prospects, guidance on the right trade events to attend, and in-market knowledge.

  • Help with learning how its products are described in languages of overseas markets was one of the most useful services received.

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

Cubic Telecom is Helping Germany’s Biggest Carmakers to Drive Forward

“Enterprise Ireland is always extremely helpful in terms of providing meeting space and setting up partner meetings, finding out beforehand who we want to make contact with and enabling those briefings at the show.” Gerry McQuaid, CCO Cubic Telecom

Overview:

  • Sector: IoT
  • Markets: APAC, China, Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East
  • Supports: Trade Missions & Events, International Office Network

Case Study: Cubic Telecom

In an always-on world where consumers expect instant access to information and experiences, car manufacturers are clamouring to ensure that 24/7 connectivity is provided behind the wheel — and Dublin-based Cubic Telecom is supplying the solution.

Cubic’s global connectivity platform PACE enables cars and other devices to automatically connect to high-speed local mobile networks around the world. The company is a fully licensed mobile services provider powering high-quality connectivity worldwide for global manufacturers, including six brands within Volkswagen Group, e.GO Electric Vehicles and Panasonic Automotive, among others.

Not to mention, Cubic’s connected car solution supports 2.5 million cars in 93 markets globally, with capabilities across Europe, North America, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, Africa and Asia-Pacific.

“Our focus spans wider than the Irish market,” reveals CCO Gerry McQuaid, who has been part of the Cubic Telecom team from its beginning in 2009. “Obviously we support the sale of our partners’ products in Ireland but we are focused on the global market and we have had that global focus from the start.”

But scaling internationally requires more than identifying a global customer base and Gerry says Enterprise Ireland’s assistance has been critical in helping Cubic to forge strategic partnerships every step of the way.

 

Powering global connections

When Cubic Telecom made its first foray into the international market, it was with a SIM card that let travellers make low-cost phone calls from anywhere in the world without incurring huge roaming charges. But the company soon switched gears to focus on creating technology that would connect any device to the internet while abroad and in 2012 took part in a major trade mission to China, helmed by Enterprise Ireland and then Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“Enterprise Ireland helped to arrange private meetings in China with the Taoiseach which gave a fantastic boost to our fledging profile in China,” Gerry says, noting that the trip ultimately helped to cement our business relationships with Qualcomm, Lenovo and China Unicom.

At the same time, demand for vehicle connectivity was on the rise. Automakers wanted to transform cars into infotainment centres on wheels and Cubic Telecom’s technology, which is embedded at the manufacturing stage, could enable standardised vehicles to offer connected services anywhere in the world.

“We’ve always attended MWC and exhibited as part of Enterprise Ireland’s pavilion stand. That’s where we meet our customers, prospects, mobile operator partners, technology partners and important industry analysts every year,” Gerry says. “We are delighted with the support provided to us by Enterprise Ireland in regard to exhibition stand facilities and the arrangement of key meetings ahead of each event.”

Cubic’s first auto contract was with German car giant Audi, which was looking to provide its drivers with a fully digital experience — something that traditional mobile operators were struggling to achieve.

“We were delighted to partner with the leading automotive brand within Volkswagen Group and this partnership has been an intrinsic part of developing our business success in Germany,” Gerry says.

As a result, Germany is one of Cubic’s biggest overseas markets.

“It’s important to point out that we did not select Germany as a generic target market,” Gerry says. “Instead, we looked at the world’s biggest automotive manufacturers and decided which companies we wished to build a partnership with. This naturally led us to Germany, the home of some of the world’s top auto manufacturers. We were very careful to take the time to understand what is required to do business successfully with large prestigious German companies and we had excellent support from the Enterprise Ireland team in Germany.”

Enterprise Ireland still works closely with Cubic Telecom to support its continued growth in other international markets.

“As well as being part of Enterprise Ireland’s pavilion at MWC Barcelona annually, last year we participated with Enterprise Ireland in MWC Americas in Los Angeles for the first time. That proved to be a great success,” shares Elaine Murray, Cubic Telecom’s External Communications Manager, adding, “Enterprise Ireland is always extremely helpful in terms of providing meeting space and setting up partner meetings, finding out beforehand who we want to make contact with and enabling those briefings at the show.”

Besides trade shows and networking opportunities, Cubic Telecom is often invited to sit on conference panels hosted by Enterprise Ireland, which Elaine describes as “integral” to the company’s exposure in foreign markets. Gerry agrees: “We’re always more than happy to participate because it’s a win-win situation.”

Brazil, Brexit and beyond

One of the next stops on Cubic’s path to world domination is Brazil, a notoriously tough nut for non-Brazilian car manufacturers to crack in terms of IoT connected device services.

“We have received excellent advice from Enterprise Ireland to assist with setting up our local presence in Brazil,” Gerry says. “Like in Germany, we align ourselves with the markets that our customers have prioritised. As all of the world’s major automotive companies want to sell connected cars in Brazil, we prioritised establishing a unique locally compliant solution for global automotive and IoT companies there.”

Speaking of complicated, while the UK is not a dominant market for Cubic, it is an important one for many of the company’s customers.

“If you’re driving on the motorways in the UK, most of the cars are German-built cars, so Brexit does have a concern for us in terms of what’s going to happen to the ease of doing business but we’re not as exposed as other companies because we are used to dealing with complicated market conditions around the world,” Gerry says.

His advice: Irish companies must reduce their dependence on the UK market, regardless of the Brexit outcome.

“Any Irish company that’s trying to do business in overseas markets has a very valuable resource that is always there to help in Enterprise Ireland,”

“Start by considering the needs of the customer you are selling to, what solution you are selling, who you need to sell it to and what markets those target customers are in. Then leverage the Enterprise Ireland regional offices to get introductions to the people in that market who you need to meet.”

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

 

How France Became Mullan Lighting’s Biggest Export Market

Mullan Lighting has come a long way from its humble beginnings in traditional pub and church lighting. Revenues are expected to reach over €5 million by the end of 2019 and the main reason for Mullan’s growth is that it exports 80% of what it manufactures.

Edel Treanor, Mullan Lighting, Marketing Director

Overview:

  • Sector: Design & Manufacturing
  • Goals: To double the company size, to get the factory operating at full capacity, and to create long-term employment for local people.
  • Challenges: Mullan wanted to start exporting new markets but needed help identifying potential opportunities.
  • Results: In just six years, Mullan’s annual revenue has increased from €100,000 to €5 million — 80% of which are exports.

Case Study: Mullan Lighting

Mullan Lighting’s Bright Idea

Monaghan-based Mullan Lighting has designed and manufactured bespoke solutions across the commercial, hospitality, retail and residential sectors, counting everyone from Caffe Nero and Costa Coffee to global multinationals Google and LinkedIn as clients.

Founded in 2009 by architect Mike Treanor, the company now employs 65 people in its manufacturing facility inside a former shoe mill in the heritage village of Mullan. It sells in more than 55 countries worldwide and expects to reach over €5 million in sales by the end of 2019. But it wasn’t plain sailing from the start.

“For the first couple of years, it was a lot of groundwork — Mike was on the road, knocking on doors — and very little return. We knew we had to start looking further afield,” explains Edel Treanor, Mullan’s marketing director, adding, “The economy in Ireland wasn’t great at the time and there weren’t that many projects happening — and for those projects that were happening, we were already getting the majority of the work but it wasn’t enough to sustain the business.”

That’s what prompted Mullan Lighting to become an Enterprise Ireland client in 2013 and their goal was three-fold: to double the company size in three to five years, to get the factory operating at full capacity, and to create long-term employment for local people. Achieving this would require stepping into new markets — and Enterprise Ireland’s support ensured that Mullan put its best foot forward.

 

Spotlight on France

“It’s much easier to talk to your neighbours than it is to talk to someone who’s in Dubai or Australia so we knew that if we targeted regions close to Ireland then we could be there quickly and we could respond to queries quickly,” Edel shares.

Working closely with Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre, Mullan identified France as the best Eurozone market to enter. Specifically, when the company developed a new children’s lighting range aimed at high-volume retailers, the MRC determined the market size for such products in France, highlighted key prospects to target and suggested trade fairs to attend.

As Edel says, focusing on France made sense: “Maison & Objet takes place in Paris and that’s one of the largest trade shows and markets for sourcing interior design, furniture and lighting products. Plus, Paris is seen as a design capital of the world,” she points out.

With the help of Enterprise Ireland’s Internationalisation Grant, Mullan began to dip into the French market help. The company attended Maison & Objet in 2013 to scope out their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and hone their own value proposition — and soon their bespoke lighting creations were lighting up hotels and restaurants all over France.

“It took us about two years to really be comfortable in the market,” Edel reveals, noting that Enterprise Ireland’s support has been instrumental throughout the process, from setting up meetings with agents when they first entered the market to putting them in touch with Irish businesses who were already well established in France.

“Those [established] businesses gave us feedback on our marketing materials, our company presence, our distribution plan — everything. As a new brand entering the market, that insight was invaluable.”

Edel Treanor, Mullan Lighting, Marketing Director

Expanding into France also meant a website refresh and Enterprise Ireland’s Business Process Improvement Grant helped Mullan to make their online presence more user-friendly and appealing to the market.

“We also realised that we needed someone on staff who could speak to the client in their language so in 2015 we hired our first full-time native French speaker to help develop the market for us,” Edel adds.

Mullan is on track to do around €800,000 in sales in France this year. To ensure the company hits that mark and continues its growth trajectory within the market, several clients — and one prospect — recently travelled to Mullan Village as part of an Enterprise Ireland inward buyer visit.

“We figured it would be really good to show them exactly what we do and how we do it,” Edel says, adding that the visit included a trip to Castle Leslie to see some of Mullan’s creations up close as well as to the iconic Cafe en Seine in Dublin, the company’s largest bespoke project of 2018. “No one recognised any of the lights because they’re not in our catalogue and it was great for the buyers to see the level of bespoke work that we can do.”

Needless to say, the trip was a success: Mullan has since received orders from each of the visiting buyers, even the prospect.

 

Next steps in Mullan’s growth journey

Mullan Lighting has come a long way from its humble beginnings in traditional pub and church lighting. Revenues are expected to reach over €5 million by the end of 2019 — a massive increase from its first-year turnover of €100,000 — and the main reason for Mullan’s growth is that it exports 80% of what it manufactures.

“Our business has absolutely been driven by international sales,” Edel says, noting that in addition to France, the UK, Germany, the Nordics and Iceland are Mullan’s other big markets.

“About 25% of our business goes to the UK, which is a significant amount, so we took part in Enterprise Ireland’s Brexit readiness programme and got advice from a consultant on what measures to put in place to mitigate the risk of what might happen if there is a hard Brexit.”

As Mullan is only 200 metres from the Ireland-UK border, part of that action plan included creating a UK company and setting up a base in Northern Ireland.

“If we can export to ourselves five miles up the road, hopefully we will inherit any customs delays instead of passing them on to our customers,” Edel explains, adding, “We’ve also identified hotspots where our UK clients are based and are considering opening another premises over there.”

Additionally, the company is hoping to further its presence in Germany and the Netherlands.

“We’re looking at markets that are nearby and have a lot of projects going on, with styles that are similar to what we can develop and manufacture,” Edel says. “The model and approach we’ve taken with France has really worked for us. We see that as something we can replicate in the German and Dutch markets with Enterprise Ireland’s help.”

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

Agile support allows LaserTec KnightOwl to take flight

Basil Cooney, Lasertec

“We made the application for the Agile fund in early December of 2017, we got approved by early January and we were up and running in February.

Basil Cooney, Managing Director and Founder, LaserTec.

Key Takeouts:

  • Developing 3D technology meant breaking new ground for LaserTec and required a considerable amount of R&D. LaserTec contacted Enterprise Ireland about support for an R&D project around their plans and were advised to apply for the Agile Innovation Fund.
  • The Agile Innovation Fund application process made it much easier and quicker to configure what LaserTec needed and to get approval in a short time frame.
  • The new product has given LaserTec the ability to scale and solve multiple problems across multiple industries.

Case Study: LaserTec

LaserTec has always fostered a culture of innovation. Over 25 years in business, the Dublin engineering company has built an impressive reputation for excellence in electronic assembly tooling and process development. In particular, LaserTec has enjoyed outstanding success designing and manufacturing innovative test and automation solutions in the medical device and automotive industries.

Sometimes, however, it takes that little bit of extra support for a company to take the next big step. For LaserTec, that moment came when they decided to look into adding 3D capability to their services.

 

Focus on 3D gave LaserTec the power to scale

Basil Cooney, Managing Director and Founder of LaserTec, explains: “We use 2D vision in our applications for testing and quality checking components and parts on the production lines of our customers, but we wanted to start looking at adding that extra dimension of 3D capability.

“With 2D systems, you’re restricted in what you can measure – there’s X and Y but there’s no depth, so checking that certain components are in the right location, have the correct orientation, correct height is difficult to do. Also, our solutions are application-specific, so if you want to look at a different product or solve a different problem, you’re almost starting from scratch nearly every time because of the limitations of 2D.

“Scanning in 3D, having that extra dimension of depth, might not sound like that big a difference but it’s huge. It can measure depth and do different applications for you without having to devise a new solution for each process.”

 

Agile Innovation Fund helped LaserTec to break new ground

LaserTecHowever, developing 3D technology would mean breaking new ground for LaserTec and would require a considerable amount of R&D.

“We spent a year and a half just researching and looking at the different applications and the types of technology involved before we were able to say it’s possible for us to bring these applications across to our processes,” Basil says.

LaserTec decided that they would need to develop both hardware and software: a 3D sensor that could be incorporated into manufacturing production lines, and an app for mobile devices that could process and relay the information from the sensor.

This would mean a considerable investment, so LaserTec contacted Enterprise Ireland about support for an R&D project around their plans and were advised to apply for the Agile Innovation Fund.

The Agile Innovation Fund offers up to 50% funding to a maximum of €150,000 in grant aid for projects with a total cost of up to €300,000. Designed to make it easier and quicker for smaller companies to access R&D funding, Agile has a fast turnaround time for applications that results in decisions being made in weeks rather than months.

 

From application to project launch in two months

“We made the application for the Agile Fund in early December of 2017, we got approved by early January and we were up and running in February. The application process made it much easier and quicker to configure what we wanted to get done and get approval in a short time frame.” Basil says.

 

“We received €90,000 – 45% funding for our project. It allowed us to go and hire resources, additional staff, to develop the product. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without Agile

Basil Cooney, Managing Director and Founder, LaserTec

 

Developing the power to scale

John Traynor, R&D Director at LaserTec, says that the goal for LaserTec is for the company to develop a product which, for the first time, can be scaled.

“Technically, we’re very good at LaserTec but our problem was that we were doing a lot of custom solutions that couldn’t be scaled easily. There was a lot of commonality but not enough that you could really scale them.

“Now we’re designing a product for a wider audience, one that can be used for many applications across a number of industries. Instead of developing a product to solve a specific problem for a customer, we will be putting intelligence into their machines and production processes with this technology, so that it can solve multiple problems across multiple industries.”

“You’ll have the 3D sensor and you’ll use the app to tell it what to look for, and it will do just that. But that same sensor and same software algorithm can then be used very differently to scan, measure and provide guidance on a variety of other parts.

The next step for LaserTec is to start testing their new technology, named KnightOwl 3D, with customers.

John adds: “We’ve identified the market, done the research and have been developing the technology. The next stage will be to prove the technology, to engage with customers and get good insight into what their problems are and how we can solve those problems.

“You can sit in an R&D lab until the cows come home but unless you’re out there talking with customers, you’re not really getting real insight into the problems they’re facing.”

After 25 years, the desire to innovate and solve problems still burns brightly at LaserTec.

 

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

Firefly puts best foot forward with Agile R&D funding

 

“Without the Agile Innovation Fund, we just wouldn’t have had the capital to get the ball rolling on our R&D project. The funding has been central to streamlining our in-house processes and developing the app.

Conor Lynch, Marketing and Sales Lead, Firefly Orthoses

Key Takeouts:

  • Firefly needed to streamline in-house processes and systems and invest in the development of new technology that would increase the speed and range of products they could supply.
  • Firefly recognised that support could help improve efficiencies and turnaround times by digitizing processes with the development of a bespoke solution.
  • Support from Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund is helping Firefly to reduce its reliance on third-party contract manufacturers, allowing the company to grow their margins while delivering faster turnaround times to customers.

Case Study: Firefly Orthoses

While success is what all companies strive for, it can also present challenges for a growing business. That was the case for Sligo company Firefly Orthoses, who, after 16 years had grown to employ over 20 people, designing, manufacturing and supplying custom-made foot orthoses. Its range of mostly UK customers included podiatrists, the NHS, sports clubs such as Liverpool FC and Chelsea FC, and British military Regional Rehabilitation Units.

Firefly was founded by podiatrist Martin McGeough in 2003. Martin has close to 30 years’ experience in clinical biomechanics and orthotic therapy. During his career, he has provided podiatric advice to a number of Premier League football teams, in addition to lecturing in podiatry at Trinity College Dublin and mentoring podiatrists internationally.

Firefly needed to invest time and resources to improve their internal ordering processes. The company also wanted to develop new technology that would increase the speed and range of products they could supply.

 

Agile innovation allowed Firefly Orthoses to leverage the potential of 3D printing technology

Conor Lynch, Marketing and Sales Lead at Firefly Orthoses, explains: “The company had grown since it was founded around 2007 and we were solving in-house problems as they came along. We had a lot of short-term fixes building on top of one another. Our in-house order processing system was becoming quite complicated and we were working off multiple spreadsheets to record and document all our order processes. As staff numbers increased, these systems became almost unmanageable, so we needed a software solution to streamline all our in-house processes and systems.

“We also wanted to harness the development of 3D printing technology for our customers, including creating an iPad app for our podiatrist customers to make it easier for them to scan and submit measurements and order products.

“Currently, our customers capture their patient’s data, the shape of the foot, by creating a plaster of Paris cast or using a foam box. The podiatrist would then send the cast of the patient’s foot or the foam box with the impression of the foot and we would manufacture the products from that model.

“Our products are already an exact match for the anatomy of each client, but there is tremendous scope for improving efficiencies and turnaround times by digitizing the whole process. We knew there were solutions out there and we also knew that we needed to research and develop a bespoke solution for our own needs.”

 

Support from Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund

Firefly looked at various grant schemes from different organisations before deciding to apply to Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund for support for their R&D programme in January 2018.

The Agile Innovation Fund offers up to 50% funding to a maximum of €150,000 in grant aid for projects with a total cost of up to €300,000. Firefly was approved for 45% funding shortly after applying in January 2018. However, the quick turnaround of their application wasn’t they only advantage of Agile.

Enterprise Ireland was able to tell us what was and wasn’t going to work in terms of the criteria for funding the project,” Conor explains. “We knew what we wanted to achieve, we knew what goals we wanted to arrive at, but we weren’t quite sure of the steps that we needed to take to get there, so having that support during the application process was really helpful.

“Agile gave us a huge amount of control over how we wanted to spend the grant. We were able to hire a software developer and a research and development manager to lead the project. It made the pathway towards achieving our goals much clearer.

Firefly is now beta testing their app and 3D printing prototypes. The final step will be bringing their products to full 3D printer manufacturing and the company is in discussions with large industrial 3D printing operations throughout Europe to find the most suitable partner.

Firefly’s customer base is 90% in the UK and 7% in Ireland, with the remainder being occasional orders from places like Sweden or Spain. However, many of Firefly’s products have an extended turnaround time because they come from third-party contract manufacturers in Canada and the US. Conor says that this will change by moving to 3D printing, with significant benefits for both Firefly and its customers.

He comments: “Agile funding is helping us achieve the goal of producing our own products and reducing our reliance on third-party contract manufacturers. This will allow us to grow our margins, while our customers will benefit from faster turnaround times. Before the end of the year we would hope to be printing products for customers

“Over time, we also intend to develop novel design features within our product range that are not currently achievable using traditional manufacturing processes.

“Without the Agile Innovation Fund, we just wouldn’t have had the capital to get the ball rolling on our R&D project. The funding has been central to streamlining our in-house processes and developing the app.”

 

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

p3 hotels CEO

Agile Innovation funding helped p3 Hotels to develop a core product that is scalable

Phelim Pekaar

“We found it simpler than the R&D to apply, and the approval came faster as well.”

Phelim Pekaar, CEO, p3 Hotels

Key Takeouts:

  • Support from Enterprise Ireland’s Agile Innovation Fund enabled p3 Hotels to develop a scalable product that could be rolled out to multiple customers.
  • Approval allowed them to allocate the full €100,000 project cost, with €50,000 provided by the Agile Innovation Fund and €50,000 by p3 Hotels.
  • Investment in innovation has helped p3 Hotels to grow revenues from €700,000 between 2008-2016 to a projected €1.2m this year.

Case Study: P3 Hotels

 

Securing a contract to develop innovative booking engine integrated with the property management software for Ireland’s largest hotel group was just the opportunity p3 Hotels CEO Phelim Pekaar had been looking for.

After years of successfully supplying hotel groups with custom-designed ecommerce software solutions, Phelim wanted to develop a scalable product that p3 Hotels could roll out to multiple customers. However, it would take significant resources to research, develop and test such a product.

Phelim explains: “We came to Dalata [Hotel Group] with a design of how we thought the booking engine should really look. It was a fresh design for the user interface and we also pitched the idea of online check-in. The response was really positive – they loved the online check-in and we won the contract.”

p3 Hotels decided to build the software solution and sell it to Dalata on a license fee basis, as opposed to being paid a project fee, which also meant that p3 Hotels would have to fund the development costs.

 

Simpler and faster Agile Innovation application process

Phelim spoke to Enterprise Ireland about research and development support. “We had done an R&D grant and a business improvement grant with Enterprise Ireland before and this time I was advised to do the Agile Innovation Grant,” he says. “We found it simpler than the R&D to apply, and the approval came faster as well.

“It meant that we were able to allocate the full €100,000 that this was going to cost us to build – €50,000 from p3 Hotels and €50,000 from the Agile Innovation Fund.

Apply for the Agile Innovation Fund now.

“We were able to do the project properly; we didn’t have to cut corners. We had six people involved in the project, we did user testing, we designed the screens, we talked to four hotels about how they did the check-in process.

“Our ecommerce solutions for hotel groups have to communicate with a central reservation system called Opera, which is owned by Oracle. We got the engineer from Opera over to our office for two days and we went through all the APIs of how this works.

“The product went live in two Dalata properties last July and has since been rolled out to another 24 hotels.”

The Agile Innovation Fund offers up to 50% funding to a maximum of €150,000 in grant aid for projects with a total cost of up to €300,000. It is designed to make it easier and quicker for smaller companies to access research, development and innovation funding. Agile’s main feature is its fast turnaround time, with an application process that results in decisions in a few weeks rather than several months.

The innovative approach p3 Hotels took carried an element of uncertainty. However, it wasn’t the first time that the company had shown the courage to do things differently. Since 2009, p3 Hotels hadn’t gone after any new business that was not a hotel but had maintained existing contracts with customers in other sectors. By 2016, these contracts still accounted for almost 30% of their revenue but Phelim took the tough decision to end all non-hotel contracts in order to focus exclusively on winning customers in that sector.

He says: “That was really hard – it was a big risk – but it was absolutely the right decision because before the money stopped coming in from our last non-hotel contract, we had already replaced it with a new large hotel group, Britannia Hotels.

“It’s serendipitous, isn’t it? The minute you let something go, your focus is different, and you allow new opportunities to come along. In the next two years we won five new hotel groups, doubling the number that we had.” says Pekaar.

The approach p3 Hotels has taken to achieving growth through innovation is paying off. The company’s revenue, which flatlined at €600,000 to €700,000 from 2008-2016, is projected to reach €1.2m this year.

The support of the Agile Innovation Fund has been instrumental in this growth. Phelim says: “Agile helped us turn our whole development process on its head. It provided the resources that meant we could develop a core software product that is scalable – one that can be rolled out to new customers. Previously, our work was all custom-built for individual customers.”

“We now have a very aggressive growth plan to target hotel groups in the UK, Europe, and the US. Oracle is now recommending us because of the value we bring to their Opera system. I would say that we were instrumental in Dalata rolling out Opera throughout all their hotels. We’ve also been instrumental in a number of other hotels staying with Opera when they go to a retainer process. Our hotel clients know that if they move away from Opera, they lose us – and we add so much value to the rest of their business.”

Apply for the Agile Innovation Fund now.