Horizon 2020: Supporting transformation in the agri-food sector


There were multiple challenges, including a substantial amount of EU politics at the start with many partners wanting to take the lead, but we were determined to keep DEMETER rooted in Ireland.

Kevin Doolin, Co-ordinator of the DEMETER project and Director of Innovation at Telecommunications Software & Systems Group

Overview:

  • TSSG, part of the Waterford Institute of Technology, is leading a project that aims to transform Europe’s agri-food sector through the rapid adoption of advanced Internet of Things technologies, data science and smart farming.
  • The DEMETER project is being significantly funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • With 60 partners, 18 countries and 20 pilots, DEMETER is one of the largest Horizon 2020 projects coordinated by an Irish entity and is expected to have significant impact across the agri-tech sector in Europe, and beyond.

The European Union has identified smart farming as a key component in supporting sustainable agriculture and food production, protecting natural resources and boosting food safety. At the heart of this is the need for new technology and standards to achieve full supply chain interoperability.

This is the subject of DEMETER, a large-scale, €17.7m Horizon 2020 project involving 60 partners across 18 countries, 6,000 farmers and 38,000 devices.

At the helm of DEMETER is Kevin Doolin, Director of Innovation at Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG), an internationally recognised centre of excellence for ICT research and innovation and part of the Waterford Institute of Technology.

“The situation now is that you have various different elements in the agri supply chain – machinery, warehouses, trucks, sensors and so on – but none of these systems talk to each other so it’s impossible to get a holistic view from farm to fork,” explains Doolin.

“With DEMETER we’re trying to connect those elements, so we’re developing new industry standards, writing software for platforms and building interfaces.”

DEMETER’s goal is nothing less than the digital transformation of Europe’s agri-food sector and it includes a series of 20 pilot programmes that aim to demonstrate the impact of the technology.

A key deliverable is the DEMETER Dashboard. “This will give farmers an instant update on the status of their farm. It’s a precision support system that provides information to assist decision making, and increase productivity and efficiency,” says Doolin.

 

 

The Horizon 2020 process

The first step in the Horizon 2020 process is building the consortium, which Doolin did using his extensive network of contacts and the opportunities afforded by networking events run by the Commission.

“It’s important to identify a core set of partners that you can rely on to help write the proposal. Within DEMETER there are about 10 partners that did most of the heavy lifting on that, and then we drew on expertise from the other partners when required.

“We also engaged quite heavily with Enterprise Ireland’s National Contact Points who were able to introduce us to additional partners. And the EI financial support we got to write the proposal was really important.”

As a highly experienced Horizon 2020 co-ordinator, Doolin was aware of the challenges a project of this size, one of the largest ever coordinated by an Irish entity, presents.

“There were multiple challenges, including a substantial amount of EU politics at the start with many partners wanting to take the lead, but we were determined to keep DEMETER rooted in Ireland,” says Doolin.

Co-ordinating 60 partners is an ongoing challenge but one that is mitigated, says Doolin, by having good work package leaders.

“Each Horizon 2020 project is structured into a number of work packages with specific roles. If you have a good team of work package leaders you can leverage them very heavily to co-ordinate the overall effort.”

Moreover, the challenges are offset by the benefits.

“Horizon 2020 enables us to engage in large-scale work, with a substantial group of partners from across the agri supply chain. We have access to technology providers, research and academic experts, real works users and policy makers,” says Doolin.

 

Walk before you run 

Involvement in a Horizon 2020 project can be as a partner organisation or as co-ordinator. Doolin strongly recommends starting as a partner.

“I estimate the level of work involved in being a participant versus co-ordinating to be about 1:10, so I think the best place for institutions to start is by partnering on a proposal and maybe taking a work package leader role where you’re involved in writing the proposal. After you’ve done a few projects you can go down the route of co-ordination, starting with a small project.”

Doolin also advises engaging early with Enterprise Ireland to find out the project topics that are coming up in the next Horizon round of funding, and starting to build the consortium before the Commission launches the call for proposals.

“After the call you’ve only three months to write the proposal, which isn’t a lot of time,” he says.

“It’s also important to tell Enterprise Ireland what proposals you’re writing or you can end up in a situation where different entities in Ireland are writing competing proposals when in fact we should be collaborating. Enterprise Ireland is the mechanism for bridging that gap.”

Within the DEMETER project €1m of funding has been reserved to be given out to new partners who want to join the programme.

“We’ll be issuing our own mini-calls for proposals starting on September 16, inviting SMEs and farmers and so on to come up with a small project idea that will test elements of DEMETER in different scenarios.

“These open call projects are something that I think industry in Ireland needs to take advantage of. It’s a really good way for companies to get into Horizon 2020 and get quite a bit of funding to do just one trial of the technology.”

For advice or further information about applying for Horizon 2020 support please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com or consult www.horizon2020.ie

Empiric Logic: Pivoting your business plan in the wake of Covid-19

When the Covid-19 crisis hit, High Potential Start Up, Empiric Logic, repositioned the business to address new challenges

Key Takeouts

  • High Potential Start Up ‘Empiric Logic’ hit by Covid-19 as they prepared for seed funding
  • CEO Gareth O’Sullivan applied for Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Business Financial Planning Grant’ which helped the team to re-evaluate their planning in the wake of Covid-19
  • Empiric Logic was able to connect with a local advisory company with a substantial background in business planning and finance

Covid-19 has thrown up an unprecedented number of challenges for every business, particularly start-ups that could be at the very beginning of their business plans and in the early stages of establishing a flourishing business. For a company established in 2019, 2020 could have been the year in which they raised funding, developed further their product range, and got their offerings in front of potential clients through meetings, trade shows and more. All that was thrown into jeopardy by Covid-19.

To help clients navigate through this challenging time, Enterprise Ireland (EI) is offering a Covid-19 ‘Business Financial Planning Grant’, which provides financial support of up to €5,000 (100% grant funded) for engagement with an approved third-party consultant. The offer is designed to encourage companies to be proactive in developing a detailed financial plan that identifies funding needs and potential sources of funding. This allows the client work with an expert to prepare a detailed financial and business plan with forecasts and assumptions to help reposition the business to address challenges presented by  the Covid-19 crisis.

One EI client that has availed of the grant is Empiric Logic, a High Potential Start Up (HPSU) company that began trading in August 2019. “Covid hit us at a time when we were aiming to onboard a number of new customers,” explains CEO Gareth O’Sullivan. “We also had some existing customers with whom we were hoping to extend contracts. In addition, we were in the middle of preparing for seed funding. So it really couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

“We’ve lost a couple of customers; thankfully our business has increased with another. But the uncertainty has also led to a lot of investors holding off on new investments – so it’s been very challenging.”

Empiric Logic is a software as a service bioinformatics company that provides a platform to enable organisations derive greater value from their biologically generated data, solving many of the challenges associated with aggregating, correlating, analysing and gaining valuable insights from complex health-related data. The company has already won a number of significant clients, including Open Orphan, a rare disease and orphan drugs pharma services company. With a significant role to play in supporting the more accurate, faster and more secure development of drugs and treatments, the platform offered by Empiric Logic is even more important during this time.

“Essentially what we’re doing is analysing data on behalf of other  companies and providing a platform to enable owners of data get more from it,” explains Gareth. “Our [main] target market is obviously pharmaceuticals and the medical space. We pivoted slightly to look at some Covid-related data analytics, to see if we could offer something there. One of our existing customers and a potential new customer are looking at Covid-related treatments, and we’re hoping to help them with their data.”

The importance of flexibility

While the pharma space is understandably important for a company like Empiric Logic, flexibility is vital for a start-up, and so Gareth and his team have spent a lot of time looking at how their platform can be used in a variety of other sectors. “From our perspective, we see applications for our product across a wide range of verticals as well as pharma. We’ve looked at areas where we can support companies working in the medtech sector, biotech, nutrition, foodstuffs, even further into biothreats – we recently completed a pathogen analysis proposal to help analyse viral and bacterial presence in an environment.”

The need to be flexible has taken on a whole new importance in 2020, when everyone’s plans simply flew out the window. “We had just come through the review with EI, and we intended to hopefully raise some funding early in 2020, which would give us six months to build the platform out more substantially and take it to market in Q4; go to events, get in front of potential clients and showcase the platform. But as a result of Covid, this has all changed. We have tried to maintain contact as best we can though Zoom meetings and phone calls – but none of that is a great substitute for networking and face-to-face meetings.”

Gareth was encouraged to look at the €5k Business Financial planning grant, which was approved quickly and proved invaluable. “We’d done some rudimentary business plan development; this was offered as a way to re-evaluate your planning in the wake of Covid-19, and we felt it was a great opportunity to revamp our business plan. And it worked well for us – it was a very useful process. It also helped us connect with a local advisory company; up to that point we had been managing our books with a book keeping service, but this process allowed us work with a company that had a more substantial background in business planning and finance.

“EI is a lifeline during times like this; the Business Financial planning grant is just one of the many supports offered, and it’s helped refine our message to potential investors.”

This grant enabled Empiric Logic to look at Covid as simply a bump on the road in terms of their business – getting that expert insight and practical advice has helped the company plan for a brighter and more secure future, with more clients across more sectors. Most recently, Empiric Logic was approved for a feasibility grant, which they will use to investigate other sectors for their platform. “We’re in contact with a medtech consultant, and we’re hoping to develop more substantial use cases for our platform that enables us to prospect into verticals other than biotech and pharma, which predominantly we’ve been focused on until now.”

Click here for more information on the Covid-19 Business Financial Planning grant

Global Ambition – Industry Insights webinar series

Enterprise Ireland will host a series of Global Ambition – Industry Insights sector focused webinars for clients, to deliver market intelligence on the evolving international export opportunities across global markets. The five sector market webinars will focus on:

  • Construction – 15th September, 9:30am – 10:45am

  • Lifesciences – 15th September, 2pm – 3pm

  • Travel Tech – 16th September, 3pm – 4pm

  • Agritech – 17th September, 11am – 12pm

  • Consumer Retail – 17th September, 2pm – 3pm

 

This webinar series will draw on Enterprise Ireland’s unique insight into key markets for Irish exporters lead by the Market Advisor in that sector and will explore crucial issues such as relationship strategies and the shift in consumer behaviour in the context of Covid-19.

You can register using this link. You can register for multiple webinars and all registrants will receive a copy of the webinar recording and slides.

Digital communication – the key to success in North America in the context of Covid

The ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic has thrown up many challenges for companies worldwide. For Irish companies exporting to North America, these challenges have varied widely from sector to sector, but some, such as remote working, communication with clients, difficulties in finding new business, establishing sales pipelines and cash flow issues have been identified as common. As such, a basic roadmap to recovery has been drafted by Enterprise Ireland (EI) to help companies navigate through this uncertain time.

“The roadmap is a framework,” says Sean Davis, Regional Director for North America at EI, “but what’s interesting is that it extends across many, if not all sectors.”

There are three stages to the roadmap, and it’s backed up by EI supports to get companies into stages two and three:

  • Stabilise – protect your business, maintain operations and retain employees
  • Reset – adapt your business, plans and operations to new conditions
  • Recover – Restart innovation and capitalise on early demand as recovery develops

Communication is key

One major issue that affects every stage of the framework is communication. Many companies found themselves scrambling to deal with a workforce that suddenly became remote. Face-to-face meetings became impossible, and in the North American market, different time zones and inability to travel became massive issues for Irish companies – and so setting up successful and secure online communication technologies became key.

Dr Martyn Farrows, COO of Soapbox Labs, explains that the communication issue is not just an internal problem, but also extends to your customers and potential clients. “For us, as an online business, we were very comfortable with using many of the technologies available to us, such as Slack, as we had already had them set up internally. That situation was put into very stark contrast with the market. Our business has a very regular 12-month rhythm as we do a lot of work with the education sector, so when this kicked off in February/March, we were right into our development phase and two very big customer networking events in North America were cancelled as a result of Covid. So we had to react very quickly as to how we could communicate with our clients and how we could support them as they adapt to a remote learning environment.”

But there are positives. Because this is a global problem, everyone has the same communication issue – and Sean explains that in a way it’s a great leveller for companies, as location becomes less of an issue when face-to-face meetings are not possible for anyone. “We also had a good call with Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.  Following research work with a large number of North American companies, the conclusion is that we’ve actually crossed the digital rubicon in terms of our movement towards digitalisation and this new virtual environment.

“Maybe one of the benefits of Covid has been that push of the technological envelope, leading companies to utilise technology in a more utilitarian way.”

Adapting your business

For every company, there is a real need to adapt to the new market conditions, and answer any individual challenges that present themselves to the company. John Power is the CEO & Managing Director of Aerogen, a company that manufactures the only product that delivers drugs via a closed-system aerosol on ventilated patients, so he experienced great demand as the crisis took hold. “In the second two and a half weeks of March we received orders equivalent to the orders received in the first half of last year. But that meant we had to ramp up our manufacturing at a time when the world in many ways was shutting down. For instance, a lot of our product is shipped globally on passenger planes but when they were grounded, we had to look for capacity on cargo planes. It was a very challenging time and we had to manage expectations to make sure everyone was getting what they needed to keep them going.”

For Martyn, too, there was a need to adapt quickly. “We have just launched a first-of-its-kind voice-powered assessment tool to help educators understand and accelerate literacy development for remote learners in the US. That is an interesting case study as we signed the contract in January 2020 for delivery in August 2021. In May, the customer floated the idea that they’d like to speed up development to bring it in this year to address needs created by Covid. Now there are 150,000 kids able to access that product for their learning, growing to 2 million in the next two years. This is a good example of needing to be agile, needing to adapt to your customer’s needs as they try to respond to the needs of the market.”

Both John and Martyn agree that the key to rising to such challenges is being sensitive to your staff’s needs, especially in such uncertain times when staff members may be dealing with virtual working challenges, stress and worry about illness, and children at home from school. “You have to manage things very carefully and set clear expectations,” says Martyn. “Our team has been amazing and adapted extremely well, but a lot of that is down to effective communication.”

Preparing for the future

While stabilising and adapting your business is key to survival, to keep trading once the crisis is over, preparation for the future is vital. And again, finding new ways to communicate is extremely important.

“In the medtech industry, our usual method of opening new accounts would be to meet the people and demonstrate our products,” says John. “Obviously that has been disrupted now as hospitals don’t want people coming off the street amid the restrictions. We’ve had to develop more online training, online webinars and keynote speeches to try and attract a pipeline for the future that way.”

Both Martyn and John agree that to succeed in the North American market, preparation and flexibility are needed. “We did a lot of research into the market and were fortunate to get a Market Discovery Fund grant approved through EI, which was pivotal for our entry into the market,” says Martyn.

“It’s all about preparation; there is no such thing as an overnight success in the US market.”

“Our modus operandi at EI over the past 30+ years has been to cultivate the client/buyer relationship,” says Sean.

“With the opening of our Montreal office, we will have eight offices across North America. I would advise any client company to get in contact with our local manager and market adviser for help during this time. We have had the same communication issues as our clients, but we’ve moved quickly to adapt so we can continue to nurture those client-buyer relationships.”

So what will be the future for Irish companies operating in North America? “At the start of this crisis, you couldn’t over-communicate, everyone wanted information,” says Sean. “But as it started to move through its different phases, we’ve moved more into trust and delegation. There will be a certain snap-back once we start to get back to normal and a certain amount of personal interaction will come back. On this point, there is a distinct difference between the US and Canada, as in Canada, those personal relationships are very important – which is why we have two offices there now.

“There has always been a cultural affinity between America and Ireland – but there are a lot of domestic NA companies that will be dusting themselves off and looking at the opportunities within the region – of which there are plenty – and they may be taking advantage of the huge markets on their doorstep to help them recover. That will be a future challenge for our clients.”

Market Watch – South East Asia

Overview

• Many countries in South East Asia have made a successful return to business
• Travel restrictions had posed problems for businesses selling into the region, but goods are moving again.
• Critical supply chain companies are ramping up production and capacity to meet increasing demand
• Opportunities are continuing to arise, particularly in Digital technologies, Life Sciences, Telehealth, and Industrial sectors
• Life is beginning to return to normal.

Every industry across the world has been impacted by the effects of Covid-19. But while there is undoubtedly still a long way to go, business is beginning to return to some sort of normality and Kevin Ryan, Director of ASEAN, says much of South East Asia has made a cautious, but successful return.

“Business is definitely getting back to some semblance of normality, but things are a little different,” says Ryan. “In Singapore, we are now in Phase 2 of the ‘Circuit-Breaker’ measures and most businesses are now allowed to return to office environments. But the message remains consistent and to work from home where possible.

“Politically there is a history of stability and longevity here with governments making long-term plans which are carried on by successive ruling parties and this is very beneficial to the economy of the region.”

With experience of the SARS epidemic in 2002-2004, the governments of SE Asia have been methodical in their management of the Covid outbreak and this has proved crucial in the successful reopening of business.

“During the phased approach, the return to work was carefully managed,” says Ryan. “And around the region, key markets are opening up and demonstrating strong ownership in managing business and movement of goods.”

So with the effects of Covid shaping how people work and interact, the ASEAN director says strong sectoral opportunities have emerged.

“The Future of Work and the Digital Workplace is a very interesting development and client companies see big potential across the Asia market,” he says. “Here you have huge centres of populations, with Banks, Insurers and Tech companies all requiring teams to work remotely and embrace innovative solutions.

“From the Life Sciences sector, there is significant interest and demand for services which offer innovative solutions to help eliminate the effects of Covid. And the crisis has shown how reliable technology can be and has forced governments to take a fresh look at implementing digital health solutions in their regions.

“Consumer Retail is also playing out strongly with the likes of Water Wipes and Pestle & Mortar being two good examples of clients gaining traction in Asia.”

But most businesses, regardless of sector, are focused on saving cost, generating additional ancillary revenue streams and using technology to help prevent Covid in the workplace.

“Businesses are very keen to understand how technology can help them combat the pandemic and keep staff safe,” says Ryan. “We’ve had strong engagement with companies who see the value proposition, most notably with the likes of Novaerus who have a proven air and surface disinfection device. While companies such as Combilift have proven capabilities in an industrial space, helping to eliminate waste and enabling companies think more efficiently.

“Our clients are constantly looking at new ways to offer unique solutions to companies, which are now struggling with their traditional business model. And we are seeing success and increased interest in companies such as Good Travel Software (GTS), which allows OEM car manufacturers and car companies opportunities to tap into additional ancillary revenue streams they wouldn’t have considered before.”

But one of the real strengths of Enterprise Ireland is its network overseas.

“We are the gatekeepers making sure clients are ready to make the leap,” says Ryan. “We also work with them to break down any barriers – geographically and culturally.

“So on a positive note, we’re definitely seeing greater availability and access. Prospective buyers in the region are realising that unless they open their minds and are willing to think innovatively, they will face the prospect of losing opportunities to their competitors, and in this climate that could prove fatal. Irish companies have a long history of being innovative and entrepreneurial and business in Asia is very responsive to this.”

The SE Asia region encompasses 10 countries with a population of circa. 650m people and Ryan says the market is very much open with he and his team engaging regularly with client companies to support a successful entry into the region.

“Ireland, in comparison to some parts of Asia, is small, and our team works extremely hard on selling a consistent Irish message,” he says. “We have strong success in opening doors and creating opportunities and our reputation across the globe is superb with Ireland’s expertise in Asia shining through from the perspective of innovation and quality.

“So there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re encouraging clients who have a product ready to go, to engage in Asia as we are laying the groundwork for opportunities to be realised in 2021 and beyond.”

Get key insights on the supports available from Enterprise Ireland.

eiffel tower

French €100 billion recovery package puts business first

Recovery package which invests in Green economy, public transport, sustainable builds and digitisation could be of interest to Irish firms.

The impressive two-year stimulus plan announced in Paris last week puts business high on the priorities list. With the lion’s share going towards a tax cut for businesses, the goal is to spur economic growth and get back to 2019 levels by 2022.

With the global economy in the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades, governments are under pressure to outline individual recovery plans. France — feeling the sting of a 13% contraction — isn’t taking any chances, announcing one of the largest cash injections amongst bigger European countries.

The government’s spending strategy is heavily focused on boosting business to the tune of €34bn. Jobs, health and social programmes which aim to create at least 160,000 new jobs next year will see €36bn of the pot. Finally, €30bn will go towards green transition initiatives which will go a long way to help France meet climate goals without relying on carbon taxes.

The key measures outlined in the recovery plan are:

  • €20bn in production tax cuts for businesses
  • €11bn investment to improve transport networks, particularity railways
  • €7.5bn towards extending the furlough scheme, though limited to the worst-hit sectors and part-time subsidies

As France24’s Senior Business Editor Stephen Carroll notes, the plan has “a little something for everyone”.

The general sentiment among France’s business community is that it will open opportunities, triggering new and innovative projects.

Banking on consumer confidence

Central to the plan is boosting consumer confidence. France argues that incomes have largely been maintained and that households have continued saving during the two-month lockdown period. Encouraging consumers to spend their money, the government believes, will stem primarily from people having job security. They say the focus on business investment will provide that security by spurring and maintaining economic growth.

 

Green goals

The recovery investment presents the opportunity to make some serious headway on climate goals. Of the €30bn going towards the green transition, €2bn will be injected into the hydrogen energy industry — accelerating a move away from fossil fuels. Almost €7bn will be invested in making public and private buildings more energy-efficient, creating jobs in manufacturing and construction at the same time.

 

A 40/60 split

The money will come from two sources: 40% from the EU’s Recovery Fund and 60% in affordable loans from the European Central Bank. The government plans to repay loans by 2025 and insist they won’t implement tax increases to do so. The €100bn investment aims to create economic growth which in turn will reduce the debt burden, making repaying easier.

 

Opportunities for Irish companies

The emphasis on the green economy and digitalisation will undoubtedly trigger major investment projects. Enterprise Ireland Market Advisor for France, Jean-Charles Moczarski, says that Irish client companies with a current foothold in France are well-positioned to take advantage of such opportunities and that the potential is ripe for those yet to enter. “I think it will bring market opportunities within France; it certainly makes it even more worthwhile for client companies to put France on the list of priority export destinations.”

happy employee

Irish talent tech firms boost global engagement and productivity

In this era of widespread remote working, employee engagement and wellbeing matter more than ever. Isolated workers need to feel a sense of community and get support from their employers in line with their company’s values.

Companies around the world are looking to Irish talent tech companies for cutting-edge digital solutions to enable streamlined, effective work by HR departments, managers and employees. From wellbeing apps to performance management tools, Irish companies are exporting best-in-class products to businesses in dozens of countries.

Most are also focused on integrating with the existing technologies used by companies, meaning those in charge of IT budgets can maximise their legacy investments. Discover how five of the best in Irish talent tech are meeting the needs of a global client base.

 

1. Workvivo: Engaging employees with a highly social experience

Cork-based Workvivo is an enterprise social network, designed to enable organisations to engage as well as communicate with their employee communities.

“We took activities such as posting, liking and sharing content to an activity feed, which people are used to on social media apps outside the workplace, but developed them in a business context, enabling people to more easily engage with one another and with their company.” says Pete Rawlinson, Chief Marketing Officer at Workvivo.

 

Describe your business

“Disengagement was an issue for as many as 70% of businesses before the pandemic,” he adds. “One-to-one communication tools such as email or messaging facilitate communication but don’t do anything to provide that sense of community and culture.”

“People  need to feel part of something, especially when they are working remotely.” Pete Rawlinson, CMO at Workvivo

Since the pandemic spread, Workvivo has seen a significant increase in enquiries. “Companies are seeing that many remote workers can feel isolated. Our platform helps bring employees together through a highly social experience. We see customers using the platform to host activities such as quizzes and competitions that really help create that important sense of community….and fun!”

Woodies found that its Workvivo activity went up when its workers were furloughed due to Covid-19. “These were mainly employees with no work email account or company device, but they wanted to stay engaged,” says Rawlinson.

Workvivo has sought to ensure it can integrate with existing communication tools such as Slack, Zoom and Workday, and also includes built-in engagement analysis through pulse surveys, he says, adding that many customers report higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement than before they implemented the platform. “Higher engagement typically leads to increases in talent retention and acquisition,” he said.

Established three years ago, Workvivo now has customers in 35 countries with over 150,000 users on the platform. The company is headquartered in Cork, Ireland and has recently opened an office in Sacramento, California. Having recently secured $16m (€14.2m) in Series A funding, it is now focused on expanding its US client base and accelerating its product development plans.

 

2. Frankli: automating continuous performance management

While performance review cycles can strike dread into both managers and employees, Frankli aims to make performance management easier and more intuitive with its end-to-end platform.

“Our product allows managers to have much more meaningful conversations with people and support their development,” says Noel Dykes, founder and CEO of Frankli. “This approach is transformative and agile — we don’t set out to be a once-a-year annual cycle of goal-setting and meetings.”

A software engineer by background, Dykes worked as a consultancy practice manager in New Zealand and saw first-hand that younger employees were particularly keen on continuous feedback and recognition. “People want to be truly connected to the work,” he says. “They want to understand their purpose. Why are they there? What is the company they are working for trying to achieve?”

He adds that purpose-driven organisations will thrive, especially as remote working opens up a global marketplace.

“Managers are going to become coaches, rather than engaging in direct management in the office where they can see employees and know what they are working on. From now on, they will have to trust people and give them much more autonomy.”

Within Frankli, managers can set up regular recurring one-to-one meetings with their team members, setting priorities, agreeing action items and supporting accountability on both sides. The software suggests recommended talking points, based on insights from organisational psychology. Employees can also contribute comments and suggestions.

The product also enables businesses to offer more tailored learning and development opportunities, including a two-sided mentor marketplace tool.

Frankli has customers of all sizes in Ireland, the UK, Poland and New Zealand. While its core focus is midsize companies looking to scale, it already supports workforces of as many as 70,000 employees.

 

3. Empeal: personalised employee wellbeing at scale

While many employee wellbeing platforms work on a one-to-many scale, says Sohini De, founder of data-driven start-up Empeal, her business aims to deliver 1:1 wellbeing support at scale.

“If someone is having trouble with sleep, perhaps not doing too much exercise, eating unhealthy food or generally falling into bad habits, they can go through the programme on our system,” she explains.

“They start by completing interactive questionnaires and we can also integrate data from their wearable devices. They could be given a personalised programme to improve their sleep hygiene, for example. If they continue to have problems, their case is escalated to a sleep expert.”

With users in Ireland and India, Empeal is now focused on expanding those markets and pushing into both the UAE and the UK, So far, it has seen engagement rates of 60% on average, which De says is high for a wellbeing app. “We have also seen very encouraging results in terms of people achieving their health goals,” she says.

In addition to helping employees improve their wellbeing, Empeal also provides anonymised aggregate data to employers to enable them make better decisions, improve staff retention rates and attract more talent.

To help companies navigate the coronavirus crisis, Empeal produced a free toolkit of resources and also made its community-level module free. “We were finding a lot of employers were asking, ‘How can we take care of our people at this time?’ — they were very concerned about how everyone in remote locations was coping not in touch with their workplace or workmates,” says De.

 

“The community engagement part of the platform, which includes fun challenges and community boards, helps employees feel connected and it’s very simple to roll out for HR teams.” Sohini De, Empeal founder

 

4. Peptalk: building community through connection and wellbeing

The three founders of workplace wellbeing platform Peptalk — all former sports stars — know more than most the value of wellbeing when it comes to performance.

“We had all been involved in high performance sports,” says CEO James Brogan, an all-Ireland winner himself and a cousin of Dublin GAA legend Bernard Brogan, another of the co-founders along with Michelle Fogarty, who represented Ireland at taekwondo. “We had seen that to get the best out of people, their lives need to be in balance. What you do off the pitch is as important as what you do on it.”

Peptalk aims to help companies build sustainable high performance cultures through its community-driven employee experience platform. The product includes an insights tool, management toolkits, an employee app and a real-time measurement dashboard.

“We’re helping organisations with those off-the-pitch activities. We’re helping humans to be better at what they do, to have more energy, and to be more focused and resilient,” says Brogan.

He adds that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the issue of work-life balance: “Senior leaders have seen a different side to their staff. They’re now acutely aware that, unless people have proper support, they won’t be able to work to the best of their ability.”

During the crisis, Peptalk has seen increased engagement from existing clients, while also doubling its usual number of demos to potential customers.

Set up in late 2016, Peptalk has users in 10 countries, including Mondelez, McDonald’s and Paypal. “This is a global challenge faced by multinationals. We offer one solution that works across an organisation, so there is no sense of disconnection with different offices doing different things,” says Brogan.

With serious plans to scale further, Peptalk expects to close out its current funding round later in 2020. “This is the time for us to get out and support as many organisations as we can,” says Brogan. “It’s a challenging time and the need has never been greater for the type of services we offer.”

 

5. Wrkit: easy to implement and clinically-backed 

Founded two decades ago, Wrkit was originally a group benefits scheme, which evolved into an employee discount scheme. While users can still access thousands of discounts on holidays, food, clothes and other products, Wrkit has expanded to offer other services, including a learning portal with 4,500 personal and professional courses, a recognition portal and a wellbeing portal called Powr.

“POWR stands for Positive Occupational Wellness Resources, offering tools such as meditation, breathing exercises and reflective journaling” explains Jason Brennan, Wrkit’s Director of Wellbeing and Leadership.

“The big differentiator between Powr and similar apps is that it offers 430 clinically based behavioural plans put together by psychologists,” says Brennan. “These are based on six paths — mind, sleep, work, life, food and active. When users answer the questionnaires for these paths, they are given a personalised plan.”

“POWR users begin by finding out how they score clinically in the 6 areas of wellbeing and are instantly provided with personalised clinically based plans to improve engagement and growth in each area. During covid for example we saw a huge up take in the activity, work and life plans, helping not only users but employers by feeding back what is happening in real time with their anonymised and aggregated dashboard.”

Wrkit is based in Dublin, but also has offices in London and Massachusetts. Its clients include multinationals such as KPMG, FedEx and Boston Scientific. Its internet-based application can be launched quickly as it requires no specific IT infrastructure, says Brennan.

“All we need to launch is the list of employee ID numbers, and we provide lots of webinars and video tutorials to help staff engage with the tool, which is of course completely confidential.”

When Covid-19 struck, Wrkit quickly found demand rose. “We launched to 60 companies in eight weeks,” says Brennan. “We also quickly created a Coping with Covid portal to help users.”

ReturnWorkplace 1

Covid-19: Returning to the workplace safely

In four short months, the world of work has changed dramatically thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us experienced remote working, changed working conditions, altered hours or even layoffs. But now, as the economy slowly reopens according to the Government’s phased roadmap, employers and employees are slowly returning to the workplace, albeit a very “new normal” type of workplace.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on companies in many different ways,” says Karen Hernandez, Senior Executive, People & Management, at Enterprise Ireland. “As a result, the challenges that companies are facing as employees return to the workplace tend to be different, but in general, there are a number of key considerations that companies will need to address to ensure a safe return to work.”

To help companies navigate their way through these considerations, Enterprise Ireland has produced Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide, which can be downloaded on the Globalambition.ie website. This is a practical guide that takes employers through four key areas: the health, safety and wellbeing of employees; employee communication and engagement; resource planning; and data privacy and GDPR. The guide also includes some templates that employers can use within their own business, such as a Pre-Return to Work form.

“The first consideration that employers need to address is the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees,” explains Karen. “The Health & Safety Authority (HSA) has issued the Return to Work Safely Protocol, which supports companies put measures in place that will protect the health and wellbeing of their employees as the economy begins to open up. Measures include completing a Risk Assessment, completing or updating your business’s Covid-19 Response Plan, and asking your employees to fill out a Covid-19 Pre-Return to Work Form.”

The HSA Protocol can look daunting at first, but Joyce Rigby Jones, Joint Managing Director at HR consultancy Voltedge, explains that it’s up to an employer to decide what is right for them. “The HSA Protocol provides a list of guidelines and protocols, and it’s up to each company to look at these and decide what is reasonable and appropriate in their case. But at the same time, as employers, we have to make sure we’re providing a good and safe base for our employees.”

Many guidelines include practical measures such as putting processes into place for suspected Covid-19 cases in the workplace, but another major part of ensuring employees’ health and safety is looking after their wellbeing, as Joyce explains. “We’ve all gone through major stress and there’s been such radical change that every employer has to take  onboard how this has affected employees.

Many employers have put into place an Employee Assistance Programme or Occupational Health Service to help employees with any issues they may encounter. But if you don’t have this, there are other things you can do, such as running wellness sessions or spearheading wellbeing initiatives.

There are some really nice resources on the gov.ie website called In This Together. The HSE website also has a mental health section, which is very useful. And of course, the Enterprise Ireland Covid-19 Return to the Workplace Guide offers some useful ideas such as a buddy system, which can be great for those working remotely. Communication is key – not everyone will be able to return to the workplace so talking to each individual and making them a part of the decision-making process will help their wellbeing and make sure any decision is good for them.”

Communicate, communicate and communicate some more!

The second key consideration identified by Enterprise Ireland is communication, which is essential during a time of so much change. “The HSA has provided guidance on a number of practical measures to enhance communication with your staff as they return to work,” says Karen. “Employers should be looking at all the changes in policies and procedures that must be made and ensure that employees know what they are.

A first step includes putting a Covid-19 Response Team in place, who will be responsible for completing and implementing the business’s Covid-19 Response Plan. At least one worker representative should be appointed, who will work with the team to engage with employees regarding any changes that need to be made as part of the Covid-19 Response Plan. All staff must also be trained.”

Enhanced communication will also help your employees’ wellbeing. “Everything about the workplace will change, from where you enter and exit to where you take your breaks,” explains Fredericka Sheppard, Joint Managing Director at Voltedge. “Change is difficult and it’s up to each employer to implement those changes, map it out, communicate with their employees and communicate again – you cannot communicate too much in this instance.

“Collaboration will bear fruit. You want to know if there are risks or if an employee is nervous about the workplace or feels unsafe. You want your staff working in a safe environment; if you are communicating with your staff through surveys, questionnaires etc on a regular basis, you will get greater engagement with your employees – and we know that in an environment where there is greater engagement, there is greater productivity.”

Successful resource planning

Inevitably, some businesses will have to take a hard look at their company and make some changes. Remote working will become a long-term reality for some companies, while sadly for others, redundancies may have to be implemented. Any changes in resources should be made objectively and with the constraints of employment law in mind. “Given current physical distancing guidelines, it’s highly unlikely that any company will be bringing back their full complement of staff initially,” says Karen. “Businesses will have to look at their resources in line with their business plans and their employees’ needs. For instance, some employees might have underlying health conditions and mightn’t come back into the office at first.”

“Some companies may have to look at restructuring or altering their business,” adds Fredericka. “They must pay attention to the legislation in this area. This hasn’t changed and the crisis won’t excuse you if you don’t do it right.

The Enterprise Ireland Return to the Workplace Guide has some useful information regarding this. Of course there’s a financial impact to this, but you must also remember that there’s a psychological impact too. The staff who are staying may be affected by any redundancies too – and this is talent that you have worked hard to get. Evaluate your business and market; you must keep this under constant review.”

On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to look at the skills of your employees and invest in your talent. “Resilience and good people management have never been more important and we need to support and invest in managers in developing these skills. Your marketplace may have changed, you may have to alter the product you offer – invest in your people to adapt to these changes and you’ll reap the rewards in the future.”

Protect sensitive information

A final key consideration is the tricky issue of GDPR and data protection. The HSA Protocol requires employers to collect information and keep records that could contain potentially sensitive information. It’s imperative that employers only collect the information they need, and that it is stored appropriately.

“GDPR and data security are more vital than ever,” says Karen. “The HSA is asking employers to keep contact logs, and there may be a need for some companies to undertake temperature checking too. There will also be health information included in the Pre-Return to Work Form. Companies need to be very mindful of their obligations under GDPR and data security. They must make sure that any information they request is reasonable and that this information is stored securely.”

These points, and more, are explored and expanded in the Covid-19: Return to the Workplace Guide. Enterprise Ireland has also launched a number of supports for businesses, including the Lean Business Continuity Voucher, which provides companies with up to €2,500 to help them put into place any guidelines or strategies needed before opening up the workplace again. More details can be found at https://globalambition.ie/covid-19/

Market Watch Construction

Market Watch – Construction – Industry Bulletin no.3

The third global market bulletin for the construction sector features updates from Enterprise Ireland’s overseas market advisors across four continents.

As the sector unlocks and construction sites reopen, this report provides a snapshot summary of insights for companies working in the international construction industry.

Market Watch Industry Bulletin – Automotive

The spread of the coronavirus led to an unprecedented collapse of many important car markets in terms of producers, their suppliers and the distribution channels across the globe . Work came to a standstill in almost all countries. But as severe as the slump was initially, the return of production is currently giving the industry hope. A large number of vehicle manufacturers and their suppliers were able to resume operations, albeit only to a limited extent. In addition, stabilization strategies and aid packages have been developed in recent months.

In this latest industry bulletin, Enterprise Ireland has primarily surveyed leading market experts and industry leaders, and collected their views, gathering specific recommendations for companies, to stabilize, reset and recover from the current situation.

Read the full report here.

Industry Bulletin – Agritech & Machinery Dealership view


Reporting from across world markets, Enterprise Ireland’s Agritech Market Advisors have compiled this buyer sentiment update consisting of case studies from importers, distributors and leading dealerships of agricultural equipment.

As part of our Market Watch series, we have interviewed 23 companies to provide first-hand updates of the situation on the ground in key regions across the world.

Read the full report.

manufacturing

Seismic change on global auto production could offer opportunities for Irish suppliers  

Continental AG addresses fresh challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

The company was forced to shut down all of its global tyre manufacturing operations within a short space of time as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and has recently begun a return to production. “During that period, we had to wind down operations efficiently as well as implement cost mitigation measures such as short-term work initiatives from national governments, having workers take holidays, as well as unpaid leave along with salary reductions at management level,” says David O’Donnell, Global Head of Passenger and Light Truck Tyres at Continental AG.

The company is now seeing a welcome but slow return to activity among key automaker customers globally. 

“We are observing more build-to-order in response to a concrete need for the vehicles in contrast to before, where they were built for an assumed level of demand.” said David O’Donnell

O’Donnell believes it will be several years before production levels recover. “We will be looking at 2022 or 2023 best case before we get to anything like 2019 volumes. Everybody will have to react to the seismic shift in volumes. We are looking at 70 million vehicles this year versus more than 80 million last year. If you can get used to the current level somehow, then you likely have two years of growth. The question is do you hold your capacity to be able to access more opportunities, or do you reduce your cost exposure in order to go into a new growth mode in a different way? That will put pressure on cost management and will also make them look at systems efficiencies and internal company structures.”

 

Focus on Agility

One impact of the global pandemic has been an enforced increased level of agility on the part of manufacturers. “How quickly can you ramp something down? Can you run with a portion of the plant and do that cost-effectively? How do you align it better system-wise to orders?” O’Donnell asks.

“They might have full orders for a certain vehicle and then change it completely from week to week or month to month. It will take time for people to get over their nervousness to rely on orders and feel comfortable with the new processes,” he adds. “Those who can adapt to that uncertainty will be winners in this situation.”

He believes this may present opportunities for Irish firms, which have a reputation for agility and flexibility. According to O’Donnell, anything a company can offer in terms of productivity, improving potential efficiency or agility such as adjusting payment terms for a period, holding more stock, or quickening pace of production would be beneficial.

 

Supply Chain

Opportunities may also exist in the dual procurement structure and more localised supply chain which could result from the crisis. “When China went into lockdown there were war room discussions in our organisation concerning who’s going to stop the slide first. It was a pivotal moment because you had electronic equipment coming from the huge manufacturing hub of China and that affected the batches in Serbia, for example. The aftershock will see OEMs discussing a change in tactics with their purchasing groups, as well as sourcing from multiple and more local suppliers going forward.”

Noting that the Trump administration’s policies have already led to a discussion about what operations can companies relocate to the US, O’Donnell says more nationalisation in Europe may bring more opportunities than in the past.

“A friend and colleague of mine is doing relatively small batch production of printed circuit boards and prototypes. He’s based in Germany and he has had a lot of requests because he is both local and agile as well as an alternative supplier to China. He might be more expensive but he’s offering the flexibility these companies need.”

But customers won’t be willing to pay higher prices forever. “Once the OEMs are back at full capacity with high volumes again, they will come very aggressively with price discussions as they try to regain profitability.”

He advises suppliers to be proactive in going after these opportunities. “It’s a question of arguing yourself into that space as a potential partner and bringing the advantages forward. Become ready for agility and be customer-centric by assessing challenges they have, look at the macro picture and present yourself as a local and flexible supplier. If you can do something there, you may have an advantage in winning long-term business.”