Linesight gains from Enterprise Ireland’s networking supports

Enterprise Ireland’s contribution in relation to knowledge-sharing, market information and access to key contacts has been invaluable to Linesight. Having built up a strong domestic presence since 1974, professional services provider to the construction industry Linesight needed to grow its business in overseas markets when the recession hit in 2008.

Linesight director, Paul Butler

The company found a series of workshops on data centres, organised by Enterprise Ireland, particularly valuable – an area which Linesight wanted to focus more on, according to director Paul Butler.

“Enterprise Ireland brought all the leading consultants and contractors together in one location to discuss the pros and cons of doing business with data centres and how to attract further data centre providers to Ireland,” he says. “All the relevant information was shared with everyone involved afterwards.”

Linesight went about sourcing and training people dedicated to providing professional services to data centre projects, which are very mechanical and technically driven. It now has a designated team which looks after a number of data centre clients in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands.

Once Linesight decided it wanted to explore opportunities in the Netherlands five years ago, it benefited greatly from several introductions to the market, and with local providers organised by Enterprise Ireland in Amsterdam, according to Butler.

“We were very keen to get local information and find out from others who had tried the market before, the lessons they had learned,” he says.

“Enterprise Ireland put us in touch with key contacts and set up face-to-face meetings with other contractors and consultants in the sector. The support in terms of local knowledge and getting to grips with how things are done there has been excellent.”

Guest Blog: Ireland’s International Traders Remain Optimistic for 2016

Commenting on HSBC’s 2016 Trade Confidence Survey, CEO of HSBC Ireland, Alan Duffy, says that Irish businesses remain optimistic about trade prospects but have more confidence in the local than the global outlook.

It is a measure of how far we have come as an economy that HSBC’s 2016 Trade Confidence Survey of 24 global markets saw Ireland at the top end of the rankings for positivity around its local economic outlook.

We have all seen that the combination of wage restraint during the crisis years and the exchange rate effects of the ECB’s programme of Quantitative Easing have both provided a lift to Irish competitiveness.

Whilst the outlook was inevitably moderate as the value of the euro eventually normalised, an economic recovery in advanced economies across the world likely helped sustain a robust performance for Ireland’s export sector. In particular, Irish exporters are well positioned to benefit from solid performances by the UK and US.

Longer term, Irish exports will benefit from growing levels of disposable income in emerging markets, and China will likely become one of our top export destinations in decades to come. In the near term, the advanced economies of Western Europe and the United States continue to be our biggest sources of export demand. As such, Ireland is relatively well placed to withstand any headwinds coming from a slowdown in emerging markets.

Despite these positives, overall exporter optimism had actually eased somewhat in Ireland. This was reflective of reduced optimism in the performance of the global economy. Irish companies expected the global economy to worsen slightly during that period. This slip in confidence levels reflected the deterioration in the global trade environment. World trade growth had slowed sharply that year, with import volumes in leading emerging markets, such as China, Russia and Brazil, weakening significantly.

However, the recent downturn appeared more cyclical than structural in nature. As many of these economies benefit from strong economic fundamentals, they are likely to be an important driver of global economic growth and trade over the medium term.

Perhaps aligned to such caution over the global economy, currency and commodity price volatility had emerged as the top financial risks anticipated by Irish companies. With this in mind, many were looking at strategies to overcome these risks such as negotiating better terms with trade partners and internal cost cutting.

Across Europe, stronger competition is the single most dominant challenge for businesses trading internationally. In line with rising cost pressures and anecdotal reports that companies are reaching the limit on the amount of cost increases they are able to swallow before passing them onto consumers, the emergence of competitors who compete solely on price is outlined as the biggest challenge, with the majority of Irish firms also highlighting it as their main worry.

With such competition becoming a concern, differentiation becomes increasingly important. That is why many Irish corporates are focusing on improving customer satisfaction and employee skill sets as their main objectives for the next six months.

How a Startup Can Sell to Corporates

Brightflag was started out of frustration. I was building and selling software to help law firms be more efficient, but something wasn’t right. I noticed that no matter how good we made the software, no matter how much implementation and training we would put in place, the law firms we were trying to help never seemed to see a significant difference.

What I came to realise was that there was something wrong with the large law firm model – it didn’t want to be efficient. And why would they when they charged by the hour?

My co-founder Alex also had experience of this problem but from the other side of the fence. He had spent years working in one of Ireland’s largest law firms and was experiencing the same frustrations from the inside.

We started Brightflag (formerly called Legalshine) to address this problem – not from the perspective of the law firms but for the large corporates who can spend hundreds of millions every year with these large firms.

We built a tool to help them analyse their legal costs and help them uncover the inefficiencies in their spending. It used new language technologies to ‘read’ the narrative on a legal bill, understand what the lawyers did and then employ market data to determine if the resources used were fair or not.

It’s been a difficult but rewarding journey, and we are only getting started. We’ve now got a number of large corporates as customers – which is unusual for a startup at our stage.

One of our first customers was a large bank, companies with which it typically takes a year or more to make a sale. What we are doing is hugely valuable to a bank, because they spend so much on legal fees every year.

Surprisingly Easy

Despite being a startup, we found that getting a foot in the door with a large organisation was surprisingly easy.

We mined our own networks to get introductions to senior people in large organisations, and when we couldn’t make a connection we simply approached them directly. I’ve found that as long as you have a clear and compelling proposition, they will always take the meeting.

We got initial meetings very readily because we told them they could reduce their legal spend by over 10% with our software. This was attractive and easily understood. The real trick, of course, is backing up the claims.

We went through rigorous initial trial periods with all our large clients to prove that the software really did what we said it would – and that it delivered value way beyond what it cost. Some of our clients are now saving hundreds of thousands of euro annually, a real sign there are huge inefficiencies in the legal system.

Keeping the Lights On

The other big challenge with a startup is keeping the lights on before the revenue starts coming in.

In November, we raised a large round of funding from Enterprise Ireland and other great investors in Dublin and the US. That’s allowed us to scale up our team and launch in New York.

Before that it was a constant battle to manage our cash and make sure we could deliver an excellent product for blue-chip customers with a very small team.

We now have 12 people between Dublin and New York, and we have tens of millions of legal spend going through our platform. We’re making a big dent in the industry and for us it’s only the start.

Now that we’re on solid ground, we’re moving to the next stage of growth and the challenges are different – growing the company in the US and the UK, hiring talented people and managing a larger team.

And still it all stems from those initial frustrations Alex and I saw from working in the industry – that’s what drives us on to keep going.

Ian Nolan is CEO of Brightflag, an Enterprise Ireland-supported high-potential startup.

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Ceramicx – Using Technology Transfer for New Product Development

“Licensing new technology has enabled Ceramicx to develop cutting-edge innovation that will power the company’s latest wave of international growth.”

The Aston Martin BD9 touring car contains aluminium panels alongside fibre-reinforced plastic panels that are bound together with super-strength adhesive, developed by Irish company Ceramicx through an infrared heating process.

The West Cork-based company is now announcing a world-first in launching the Herschel, a machine that measures and maps infrared heating.

“Infrared is invisible, of course, so it’s a hard thing to quantify. Usually people measure infrared output as the heat produced as a secondary reaction, but the Herschel maps the output of an emitter in watts [power] per cm2,” explains Cathal Wilson, director at Ceramicx.

The technology, first pioneered at Trinity College Dublin’s Manufacturing Research Facility, is named after William Herschel, the German-born astronomer who moved to Britain in the eighteenth century and became famous for his large telescopes. He also discovered infrared radiation and the planet Uranus.

The licensing deal with Ceramicx and subsequent process of technology transfer was the fruit of an Innovation Partnership, part funded by Enterprise Ireland. In turn, it has unleashed a new avenue for international sales for the West Cork company.

Ceramicx is up-skilling its staff of 63 and preparing to double its floor space, adding further labs, offices and manufacturing capacity. The Ballydehob firm is no newbie, though. The company has been perfecting its infrared heat work for 25 years, and it exports to 65 countries, with key markets being China, Germany, UK and the US.

Ceramicx will use the breakthrough technology to further refine the infrared heaters and ovens it develops in-house for food and other manufacturers. But the company also expects demand for Herschel as a test instrument for large companies that rely on infrared energy in manufacturing.

Like baking a cake, there is a heat recipe in every material, and there are a number of variables that must be controlled to get the best, most efficient and most cost-effective solution. The Herschel will allow manufacturers to refine the dial on their heat recipe with amazing precision.

“There are probably five or six major companies in the world that would be interested in this new technology,” Wilson says. These include the likes of Corning Glass, European Aerospace, Boeing and leading-edge tech companies serving likes of NASA.

The company came to realise the need for a machine like Herschel after it had worked through a challenging assignment developing a finished oven for Corning Inc., the makers of the Gorilla Glass used in mobile devices such as the Apple and Samsung smartphones. A curved piece of glass 0.7mm-thick was required, and the initial calculation and trial stages of the glass finishing project engaged five Ceramicx engineers for over a week. “If I had been able to put the problem in front of the Herschel, I could essentially have had the figures immediately,” Wilson explains.

Within its own processes, the machine is enabling Ceramicx to create more energy efficient thermoforming machines for industry.

Another application is in the production of energy efficient ovens for manufacturers of foods such as biscuits, cereals and pizzas. Ceramicx has developed 12 food-industry related patents for Black and Decker, and the Irish company holds the commercial rights for the application of these patents in industrial-scale projects in Europe.

In the case of the Aston Martin BD9, Ceramicx designed and built not only a radiant infrared emitter, but it came up with the best possible solution so that the energy would be adequately absorbed, and the cure would take place in sympathy with the best chemical and mechanical characteristic of the bond. The result is an adhesive bond stronger than a weld, explains Wilson.

Commenting on the impact of Herschel, Cathal’s father, Ceramicx founder and managing director Frank Wilson observes: “For thousands of years, man has played with steel, trying out various heat works to it to make it suitable for certain jobs. In recent years, the plastics industry and other materials sectors have begun to realise that there is a whole range of heat work that can also be applied to improve the performance these materials also.” For these industries, he says, the benefits will be immeasurable.

Get smart!

When is a bin not a bin? When it is also an advertising hoarding, a Wi-Fi hotspot and an environmental monitoring station. Welcome to the world of the smart city, where ICT is creating multipurpose infrastructure with inbuilt features, making it easier and cheaper to manage.

Smart cities have been defined as cities that aim to achieve high levels of sustainability, economic development and quality of life through investment in physical capital (infrastructure), human capital, social capital and ICT. A more hard-nosed way of looking at smart cities is in terms of the commercial opportunities they offer ICT product and service providers.

Nevertheless, technology, and the internet of things (IoT), in particular, does provide a means for improving the efficiency of our cities and urban spaces. Dublin City Council’s ‘smart bin’ initiative is a case in point. ‘Smart bins’ are solar-powered rubbish bins producing the energy required to power internal compactors that reduce the volume of rubbish. As a result, bins are emptied three times less often. An additional smart bit is that, when they are full, the bins send an alert to head office letting them know.

These types of bins were first trialled in Dun Laoghaire, using bins manufactured by Massachusetts-firm Bigbelly. However, a key Bigbelly component, the antennae, was provided by Taoglas, an Enniscorthy-based firm that is a world leader in antenna design and manufacture.

Taoglas produces a myriad of antennae because different methods of wireless communication are needed for different applications and locations – such is IoT. For example, Taoglas’s 5-in-1 Storm product, typically used on police and emergency vehicles, houses two LTE MIMO antennae, two Wi-Fi MIMO antennae and one GPS antenna. Not only do officers remain in radio communication with their dispatch, their dispatchers can view the live, or recorded, video feed from the vehicles’ onboard cameras and from the cameras worn on the officers’ person. HQ also has live access to data about the officers’ and vehicles’ performance. In the case of the officers, they can track heart rates and whether the officers are standing, seated or prone, and, in the case of the vehicles, they can see where they are located, how they are being driven and when they next need a service.

Another Irish company is involved in the technology behind some of these smart police vehicles. Dublin-based Davra Networks is a world leader in the development of IoT application enablement platforms, a platform-service that allows IoT developers to easily deploy and scale their applications.

Davra’s CEO Paul Glynn says IoT is about “people connecting things that they never connected before”. He explains that by networking assets, by whatever means, Wi-Fi, cellular, satellite or via a low-power WAN such as Sigfox, it becomes easier to manage those assets individually or as a whole, “to solve management headaches be it in a factory, a power supply or a smart city”.

An example of IoT everywhere is Wembley Park in London, a massive 85-acre urban regeneration project. As well as being billed as “the UK’s biggest buy-to-let building scheme”, Wembley Park is hailed as “the world’s best connected mini-city”, with Irish firm Magnet Networks, a specialist in FTTP (fibre-to-the-premises), providing homes and businesses with broadband connection speeds ranging from 100MB to 2GB.

Building contractors aren’t especially interested in FTTP until they hear that it can reduce their M&E (mechanical and electrical) cabling costs by up to 65%, says Magnet’s CEO Mark Kellett.

“Because you can run multiple services on the fibre, you don’t need copper cable for the phone, cable for the temperature and humidity controls, cable for the TV and CAT5 cable for PC connectivity. It also means you only need one satellite dish for the whole building – and only one satellite box.

We are learning from each phase of the project. For example, the builders spent too much money on connection points in the first set of apartments because students don’t want to plug their laptops and devices into the wall. As long as they have three-bar Wi-Fi, they are happy.”

Wembley Park is built around Wembley Stadium and Wembley Arena (now officially the SSE Arena), and it is also home to the London Designer Outlet (LDO), an 85-store shopping centre that Kellett describes as ‘Kildare Village on steroids.’ This is an example of a physical and economic investment to create a smart city environment, as the student residents have a source of weekend employment in the LDO. There is also part-time employment available when events are held in Wembley Stadium or the SSE Arena.

There is smart city ICT aplenty there too. “There is a number plate recognition system in the car park, so from the DVLA database, we know who each car belongs to and where each car owner lives,” says Kellett. “That has a security application but we can also make a good guess as to a visitor’s spending-power, based on their address. And, if a visitor logs on to our free Wi-Fi, we will have some access to their browsing history, so we can direct them, via their smartphones, towards special offers they might be interested in. We can also follow them as they travel through the London Designer Outlet or past the shops on the way to the Wembley Stadium and see where they stop and what they are looking at. There are a number of Irish companies who are very good at tracking how people travel through a retail space, and we are working with them on that.”

“The Internet of Things is very like what we used to call ‘M2M’ or machine to-machine communication, with one small difference,” says Glynn. “With M2M, data is siloed; with IoT, you are using multiple sources of data. A good example is in fleet management where with, say, a refrigerated truck, you have one solution, such as Fleetmatics providing GPS information and telematics. You have another solution, GreenRoad, providing data on driver behaviour. Another solution, Blue Tree, is monitoring the refrigeration in the trailer, and all the pallets in the trailer are tracked using RFID. In the world of M2M, each of these solutions works separately. With IoT, you put a network on the vehicle, using a Cisco or a Dell router, and you collect the data from all those sources, and you use them together to work more intelligently.

“Also, you don’t need to send all the data into the cloud on the network all of the time. For instance, the onboard computers fitted on most car engines since 1996 produce more than 25,000 data points every minute. You don’t want to be sending all that over the network continuously. You need the system to send the data when it needs to be sent. We are involved with a connected light rail system in San Diego and a heavy rail system in New Jersey. Vibration levels are one of the things that need to be monitored: if the vibrations go beyond a certain threshold, an alert is sent to the operator. But the threshold varies according to the ambient temperature: the colder it is, the lower the vibration threshold before an alert is sent.”

In the smart city sphere, Glynn sees IoT opportunities galore, especially in the areas of transport, energy and security.

“One of the big issues is who is going to pay for it and, secondly, will you be able to get various parties to share their data,” he says. “In some countries, you can force people to share their data, in other places you can’t.” Because Dubai’s smart city initiative is being driven by the country’s ruler, it is on track to have the world’s smartest city by 2020 (including connected police cars enabled by Davra Networks).”

“Cities in Europe are a bit behind that,” says Glynn, but he points to some very European initiatives that are already bearing fruit. “In Croatia, they have fitted all their manholes with sensors, so they know when they are being lifted when an authorised person isn’t present. As a result, they have become very good at tackling the growing problem of copper cable theft.”

“There are great opportunities for those who will develop IoT apps and it is something that is becoming easier to do. A developer can use our ConnecThing AEP platform for free with up to three devices to help them get their ideas beyond the proof-of-concept stage. Once an app has been tried and tested, it might be sold by our 65,000 reseller and system integrator partners. For example, we have a revenue share with the developer of a smart healthcare app that is sold per hospital bed and is now doing very well in the United States.”

Brendan Carroll, CEO at EpiSensor, a Corkbased specialist in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) space, says that the sector is a particularly good one for smaller companies.

“Traditionally, when a company was having an IT upgrade or having a LAN installed, all the work would be done by a single large supplier, an integrator like Siemens or Honeywell or Schneider Electric. In IoT, a lot of the solutions are made up of layers of different technologies from different companies, so that creates huge opportunities.”

Enterprise Ireland development adviser Robert Bushnell believes that the IoT will become so ubiquitous, people will stop using the term.

“There was a time when people talked about digital cameras and digital music but no one uses the term digital anymore,” he says.

Glynn agrees, “It’s like e-commerce: it’s everywhere now and nobody uses that term.”