Innovation Islands: Building on Irish Success in Singapore

Like Ireland, Singapore has experienced dynamic growth and the opportunities and challenges that accompany it in recent years. In both countries, innovation has been used to overcome challenges that include upskilling a workforce and maintaining a world-class infrastructure. A focus on development has helped Ireland and Singapore to become known as ‘innovation Islands’ – hubs for world-class entrepreneurs and ecosystems that support the growth of multinationals.

Irish companies with disruptive, value-adding solutions are carving out business opportunities in Singapore. A trade and investment mission to the APAC region presented opportunities to appreciate the links that Irish-owned SMEs have developed in Singapore first hand. In total, 60 Enterprise Ireland client companies participated in the mission across two market legs – Singapore and Japan – with the goal of securing export business in the wider Asia region.

A tour of Singapore’s tallest building, the Tanjong Pagar Centre, was included on a tight schedule on the second day of the mission, giving delegates a chance to observe the impact of Irish innovation on the city. The energy-efficient technology of Tanjong Pagar Centre towers over Singapore’s Central Business District and is powered by the Dublin-headquartered company Cylon Controls. As the developer Guocoland explained with a smile, “the brains of this building are Irish”.

Opportunities in green tech are a particularly good fit for the capabilities of Irish companies. Singapore is driving an ambitious environmental agenda, with a target of 80% of buildings to be green by 2030 (currently at 33%) and to increase the number of green specialists from 15,000 to 20,000 by 2020. The government is providing a Zero Capital Partnership, enabling building owners to engage Energy Performance Contracting firms for energy retrofits with zero capital outlay.

Ireland’s green build cluster is supported by a sophisticated network of companies specialising in building energy management systems, green building materials, HVAC, lighting and energy technologies, as well as green architecture and engineering. Major names include Zutec and Kingspan Insulated Panels. Enterprise Ireland actively collaborates in this space, working with the Singapore Green Building Council to provide new solutions that help the markets to ‘go green together’.

The aerospace and aviation sector also presents opportunities for Irish companies considering Singapore. Over the next 20 years, Asia-Pacific will have the greatest demand for aircrafts, representing 39% of global requirements. The region’s global share of passenger traffic is also expected to rise from 31% to 42%. Ireland is viewed as a global centre of excellence for aviation, with a proud history of pioneering developments and dynamic innovation. Irish companies including CAE, Eirtech Aviation and Aero Inspection are leading the way, securing aviation opportunities in the wider APAC region from bases in Singapore, for example, in the Aviation Festival Asia in Singapore.

There are good reasons for Irish business to look to the Asia-Pacific region. It has delivered double-digit growth and an impressive year-on-year gain, making it one of the fastest growing regions for Enterprise Ireland clients. Many are already capitalising on that potential, with exports from Irish companies to Singapore and the wider ASEAN region on the rise and growing steadily year-on-year.

The trade mission raised the profile of Ireland as a key supply base offering high-value solutions and created a number of partnership opportunities between Irish and Singaporean companies throughout the ASEAN region. The ASEAN office hubbed in Singapore will expand resources over the coming months to further support Irish clients in their growth as they diversify through the region.

The Emerald Isle and Singapore, ‘the Garden City’, work well together because of what we have in common, a history of economic growth based on a trading perspective, investment in education and training, support for innovation and R&D, and an ability to succeed in the global marketplace. The vibrant export growth of both countries over the past ten years has positioned us both as trading nations, global players, and true innovation islands.

Iran: From Zero to Trading Hero?

With the lifting of economic sanctions, Iran could well be THE global market growth story of the coming year

It isn’t often that a large and mature economy opens for business with half the world in one fell swoop. But that’s exactly what occurred, following the lifting of sanctions, on the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Only the Saudi Arabian economy is currently bigger in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and Iran, with a population of some 80 million, almost two-thirds of whom are under 30, is poised to challenge for the number one spot in the coming years.

First Steps

Tehran Honorary Consul for Ireland in Iran Alireza Feizollahi says that a path is now being beaten to Iran’s door.

“Right now, if you want to book a hotel in Tehran, it’s almost impossible. Trade delegations are coming here every week from all over the world,” Feizollahi says. But he cautions that this is a highly regulated country and companies must carefully study the market to see how they can be successful.

Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland’s Manager for the MENA region, has been closely following developments in Iran’s $400 billion economy. He points to a very real hunger in the Iranian business community for new technology and innovation to fuel economic development.

“Iran has been on the side lines of global growth for some time, and there is a huge appetite to redress that. All around, you get the sense of people driven to capitalise on the new opportunities.”

Given the closed nature of the economy in recent times, primary research, in the form of market visits and relationship building, is highly recommended. Davis stresses that preparation and planning are very important on every front, from securing the necessary business visa to identifying the best way to utilise your time there.

“Though English is commonly spoken, it doesn’t predominate. You won’t be able to use your ATM or credit cards, and Tehran is a very large and very busy city, and by no means cheap. Packing a short itinerary with meetings that criss-cross the city isn’t going to be a runner,” he warns.

Enterprise Ireland supported a number of exploratory visits, with sectors such as healthcare, aviation, agri-tech, education, ICT, financial services and fintech, all in the mix. Fintech is likely to be among the more immediate opportunities given that the country’s financial services sector requires considerable investment and upgrading as it reconnects with its peers across the globe.

For clients, Davis recommends the first step is to contact Enterprise Ireland itself. “We are building a contact base of people Irish companies can reach out to, who will help suggest meetings and allow them to hit the ground running.”

Search for Quality

Dr Amir Kordvani, a senior associate with international law firm Clyde & Co, advises on sectoral investments across the Middle East and recently undertook a detailed look at the potential Iran offers to companies across the business spectrum. “What Iranian businesses are looking for, and it will be a requirement to any procurement proposal, is to show that you are bringing the very latest know-how and technology to the country. They are not interested in something from 10 years ago,” he says.

Irish companies are frequently warned of long sales cycles when they enter a new market, but Kordvani’s view is that Iran could represent something of an exception. “It really depends on how strong you are in the area you are operating. However, generally, Iranians are very commercially minded, value strong relationships and are very frank and open, so it doesn’t take that long to build trust from that perspective.”

A final, but important, piece of advice is to recognise that, whatever field you operate in, the value of quality customer service as a differentiator cannot be overstated. “In the past, customer service has been very poor in Iran,” Dr Kordvani says.

“If you want to lead and exploit your opportunity, then you should prioritise your customer service and your after-sales support as much as the quality of your product. Companies that can do that will be very well rewarded in this market.”

Start-Up Story: Initiafy – Hitting the Big Time in The Big Apple

Having established in the UK, launching in the US was the next logical step for software start-up Initiafy. Its two founders share the company’s story to date with John Stanley.

After a number of years working in construction, mainly overseas, Seán Fennell return to Ireland some six years ago to join a company specialising in Health & Safety and online learning. There he met his future business partner, Julie Currid.

“We both saw the same problem repeated, over and over again,” Fennell recalls. “Using conventional approaches, organisations struggled when they tried to induct a large numbers of contractors or temporary staff in a short space of time.”

So in April 2012, the two took the plunge, setting up Induction Manager (since rebranded as Initiafy) to provide an online “employee onboarding” tool. This enables organisations to pre-induct employees online before they arrive for work. “We saw the opportunity to improve day one for the frequently overlooked workforce – contractors, temp staff, seasonal workers – and even for visitors,” Currid says.

Platform development was outsourced to a software company with offices in Ireland and Poland, and, within eight weeks, they had the designs they needed to begin selling. Their initial focus was on chasing the potential reference sites they would need to gain credibility and to stimulate investor interest.

Target Market

“Traction is the new IP,” Fennell says. “Our target market is medium to large companies, so while we do have some Irish customers, we put a huge amount of effort into the UK from the outset.”

Within 18 months, they had recruited over 30 customers, including such high profile ones as Pfizer and British Gas. Adobe adopted it for all its inductions in the Middle East and Europe, while Sodexo, ranked fifth in Fortune magazine’s list of ‘Most Admired Companies’, used it to induct thousands of event contractors for Royal Ascot Week.

On the back of this success, the founders raised €400,000 in October 2013 from Enterprise Ireland, private investors and the Cork-based Boole Investment Syndicate. This seed funding allowed it to move into an office in Dublin’s Temple Bar, hire its first staff and begin to drive revenues

The founders began looking seriously at the US market last year. In November 2014, they raised €1 million from ACT Venture Capital, Delta Partners and the well-known Irish businessman Leslie Buckley. This stage-two funding paved the way for the recruitment of a vice president of global sales and the opening of a New York office.

“We got some initial stage orders to validate our US growth plans, and 50 per cent of our business in Q1 this year came from the US,” Fennell says. “Deal sizes are so much bigger there, and it’s English speaking. It’s a natural step for a software company such as ours to go from the UK to the US.”

Having started out in an Enterprise Ireland incubation space in the New York office, Initiafy found WeWork, a company that provides office space in 14 different locations in that city as well as in other cities around the world. “There’s a strong collaborative culture within WeWork; it’s more like a community, and there’s huge flexibility – you can choose the amount of space you need and switch between locations from month to month. It’s a little more expensive that Regus, for example, but the benefits are absolutely huge,” Currid enthuses.

Lessons Learnt

One lesson from the first fundraising was that they hired too slow, she adds, which meant the full impact of those hires was not reflected in the second round valuation of the company. “So we hired our first three sales people a month before the second round funding, which was needed to pay their salaries, actually arrived. It was very much a bootstrapping approach, but effective.”

“We wanted people who would hit the ground running in the US. We felt that experienced US sales people might be more assertive than we’re used to here in Ireland, but in the US environment that’s what would be expected. Given the nature of our product, we looked for people who are as methodical and structured as they are good communicators. The results to date vindicate our decision to hire US people to sell to US customers.”

In other respects, the company has been successful in replicating its original ethos State-side. “We’ve managed to bring across the culture we have in Ireland to the US. Wherever they are, everyone’s involved in our sales meetings which are held on Google Hangouts. We also run competitions and celebrations across the group. We do everything we can to eliminate geographical barriers between team members.”

Fennell says that “As we build and develop out the product, we do need to continue to improve it, and we are investing a lot in R&D – and doing a lot of listening to our customers. We have plans for exciting further developments but they are all within the existing platform. There’s no unique custom building involved.”

Come In Houston –
We have Products

Irish companies have a strong record winning business with the European Space Agency. Claire O’Connell reports there are growing opportunities to replicate this success in the US

Revenue from the global space industry was estimated at $322.7 billion in 2014. Driven by frontiers as varied as harnessing data from the International Space Station to the move towards low-Earth orbit satellites set to provide ‘internet for the planet’, commercial space is growing, particularly in the US.

Located close to the heartland of this burgeoning sector, the team at Enterprise Ireland’s new office in Austin, Texas, has been busy forging contacts with representatives from the likes of NASA, Teledyne Brown Engineering, PlanetIQ and Firefly

Senior market adviser Randy Bounds believes that a better understanding of US satellite market and manufacturing supply chain could create opportunities for Irish companies, even those not currently working in the space sector.

NASA on Partner Search

At the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, NASA’s Partnership Development Office has identified 27 technology areas where it is actively seeking to establish co-operative-development (co-dev) projects. Technologies include energy production management and storage, risk-analysis software and inflatable structures – but the list is far from exhaustive, according to Partnership Manager Mark Dillard.

“We have a technology roadmap that has hundreds of different technologies and areas where we would see a shortfall or there is a big technology gap we want to close, and we have cherry-picked 27 as a starting point,” he explains. “But a technology doesn’t have to be on the list for us to be interested.”

Commercial Players Looking Beyond Space Sector

In the past, space was a very specific market with very specific technologies,” says Tony McDonald, who deals with European Space Agency programmes at Enterprise Ireland. “But in the past five years or so, it has moved more to the commercial arena, and this trend changes the whole dynamic.”

With that comes the need for more flexible solutions that can be delivered to the market quickly, and the resulting direction of travel means that technologies developed for use on Earth can now have greater applications in the space sector, and vice versa.

Harnessing Data from The ISS

The move for Alabama-headquartered Teledyne Brown Engineering to a more commercial focus in space involves what Vice President for Global Commercial Space John Horack describes as ‘the world’s most technologically advanced coffee table’.”

About one metre squared, the stable platform is designed for use on the International Space Station to hold up to four separate instruments for gathering data about the Earth below.

Teledyne Brown is now interested in talking to potential partners who could use the platform itself to test or run equipment, or who could use the data that on-board instruments generate. “Whether it is an academic, social scientific or commercial activity, we are very eager to find good quality partners,” says Horack.

Firefly, co-founded by US-based Irish entrepreneur PJ King, is another commercial space-sector player looking for collaboration partners. Billed as the ‘Ryanair of satellite launch’, the company is developing dedicated launch vehicles for small satellites.

Firefly is interested in talking to companies with materials expertise that could suit their needs: “Rockets need to be lightweight and materials design is a tricky and important part of that,” says King.

Low Earth Orbit Satellites

Another new area opening up possible opportunities is the concept of ‘megaconstellations’ of hundreds or even thousands of small, low Earth orbit satellites being harnessed to revolutionise data acquisition from space and ultimately deliver high-speed ‘Internet for the Planet’. Bounds says that big names, including Googlespace, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, are investing in this potentially disruptive technology. For Irish suppliers, he adds, the economics become a whole lot more attractive if they are supplying components for an order for hundreds of satellites rather than a single unit.

Aiming for an orbit a little below the International Space Station, PlanetiQ wants to deploy suite of small satellites to capture precise information about the Earth’s temperature. “We are looking to be the world’s first commercial satellite network for weather applications,” explains president and CEO Anne Miglarese.

We Have the Technology

Back at home, Enterprise Ireland’s Tony McDonald has seen numerous Irish companies apply their technologies in space, including Enbio, which has developed protective pigments for coating spacecraft, and Radisens Diagnostics, which is working with the ESA to develop a blood-testing device for use by astronauts on board the International Space Station.

Developing technologies for the space sector can involve clearing relatively high hurdles to ensure that the resulting products or services are reliable and robust, he notes. However, lower-hanging fruit may now become an option for Irish companies through the emergence of the megaconstellations of low Earth orbit satellites concept. The move to high-volume, lower cost and faster turnover of satellites will mean more business in the supply chain, and the data, positioning information and communications the satellites provide could also generate useful downstream applications.

“The expanding niche of satellites offers a growing opportunity not just for traditional space companies, but companies in remote monitoring and even in terrestrial communications systems, who might be able to incorporate a satellite into their communications as well, or for networks that need to be resilient, such as emergency services,” says McDonald. “I think there are all sorts of exciting opportunities there when people put those systems together.”

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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.

Thought Leadership Interview: Why the right culture can increase your company’s survival odds

Charles O’Reilly, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University, says that for Irish SMEs, staying alive is all about having the right corporate culture.

In interview with Donal Nugent.

Here’s a worrying statistic for entrepreneurs and business leaders. Humans might have worked out how to live longer. But the organisations and businesses that we create are having ever-decreasing lifespans. “Some data suggests that about 50 years ago, the average life expectancy of companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 was 90 years. Today, it’s 12 years,” says Charles O’Reilly, professor of organisational behaviour at Stanford University.

A frequent visitor to Ireland in recent years, O’Reilly has worked closely with Enterprise Ireland on a number of education programmes, and he believes that improving the survivability of Irish SMEs starts with getting company culture right.

“We collected data from 60 smaller companies working with Enterprise Ireland and looked at their revenue growth from 2010 to 2014,” O’Reilly explains. “What we found is that companies with strong, strategically aligned cultures are, in terms of revenue, growing at three times the rate of those that don’t have strong strategically aligned cultures.”

Rise and fall

The history of the technology sector is, of course, littered with stories of giants that stumbled from success to obsolescence through a few wrong turns and missed cues. The fate of those who refuse to see what is staring them in the face is no better exemplified than by the case of Kodak.

“In 1993, Kodak and its then rival Fujifilm were almost identical in terms of size,” O’Reilly says. “Fujifilm, however, could see its market was starting to go into decline and began to ask itself what its core capability was and how it could apply that elsewhere. The answer was surface chemistry, and that company is now a $23bn corporation active in healthcare and functional materials.

“For Kodak, even though it had developed the first digital camera, the idea that it would make money from anything other than film was anathema to it, and it is, today, a bankrupt firm that’s probably going to disappear in the next five years.”

The simple but stark lesson for every company, big or small, O’Reilly argues, is in the need to pay close attention to your business culture: unless it promotes adaptability, where you are actively preparing for future transitions and shifts, your business’s success is entirely contingent on the current technology or product curve it is following.

Creating the right business culture

So how can founders and CEOs embed survivability? O’Reilly has identified four key levers to creating the right business culture, which he says can help ensure companies adapt and flourish in the long term.

Charles O’Reilly

The four key levers to creating a culture of adaptability are:

1. Signalling from senior management: Senior managers have an important role in actively and consistently sending messages about what is really important to the business.

2. Getting people involved: When people are involved, when they are listened to, when their opinions are asked for, they have a sense of ownership over what they do.

3. Having very clear illustrations about what’s important to a company: “If you look at very strongly cultured companies, they are ‘vivid’. They are very good at using images to illustrate what their culture is,” O’Reilly explains.

4. Rewarding desired behaviour and recognising that this has far more to do with honouring employees than increasing financial remuneration: “I think we who teach in business schools sometimes over emphasise the importance of money,” O’Reilly explains. “We all want to be paid equitably, but if you look at why people leave a job, it is usually to do with a bad boss, or not being valued or not getting challenging work, so non-monetary incentives are exceedingly powerful. They require time and attention, but they don’t cost anything to implement and, when you show an employee that you honour people in the business for doing something extraordinary, that is a really strong signal of what’s important to the company.”

5. In all of this, fortunately, there is an upside to being small. “Because of their size, SMEs can pivot and adapt more easily than large companies, and changes can be implemented much more rapidly,” O’Reilly says. “But here’s the problem: once an organisation finds a product-market fit and begins to grow, what often happens is that management becomes much more concerned with scaling the business, operational details and infrastructure. They tend not to think about organisational culture at this point. But then, when the world begins to change, the very culture that has made them successful can become inertia and hold them hostage to the past.”

For any business confronting the intense pace of change of the tech sector, organisational ambidexterity is, he feels, not a “nice to have” but a core dimension of its strategy. “You’ve got to be successful in your mature business, whatever that is, and that’s all about incremental improvements, staying close to customers and driving cost out, but you also have to be able to explore into the future and look at where you will find new business streams.”

Winning business in Brazil

Both time and commitment are key to success in winning business in Brazil where the tax system is complicated and protectionist. Advice from Enterprise Ireland’s Latin America team can help smooth the path to success.

To learn more about Enterprise Ireland supports and for further information on doing business in Brazil click here

Market Access: Breaking into India

Finding the right partners will help ensure that the process of breaking into the India market goes smoothly. VU2VU Networks have been working closely with Enterprise Ireland’s India office and are on the cusp of a new beginning in a tough market.

To learn more about Enterprise Ireland supports and for further information on doing business in India click here