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.

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.

Ticketsolve

How Ticketsolve met client needs with support from the Sustaining Enterprise Fund

Ticketsolve“Due to Covid-19, our sales fell off the edge of a cliff. SEF has kept us going and allowed us to  continue to support our customers. Thanks to Enterprise Ireland, we have a plan for the future.”

Paul Fadden, Managing Director, Ticketsolve

Key Takeouts

  • Ticketsolve is a complete box office, online ticketing, and marketing solution servicing over 300 clients across Ireland and the UK. Due to Covid-19, the company experienced a dramatic drop in sales. Despite the hit, Ticketsolve continued serving customers. They quickly adapted their product and service offering to bring value to theatres, festivals, arts organisations, and visitor attractions.
  • In order to supplement lost revenue, Ticketsolve applied for the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which includes a non-repayable grant. This enabled the company to continue to refresh its product and reimagine their customer support to meet client needs.
  • Enterprise Ireland helped Ticketsolve to develop a financial plan for the future and provided the necessary funding to bridge the gap caused by a global pandemic. The company onboarded 13 new clients during the lockdown and plans to continue innovating their product with the help of the Sustaining Enterprise Fund.

Case Study: Ticketsolve

At the start of March 2020, Paul Fadden was in the UK meeting with clients. During this trip, he discussed Covid-19 with friends and colleagues and remembers realising that the ramifications of a global pandemic would be enormous. Two weeks later, the world came to a grinding halt. Fadden was in the office when the government directive came in. The entire team left early to go home—and nothing has been the same since.

Ticketsolve is a complete box office, online ticketing, and marketing solution for arts and entertainment venues. Lockdown meant worldwide postponements and mass cancellations of events, shows, and concerts. As a result, Ticketsolve experienced a dramatic loss in sales overnight.

“It was one of the most anxious moments of our career,” recalls Fadden. “Our customers are extremely passionate about their work, so to see everything suddenly shut down was mind-blowing. The world as we know it has changed.” 

 

Adapting in order to meet customer needs

Fadden says the Ticketsolve team acted fast during the period of closure for their customers. Their goal was to offer uninterrupted support to their customer community. First, they encouraged ticket holders to donate a partial or full amount of their ticket bookings to the arts organisation. Customers also had the option to exchange their refund for a credit note. Through developing The Ticket Exchange Tool, Ticketsolve were able to secure 52% of ticket revenue through donations and credit for customers. The product was created to preserve their clients’ cash flows.

Ticketsolve put a stop to all outbound sales and marketing efforts, which Fadden says would have been insensitive during this time. They redeployed resources into initiatives that would help their customers recover and prepare for a successful and safe reopening. The team launched the “Ticketsolve Academy”, a webinar series offering clients three sessions per week. Sessions included a mix of industry guest speakers, skills sharing, brainstorming sessions, and steering groups. More than 3,500 people attended their virtual events over a 13-week period.

Ticketsolve also introduced the “Arts Recovery Toolkit”. This free resource was designed to guide event organisers through the coronavirus fallout as they work to make their premises safe so they can resume operations.

 

Continued service required support

Ticketsolve adapted quickly to unexpected circumstances, but there was still the issue of revenue. How would they pay the bills? What was the plan moving forward? Fadden says this is where Enterprise Ireland came in. After applying for a Covid-19 Business Financial Planning grant, they were appointed a finance mentor. She worked to understand their business and then created a number of scenario models for the coming months and even years. Fadden says this was a really useful exercise. This well-defined financial plan also enabled Ticketsolve to apply and qualify for Enterprise Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which includes a non-repayable grant.

“Applying for the SEF gave Ticketsolve the security we needed,” says Fadden. “It took away some of the anxiety caused by Covid-19. Funding isn’t the silver bullet—we’re working on new ideas we believe will really sustain our business—but Enterprise Ireland’s support was a lifeline.

Ticketsolve used SEF for working capital. The funding also enabled the team to focus on the complete redevelopment of their backend technology. This refresh is a large project, which they are still working on. These improvements would not have been possible without the SEF. The grant enabled Ticketsolve to keep staff working as they adapted their services to meet the evolving needs of their customers.

 

Looking to the future

Despite the upheaval and interruption of outbound sales efforts, Ticketsolve has won and onboarded 13 new clients since the lockdown. Among their newest customers is well-known Dublin tourist attraction, The Book of Kells. The Ticketsolve team have adapted their processes, moving on-site implementation to remote meetings and repurposing support tools. Overall, they’re getting used to this new way of operating and customers are up to speed.

So, what’s next for Ticketsolve? Fadden says they will continue to prioritise customer support and new product innovation. It’s his goal that Ticketsolve always be a helpful partner, making a difference for customers and patrons of the arts, now and into the future.

Enterprise Ireland has been a huge support during these times of massive uncertainty,” says Fadden. “Without the Sustaining Enterprise Fund, things would be very difficult for us.”

 

Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

How the Sustaining Enterprise Fund helped Bizimply launch new solutions

“Enterprise Ireland did two things for us: Firstly, they gave us the confidence that comes with having a plan. Secondly, they gave us oxygen on the balance sheet.”

 

Conor Shaw, CEO, Bizimply

Key Takeouts

  • Bizimply’s workforce management platform lost 50% of their revenue due to the global pandemic. Despite cutting costs and adapting their offering, the company was in need of additional financial support.
  • CEO Conor Shaw applied for Enterprise Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which gave the team confidence as they continued to innovate and support customers.
  • Bizimply was able to retain a customer base, 70% of which are operational again. The SEF, along with a willingness to improvise, allowed the company to thrive in a difficult time.

Case Study: Bizimply

Bizimply is a workforce management platform primarily serving hospitality and retail companies. In 2019, the company grew over 60%, but in March 2020, everything changed. With the spread of Covid-19, businesses were closing their doors and workers were suddenly staying home. The majority of Bizimply’s customer base was shut down.

Conor Shaw, Bizimply’s CEO, says the team moved quickly to cut internal costs. They also contacted their customers to assure them they were available for support. In the beginning, the company took advantage of government wage support. They halted marketing efforts and rallied their newly remote workforce around a few immediate projects. Shaw’s goal was to keep the team focussed, busy, and feeling positive.

“We gathered around a shared cause,” says Shaw. “There was less departmental demarcation—we rolled up our sleeves, working together, regardless of roles.”

 

Solving the funding problem

Behind the scenes, Shaw was working on the company’s finances. What he saw was worrying.Revenue had declined by about 50% in two months. Wage support was not going to be enough to get them through this crisis. So, when Shaw heard about Enterprise Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund, which included a non-repayable grant of up to €200,000, he began the application process.

“When we were awarded the SEF, you could see a visible relaxation within the company,” recalls Shaw. “You can believe in yourself, but it’s nice to know that Enterprise Ireland believes in us, too.”

 

Confidence and oxygen

Receiving the SEF did two things for Bizimply, according to Shaw. Firstly, it gave the team the confidence that comes with having a plan. Secondly, the grant added much needed liquidity to their balance sheet. The funding allowed them to evaluate what was required in a post-Covid business environment and respond with ways Bizimply was able to meet those needs. Suddenly, Shaw says, the team had capacity to tackle the projects they had been promising to complete.

Bizimply used the SEF to “get stuff done.” They pushed into new markets, launching solutions specifically for pharma and care home environments. The team also created an innovative mobile application, which allows workers to answer questions about their health and Covid exposure as they clock in for their shift. This customisable screening tool offers crucial support as hospitality and retail businesses open their doors again.

Shaw says, “Thanks to Enterprise Ireland, we can say this was a year out, rather than a year lost.”

 

Advice for other impacted businesses

Today, 70% of Bizimply’s business is back. Hospitality and retail customers are operating again, with adjustments. Care homes are implementing the company’s new and adapted products, and Shaw believes the future is bright for Bizimply. Looking back, he says that, in addition to the important support provided by Enterprise Ireland, the key to survival was staying focussed on the aspects of their business that truly made a difference for them and their customers.

“My advice to other impacted companies is to remember: nothing is sacred anymore,” says Shaw. “You’re going to have to unlearn some of the stuff that led to your past success, give up on things that were previously held sacred, and stay focused on the future.”

 

Click here to learn more about applying for the SEF. Contact your Development Advisor or our Business Response Unit to find out more.

A View from International Markets – North America – Webinar

In these unprecedented times knowledge and insights have never been more critical to business planning.

This On Demand webinar draws on Enterprise Ireland’s unique insight into key markets for Irish exporters and explores crucial issues such as sales and relationship strategies in the context of Covid-19, managing teams remotely and emerging market opportunities.

The webinar featured SoapBox Labs and Aerogen who gave their first-hand experience of selling internationally and maintaining and building relationships during the worldwide pandemic. This webinar also featured Sean Davis, Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Director for North America.

This webinar discussed:

  • Operation and business continuity during these unprecedented times.

  • Growing your business in the world’s largest economic region.

  • Lessons in leadership and using technology during the Covid-19 pandemic.

CX Index – Capturing valuable customer feedback

David Heneghan is the CEO of CX Index, a Voice of the Customer software company successfully doing business in the Nordic region

What does CX Index do?

CX Index is a feedback management platform. Our SaaS technology enables our customers to capture feedback from their customers through channels such as email, chat and IVR. Then, with a range of automated processes, we integrate that feedback with a host of other data sets, so our customers have the context that is necessary to measure, manage and ultimately improve customer experience.

According to Gartner’s latest Voice of the Customer vendor guide, there are over 1000 vendors within the voice of the customer space, with 29 of these leading the wa “based on their vision and technology”. CX Index is in that cohort of 29, which includes others such as Qualtrics and Medallia and the market in which we operate is incredibly competitive. This is why we invest in innovation, including utilising AI and machine learning capabilities to remain differentiated from our competitors.

 

What inspired you to start the company?

I started my career as a bond trader for an investment bank and I saw that the decision-making tools that traders used to bet on the performance of companies seemed superior to the decision-making tools of the companies we were betting on as traders. After digging a bit deeper, I discovered that the problem for the corporates was not a lack of technology, capability, or resources – the problem was a lack of data related to measuring customer experience.

I discovered that feedback is the key metric for customer experience and determined that it would be great to build a tool around this. I then realised that there was a burgeoning industry dedicated to solving this problem but also recognised it was a large market still in its early days.

Having identified the opportunity, I needed to find someone with technical abilities to build a product. I then got introduced Piotr, who is our CTO, we started the business 8 years ago and it’s been a great journey that I would recommend anyone to take.

 

What first attracted you to the Nordic region?

Back in autumn 2017 I was on a call with a Gartner analyst who was advising on the latest trends around customer experience and during this conversation I asked which markets he thought would be best for an emerging business like ours. In European terms he said he would recommend the Nordics as he felt that the Scandinavians are forward thinking with technology and open to fresh ideas and solutions plus the markets were a bit smaller than the likes of France, UK and Germany, which make them more manageable.

Around the same time we were introduced to a Scandinavian company that was in the same space as us but doing something different.

Knowing what the analyst had said to me, I immediately decided to get on a plane to meet the prospect face to face. I think it’s important where appropriate to do that, once it adheres with official travel guidelines. It shows a level of commitment, and very soon after our first meeting we started working together. Over the last 2 and a half years we have worked together to sell into over twenty companies in the Nordics, three of which were in the last two months which is remarkable given the current climate.

 

The company has seen strong growth in the Nordics – what do you attribute your success to?

Firstly, we have been lucky with the partner we found and have put a lot of work into provisioning our technology so that the partner now has a lot of autonomy in selling our platform. They are not just re-selling our tool, but they have the capability to market, to sell, integrate and set up their customers on our platform without the need for us to ever meet any of these customers. This wasn’t straightforward by any means, but it has set us up on a firm footing for a fruitful long-term relationship.

 

What type of companies do you sell into?

We have customers in a host of industries such as retail, retail banking, insurance, hospitality, utility companies (nine of which are in the Nordics), travel companies, B2B companies, BPOs, technology companies and government agencies. Basically, if a business needs to capture feedback from their customers, we generally have a solution to fit their needs. That said, we primarily work with medium to large businesses.

 

What are your top tips for exporting to the Nordics

1. Get on the ground to build your network

Face to face meetings count for a lot, so the best way to achieve that is to go and meet people once you comply with current travel advice. If you feel like it’s a market that you want to pursue, it’s worthwhile reaching out to Enterprise Ireland in the region, as they host great events and offer a range of support.

 

2. Find a partner

If you can identify a strong partner that has a complementary solution or product, it makes life a lot easier. It’s easier for them to sell into their existing customer base than for you to start from ground zero. We have been very lucky with the Provad / Visma relationship.

 

3. Focus on a region

If you get success in a geographic region or country, we have found it is good to focus on that region and try to expand your capabilities there. Having experienced growth in several markets now, we know that local references do count for a lot and it is worth trying to capitalise on these.

 

What are your aspirations for the future of CX Index in the Nordics?

We have had a lot of success in the Finnish market to date and are looking to expand our footprint in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. I hope to double our customer base in the Nordics before the end of 2021. Given our track record, I think that this is eminently achievable, even with what is happening with the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is nice to work in places where there is a nice culture and as a region for doing business I plan for it to remain a top priority for some time to come.

 

Contact our Nordics team to discuss how Enterprise Ireland can support your business.

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/

H2020 Gal Weiss

Horizon 2020: Supporting the development of privacy-preserving technologies

Gal Weiss

“In collaboration 1+1 is more than 2. When you work with other parties you will achieve much more than you planned to.”

Gal Weiss, IBM, Co-ordinator of the MUSKETEER Horizon 2020 project

Overview:

  • IBM Research Europe (Ireland) is leading an international consortium that is conducting research and development on how to use federated machine learning where the confidentiality of data is of primary importance.
  • The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • Progress on work package integration is significantly ahead of plan, using the cloud-based MUSKETEER platform, and the majority of the outcomes are open-source and already publicly available.

The massive increase in data collected and stored worldwide by business and organisations calls for new ways to preserve privacy while still allowing data sharing among multiple data owners. That’s the challenge the MUSKETEER project is addressing with its aim of providing secure, scalable and privacy-preserving analytics over decentralised datasets using federated machine learning techniques.

Led by IBM Research Europe (Ireland) in collaboration with 10 other partners from across Europe, the project has secured 4.3m in funding from the Horizon 2020 programme, the European Union’s research and innovation instrument. With an €80 billion funding pot over a seven-year period (2014–2020), Horizon 2020 aims to deliver research and innovation breakthroughs, discoveries and world firsts.

 

Horizon 2020’s crucial role

Gal Weiss, IBM’s EU Programs & Partnerships Manager in Ireland, is the project co-ordinator. Instrumental in establishing IBM’s research laboratory in Ireland, he has been involved in numerous Horizon projects over many years and understands how crucial Horizon 2020 support is to large, complex projects.

“Only Horizon 2020 could bring this type of project to life because you need so many stakeholders. Some big companies would find it challenging to collaborate with anyone else because of the need to protect their data, and even between universities and research organisations, just to get agreements in place never mind the funding, this programme removes barriers and makes it happen,” he says.

 

Steps to success

The MUSKETEER idea was forged in EU conferences and workshops where IBM and some other partners merged their initial ideas into one proposal.

“Collaboration proposals are now very much about quality. For that, you need to build your network, be well connected and choose the right partners. Taking part in EU events is essential when you want to join R&D collaboration in Europe,” says Weiss.

“Connecting people can also be done via social networks, however, when it comes to finding unique partners in Ireland, Enterprise Ireland’s National Contact Points are brilliant.”

The NCPs provide information and guidance on all aspects of Horizon 2020 from helping to identify partners to reviewing proposals.

“The application process is challenging and you really need to look at the quality of the writing and get into the details. Even deciding what the right theme is and what call to go after can be difficult,” says Weiss. “Some internal measurements, planning, monitoring and control of the proposal are all essential to be successful.

Enterprise Ireland helps a lot but it’s really important to start early. I believe there’s a need for organisations to be more connected within Ireland and externally so that they’re ready to collaborate when the opportunities arise.”

With his extensive experience of directing EU-funded projects and a great research team, Weiss has been able to steer MUSKETEER to the point where, at the midpoint of the project, progress on work package integration is significantly ahead of plan and the majority of the outcomes are already publicly available as open-source software.

“Co-ordinating an international project with 11 partners is challenging. It’s essential to choose the right partners in terms of their capabilities and reputation, set your expectations in advance, create a management plan, and be very clear about deadlines and how you want to work,” says Weiss.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the partners transitioned from traditional offices to  leverage virtual meetings via video conferences and digital technologies.

“When I asked the team if Covid-19 was having any effect on their collaboration on the project, everyone said no, all on track. So it’s about being connected with them all the time and being transparent, so they know what I need next and what’s going to happen.”

 

A win-win situation

Weiss believes that the benefits of programmes like Horizon 2020 are significant and wide ranging.

“Firstly, in collaboration 1+1 is more than 2. When you work with other parties you will achieve much more than you planned to. And this has happened to us many times,” he says.

“There are great benefits especially for smaller businesses and also academic and research institutions. 

“It’s an opportunity to meet bright people from other organisations across Europe but it’s also a great way to promote your business or institution across Ireland, across Europe and across the world.” says Weiss.

“For example, we gave an online webinar about MUSKETEER recently and there were over 100 people listening virtually, and many of the attendees were from outside Europe. That’s publicity for all the partners. So SMEs will potentially get more business by taking part in Horizon and doing a good job. Everyone in Ireland should be taking part in Horizon 2020 programmes because they will achieve more and they will be known for what they are doing.

“Quite simply, if everyone plays their part it’s a win-win situation.”

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

Cheryl Baker

Horizon 2020 – Supporting the fight against cybercrime

H2020

“We felt we had to do this project because the problem and the solution are so important. We were just waiting for the opportunity and Horizon 2020 provided that.”

Cheryl Baker, Director, UCD Centre for Cybersecurity & Cybercrime Investigation

Overview:

  • University College Dublin is leading an international consortium that is developing a shared intelligent platform and a novel process for gathering and analysing data related to cybercrime.
  • The project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.
  • The output will be made freely available to law enforcement agencies internationally.

“A problem that urgently needs to be solved,” is how Cheryl Baker, Director of UCD’s Centre for Cybersecurity & Cybercrime Investigation, describes the ambitious Horizon 2020-funded project that she is leading, comprising 18 participants from across Europe.

The Intelligence Network & Secure Platform for Evidence Correlation and Transfer (INSPECTr) project  aims to develop a shared intelligent platform and a novel process for gathering, analysing, prioritising and presenting key data to help in the prediction, detection and management of crime in support of multiple agencies at local, national and international level.

“The problem for law enforcement is that a huge amount of data is generated but joining the dots is difficult.” says Baker.

“There are numerous tools to help investigate cybercrime but they all have different outputs so creating links and seeing the commonality between different crimes and different investigations in different jurisdictions is really difficult. Our aim is to harmonise the output and enable the data to be better managed,” explains Baker.

 

The Horizon 2020 opportunity

Baker and her team have been working with law enforcement for over 10 years and have received support for various projects under the EU’s Internal Security Fund.

“When we came up with the idea for INSPECTR, we realised that to go to the next level we needed a different funding mechanism that offered more money, was more research oriented, required more partners and was more long term.”

The solution was Horizon 2020, the European Union’s research and innovation instrument, which has an €80 billion funding pot and is supporting consortia across Europe to transition great ideas from the laboratory to the market.

The three-year INSPECTr project received funding of €6.9 million and involves law enforcement agencies and commercial companies.

“Because we’ve worked with law enforcement for a number of years we were able to reach out to people that we knew already to bring them on board. When it came to commercial partners, Enterprise Ireland was really good at helping us link with a number of SMEs in Ireland,” says Baker.

Unusually for a project, the final developed platform will be freely available to all law enforcement agencies.

“The Centre for Cybersecurity & Cybercrime Investigation was set up support law enforcement in the fight against cybercrime, and everything we do we give back freely to the law enforcement community,” explains Baker.

“That did impose a bit of a challenge when it came to getting commercial partners on board, but we explained that they were going to get access to law enforcement agencies across Europe, which would give them the opportunity to develop and sell in products and services tailored to that community.”

 

The co-coordinator challenge

“This is our first time as co-ordinator on a Horizon 2020 project and there’s no getting round that it’s a challenge. Firstly the application process is time-consuming; close to the deadline we were working 24 hours a day,” says Baker.

“Enterprise Ireland’s help was great. Their expert knowledge and honest review of the proposal was invaluable. Their response was very positive, which gave me a lot of confidence.

“As the co-ordinator, the project fails or succeeds with you. You’re the interface with the Commission and the consortium.” explains Baker.

“For our law enforcement partners this is not their day job, so we have to provide a lot of hand-holding support to them. But we felt we understood the project better than anyone else so we wanted to lead it. If you feel strongly about your idea, it’s best to lead it.”

 

Horizon 2020 benefits

Baker believes that there are huge benefits for SMEs that get involved in Horizon 2020, either as a partner or a co-ordinator, but is aware that there’s a perception that the process is complicated.

“I think it’s key that SMEs partner with a co-ordinator that they know and trust, because they will show you the ropes and look after you. It’s important to make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re being asked to do and are clear about what’s expected of you. It’s a really good way to boost your revenue and to network and you can be involved in a small way and still reap lots of benefits,” she says.

“For co-ordinators, you need to ask yourself, have you really bought into your concept; do you feel that this is a problem that urgently needs to be solved? And it’s vital to understand that the administration is as important as the research so you need the supports in place for that.

“We felt we had to do this project because the problem and the solution are so important. We were just waiting for the opportunity and Horizon 2020 provided that.”

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

MD of Wellola Sonia Neary

Wellola aims to revolutionise the healthcare communication industry in Ireland and the UK

“Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision” 

Wellola co-founder and MD, Sonia Neary

Case Study: Wellola Patient Portal Software Solutions

At a time when healthcare is never far from the news headlines both in Ireland and the UK, the race is well and truly on to find solutions that save money, streamline services, and ultimately make healthcare more accessible and cost-effective for patients. Leading the way is an innovative Irish start-up company, Wellola, whose founders believe only the sickest of the sick should be hospitalised and that the future of healthcare is preventative, community-based and supported by digital tools.

Wellola’s co-founder is Sonia Neary, a physiotherapist who worked in clinical practice for 15 years, gaining unique insights into the needs of patients and practitioners in today’s digital age. Sonia received funding and support to realise her vision from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, which will open another call on March 24th 2020.

 

Wellola supports hospitals and clinics to communicate efficiently with patients

Winning the Irish Medical and Surgical Trade Association Integrated Care award in 2019, Wellola aims to revolutionise the way clinics and hospitals care for, and communicate with, their patients. Wellola currently serves clinics in the allied healthcare space (occupational therapists, psychologists, speech and language therapists, and more), the majority of whom are mental healthcare professionals.

“Our patient portal system enables your patients to schedule to see you in person or online, depending on your settings”. explains Sonia. “GDPR-compliant messaging is a key feature of our software. This can be useful when sharing protected health information, saving on correspondence costs or as a therapy adjunct; for example, to support patients who mightn’t be able to put into words verbally what they want to say – both counsellors and speech and language therapists have mentioned this as a useful aid.”

“Put simply, we’re centralising patient communication in one platform, branded to our customers’ use…” 

“..different patients have different needs and, ultimately, it’s about giving clinics the tools to offer a more equitable, accessible and rounded care package. Accessing advice and care via smartphone can be invaluable in facilitating marginalised patients, including ethnic minorities, travelers and socially disadvantaged groups.”

Wellola benefitsNot only does the Wellola system allow for a more seamless experience for the patient, but it also has the potential to generate huge savings for  the healthcare industry by making it easier for patients to self-manage (make, reschedule and cancel) appointments. Nearly half a million outpatient appointments were missed in Ireland in 2017 – a significant figure in such an overstretched healthcare system and the financial implications of which are catastrophic.

“Much of this is to do with miscommunication – letters not reaching patients on time, patients not being able to get in contact with clinics via telephone to reschedule and so on,” says Sonia. “The current system is cumbersome, slow and costly – ultimately, our aim is to disrupt the way communication and scheduling is done in the healthcare industry and to make it more efficient and streamlined. Wellola could offer cost savings of €1 for every appointment letter, bill, receipt or other correspondence that doesn’t need to be posted. Almost €100 is saved for every appointment that is attended to as opposed to missed (as a direct result of the auto-reminder system) or re-filled via our real-time self-scheduling system.”

This ambition to modernise healthcare communication has translated into a slight shift in the company’s business model, as Sonia explains: “Wellola is currently being used by over 150 clinics on the ground level in the UK and Ireland and next month sees us launch our first large scale mental healthcare network and NHS trust in the UK. Our system can be deployed in both business to business (works from clinic website) and business to enterprise settings (works from professional body or hospital site).  So whereas before we were looking at the individual clinic level, the enterprise solution version of Wellola is much more scalable; with one contract we can reach a couple of hundred or even a thousand clinicians.

 

How support from Enterprise Ireland has helped

It’s a fast-moving industry, and certainly there’s a keen race to be innovative and ahead of the pack. “The move towards digitization in the healthcare industry in Europe is palpable– which is great and about time. Current care models are unsustainable; our resources are limited. So what remains for us to do? Digitize and automate our processes where we can, leverage digital tools to enable and support care-giving humans to do what they do best. The key is to use a software partner who not only offers a slick communications tool, but also has the necessary endorsements, compliance and safety standards in place. We’ve had huge support from the Enterprise Ireland network in terms of implementing many of these key elements. Getting the right advice and help is key to early traction and growth.”

Wellola MD Sonia NearySonia and co-founder Dr. Greg Martin have decades of experience in healthcare, which gives them a unique insight into the needs of the industry. But while they can see what the industry needs, they have not always had the business experience to realise that vision.

Enterprise Ireland has given us fabulous networking and learning opportunities, as well as vital start-up funding. We actually met our now CTO and co-founder, Criostoir O’Codlatain Lachtna, during Phase 2 of New Frontiers at the Synergy Centre two years ago. We’ve received invaluable help and advice from experienced mentors such as Alan Costello, Conor Carmody and Martin Murray who ran the INNOVATE programme I participated in at Dublin BIC (we enjoyed it so much, we now have our offices onsite at the Guinness Enterprise Centre!).

“I couldn’t underestimate the support and learnings gleaned from my peers and mentors on these accelerator programmes. Enterprise Ireland staff have always been of instrumental support; I was given access to the wonderful Anne Marie Carroll, my Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor as a Competitive Start Fund client, and now Damien McCarney as a High Potential Start-Up client. We also were able to avail of the Market Research Centre and their knowledgeable team, who gave us access to several detailed reports on our industry and its trends. Business acumen wouldn’t have been part of my original clinical training, so to have such a vast range of opportunities where I could hone my skills about the legals, marketing, sales, the pitfalls to avoid, lean business models, product/market fits, GDP, and more has been superb.”

“I’m an equalist, which is why I’m hugely in favor of Enterprise Ireland’s remit to balance the scales in favor of diversity and gender diversity. We know that, in business, greater diversity lends itself to greater innovation and commercial success for both the company and the economy as a whole.” 

I was invited to be part of a panel of women recently to discuss the issues that face women entrepreneurs. Many were saying they didn’t want to be singled out as a woman, but the truth is that we have different needs, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that and support those needs. For instance, I had the idea for Wellola, but held onto a steady clinical job far longer than I intended, simply because I wanted a family and it was just too challenging from a maternity leave (there is minimal support for the self-employed) and childcare perspective. Female entrepreneurs are frequently juggling growing a business and rearing a family in parallel. They often require additional supports in order to realise their vision.”

Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for Female Entrepreneurs is open for applications on 7th July 2020. Under this CSF, up to €50,000 in equity funding is available to eligible early stage start-up companies. Learn more here.

Garrett Murray

Horizon 2020 – An unmissable opportunity for ambitious Irish innovators

Significant levels of grant support and equity investment are up for grabs under the Horizon 2020 European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator Pilot, and Ireland’s recent success shows that Irish companies have what it takes to win.

The EIC Accelerator Pilot supports high risk, high potential SMEs and innovators to help them develop and bring to market innovative products, services and business models that could drive economic growth.

In the most recent call, eight Irish companies secured a total of more than €31m placing Ireland second, jointly with France and Denmark, in terms of the number of companies awarded funding.

“The March call results have been particularly good for Irish companies,” says Garrett Murray, National Director for Horizon 2020 at Enterprise Ireland. “The success is a testament to the research and innovation capability of Irish companies and the vibrancy of our high potential start-up and commercialisation eco-system.”

Among the successful Irish companies were five whose innovations related to coronavirus. One of these, Aquila Bioscience, has developed revolutionary decontamination technology that helps protect people from dangerous pathogens and other viral infections.

“We are delighted to receive funding from EIC which allows us to substantially scale up production and deliver this technology more quickly to workers in Ireland and across the globe,” says Lokesh Joshi.

 

Support for applicants

With multiple EIC calls during the year there are ongoing opportunities for companies to pitch for a slice of the lucrative support, but, says Murray, it’s important for companies to realise that it is a very competitive process.

“We recommend that companies considering applying for EIC Accelerator support contact Enterprise Ireland first. Our team of National Contact Points are experts on the programme and work with companies to bring them through the process step by step including reviewing drafts of their application before submission.

“Applicants need to think clearly about how they are going to articulate three things in their application: the excellence of their innovation; how their product or service is going to impact in the market; and how they are going to implement their strategy to scale their business. These are the three major criteria on which the applications are judged,” explains Murray.

If companies are successful at stage 1 they are called to interview in Brussels (currently via digital communications).

“Our team do mock interviews with the companies, putting them through their paces in exactly the same way as they will experience in Brussels, to give them the opportunity to refine their pitch.”

Companies can apply for grant support only, a mix of grant and equity, or initially a grant with the option for later discussion with the Commission in relation to equity.

“We always advise ambitious companies to seriously consider applying for equity particularly in the current environment where the availability of venture capital is reduced,” says Murray. “Getting equity from the Commission provides leverage to get more private sector funding.”

 

More than financial support

As well as financial support, successful EIC Accelerator applicants get coaching and mentoring, provided through the Enterprise Ireland team.

“The Commission regards that as a very important part of the process. It’s not just about awarding a grant or investing by way of equity but also helping companies develop their strategy.”

Kite Medical was awarded a grant in the most recent call. The company has developed a system for the detection of kidney reflux.

“This funding from the European Commission will allow Kite Medical to further develop the KITE system to progress into a clinical study. The funding will also support an additional six jobs at the company and establish our market launch strategy. The project outcomes will facilitate fund raising to support our commercialisation plan,” says Joan Fitzpatrick, Kite Medical’s CEO.

 

Future calls

There continues to be many opportunities for Irish enterprises and researchers under the EIC and across the Horizon 2020 Programme, including calls for proposals under the European Green Deal, worth around €1bn that will be issued in the autumn.

The next EIC Accelerator call for applications will be in October and will have a focus on female entrepreneurship where, should the first-round evaluation show that a minimum of 25 per cent of companies selected for the final-stage interviews are not led by women, additional interviews will be planned.

“We are particularly encouraging female-led companies to apply for the call in October. There are a lot of great female entrepreneurs in Ireland and this is a great opportunity for female-led companies to get additional funding,” says Murray.

SMEs of all sizes are eligible to apply for EIC Accelerator funding including start-ups, which tend to form the majority of applicants.

“There’s no disadvantage to being a very small company. The Commission considers how quickly a company is going to scale and whether EIC support will help accelerate that and get the innovation to market faster,” says Murray. 

“The only disadvantage that companies can have is if they’re not ambitious enough.”

 

For more information about support under Horizon 2020 please contact h2020support@enterprise-ireland.com