KEHLAN KIRWAN: Kehlan Kirwan: 'The best start-ups I've interviewed in 2016'

This week, I’m looking back on some of the best start-ups I’ve had the pleasure of talking with during 2016.

I spoke to so many great entrepreneurs and start-ups this year but there have been a few that really stuck with me and my first is literally out of this world.

Moon Express

Naveen Jain is the head of the company Moon Express that was given permission to be the first commercial operator to go to the moon. The plan behind the company is to search for mineral deposits on the moon and develop mining opportunities there.

It seems like something from a sci-fi film but Naveen was quick to explain that we can only do these things by trying to do them, ideas don’t go anywhere on a page. It’s cheaper and more economical for private companies to attempt such things and getting permission to do it seemed to be half the battle.

While it seems outlandish to even think about, we may well be looking at people living and working on the moon by the end of the next decade.

For the year that was in it, it also seemed that Naveen’s story encapsulated everything good about an immigrant’s experience in modern America.

Mcor Technologies

Mcor Technologies is a leading creator of 3D print technology. Based in Co Louth, they announced a brand new innovative 3D printer that made a lot of waves at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Arke is the world’s first full-colour desktop 3D printer and puts the new colour technology into the hands of the ordinary user.

Conor McCormack spoke to me from CES and revealed that they had already had 2,500 pre-orders for the printer at the time. One of the most impressive things about the printer is that it makes the renderings with paper.

That means you can now save all those used paper bits around the office and create prototypes or sculptures from them. No need to put them in the recycle bin when you can use them as part of your next project.

What’s more, it is an Irish company at the forefront of 3D print technology and is one of the leaders in the field. Mcor is now working alongside Honda to create moulds.

Flexport

The shipping industry has been in need of revolutionising for a long time. A massive global industry worth well into the trillions that relies heavily on paper to make the industry run efficiently.

In comes Flexport, whose aim is to change the industry to a much more efficient and reliable brand.

Jan van Casteren from Flexport’s office in the Netherlands spoke to me about why the industry needs this.

“It’s such a huge problem. Within the market, access to clean usable data. I would say that it’s such a huge problem that that is the reason why no one has taken it on like us before.

"The industry ignored those big and hard problems, simply because they were big and hard. We are of the persuasion that all the easy problems, in terms of technology, are more or less solved. It’s the big hard problems that need to be solved now. So, I think we are going after it because it is a hard problem to solve.”

By tackling this monster problem they have received tens of millions in investment in this year alone and are certainly ones to watch for 2017.

Kollect

While Flexport is changing how the shipping industry works globally, here in Ireland Kollect is looking to do just the same for the household waste industry. I chatted with Robbie Skuse from Kollect about what they were trying to do. Kollect and its technology allow bin collection to be an on-demand service.

So, you pay for it anytime you need it rather than collections being made at set times by operators. The aim is to put the control back into the hands of the user rather the collectors.

No contracts or annual fees needed. Having started in Waterford the company has now made its way to Cork and is moving ever more quickly to react to the growing demands of its product. Kollect was crowned Ireland’s best startup this year as well.

All this after only launching in November of 2015. Expect to hear a lot more about it in 2017 as demand for a product like this captures an audience, particularly in the big cities.

Electricity Exchange

Electricity Exchange recently won Limerick’s Best Young Entrepreneur award and will represent the county in the national competition. Paddy Finn spoke to me about how the company started and what it does.

The idea was to take the electricity used by back-up generators and feed that back to the grid. It also has developed a more intuitive data collection system that can analyse electricity.

Paddy explained: “One of our objectives was to stay five years ahead of regulations. We had two main objectives, staying ahead of the regulations and the other was that in five years to be a company that one of the big players in the market would want to buy out.

“So, in terms of staying ahead of regulation, at the time in our industry, you needed to get power metering values back to Eirgrid every 15 seconds. That was the industry standard requirement. We set out and delivered it every second, instead of every 15 seconds.

"So, we were quite tough on ourselves in terms of the targets set. We had a waiting period for us to pass regulations for licensing and the like; and in that time we got very lucky, in that we were able to get on board [with] some really big companies”.

They recently sold half the company to Bord na Móna and are looking built up to an even greater prospect in the future. One of my favourite quotes came from Paddy during our interview together, “Have integrity even when no one is looking.”

Dr Art McDonald

Not so much a story of a start-up as a story of innovation and playing the long game. One of my favourite meetings from this year was with Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr Art McDonald.

Art and his team made the discovery that Neutrinos, subatomic particles, do indeed have mass. The theory had been floating around for a while but their discovery revealed that it was indeed true and has led to a reevaluation of how we see our universe and our own sun.

Explaining this Art said “To give some kind of context — if you hold out your thumb and count to three, by the time you reach three, 200 billion neutrinos will have gone through your finger. We were able to measure the fact that neutrinos actually change from one type to another.

"This cannot happen unless they have a finite mass, a mass greater than zero. And that is actually outside what we know of the standard model of physics. So, now we have some clues as to how this theory can be extended to try and explain our universe.”


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