ONE of the first companies in Europe to develop curriculum management software for universities, Akari Software in Cork is now expanding with a view to developing international exports.
Recognised by Enterprise Ireland as a high potential start-up earlier this year, the company has increased its staff size from three to 12 in the last six months. Selling to 11 higher education institutes in Ireland, it is now in negotiations with several British universities and is also entering into a reseller partnership agreement in order to develop sales in Austria.
Akari’s core product is software which is used by universities to design, manage and publish curricula.
According to Akari CEO Eoghan O’Leary, the need for this type of technology has been prompted both by decreased education spending and by the requirement for EU countries to standardise educational qualifications to facilitate free movement of personnel.
“This technology shifts the focus to the curriculum; making it visible in the style of a product portfolio, and allows universities the opportunity to increase efficiency and improve productivity,” Mr O’Leary says.
The credit for identifying the need for curriculum management software, which led to the establishment of Akari in 2006, goes to Cork Institute of Technology.
“The head of strategy and development, Tadhg Leane realised that the way education was being delivered was about to change,” says Mr O’Leary, explaining that CIT commissioned Cork internet application development company, Digital Crew to develop software for the college.
Set up as a division of Digital Crew and headed up by Mr O’Leary, Akari began working on developing the technology in 2006, in conjunction with CIT. Once it had been installed in the college, the company decided to develop it further for commercial sale.
By 2008, Dublin City University and the Dundalk Institute of Technology had signed up as customers and Mr O’Leary decided it was time for Akari to go it alone. Buying the intellectual property and a majority share in the firm — in partnership with Akari’s chief technology officer, Páraic Hegarty — he set up Akari as a separate entity with a staff of three.
Since then, the focus has been on building up sales in Ireland, where customers now include institutes of technology in Letterkenny, Carlow, Blanchardstown and Tallaght; as well as the National College of Ireland and the Mater Dei Institute. In recent months, the National University of Ireland, Galway has also signed up with Akari.
The company has focused on continuing research and development & and collaborated with the University of Ulster in localising the software for use in different countries; and with University College Cork to develop a cloud-based platform.
Mr O’Leary says that while there are now several competitors in the field, Akari has first-mover advantage. “We have had three or four years of a head start and we are well ahead of the posse.”
Making the decision to move into the export market, Akari relocated to Little Island last year. Earlier this year, it concluded a funding round of €400,000 and was identified by Enterprise Ireland as a high potential start-up. This allowed the company to intensify research and development & and increase its staff size.
The UK was an obvious target, given its proximity and the fact that its educational institutions are similar, although much larger.
“We expect word of mouth to play a large role in developing business in the UK. The Irish universities have visiting lecturers from the UK and external examiners who are using the software in Ireland,” Mr O’Leary says.
He says the company has recently had an enquiry from a university in the Middle East after one of its lecturers used the software here.
The size of the British market, with over 160 academic institutes of higher education, is huge and represents a big opportunity for Akari.
Selling to the UK directly from Ireland, Akari plans to knock on doors and exhibit at academic conferences to grow the business.
It has also identified the German market as one with significant potential and is starting with Austria. It is similar but smaller, in much the same way as the Irish market is similar to the UK, explains Mr O’Leary.
Currently finalising a partnership arrangement with an Austrian company, Akari expects to see sales there at the start of the coming academic year.
The only difficulty facing the company is the fact that this is a whole new market and Akari has to convince colleges of the need to adopt new technology.
But Mr O’Leary believes that curriculum management software is now well on its way to being widely accepted. “The curriculum is the lifeblood of all higher education institutions. Being able to manage the curriculum centrally, is an all important factor in determining how effectively and efficiently an institution performs and delivers value to its students.”
Aiming to start developing exports in the coming academic year, Akari is targeting a turnover of €1.5m within five years.