Deep tech to make deep impact

Trish Dromey looks at what funding challenges lie ahead for Irish startups in the coming 12 months.

Deep tech to make deep impact

Trish Dromey looks at what funding challenges lie ahead for Irish startups in the coming 12 months.

The most exciting trend in the Irish startup space in 2018 has been the emergence of companies in the deep tech area.

Innovative startups being supported by Enterprise Ireland this year have included a growing number of tech companies using artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, blockchain, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

According to Enterprise Ireland’s high-potential startup manager Joe Healy, these are the key enabling technologies that will drive the scaling of businesses of the future.

“We are seeing artificial intelligence/machine learning being more widely used in the development of platforms and software solutions across all verticals. These technologies are being adapted for things as complex as big data solutions, but also in many practical enterprise software solutions,” he said.

This follows a global trend which has seen the emergence of deep tech companies, using cutting edge and disruptive technologies based on scientific research, setting to work on solving some of the world’s major problems.

Irish companies operating in the deep tech space include AidTech in Dublin, the overall winner of the 2018 innovation award, which used blockchain to develop a secure way to deliver aid.

Its technology has already been used to deliver international aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Another Enterprise Ireland high-potential startup client this year included ServisBot, based at ArcLabs in Waterford, which uses AI conversational to enhance the customer experience.

At the Rubicon Centre in Cork, start-up FourTheorem describes itself as a new breed of software consultancy focused on cloud architecture, DevOps, and artificial intelligence.

According to its website, it provides solutions which enable customers to be leaders in the fourth wave of industrialisation.

“Companies such as ServiceBot, RecommenderX, which transforms AI to business intelligence, and AidTech not only have compelling business models but are numerous enough to attract international venture capital to Ireland,” said Mr Healy.

In addition to providing support for deep tech companies at high-potential startup level, Enterprise Ireland has also encouraged early stage startups

in this space.

In July, it put out a call offering €750,000 in competitive start funding for fintech and deep tech companies, the first call to offer specific support for deep tech.

The call was one of nine during the year which provided a total of €5.75m, offering €50,000 competitive start funding to 115 companies. This was at the same level as in 2017 when 91 companies availed of it.

Other such funding calls made during the year were for graduate entrepreneurs, international entrepreneurs, and experienced business professionals, an initiative started last year.

A €1m call was made for female entrepreneurs. Asked about female participation in Enterprise Ireland programmes, Mr Healy said that both participation and levels of funding approval have been on an upward trajectory.

Figures for the total amount of start-up support provided by Enterprise Ireland in 2018 aren’t available yet, but it has been revealed that it invested in over 150 startups during the year.

But Mr Healy said that 2018 was a more challenging year for startups than 2017.

2018 was more challenging for early stage startups due to the tightness at the early seed stage which was not helped by recent restrictions on family members in relation to investing by way of the EIIS [employment andinvestment incentive] scheme.

For 2019, he said a key aim of Enterprise Ireland will be to grow the pipeline of deep tech companies and develop Ireland as “a powerhouse of deep tech”.

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