Watch: The emerging Cork firms shortlisted for the Cork Chamber Company of the Year Awards

In the first of a four-part series looking at the finalists for the Cork Company of the Year Awards, we profile the contenders in the Emerging category
Watch: The emerging Cork firms shortlisted for the Cork Chamber Company of the Year Awards

Niamh Parker and Allan Beechinor, co-founders of Altada. Picture: Clare Keogh

Altada uses AI to help companies make sense of the data they hold 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the fastest-growing tech sectors. Worldwide spending on the technology passed $50bn last year and is expected to double by 2024, reaching more than $110bn.

Cork firm Altada, whose headquarters is at Glandore City Quarter, Lapp’s Quay, Cork, is at the forefront of this technology, helping companies worldwide make sense of the data they hold and to unlock information that empowers decision making to improve your business.

Using their technology, companies can enhance data-driven decision making, increase automation and free up employees so that they can focus on higher-value, rewarding tasks. Altada provides this technology within the FinTech, Finance, HealthTeach, Security, Travel, Entertainment and Sports industries to overcome challenges and take control of their data.

The World Health Organization, Grant Thornton, Wells Fargo and Rocktop are amongst its clients.

The company was founded by Allan Beechinor and Niamh Parker. Allan is a well-established AI thought industry leader in the EU. He is a board member of the Centre for Research Training in Artificial Intelligence Ireland, the SFI Centre for Research Training in Artificial Intelligence and Ireland’s National Centre for PhD Training in Artificial Intelligence.

Niamh Parker has more than 20 years business experience across the legal, hospitality, sport and technology sectors. Niamh is a huge privacy by design advocate.

They were frustrated with the lack of ethical and trustworthy AI products and set out to build a company that delivers scalable AI solutions. They wanted to help address the acute needs of businesses by providing data-driven AI solutions to assist in data-driven decision making and automation.

Currently, Altada has a workforce of 46 data scientists and analysts. However, the company plans to increase its present workforce to more than 50 next year and to significantly expand to more than 400 employees by 2025. Altada aims to be the top AI company in Europe and as well as the top AI company for the fintech industry.

Over the past year, Altada developed technology to expedite the Covid-19 recovery and has also created a new security division focusing specifically on products and services relating to the pandemic.

In 2020, 86% of businesses adopted AI to enable better customer experiences. The pandemic has raised awareness around the need for digital transformation with remote working, thereby accelerating the need for the adoption of AI and for automated processes to drive efficiencies in different industries, notably in financial services and travel.

“I was delighted to hear Altada was named as a finalist in the Emerging Category of Cork Company of the Year Awards 2021,” Allan Beecher said.

“This is very much down to our incredible Altada family. Our founders are all from Cork, it’s an honour to be recognised by Cork Chamber for our efforts in increasing AI adoption on a global scale.”

LegitFit’s software helping firms save thousands each year 

Since it was founded in 2019, LegitFit has been helping fitness and wellness providers to manage and grow their business.

Their platform makes it easier for their clients to book appointments and stay engaged through the platform.

Ryan O'Neill, a co-founder of LegitFit that produces management software for fitness and wellness providers.
Ryan O'Neill, a co-founder of LegitFit that produces management software for fitness and wellness providers.

It was founded by Ryan O’Neill, Gearoid Collins & Ian O’ Sullivan on UCC’s IGNITE Programme in 2018. The business was developed on the basis of the founders’ experience of the fitness industry- not just as industry professionals, but also as consumers.

LegitFit is focused on early-stage companies who are forgotten about by the larger legacy products. Since its launch, the company has acquired hundreds of business across Ireland and most recently they have moved into international markets with business users now in seven different countries.

During the pandemic, the company has also been helping fitness businesses to go virtual with its new interactive video integration.

LegitFit said its customers have the opportunity to earn an extra €10,000 per year and that its product reduces the time spent on administrative work by hours per week. Significantly, it reduces the 156 cancellations the average professional experiences every year.

These challenges were cited by professionals as being the biggest issues in today’s industry - costing the average professional over €10,000 per year.

Co-founder Ryan O’Neill said they are absolutely thrilled to be finalists in Cork Company of the Year awards. “It’s been a hectic few years trying to get Legitfit off the ground, and this is a real milestone for the company as we continue to grow.

It’s also fantastic recognition for what the team are doing here at, especially when you see such past winners like WorkVivo and AnaBio, who inspire us in what we’re trying to achieve.” The Covid pandemic has presented a challenge to the business with many gyms currently closed.

This presented a problem from a sales perspective in not being able to physically call out to businesses.

However, LegitFit has taken the entire sales process and onboarding online with the help of a few different software solutions.

LegitFit was one of the first companies globally to release a video integration to its platform.

Providers can now continue to help their clients online with live or on-demand workouts. So far, more than 100,000 virtual sessions have been booked.

Market adoption has become better due to the need for such systems and the company has received strong referrals in Ireland. Its next challenge is cracking the UK market - which is the main focus for 2021.

The company is currently profitable and boot-strapped.

LegitFit is a high-potential startup client of Enterprise Ireland and is also currently closing its seed round over the next few months with 10% of commits coming from customers.

JFM plans major expansion despite Covid-19 challenges 

Alongside hospitality, the nation’s hair salons and barbershops have been among the sectors most impacted by pandemic lockdowns and Covid-19 restrictions.

Most salons have been shut for months, with strict protective measures in place for when they did open.

Anne Marie McIlwraith of Just for Men, Cork.
Anne Marie McIlwraith of Just for Men, Cork.

Facing that challenging environment is Just for Men (JFM), which opened in Cork in February 2019 and had only a year of business before Covid-19 hit.

JFM was founded by Anne Marie McIlwraith, Ako Kurda, and Hawre Kane.

With its flagship premises on Grand Parade, JFM’s team of barbers, stylists, and therapists offers haircuts, hot-towel shaves, pedicures, manicures, facials, brow styling, waxing, and massage therapies.

Staff members also have specialist oncology training for customers impacted by cancer, with a range of non-surgical solutions for hair loss and other conditions.

They also have three more outlets: On Anglesea St, on South Main St, and in Mahon.

JFM is a safe place where boys and men of all ages can have their hair cut, beard trimmed, and so on.

It is not usual for a cross-section of men to be either familiar with, or comfortable looking for, hair-care or grooming services.

As a result, JFM carries out education through marketing strategies on social media and via its school programme, both to meet this challenge and to raise expectations in men of the types of services they should be looking for or be able to access. The JFM Academy offers barber courses with internationally recognised qualifications, but which they have developed themselves. JFM used the lockdown closures to overhaul their training programmes, delivering them through online webinars.

Over the next five years, JFM plan to scale up this academy model with outlets in major Irish cities and in Europe. Each location will require a location manager, two tutors, three master barbers, and one beauty therapist.

Ako and Anne Marie are the hands-on working partners. The business plan, prepared by Anne Marie, is being used to scale up and to adjust to changes required by growing needs.

“Being notified that we are finalists for an award at any time is an honour,” Anne Marie said.

“Given the challenges and obstacles throughout the pandemic and the impact on every part of our business, being told that we are finalists for this prestigious award is so much more meaningful, as we continue in the background to add more skills, qualifications, and value to the services that our customers will enjoy when we reopen.” The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating for the business, but when restrictions ease, JFM plans to open a new location by the end of the year and to expand internationally, aiming for JFM outlets in Malta, the UK, Spain, and Portugal over the next five years.

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