Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business

Dee O'Leary of IDME, which is looking to expand

It’s a good year for start-ups and John Daly hears there is plenty of help on hand for those looking to take advantage.

There is a very palpable sense of recovery over recent months, and indeed the presence of cranes against the Cork skyline underlines in a very clear way that the tide has clearly turned after such a sustained period of economic challenge, says Siobhán Finn, Project Director of Cork Innovates.

“The number of start-ups have more than doubled in 12 months, new job announcements are now weekly events, and the sense of renewed confidence is very much in the air,” she says.

“It is estimated that, for every new job created, two and a half ancillary positions appear, and, in that regard, there is no doubt that the Cork business scene in everything from the multinationals to the start-up entrepreneur are clearly on an upward trajectory.”

Cork Innovates is the platform for the Cork Entrepreneurship Steering Group, established in November 2011. The group is composed of membership from key regional business support agencies, including the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland, Cork City Council, Cork County Council, UCC, CIT, CorkBIC, and Cork Chamber of Commerce, working together in partnership to drive the long-term entrepreneurial objectives for the region.

“From the jobseeker to the established small business, Cork Innovates, like its colleagues, aims to inspire and support business development in Munster,” says Ms Finn. “We are about delivering added value to the business ecosystem here in the region in the form of support agencies, third level institutions and local authorities.”

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business

Siobhán Finn

In her position at the centre of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, Ms Finn has a telling overview of business sentiment and the general health of the economy looking forward to 2015. She also sits on the Advisory Group on Small Business, part of a Government advisory body that includes entrepreneurs, business representative bodies, officials from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation, as well as state enterprise support agencies.

With the SME sector representing 99% of business in the economy and providing a 70% share of private sector employment, the group will prioritise issues impacting on the growth and development of the small business sector.

Susan Hayes, aka The Positive Economist, has charted the changes in her native city over the past decade. The managing director of international financial training company Hayes Culleton, which provides training to the retail and corporate sector, in addition to educational consultancy projects for SMEs and Government agencies, she said it’s a good time for start-ups.

“I would agree that there is a very supportive environment out there for start up entrepreneurs, but I would encourage people not to look at only top line figures like whether there is growth or decline in the number of businesses, but what is going on in their personal situations,” says Ms Hayes. “Certainly the opportunities for networking and support have increased.”

Recent years have seen an increasing business optimism, in tandem with new organisations dedicated to helping fledgling entrepreneurs. “Comparing today with 2010, the Cork Foundation, for instance, was not in existence,” she says. “Cork Meet had not taken place, nor was Cork Innovates up and running.

“Enterprise Europe Network, which is part of 600 business support organisations across Europe and beyond, has much more bite to it now, and Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Feasibility Fund for Female Entrepreneurs assisting female entrepreneurs to investigate the viability of a new growth-orientated business propositions did not exist. These are just a few examples of options and opportunities in place today.”

Where new business might have ‘walked in the door’ in the boom, the economic reality that hit in 2009 saw an upsurge in networking opportunities and initiatives to support them.

“It is not anecdotal that business in Cork, and women in business in Cork, have increased in recent years, because they have,” says Ms Hayes. “My car, at this point, knows its own way from the Portlaoise toll to the Jack Lynch tunnel far better than it ever did before, because I have far more reasons to attend and participate in business events in Cork nowadays.”

The traditional rivalry between Cork and Dublin has been replaced with a more international business mindset, she believes, one of ambition and confidence toward a more global sphere. “It is definitely now about Cork versus New York or Berlin, because it is now firmly on the international map in terms of its place on the business landscape,” she says. “Cork has many things going for it that other places do not, a fact underlined continually by the success of trade delegations which now come here on a regular basis.”

Ireland’s IT sector is expanding rapidly and will provide excellent job opportunities for the foreseeable future, according to Michael Loftus, head of the faculty of Engineering & Science at the Cork Institute of Technology.

Mr Loftus, who worked in the IT sector in Ireland and internationally for 16 years before joining the higher education sector, states that in CIT, the number of students applying to be admitted to computing courses has now exceeded the record levels seen before the dot-com crisis in 2001. In addition, he states that the range of career opportunities available to graduates in the IT sector is far broader than is generally appreciated.

“Demand for graduates with experience in software development, IT support, sales, marketing, localisation, technical writing and finance is very strong,” he says. “In addition, as IT talent is in demand globally, the opportunities to work internationally are also very strong. As there are shortages of graduates in Europe, the US and in all other major economies, IT graduates have incredible opportunities to travel and experience life in a wide range of settings while being well paid.”

Female graduates are still underrepresented in the IT sector, says Mr Loftus. “This is surprising as females succeed very well in the IT industry, a fact that industry now understands fully and is addressing strongly. Many IT organisations are now running events which specifically highlight the opportunities available to female graduates who enter the IT sector.”

CIT’s Department of Computing now has more female lecturers than males, he says, a fact which clearly demonstrates to expanding IT firms the extent to which their future plans can be realised by helping to attract more females to study and work in the IT sector. “The opportunities for IT graduates to start their own businesses are very significant. CIT’s Rubicon Centre, one of Ireland’s leading business incubation centres, has helped to establish a very significant number of business, many of which are technology based. For graduates who can combine creativity and knowledge of technology with entrepreneurial instinct, the possibilities are endless.”

New developments in areas such as cloud computing and ‘big data’ are driving evolving skills requirements and the creation of new types of jobs, many of which do not exist today. This rapid pace of development will create opportunities for all of those in the IT sector who are “up for the challenge associated with continuous innovation and change”. The outlook for the IT sector is bright, says Mr Loftus.

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business

“Those considering a career in the sector should consider all options carefully. A wide variety of courses is available to choose from. Advance analysis of one’s interests and aptitudes, considered in conjunction with the requirements of the various courses on offer, is the vital step required to succeed in this context.”

IT@cork has over 300 firms that represent more than $300bn in turnover,” says Ronan Murphy, chair of IT@cork, an independent body representing the IT industry in Munster.

“We want to take that global reach and leverage it with the best possible results for the Munster region,” he says. “This region has the benefits of everything that Ireland can offer, from lifestyle to commercial benefits. We want to marry that package together in the most effective and efficient manner to benefit the entire region.” IT@cork continues to successfully grow its unique model, which integrates industry, government, public sector and academia to deploy commercial, social and academic results.

“These are certainly exciting times, with initiatives like the eDigital Quarter and Smart City as just two notable areas with so much promise,” says Mr Murphy. “If we lead and line this up successfully with the potential of a convention centre, Tyco, GAA development and Docklands among others, it will create a significant, positive transformation.”

IT@cork recently introduced DealStart as part of the wider UpStart SME support strategy. “DealStart is bringing multinationals and start-ups together in the same room. We are having them do pitches in a speed-dating format going from one table to another. We are helping them drive their first deal, their first reference, their first channel, their first procurement, their first relationships.”

The programme matches tech startups with multinationals in the Munster region to drive sales and business development with the end result of helping fledging businesses grow faster by matching them with a large company in the area of procurement and business development. “In order to fuel economic growth and increase jobs, we must drive an effective ecosystem focused on tangible results. The collaboration of FDI multi-nationals and indigenous startup companies is innovative and powerful,” says Mr Murphy.

“For start-up companies, landing that first deal with a large multinational can be invaluable when it comes to building credibility and understanding the complex procurement processes in large organisations and how to best navigate them,” says Robert O’Donohue, EMC programme co-ordinator.

“DealStart gives startups access to global corporations and fast tracks them to success in winning deals with large organisations.” A number of large scale companies operating in the Munster area have pledged their commitment to the programme — EMC, IBM, Trend Micro, VMWare, Qualcomm and Dell.

“This initiative unique in Ireland; it’s a symbiotic partnership between multinationals and start ups that can potentially offer tremendous benefit to both parties. Large organisations can learn agility, new models of innovation and responsiveness to market trends, while startups can experience the processes of a large organisation and get valuable insights into winning that crucial first ‘big name’ commercial engagement.

“DealStart is proving to be a catalyst for start ups, providing them with access to management and procurement teams in global organisations, jump starting their engagement with multinationals.”

A further IT@cork initiative is Innovation that Matters, allowing smaller IT companies take part in a trade mission overseas.

“We integrate them with existing trade missions with the city council, the county council or a national government agenda, so they are not going alone,” adds Mr Murphy. ‘It’s like a dream that this small idea would see us take the business to a new level’


Product: Social decisioning software

CEO: Paul Brugger

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business 

Establishing a new venture is a risky and difficult exercise. We have been extremely fortunate. In June 2014 we were selected to participate on the Enterprise Ireland funded New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme, which is delivered in CIT’s Rubicon Centre. The programme is designed to assist the promoters of early stage start-up businesses to lay the foundations for a sustainable business by helping them to acquire clients and obtain funding to support the business going forward.

The programme has gone far beyond my expectations in terms of proactive, hands-on business support. As a start-up, you have to juggle many priorities, at times often isolated. In the Rubicon Centre, you receive one-to-one assistance that provides focus and a helping hand in times of need. The Rubicon Centre has a real collegial atmosphere with help/guidance literally around the corner through the open-door policy.

The highlight for TIC in 2014 was that of BizTweet, our proprietary software, winning IATA’s Global Passenger Innovation Award 2014. New Frontiers and the team at the Rubicon Centre were instrumental in attaining this achievement. BizTweet is a social decisioning software that uses Twitter to increase a corporation’s ability to communicate automatically with their customers, substantially reducing the manpower required, and freeing up staff to concentrate on providing a more individual social media experience for the customer.

In addition, BizTweet enhances customer service by providing a service that is different from other competitors as it is customised to each individual and personalised to their known profile. 2015 will be an exciting year for TIC. Our software will be live in one of the top five passenger airports worldwide in Q1, and we already have numerous airline/airport enquiries from across Europe, US and Asia. We will expand into other sectors such as logistics and the hospitality industry where we will deliver similar benefits.


Product: Healthcare training solutions

CEO: Glenn Goggin

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business    

Ottera has developed technology in the form of first person perspective video capture glasses and clinical training software. Our training technology has been quantitatively proven by world renowned experts to reduce critical errors of healthcare professional trainees by 49%.

We have found people in Cork are very courteous and are keen to connect you with experts in the hope that you will do well. This sort of access to training experts allowed us to benefit and learn from their genuine openness to innovation and honest feedback in order to fine-tune our technology. This has allowed us to statistically prove the benefits of our technology and become an Enterprise Ireland-backed company.

Having recently expanded our team and moved into our new office on the South Mall, we believe 2015 will be a great year for Ottera. This month we will have a prototype of our new highly anticipated video capture glasses and will be taking pre-orders for the first 100 pairs on February 1. We will also be conducting multi-site studies across Ireland, the UK, US and Canada to further demonstrate the benefits of our technology for healthcare, medical device and pharmaceutical training.


Product: Knowledge management software

CEO: Sarah O’Regan

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business  

Winning the IT@cork ‘One to Watch’ award was a great honour for us. The company provides innovative knowledge-management software for businesses and customer support centres. The product was developed from concept to customers in less than a year, leveraging the support available from The Rubicon Centre, Cork City LEO and Enterprise Ireland.

Cork has been a fantastic place for us to start our business. There is a great customer mix here, from small technology companies to large multi-nationals. Many companies are very open to new ideas and products when approached directly or via programs like it@cork’s Dealstart 2.0, which brings start-ups and multi-nationals together.

We won our first customer here in Cork. QSAT, a leading broadband provider, is using our software to support its broadband customers in Ireland and the UK. Since then, we’ve succeeded in growing our client base in Ireland with customers in different industry sectors who use our solution to help them to deliver consistent customer service excellence. The technology and entrepreneurial community in Cork is a world-class springboard for our UK and US growth plans in 2015.


Product: Data centre and an internet exchange.

Managing director: Jerry Sweeney

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business  

Data centres and internet exchanges connect people to the services they use on the internet. Data centres house the massive computers that serve websites. These servers form what is now often referred to as the cloud. Internet exchanges then pass data between the different networks that together make up the internet.

The concept of internet exchanges is what makes it possible to reach any part of the internet regardless of which service provider you are connected to. Tens of thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses rely on the infrastructure in CIX for connectivity via the 26 telecommunications companies that build regional infrastructure from the facility. Several hundred businesses house IT equipment within CIX. Because all of these systems are mission critical the facility is manned 24/7 with technical staff.

All critical services such as power, cooling, and connectivity are implemented resiliently. We have two diesel generators each of which could independently power the facility in the event of a power outage. The first internet exchange was called the Commercial Internet eXchange or CIX. When we were setting up CIX we couldn’t resist replacing the word commercial with Cork and using the same acronym.


Product: Identity wristbands for children

CEO: Dee O’Leary

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business 

It’s like a dream, really. The fact that this small idea, dreamed up three years ago, would today see us taking the business into this whole new level is hard to take in at times. This year will see me in the US looking at opportunities to extend the business there and all as a result of a Thought Leadership session organised by Cork Innovates earlier last year.

This trip will mean so much to IDME. It has the potential to take us to a new level of activity and open so many doors. The germ of the idea occurred when our son Liam got lost on a shopping trip, only to be found minutes later at a nearby coffee shop.

The incident convinced us of the need for a suitable identity bracelet to cope with situations like that.

The birth of the idea was timely, with my husband and I both having become redundant around that time. We found ourselves needing to sell many possessions to help the idea off the ground. Initially selling the product online, we have now sold well over 20,000 units all into more than 15 countries and six continents.

The sports market is certainly one where we believe the product would be popular, as well as significant possibilities in the elderly care market where vital personal information for those with illnesses is important. We want the product to be associated with safety awareness all over the world.


Product: Outsourced technical writing and documentation solutions

CEO: Patrice Fanning

Innovative Cork looking forward to inspiring year for start-ups and small business  

We work mainly with multinational clients, who are involved in software and hi-tech product development. The company delivers user guides, manuals, online help, training material, e-learning, and white papers. We incorporated in 2011, and now employ 50 people, with plans to expand further in 2015.

We were honoured to win the high-potential start-up category at the annual it@cork Leaders’ Awards.

Over 95% of our turnover is generated overseas — our time zone gives us a unique opportunity to work remotely with development teams based anywhere in the world. With a population of native English speakers, who are skilled and reasonably savvy with new technologies, the talent is available in Cork to develop a strong eco-system, as are the support structures.

I started TWI while resident at the Rubicon Centre in CIT, where I took part in an extensive entrepreneurship programme that enabled me to lay solid foundations for the business, and network with other Rubicon clients and alumni to research the market and begin generating sales. I also joined it@cork and was impressed by the willingness shown by leaders in the region from large enterprise, academia, the SME space, and the public sector to support and encourage entrepreneurs.


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