Declan O’Mahoney, Tyndall National Institute entrepreneur in residence
Tyndall National Institute is inviting successful business people to partner with its researchers to transform applied research projects into sustainable and profitable technology businesses.
The Founder Programme, launched earlier this month in partnership with Enterprise Ireland’s Business Partner Programme, seeks to match Tyndall’s portfolio of emerging technologies with founders who will help set up companies and lead these spin-out businesses to the marketplace.
Seeking to create quality startups, as well as a greater number of spin-off companies, Tyndall realise the need to assemble a team with varied skills to establish a successful business — both in the entrepreneurial and the technical side to create the conditions for quality technology startups to thrive.
Tyndall has a distinguished history of bringing its technology into the commercial realm, having spun out a number of companies in recent years. These include infiniLED, manufacturing new-generation technology that extends the battery life of phones, cameras, laptops and medical and analytical instruments; and SensL, producing silicon photomultipliers for use in contexts ranging from medical scans to radiation detection. The institute has a wide range of technology, applicable from microelectronics to medical to energy.
For the Founders programme, the most important consideration is that the technology is as close to commercialisation as possible. As part of the programme, Tyndall has appointed an entrepreneur-in-residence, Declan O’Mahoney — a successful serial entrepreneur who has headed up companies including Firecomms, originally a Tyndall spin-out, and HeartSine Technologies. Working with researchers, he will assist in formulating business plans and assessing whether projects are commercially viable.
With O’Mahoney’s input, Tyndall researchers will collaborate with founders who want the opportunity to invest in their technologies and develop them into profitable commercial ventures. The programme will offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to start a technology business in conjunction with expert researchers, while contributing directly to the national drive to create employment and sustainable economic growth.
“I struggle with the title – ‘entrepreneur in residence’ — I’d fear it would present me as someone in tweed with a pocket watch,” says Mr O’Mahoney. “Where I believe I can do the most for Tyndall is by not being within the institute on a constant basis, but by meeting people as I do in my normal course of business, and telling them about the Founders Programme, and trying to encourage them to look at it.
“I will of course be in Tyndall on a weekly basis, but my meetings will be more in the canteen than in the boardroom; I’m much more of a corridor guy than someone hidden in an office.”
Currently the CEO of HeartSine, a defibrillator company with customers in 70 countries worldwide, O’Mahoney is an engineer and entrepreneur with extensive international experience in the high technology sector. As CEO of Firecomms, a company providing fibre optic solutions and optical transceivers to medical device, automotive and industrial customers globally, he presided over Ireland’s first high-tech company to be acquired by a Chinese corporation. During his time as Firecomms CEO, O’Mahoney collaborated deeply with Tyndall Institute and attracted major investments from Irish, European and Japanese venture capitalists and strategic partners. “There is so much technology in Tyndall, we are primarily looking for business people for the Founders Programme. I’m an engineer by profession, but a sales guy in my heart, and when I look at the potential of Tyndall, I see a field of corn that hasn’t been harvested. There is a conveyor belt of opportunities in there, and what is needed most is to marry them up with the right kind of entrepreneur in that space. Business people are constantly in search of the right idea, my job is to bring them together,” he adds.
Established in 2004 as a successor to the National Microelectronics Research Centre at University College Cork, the Institute employs more than 460 researchers, engineers and support staff, with a full-time graduate cohort of 135 students generating over 200 peer-reviewed publications each year.
With a network of 200 industry partners and customers worldwide, Tyndall generates c.€30m income a year, 85% from competitively won contracts nationally and internationally.
Tyndall is also a lead partner in European research partnerships in its core areas of ICT, communications, energy, health and the environment worth €44m, with €6m accruing to industry in Ireland.
“There are many business people out there who are looking for their next startup, or have some liquid fund and wondering what they’ll do next,” says O’Mahoney of the potential kind of Founder partner.
“The most exciting time for many entrepreneurs is around the finding of that new idea, and calculating how to exploit its potential.”
Operating as an entrepreneur himself for more than 25 years, O’Mahoney sees the business climate of 2015 as far more supportive of startups than when he began his business career. “I spent a good deal of time in California where the business culture dictated that it was okay to take risks, and okay to fail, if that’s what happened,” he explains.
“Failure was almost like a merit badge. In Ireland, however, there is still an element of begrudgery attached to failure, almost an enjoyment of seeing other people fail. Happily, that culture is changing and there is more support for entrepreneurs — it’s not as frightening as it once was to take a crack at something new.”
Geographical location will always make starting a business in Ireland difficult, he believes.
“When I worked in Silicon Valley, I was surrounded by millions of possible customers on my doorstep. But basing your company in Ireland means you have to fly to London, and then from there to Frankfurt or New York — there is no population to speak of on your immediate doorstep. We are a small island on the periphery of Europe; there’s no getting away from that fact.”
With scores of individuals forced to start their own businesses during the recent downturn, a new culture of ‘taking a leap off the diving board’ is now apparent right across the country.
“People who have worked within major corporations can often see opportunities that have been overlooked, and a crumb falling from a multinational’s table can often turn out to be a major venture for a startup,” says O’Mahoney.
“Many of the businesses that have been started in Ireland over the last 10 years have come from ideas generated by employees who’ve worked within big companies, and those are often the most interesting ones to develop.”
FlyHackFly is a marquee event for The Startup Gathering, researching and responding to Cork Airport customers’ needs today and tomorrow, October 2 and 3.
A first for an Irish airport, developers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs from Ireland, the UK and beyond are taking part in FlyHackFly with IT@Cork and Cork Airport in what will be only the world’s third ever airport hackathon. It follows successful events at San Francisco in 2012 and a Paris/Amsterdam co-hosted event in June 2015.
Registration which is free, is at www.flyhackfly.eventbrite.com. Anyone interested can register as an individual or as a team.
Entrepreneurs will compete for the grand prize as over the two days, the airport and its passengers will act as a live test bed, allowing hackathon participants to research customer needs, and validate their proposal.
Fergus Murphy, CEO of Plus10, and FlyHackFly convenor said: “We want to put Cork very firmly on the Global Hackathon Map and create a showcase for the city’s great talent. We think we have done that. Now it’s up to those bright young minds to get online, register and show us what they can do.”
Contestants will seek to resolve every-day travel problems like queueing, transportation, smart airport, premium and social.
Cork Airport MD, Niall MacCarthy, said: “Cork Airport has always been ahead of its peers with innovative technology. We were the first airport in the world to launch Flightradar24, a flight tracking feature on our App, as well as using the latest in technology to enhance the passenger experience at Cork Airport.”
Ronan Murphy, chairman IT@Cork, event promoters, said: “Taking on a challenge only previously attempted in San Francisco, and Paris/ Amsterdam typifies the dynamic mentality now pervasive throughout our start-up community in Cork.”
The Entrepreneur Ship is a place where maritime and energy-related new business talent converges with an array of new ideas and technologies in robotics, big data, biotechnology, power generation, cyber security, unmanned systems, and power storage.
The Entrepreneur Ship is about to formally open its doors as Ireland’s newest co-creation space, uniquely dedicated to both home grown and overseas maritime and energy firms.
Participant companies in The Entrepreneur Ship are located on the IMERC Campus in Lower Cork Harbour.
This includes the National Maritime College of Ireland, headquarters of the Irish Naval Service and UCC’s new Beaufort Building which houses the MaREI Research Centre and the LIR National Ocean Test Facility.
Val Cummins, director of IMERC, said this provides co-located companies with access to an ecosystem of world class training, talent, research and test bed facilities across the IMERC partners of UCC, CIT and the Irish Naval Service.
With up to 25 desks, as well as a workshop, meeting rooms and coffee space, the Entrepreneur Ship is to be officially opened at the Startup Gathering on October 5 by Minister for Agriculture, Food, the Marine and Defence, Simon Coveney.
A number of exciting startups have already decided to locate in The Entrepreneur Ship. Dare Technology, an Enterprise Ireland High Potential Startup, is developing a wind turbine for small vessels during downtime with the potential to remove up to one million tonnes of C02 from the atmosphere each year.
UCC/MaREI spinout, Exceedence has developed software that will provide financial advice to developers in the marine renewables sector. A third startup, SkyTec Evolution are developing an unmanned aircraft that will support offshore activities in the harshest conditions on the planet.
These companies are located in the same space as Black & Veatch, a large engineering multinational company with over 10,000 employees worldwide, who this year opened two offices in Ireland, one in The Entrepreneur Ship and the other in Dublin to strengthen its support for Ireland’s water and energy sectors.
The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority has opened an innovation arm accommodated in The Entrepreneur Ship to help it to develop technologies to improve fisheries monitoring by working in collaboration with researchers on site from the Halpin Centre for Research and Innovation.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved