Ireland generates new cloud warriors

10 Dec 2013

The co-founders of CloudDock, Padraic Harley, lead developer; Cian Brassil, CEO; and Scott Kennedy, chief marketing officer

Ireland’s reputation as home of the cloud (in the computing sense, not the weather sense) is assured from a multinational investment perspective when it comes to big names like Microsoft, Google and Amazon. Yet little is known of emerging cloud companies who may one day become household names.

Ireland’s technology sector – which now employs 105,000 people, according to the Irish Software Association (ISA) – is now home to the top 10 ‘born on the internet’ companies. In its entirety, the sector is responsible for €72bn or 40pc of Ireland’s exports. And some of these ‘born on the internet’ companies are cloud companies that didn’t exist 10 years ago, such as Facebook and Dropbox.
In the midst of this activity is the indigenous digital tech sector which the ISA said is scaling fast, employing 30,000 people with annual revenues in the region of €2bn a year.

While major players like Dropbox and Evernote dominate cloud in the consumer sense, local start-ups in Ireland who make up this fast-scaling indigenous sector are taking a nimble approach to solving problems the giants have overlooked.

Enter CloudDock

Take CloudDock, a start-up company a group of NUIG students founded, which is allowing users of services like Dropbox, SkyDrive, Box and Google Drive to manage all their data in one place.

CloudDock is the brainchild of Cian Brassil, CEO, Scott Kennedy, CMO, and Padraic Harley, lead developer.

CloudDock is a file synchronisation platform that makes cloud storage compatible between any provider. The company is based at the NDRC in Dublin’s Digital Hub and is seeking seed investment following the completion of the NDRC LaunchPad accelerator programme on 12 December.

“Our application sits on top of your cloud storage service so you can receive files from any source and have them synced directly to your cloud storage,” Brassil said. “Our application is vendor agnostic, which means you can work with anyone, no matter what platform they’re using.

Brassil said the CloudDock team is targeting people who are using multiple cloud storage accounts for collaboration. Cloud storage services now have more than 625m users, with that figure set to double to 1.3bn users by 2017, he said.

“Through our research we found that 75pc of people have accounts on multiple cloud storage services, with 68pc of those using multiple services for collaboration. At CloudDock we are primarily targeting cloud storage users in businesses that are external facing, working with clients on different cloud storage services.”

Brassil added that CloudDock has signups from various sectors, such as IT consultancy, marketing, and creative services.

“It’s been fantastic to see the broad range of business that experience the problem of cloud storage interoperability, and to have such positive feedback from industry-leading cloud storage services,” Brassil said.

Jobs from GeoPal Solutions

In recent weeks, Dublin-based cloud company GeoPal Solutions revealed plans to create 20 new jobs by the end of 2014 after raising €1.4m in seed funding from Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-up fund and private investors.

Gerard O’Keeffe, Paul Coyle and Sean O’Reilly founded GeoPal Solutions in 2011, and their team has developed a cloud service and mobile application for mobile workforce management that improves productivity and reduces administration costs for businesses that need to manage a field-based mobile workforce.

GeoPal Solutions allows businesses to eliminate paperwork, using mobile forms combined with an online job dispatch and mapping tool to capture data more accurately in the field and provide better visibility to administrators in the office.

GeoPal Solutions has secured a number of high-profile customers in Ireland and internationally since arriving to market in 2012, and recently established a network of sales partners which has expanded its business internationally, O’Keeffe said.

“This gave our business the credibility which enabled us to secure the investment. This rapid growth means that we will need a number of new roles in sales, customer support and development to be filled by the end of 2014,” he added.

GeoPal Solutions started with three people in 2012, and it will have 23 employees by the end of 2014, said O’Keeffe.

TenderScout targets SMEs

Then there’s TenderScout, an online service based in the cloud that helps SMEs win tenders. It carries out research before the SME decides to go for a tender in the public sector.

Hosted on the Amazon cloud, TenderScout provides decision-making information about buyers, competitors and tenders and helps firms identify partners in order to have a better chance of winning a tender.

Tony Corrigan, founder and director of TenderScout, said less than 10pc of Irish SMEs have ever won a tender despite the fact a typical SME spends in the region of €4,500 when researching and writing their proposals.

As a result, few SMEs go for tenders, leaving larger companies to exploit the opportunities.

“We want to prove to SMEs that tendering is a viable revenue stream worth competing for,” Corrigan said.

The cloud platform TenderScout has developed mines information and runs algorithms so users can find out information on winners for tenders from a particular organisation in the past.

“By providing as much decision-making and market intelligence information as possible, companies can put together submissions that have all the ingredients for success.”

GameSparks in top 100

In the past week, GameSparks, a cloud-based platform for games developers, became one of three Irish companies (including Digit and Lopoly Games) to be listed in the top 100 elite gaming software start-ups list by game developer bible Develop Magazine.

GameSparks provides indie and established game developers with the tools they need to manage their games and grow player numbers in the cloud.

“Although a focus with Ireland’s fast-growing gaming industry is the games and the companies that build them, a space in which we are gaining strength, the underlying success story in games technology highlights an enviable track record in providing the tools that the game makers themselves rely on,” said John Griffin, co-founder of GameSparks.

“Demonware, founded in 2003, was one of the first; Havok, the world’s leading physics engine bought by Intel in 2007; and more recently, Swrve finding success in the US with one of the industry’s leading analytics solutions. GameSparks is the latest Irish company to join this list.”

There are some really promising companies in Ireland today, Griffin said.

“They have been very influential to us as we went through the early stages of product development for GameSparks. Working with them has helped us to develop a world-class product and we are now actively selling that in Europe and further afield,” he added.

Social enterprise FoodCloud

Proving that cloud start-ups can also have a social conscience, FoodCloud is a Dublin-based not-for-profit social enterprise that uses cloud and smartphone technology to link businesses that have surplus food with charities and local community groups so nothing goes to waste.

The company is the brainchild of Iseult Ward, Emma Mooney and Alex Sloan. Ward graduated this year as Trinity College Dublin Business Student of the Year while Sloan and Mooney will graduate from Trinity next year.

Using the team’s app, businesses that have registered with FoodCloud can upload details of their surplus food and the time period in which the food can be collected and the app automatically sends a text message to the nearest community organisation in the area. If the organisation rejects the offer the offer is sent to the next nearest organisation.

“We started FoodCloud in response to what we learned doing a university dissertation,” Ward said. “The more we researched the more we realised that food was being wasted while people in our cities were going hungry, so we decided to do something about it.”

Since winning the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Minnovation Award, the FoodCloud team has been awarded a place in the Launchbox, a newly established start-up incubator in Trinity College Dublin. It has provided FoodCloud with financial support, space and mentoring over a three-month summer programme.

“Being new to the start-up scene, perhaps our biggest challenge, aside from the legal, financial and operational challenges that every start-up faces, was becoming a credible service provider,” Sloan said.

Ultimately, building a cloud business isn’t all about software.

“We had to encourage people, from businesses to charities, that we can be relied upon,” said Sloan. “A great deal of time was initially spent on building up relationships with key industry leaders and developing a core network who could be trusted for advice, and who would support our idea and what we were trying to achieve.”

A version of this article appeared in The Sunday Times on 8 December

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years