Our tech start-up of the week is See.Sense. It is an electronics system-design company set up by husband-and-wife team Philip and Irene McAleese from their Co Down, Northern Ireland, base last year. The duo are passionate about cycling and technology and are working to create a fusion of the latest advances in both realms.
Based in Newtownards in Co Down, the McAleese duo set up See.Sense. following their return from working in Singapore in September 2012. And they incorporated the business just this past April.
So what is See.Sense. all about in a nutshell, and why this particular name? It’s a play on words and can be taken in numerous ways, explains Philip. Think ‘seeing sense’ when using the road, be it as a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian, or think sensor technology.
Philip is a cycle commuter and an engineer – he has more than 20 years’ experience working in industry and holds a degree in electronic and software engineering from Queen’s University Belfast.
Irene, meanwhile, holds a degree in behavioural science from Griffith University in Australia. She has worked as a management consultant and has devised organisational change programmes for multinational companies.
How See.Sense came about
Philip was previously hospitalised due to a cycling accident and was tired of drivers saying ‘Sorry mate, I didn’t see you’.
Having witnessed the evolution of smartphones, he decided to put his engineering talent to use and went about creating a number of the sensors to give cycling lights an awareness of their surroundings.
"This enables them to flash brighter when the cyclists need it most, without dazzling drivers when cyclists are easily visible," explains Irene.
As to the type of technologies that See.Sense. is pioneering, Philip says that they will have "practical" implications for cyclists.
"We’re using the latest fourth-generation microelectromechanical systems, combined with advanced microcontrollers and programmable logic elements,"he explains.
This, he says, gives an "enormous" amount of processing power with very little power requirement.
"With this technology we are able to provide ‘smart’ technological capabilities to mundane cycling accessories, such as lights," adds Irene.
Beyond smart lights, the duo is exploring other areas such as regenerative energy technology and real-time pedal power analysis.
"All professional cyclists use power meters which can cost upwards of €1,500 to give them an essential indicator of their personal performance.
"We can take that one step further with real-time pedal stroke analysis displayed on a smartphone on the handlebars."
Athletes will then know exactly which muscle groups they are under- or over-using, says Irene.
And, she says the technology will also be able to go a step further – to give a remote link back to a professional coach who can analyse their fitness levels, etc, on a computer.
"Today an athlete can only be coached with a trainer beside him or her and can only get pedal stroke analysis on a stationary bike," says Irene.
On the road
See.Sense. is on a mission to use its sensor technology so as to allow for remote training by a professional coach, while a person is cycling along.
So, while See.Sense. is still very early stage, and is not at the commercialisation stage yet, how do the McAleese duo plan to monetise from their sensor tech?
"Our initial route to market is asset sale. Although, we do have extensive intellectual property and may consider licensing later."
Philip says that the company is introducing intelligent lights as a "stepping stone" to bring higher value items to market.
"We also have something really special in the pipeline to capitalise on the Giro d’Italia – the first three stages will be held in Belfast next year. But we can’t talk about that right now … "
To date, Irene says that See.Sense. has received a mixture of funding through grants and matched funding – mostly via Invest NI.
The start-up has just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. As well as this, See.Sense. has just been chosen as one of three start-ups from Northern Ireland to compete in the Seedcorn competition run by InterTradeIreland. Seedcorn is InterTradeIreland’s, all-island investor-readiness competition.
In Northern Ireland, See.Sense. was one of three companies selected from hundreds of applicants through two rounds of judging.
"We’re pitching on 5 November at the Northern Ireland final for a cash prize of €20,000."
The start-up is also taking part in the Propel programme that Invest Northern Ireland (NI) runs.
"By far the most valuable help came from being selected as one of a handful of companies for Invest Northern Ireland’s Propel Programme. This is designed to help high-calibre entrepreneurs launch businesses with export potential.
Through this programme, she says that See.Sense. has been working with the likes of entrepreneurs and TED speakers such as Bill Liao and Heather White.
"We’re receiving workshops, business networking assistance, mentoring and support that has enabled us to rapidly transition from the corporate world to running a successful start-up."
And, to grow rapidly, Philip says that See.Sense. now needs to focus on its sales and marketing as well as its product development.
Since starting the Kickstarter campaign, he says the company has brought its first product to market as a result.
"We have sold more than 300 units in days, and the campaign remains live until 8 November.
The campaign, he says is providing See.Sense. with market and pricing validation. "It’s now time for us to take investment on board to enable the next phase of growth."
Jobs at the NI start-up?
And, what about employment opportunities at See.Sense. – will this be happening anytime soon?
"Most definitely," Irene confirms. "We need to grow and take on new design and producing engineering talent."
According to the co-founders, they have an "exciting and packed" product roadmap.
"Equity investment will enable us to execute on that plan to get innovative, high margin products to market quickly."
And the ultimate goal? Well, they have set themselves some fairly ambitious targets.
"We aim to be the leading cycling technology company in the world and reach the stockmarket through IPO within five years."
Parting start-up advice
But, back to the present, what advice do the McAleese team have for other tech self-starters on the island of Ireland right now?
"Never has there been a better time to launch a tech company. The world is shrinking and becoming more accessible. Local economic development agencies are here in Ireland and are ready to help," says Philip.
And, Irene has this to say: "There is a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit and companies are keen to help one another out. You must seize the opportunity of a lifetime within the lifetime of the opportunity."