Limerick offers many advantages for tech companies because there is less staff turnover than in Dublin or Cork, according to Austin Ryan, co-founder of AMCS, an enterprise software company that is eyeing up opportunities to go public.
It was a hurling connection that prompted Ryan to approach Jimmy Martin about starting a tech company in 2003.
Ryan had just taken a redundancy package from Ericsson and Martin was a fabrication engineer at Analog Devices.
Their initial idea was to create a semiconductor chip that would be a tracker device for various industries, tracking everything from cattle to beer kegs.
“To cut a long story short, that idea didn’t go anywhere, the desire wasn’t there in the market,” said Ryan.
This is ironic because the idea predated the internet of things (IoT) by more than a decade.
Waste not, software not
However, what Ryan and Martin did discover as they mulled over their start-up idea was that the waste industry was crying out for technologies that would help it manage waste, recycling and anti-pollution regulations.
In 2004, AMCS began trading, and in its first year achieved a turnover of €850,000.
Last year, AMCS, which focuses on enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and SaaS for the global waste and recycling industry, raised €45m in a funding round led by New York venture capital fund Insight Venture Partners and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund.
The company has completed a number of major acquisitions, including US market leader PC Scale and Danish route planning systems provider Transvision, and now has almost 300 employees across the group.
AMCS has evolved through a combination of organic and acquisitive growth and combines R&D with integration of technology to make itself the ERP vendor of choice for the global waste industry.
‘If you had planning permission for a two-acre site in Ballymagash you got funding. But if you were a tech company seeking a €20,000 overdraft that was very difficult’
– AUSTIN RYAN, AMCS
Speaking to Siliconrepublic.com ahead of Startup Grind Limerick on Thursday (31 March), Ryan said that being based in Limerick was an asset to the company.
“In our early days we were focused on acquiring customers in the Irish market, which is what we did until 2006, and we didn’t see being based in Limerick as a problem, especially when it came to finding and retaining employees.”
But where AMCS did run into growing pains was in Celtic Tiger Ireland, where all finance options were skewed towards property developers and very little else.
“On the banking side during the boom it was very hard to get funding. The banks didn’t understand, even if you had blue-chip clients and a steady cash flow. The first question was assets. If you had planning permission for a two-acre site in Ballymagash you got funding. But if you were a tech company seeking a €20,000 overdraft that was very difficult because technology was not the business that the banks were into at the time.
“We were lucky that we had customers who worked with us and gave us money on PO.”
Emerging ERP giant
Both Ryan and Martin continued to focus on the waste sector and in less than a decade grew the company’s customer base to several hundred blue-chip customers.
“We are now the biggest ERP provider in the waste management sector. Our competitors are fragmented at a regional level and we are hoping to double in size every two to three years. Part of that will be through organic growth, while our most recent funding round is earmarked towards acquisitive growth, enabling us to move into and achieve quicker growth in new markets.”
Ryan said he has never felt the temptation to move AMCS to a bigger location like Dublin or London or San Francisco.
“It is easier to attract talent in Limerick for specific reasons.
“In Dublin, companies have huge staff churn and start-ups lose people to multinationals. A lot of indigenous companies wake up and hear the news that Google or Facebook are creating 200 new jobs and they just sigh.
“That doesn’t hit us as much in Limerick. We could as a city or region do better in terms of attracting multinationals.”
That said, Limerick has overcome the devastation that occurred in 2011 when Dell closed its Raheen plant with the loss of 2,000 jobs.
Dell still has a substantial cloud and IoT presence in Limerick, while companies like Kemp and ACI have established operations there. Last year, one of the fastest-growing tech firms in the world, Uber, announced that 300 new jobs are en route to Limerick city. Not only that, but local start-ups like Arralis and Kneat are also expanding and creating jobs.
Ryan’s advice for young start-ups is simple: just get out there and sell.
‘It is better to fail fast than spend time working on something for many years that may never get out of the starting blocks’
– AUSTIN RYAN, AMCS
“It sounds like basic common sense but a lot of people forget that the key thing for any start-up is the ability to generate sales. I can never emphasise it enough. It is important to get your product out into the market, get reference customers and get your customers working with you.
“Be careful that you don’t have your R&D department spending time working on product; get it out to customers because that is the best way to learn if you are developing something that could be a winner.
“It is better to fail fast than spend time working on something for many years that may never get out of the starting blocks.”
Looking to the future, Ryan said that AMCS could IPO in the next few years.
“I would think so. We have venture capital companies involved and they will be looking for an exit and an IPO is the most likely route,” Ryan concluded.
“We took on funding last July and we are on a growth curve where we could double in size every two years fuelled by entry into new markets, acquisitions and the levels of business with our existing blue-chip customers.”