Our tech start-up of the week is Little Vista, which has created a tablet application specifically aimed at childcare practitioners.
“Little Vista is a tablet-based software application for the early years childcare sector,” said Little Vista CEO Kieran Walkin.
“The application was designed specifically for childcare practitioners in a classroom environment to help them with the overwhelming administration and paperwork load they process on a daily basis.”
The Little Vista application enables childcare practitioners to record meals, naps, bathroom breaks, observations, developmental activities and photos in seconds.
There is also a free Parent App that provides families and guardians with real-time updates and photos.
“Our mission is to simplify activity recording and curriculum implementation and improve all-round communication between childcare staff and parents,” COO Jules Hickson said.
At present the application is for the early years childcare sector, however, the software could be modified to suit other sectors such as elderly care or private home care.
“Having carried out 18 months of research we realised just how critical the need was for an improved way of recording, storing and sharing information in childcare. There are approximately 4,000 childcare facilities in Ireland and circa 40,000 in the UK.
“These two markets are our immediate focus, however, we are continuously learning more about childcare operations in other markets such as Germany, Australia and the US. While the regulations vary from country to country, the fundamental requirements for childcare practitioners and parents are the same.
“We are focused on achieving traction in the Irish and UK markets at present but that is not to say we are not already looking further afield.”
Hickson has worked in business development for more than 15 years. He was one of a team of four to launch Citydeal (Groupon) in Ireland, and then moved to a mobile banking technology start-up called Sum-Up.
Walkin is an accomplished musician who launched Redfred.tv, one of the first online streaming services in Ireland, while studying music at UCD. He helped, in 2009, to form PicaVision, to supply a new digital video solution to the CIE group. In 2012, he founded Plexus Consultancy, which specialised in software applications, which developed the early versions of what is now the Little Vista app.
CTO Mark Casey has been involved in complex software projects for major blue chip companies for more than 15 years. He founded Light Eco, an energy-saving product that significantly reduced overheads for large companies.
Sales director Maria Demery’s background is in software and hardware sales. She enjoyed a lengthy career in Salesforce and also worked for global computer giant Dell.
From the outside, the technology is simple. There are three main beneficiaries: childcare practitioners, parents and inspectors.
“We’ve built an application that connects all three parties with the child’s best interests at the core of it all,” Walkin explained.
“As tablets and smartphones are more prevalent than ever, we optimised the system for this mobile technology.
“Childcare practitioners use a tablet, which has all but eliminated the need for hard-copy forms, folders, files, printing, photocopying and the recording of handwritten notes all day.
“Parents can access their child’s profile via smartphone, tablet or desktop PC, receiving real-time updates and photos throughout the day.
“As the information is stored on a central server, it is always accessible. Nothing is stored on the hardware, so if a tablet or smartphone was lost, broken or stolen, none of the information is on the device. Every step has been taken to ensure the highest levels of security.”
Hickson said the ultimate goal for Little Vista is to build something that can make a difference.
“We buzz off positive feedback. We know if the product is right, then the business side of things tends to take care of itself. None of us are driven by money.
“It’s the thought of knowing we built something that’s making a genuine difference for everybody involved that drives us.
“If we get that right, I believe the business will be a success. How big a success? It’s quite exciting not knowing just how far we can push it.”
In March, Little Vista announced nine new jobs after raising a round of investment and the c0mpany is going from strength to strength.
“Things are going well,” Hickson said.
“As you can imagine, with a start-up there’s an endless amount of work to be done. It’s a neverending challenge but when you gather momentum it really keeps you motivated.
“We knew early on from our focus groups that there was a real need for this application but none of us expected it to have been as well received as it has been.
“We now have customers in every county across Ireland and others in the UK and we’re also live in Berlin, Germany.
“We believe we’re only at the beginning of the transition from a paper to digital system in the childcare industry and its very exciting to be at the forefront of that.
“To date we have raised €700,000. We had to get pretty creative in our fundraising, particularly in the early days. We’ve used our local Enterprise Board, Microfinance Ireland, AIB and Dell Financial Services and a few friends along the way.
“Once we were a bit more established we were able to attract private investors and the support of Enterprise Ireland. We were fortunate to meet Peter Murphy of PM Murphy Independent Investment Advice, he instantly understood what we were aiming to achieve and had some great clients who opted to get involved. Rowan Devereux of Roznat Investments was another great guy to have on board. He’s built and sold his own company (Blue Insurance) so when you get guys like that who not only back you financially but are always just a phone call away if or when you need advice, it really helps.”
Hickson said that while launching any start-up business is fraught with challenges, launching one in a highly-regulated sector makes it increasingly complex.
“Every day brings something new. In the early stages it was researching the concept and trying to really understand your customers pain points and figure out a way to fix those problems. Then you’ve got the never-ending need for money, just to keep going from day to day.
“We managed to get a prototype version of our product built relatively inexpensively so this enabled us to get the concept out there, get customers using it, and convince angel investors we were on to something, but none of it is easy.
“Then we faced a whole new set of challenges, like ensuring this new way of recording, storing and sharing information was not only a better way of doing things but that it was compliant and met with the regulations governing the sector.
“We were very fortunate to have worked with some really great customers who provided invaluable feedback, which not only helped us design the system but also helped us gain an in-depth understanding of the regulations.
“When Enterprise Ireland were investing in the company it was on the condition that we had recognition and a ‘formal sign-off’ on our software application from the HSE (Tusla). That was a significant milestone for us and a giant leap for the company.”
Knocking on doors
Hickson said that, as support for start-ups in Ireland goes, the advisory and financial support is there, it just involves knocking on a lot of doors.
“There seems to be a real tech community here, lots of networking opportunities, incubator hubs and mentor programmes.
“We used the DBIC (Dublin Business Innovation Centre) for a mentorship programme. You realise you know a whole let less than you do when you go through that process.
“You end up dissecting your business in every possible way and leave with a much clearer understanding of what you’re doing once you come out the other side.
“Enterprise Ireland also put us through our paces, and rightly so. It was all really helpful, so I guess from our perspective the start-up scene here in Dublin is very much alive.”
While new to the start-up scene, Hickson believes founders just have to believe in what they’re doing.
“I think that rubs off on those around you and helps build momentum. You just have to keep going. You’ll have your critics, and those that challenge your idea, pitches to investors that leave you deflated, but you just keep going.
“Once you believe in what you’re doing the rest falls into place. Surround yourself with people that have different strengths to you and learn to back down in arguments. That one took me a while!”
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