Our start-up of the week is Cork-based Mohago, which gives data visualisation and data capture capabilities to engineers without the need to write code.
Mohago is a graduate of UCC’s Ignite accelerator programme. The company’s main product, Looking Glass, makes it easy for R&D and manufacturing firms to capture, manage and work with the outputs of large data-intensive design and manufacturing processes.
Mohago has built a flexible, multi-site container for parametric data and a visually-driven front end for discovery and analysis. It has a number of innovative data aggregation and access concepts that make it easy to work with and generate value from R&D and manufacturing process data.
“We make it easy for people and teams in R&D and manufacturing to work with and generate real value from data,” explains co-founder Declan Gordon.
“We automate the difficult tasks around data capture, access and management and provide innovative discovery and analysis capabilities.”
As Gordon explains it there are multiple industries with R&D and manufacturing activity, including medical devices, consumer electronics, semiconductors and applied research, that are ripe for using Mohago’s technology.
“In these sectors there are over 40,000 SME and multinational sites in Europe alone. By way of turnover, the semiconductor industry is about €300bn in size, 10pc of this is in Europe.
“Because of our backgrounds we are looking at the fabless semiconductor space first. These companies are the beating heart behind the current mobile technology and IoT revolution. The brilliant work of these companies, continually driving up the bandwidth and speed of broadband and 4G connections, has enabled the cat-video nirvana we enjoy today.
“However a lot of them are still using spreadsheets to manage masses of test data. This is for reasons of inertia, and because of the flexibility of spreadsheets vs databases. Nobody is doing anything about it because most software engineers are occupied building iOS apps and online retail recommender systems.
“We want to change how people work with data in this space, break down the barriers and make discovery and analysis tasks substantially easier for engineers and scientists,” Gordon said.
Unsurprisingly, Mohago founders’ backgrounds are in engineering, software and research.
“So we understand the domain and the problems within it,” explains Gordon.
“I was working in electronics and solar energy and spent a lot of time building test equipment. I found that the most difficult part was managing and making sense of all the captured data, that’s where the initial concept came from.
“My co-founder Dylan Buckley was working in enterprise security software. As well as expertise in server side technologies he brought the practical knowledge of how to run a development team; the methodologies and tools required to build and deliver a software product.”
Mohago’s main product is designed to be straightforward for the user: you drop data files into the client, or you can automate data capture by integrating directly with instrument control set-ups or sensor systems.
“Our storage engine does the heavy lifting and every time new data is created it’s immediately visible within the UI and tagged with things like when and where it was captured, type of product, or line on which it was tested. You can use whatever information you have available in the tags,” explains Gordon.
“To share access you just create a project and invite other people to join.
“The front end includes the usual business intelligence charts and dashboards for general purpose analysis and discovery but we also include a number of analysis features like statistical process tests, ANOVA and live correlation between charts and with the selected data.
“The enabling feature for R&D and manufacturing workflows is how easily you can find and select the data you want to work with from within the data store. It’s easy, whether it’s several months of data or just the latest test. Everything is visually driven, there’s no code required and most tasks, filters and analysis can be automated.
“This is all powered by our flexible container for parametric data that can quickly capture and store datasets of any size or shape and organise it with any associated tagging information available. Our access engine exposes the links between data sets and makes it easy to organise and work with the types of data flows associated with R&D and manufacturing activities.”
The ultimate goal for Mohago, Gordon explains, is to change how people in R&D and manufacturing think about data, make it easier to work with and more valuable to companies.
“This facilitates innovation and reduces R&D time and spend by making it easier to analyse data and to spot the underlying trends that are obscured by current practices. Maybe it’s a lofty goal but the smallest changes in how people work and the way they see things can have big effects on a business.”
Start-ups are a tough road
As Gordon explains it, starting something from nothing is a tough road, and if it’s a new concept it takes time to get traction.
“We were lucky to find a partner in the semiconductor space early on that saw the value in what we were doing and who actively used the software in their work at a very early stage. We were also lucky to get financial and mentor support in the Ignite accelerator, from the Cork Local Enterprise Office and later through Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund.
“We launched our product, Looking Glass, in March of this year, but it was in active alpha use for well over a year before that.
“We are starting to pitch for private equity investment to fund commercialisation in the UK and Europe and so far, so good. We’ve had commercial sales that prove the product and the market, so we are excited to push things on.”
Who dares sells
Gordon points out that starting up a company is the easy part, sticking at it is the trick.
“Besides the obvious financial stress it can sometimes just seem like the sky is falling in. You need to be clear about why you are doing this and sure of your product’s potential.
“A big challenge for a group of engineers is developing a commercial mindset and learning how to sell. In a meeting, you have credibility but you have to make the sound business case if you want to sell. You’ll spend a lot of time learning to communicate your vision.
“It’s been said that this a great little country to do business in, and mostly that’s the case. There’s a good cross-section of technology industries in Ireland and people will always give you that first meeting if you have something they see value in. They also have no problem recommending you, which makes knocking on doors and the first meeting significantly easier. It’s a small country and everyone is connected by two or three degrees. In that way, it’s a great place to get started.”
“I think the supports are there too. There are great accelerators and sources of seed funding available and it’s obvious that young Irish companies have what it takes to perform globally.
“In terms of the start-up scene it’s incredibly valuable for the increased awareness of accelerators, of opportunities and the good will and openness it fosters with established business people for mentoring. Ultimately the decision and responsibility of going for it are the founders and the one and the only people whose opinion really matters will be your customers.”
Gordon says that at the end of the day building a sales team is key.
“Even if you know the target market and opportunity inside out, try and have the team learn the practical skills needed before you jump. If you’re from engineering, some experience in a customer facing or sales role will save you time and money.”