Our Start-up of the Week is Chatspace, an AI platform that provides insights to help enterprises increase productivity and deliver better business results.
John Clancy has always been drawn to start-ups and passionate about helping tech businesses grow. He launched his first start-up, Celtel, right after he finished university and the company had an annual turnover of €2.6m within two years.
A few years later, he moved to the other side of the world to work as CEO of Denis O’Brien’s telecommunications company, Digicel Vanuatu. Clancy said that the experience provided an enjoyable challenge as he worked with local governments and built relationships across the Pacific Islands.
After that, Clancy went on to become managing director of digital health start-up iMedDoc and a consultant at digital health platform Jinga Life. All of these experiences contributed to the launch of his current start-up Chatspace, which was founded in 2017.
“Chatspace is an artificial intelligence (AI) answers and insights platform that allows enterprises to optimise AI technology to deliver better business results and increase productivity,” Clancy told Siliconrepublic.com.
Over the past three years, the start-up has been honing and applying conversational AI, machine learning and intelligent search skills for companies such as Nestlé, Medtronic and Atos.
“We are unleashing new insights for company strategy that traditional teams can’t reach, automating repeatable tasks and scaling capabilities across the enterprise,” Clancy said. “Our technology allows management to prioritise best and worst performing projects and understand why some might be failing. Simply put, we alert people to risks before they happen.”
‘As a start-up it is really hard to break through and get that first deal, so you have to be creative and resourceful’
– JOHN CLANCY
In the third fiscal quarter of the year, Chatspace aims to launch a virtual project manager product that will help free up teams to focus on customers and opportunity, Clancy said.
“Our technology has been validated by a number of companies and we have lined up channel partners to exponentially grow our licence model, giving Chatspace a strong competitive edge,” he added.
“We are careful with whom we work because implementing AI successfully requires strong organisational change management and communication, before, during and after. It’s important that people throughout the organisation understand the benefits of adopting AI.”
The company has recently adapted its technology for a Swiss client to offer a free AI Covid-19 helpdesk to any interested hospital across Europe.
“Understandably, we haven’t had uptake yet because they are dealing with an unprecedented crisis, but we are confident that once organisations become more aware of the solutions available and how they can use technology to augment what their human workforce does, we will see more adoption,” Clancy said.
“The most interesting thing about our technology at Chatspace is that we ensure a better return on investment (ROI). This means enterprises can supercharge the technology they already have with secure, on-premise AI to drive ROI, revenue and productivity,” he added.
Clancy explained that conversational AI is all about the user experience, and continually provides faster, more accurate and more authentic information, since the technology continually learns and improves autonomously.
“Our platform uses the latest tools and techniques in search, augmented analytics and conversational AI and our technical team is skilled in automated machine learning, natural language processing, knowledge graphs, deep learning explainable AI,” Clancy said.
“We like to think we are building the intelligent future of work by proactively alerting all stakeholders to risk so better insight-driven decisions can be made. Our vision is people working at their creative best by having data driven insights at their fingertips, empowering them to focus more on clients and opportunity instead of micromanagement.”
The CEO added that Covid-19 has accelerated the demand for AI technology, with many organisation overcoming previous doubts or objections they might have had towards the technology, relating to data security or the complexity of AI.
The journey so far
When it comes to advice for other self-starters, Clancy said that relationships are key.
“When I worked in the South Pacific, I would often wear a traditional skirt called a lavalava to meetings with ministers and stakeholders,” he said. “It was a gesture of respect that was very much appreciated by my Samoan staff and network.
“When Chatspace got our first client, Nestlé, I had never worked with Swiss people and many of them spoke French at key points in our meetings. So I downloaded Duolingo and revised my Leaving Cert French by studying an hour a day.
“Without telling anyone, I started to understand more and more of what they were saying. A year into the relationship, we were laughing about it over coffee. As a start-up it is really hard to break through and get that first deal, so you have to be creative and resourceful and I think that’s a strong trait amongst Irish people.”
What’s next for Chatspace?
The Galway-based start-up is currently focusing on scaling its new project management product and building its brand. Clancy said that in order to scale, the firm needs cash beyond existing working capital.
To put petrol in the tank, the firm is currently holding a €2.5m funding round with its corporate financiers, Focus Capital Partners. The round, which is due to close in August, will give the start-up the ability to scale its technical and marketing teams so that it can “really go after this opportunity”, according to Clancy.
He said another thing that helps the business is the support from Ireland’s entrepreneurial community.
“We are a high potential start-up (HPSU) with Enterprise Ireland and have a great development adviser, always looking for ways to support and promote our business,” Clancy added. “I am in a founders forum with nine other start-ups and the peer-to-peer sharing and support is great, especially for feedback and ideas.”
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