Innovative student businesses delivered their pitches at the fourth annual UStart Demo Day at Dublin City University. Claire O’Connell reports.
If you have ever wished you could do more to help tackle the homelessness crisis, or if you have gritted your teeth while transcribing a long interview or set of notes, then two emerging companies from Dublin City University (DCU) are on hand to help.
GiveBack.ie and Happy Scribe were jointly awarded as UStart 2017 Demo Day champs this morning (3 October) at DCU Alpha. GiveBack.ie offers online shoppers a way to contribute a donation to tackle homelessness without themselves spending an extra cent and Happy Scribe offers a cheap and reliable online transcription service.
At the event, 10 teams presented the ideas and business plans they developed over the course of the summer as part of DCU’s UStart accelerator programme, which supports student entrepreneurs developing early-stage businesses.
The innovators were on a mission to impress a panel of judges that included former ‘dragon’ from RTÉ Dragons’ Den, Eamonn Quinn of DCU’s Educational Trust. The rest of the judging panel comprised David Bowles from Delta Partners, Barbara Morrissey from Wayra Ireland, Kevin Mac Sweeney from Broadlake Capital, Kathy Kelly from Atlantic Bridge Ventures, and journalist Charlie Taylor from The Irish Times.
Give back to help homelessness
During his pitch for GiveBack.ie, James Gallagher (who studied computer applications)spoke about how his attitude to homelessness was galvanised one evening as he walked along Abbey Street in Dublin. “I passed an old homeless lady. My heart sank and I went over and gave her any change I had,” he recalled. I realised that [homeless people] are ordinary people that society has failed.”
By encouraging retailers to get on board, GiveBack.ie “empowers the individual to tackle the crisis themselves”, said Gallagher, describing how the platform gives donations from each online retail purchase to support the work of the Peter McVerry Trust to build new housing and tackle homelessness.
A happier approach to transcription
Sharing the top prize with GiveBack.ie was former Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, Happy Scribe, which grew out of the frustration that André Bastie felt when he needed to transcribe a series of interviews in the course of his academic studies. “It was one of the most tedious and time-consuming things I had to do,” he said.
This tedious task turned his attention to a business opportunity. Bastie (studying for a master’s in electronic commerce) and Marc Assens (an Erasmus student of computer science) developed Happy Scribe.
This service allows users to log in, upload an audio file and sit back while machine transcription does the heavy lifting. The interface then allows them to easily check and edit the document.
With more than 100 languages on offer, more than 230,000 minutes of audio already transcribed and more than 2,000 users on the books, the company has been enjoying success with customers since its launch in May. Bastie described how they will now look to mix human and machine transcription to provide a cheap and highly accurate service.
The best pitch of the day, according to the judging panel, was from StoryTracks, an innovative platform that allows visitors to attractions and sites in Ireland to listen to and upload local lore. Founder Fergal Nealon used the example of a tourist – ‘Jürgen’ – visiting the Gleniff Horseshoe near the Sligo-Leitrim border and hearing the story of the cave there where the mythical Diarmuid and Gráinne stayed.
The StoryTracks platform will help visitors engage with ‘hidden gems’ around Ireland and is the first GPS guide that allows users to upload their own stories, according to Fearon, who credited a DCU open education course with helping him develop the confidence to embark on this entrepreneurial venture.
‘There will be a few stars to watch out for in the coming years’
– EOGHAN STACK
Other ideas in the mix today included internet-of-things technology to help drivers with disabled parking permits find a free space, an online platform to help students find their ideal college course (UniBrowse), another online platform to help them find digs, and a secure and reliable system to monitor and support business travellers in areas of conflict.
Disrupt and transform
“One thing we find in common every year is that there is tremendous appetite for UStart, and we look for DCU start-ups with disruptive ideas,” said Eoghan Stack, chief executive of the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs, which runs the programme with DCU.
“These teams are at the end of a three-month programme, and they are still early in the development cycle, but some have received funding, some are generating revenues and have customers, some have had media coverage. There will be a few stars to watch out for in the coming years.”
DCU president, Prof Brian MacCraith, spoke of the importance of UStart in fostering the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset in DCU students.
“We strongly believe this is best done through experiential learning,” he said. “For students, setting up companies is the best learning experience. And, for us, the prize is not necessarily in commercial success – though we would love to see that. It is the transformation of the individual students, which has been very evident in [each of] the four years we have been doing this.”