Enterprise Ireland’s Niall McEvoy: ‘Ireland is a deep-tech powerhouse’

6 Dec 2018

Niall McEvoy. Image: Enterprise Ireland

The constellations of ecosystems, from start-ups to multinationals and academia, are aligning in terms of deep tech, Enterprise Ireland’s Niall McEvoy tells John Kennedy.

Niall McEvoy, manager of the high-potential start-ups (HPSU) ICT team at Enterprise Ireland, believes that when it comes to emerging technologies, Irish tech-start-ups are showing real originality and promise, especially in deep-tech areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and the internet of things (IoT).

“I’d agree there is a solid realism out there,” he said as he indicated that in 2018 alone, Enterprise Ireland will have invested in more than 150 start-up companies.

‘Great start-ups are emerging at the intersection between key industry verticals and emerging technologies’

“Pretty much everything that moves in the start-up ecosystem in Ireland comes across our desk. We see it early enough in the life cycle. There would have been a lot of start-ups in the last 10 years that would have been around digitalisation and improving productivity. But now we are moving into a new phase that is very deep-tech-driven.”

Edge of innovation

According to McEvoy, interesting deep tech start-ups are taking advantage of the tapestry of multinationals, as well as the world-class research at Irish universities and academic institutions, to carve out world-beating innovations.

‘Ultimately, it is the commercial application of these technologies that drives the early-stage start-up activity’

In the area of AI, he cited Servisbot, headed by Cathal McGloin, the former CEO of FeedHenry (bought by Red Hat). Servisbot focuses on transforming customer engagement through conversational AI. Some other ones to watch include RecommenderX, which is translating AI to business intelligence, as well as EdgeTier, which has built a platform to optimise every customer interaction through AI.

In the field of blockchain, McEvoy said that while use cases are still being developed, one Irish company that is making a genuine difference is Aid:Tech, an Irish start-up that is using blockchain to combat corruption by offering a more secure and transparent way to deliver aid to people around the world.

He said some exciting new companies are also worth keeping a close eye on in the field of IoT, including Wia, which has created a universal IoT cloud platform; Pest Pulse, which has changed the way rats are trapped and the maintenance of those traps; Over-C, which is making sweeping changes to the transport system through IoT sensors in places such as railway stations; and Sweepr, creator of connected home technology.

In the areas of AR and VR, one Irish firm making major inroads is Dublin and London-listed VR Education Holdings, which is working with organisations such as the BBC and Oxford University to transform the education sector globally.

Other disruptive fields of deep tech worth watching include fintech, edtech, HR tech, marketplace and retail tech, travel tech, and digital health-tech.

“All of the exciting stuff we are seeing in deep tech, the endless possibilities, for us as a development agency and an investor in start-ups, the interesting part is where the technology intersects with real commercial use. Great start-ups are emerging at the intersection between key industry verticals and emerging technologies.”

McEvoy said that from a technology perspective, Enterprise Ireland views the technologies themselves merely as enablers. “Ultimately, it is the commercial application of these technologies that drives the early-stage start-up activity.

“We punch above our weight but in terms of emerging tech, from where I am sitting, all of the ingredients are in place to make Ireland a leader in deep tech.”

McEvoy explained that to be called a powerhouse in anything, all parts of the various ecosystems have to be aligned. “The things that could make Ireland great in deep tech include the ecosystem of multinationals, the strong start-up community and the academic ecosystem. We see some magnificent projects coming out of third level and we will do at least 15 first-time investments in companies that have spun out of third level.

“In addition, a lot of the multinationals are collaborating with start-ups, and local banks – like Bank of Ireland with Startlab and Ulster Bank with Dogpatch Labs – are working with start-ups to drive innovation in their companies.

“From our own discussion with all of the major tech multinationals, there is a significant appetite to be doing more with start-ups. This kind of engagement between start-ups, multinationals and academia makes Ireland a deep-tech powerhouse.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years