25 entrepreneurs set to shake up their industries in 2020

18 Dec 2019

Image: © photolas/Stock.adobe.com

We have rounded up 25 promising entrepreneurs who are poised to disrupt their fields, whether they’re focusing on fintech, edtech, medtech or – for one of these agritech experts – actual fields.

As 2019 comes to a close, we can look back on a huge year for start-ups, both in Ireland and further afield.

On the other side of the world, WeWork was the subject of one of the biggest start-up stories of the year, as spectators both inside and outside of the business world watched in awe as the company retreated from any possibility from an IPO. This may signal a change in start-up culture and, if nothing else, it serves as a sobering lesson to investors and entrepreneurs going forward.

At home, we saw the formation of Scale Ireland, a group lobbying the Irish Government to improve the start-up landscape in Ireland. In Europe, we saw the number of VC-backed unicorns rise from 18 to 99, with a total of $34.3bn being invested across the continent before the year was out.

With more accelerators, resources and VC backing available now than ever before, it’s likely we’re going to see countless more unicorns and billions more invested in start-ups all over the world over the next year. And we have gathered 25 entrepreneurs that we expect to see at the helm of businesses that will transform how we live, work and socialise in 2020 and beyond.

Eoin Hinchy

A few months after it was founded in January, Tines was named one of Software World’s top 10 cybersecurity software platforms. Since then, the last year has been good to co-founder and CEO Eoin Hinchy.

Prior to founding Tines with Thomas Kinsella, Hinchy spent 15 years working at eBay, PayPal and DocuSign – three businesses he describes as “some of the most attacked companies on the planet”.

A man with brown hair and stubble wears a white polo shirt with red and blue stripes on it. He is standing in front of a bush.

Eoin Hinchy. Image: Tines

This experience gave him an in-depth understanding of the pain points for cybersecurity teams, and along with Kinsella, he has set out to solve those issues with automation. At just a year old, Tines recently raised $15.1m in Series A funding. Could this be Ireland’s next big tech success story? Time will tell.

Annie Slattery

Clontarf-native Annie Slattery is one of the many Irish people that have moved to Australia for a change of scenery. Taking advantage of the construction boom down under, Slattery and her husband Keith Moore have developed a tech platform called ConX that helps building contractors find work.

A blonde woman in a black tank top wearing a gold necklace stands in front of scaffolding, which is blurred out of focus in the background.

Annie Slattery. Image: ConX

There are now more than 12,000 tradespeople, or ‘tradies’ as the Australians call them, using ConX, and the company is set to make a significant expansion into the US in 2020. In the next few weeks, you should expect to hear a funding announcement from ConX.

On top off all of that, Slattery won Australia’s top award for women in tech start-ups in August 2019. She coolly commented: “The [construction] market is now ripe for transformation and ConX is at the forefront.”

Wendy Oke

Wendy Oke is the founder of TeachKloud, a cloud-based management and compliance platform for early childhood services, preschools and colleges of further education. The start-up also develops inspection tools for use by early childhood inspectors.

One of the finalists at this year’s Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur competition, Oke’s business offers teachers real-time recommendations and analysis to ease their workloads. After completing a PhD in early childhood education and realising that early childhood teachers spend an average of 30 additional hours on paperwork each week in Ireland, she identified an opportunity.

A young woman in a pink suit stands with her arms crossed in front of a wall covered in flowers. She has brown, shoulder length hair.

Wendy Oke. Image: TeachKloud

After a LinkedIn post went viral, Oke ended up with €55,000 in funding from an angel investor, and recently raised a further €750,000 from Frontline Ventures and Enterprise Ireland.

Up until Oke began hiring in December, her entire business journey was taken alone. When TeachKloud can achieve that much with a single employee, we can only imagine what the start-up will do when it has a larger team behind it.

Eduoard Nattée

Edouard Nattée is the founder and CEO of Paris-based Cleanfox. Prior to launching Cleanfox, which is a free email decluttering tool, Nattée participated in the creation of Westwing.fr, of which he was the CEO for four years.

A man with brown hair, a black goattee and mustache wearing a white shirt.

Cleanfox founder Eduord Nattée. Image: Cleanfox

Cleanfox helps users delete hundreds of unwanted emails and unsubscribe from newsletters they don’t read anymore with just one click. This isn’t just to remove that unsightly ‘10,758’ icon over the email app on your phone, but to help reduce the increasing carbon footprint created by emails.

The CEO is outspoken on the topic of digital pollution, and as we enter the next decade he seems to be one of the few entrepreneurs voicing concern about the sustainability of data centres, the potential impact 5G could have on the environment, and why data is creating as many problems as it is solving.

Triona Mullane

Triona Mullane is the founder and CEO of customer engagement start-up mAdme Technologies, which connects mobile operators and brands to customers, linking them with on-device content that is relevant and on-point in a clear, simple and non-intrusive manner. Prior to running her own business, she worked for NewBay Software as CTO, until it was acquired by BlackBerry in an €89m deal.

A woman wearing a black blazer and a red and grey blouse sits at a table in front of three glass awards with the Deloitte logo on them.

Triona Mullane. Image: mAdme

In 2018, Mullane was named Leading Female at the Deloitte Fast 50 awards. In 2019, EY awarded her Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year. Hers is a name you’re bound to hear at some point in 2020, considering the fact that Madme is now active on more than 200m mobile phones around the globe.

Hannah Wrixon

Hannah Wrixon is the CEO of Get the Shifts, a multi-award-winning temp agency offering “hospitality staff on tap”.

While she’s clearly a genius when it comes to puns, Wrixon’s also a very talented businesswoman. She heads a company that gives experienced workers the ability to pick up flexible shifts in bars, restaurants, coffee shops and at large events, in Dublin, Limerick, Galway, Cork and Kerry.

A woman with blonde hair is wearing a blue dress and sitting in front of a grey background.

Hannah Wrixon. Image: Get The Shifts

From cleaning jobs to promoting and supervising work, there are a variety of shifts available with wages starting from €10.58 per hour, going up to €14.50 per hour, and sometimes beyond.

In 2018, Wrixon won the National Enterprise Award for Best Start-up as well as being named a Business All-Star. In 2019, she won Emerging New Businesswoman of the Year at the Network Ireland National Business Awards.

Amira Valliani

Amira Valliani is an entrepreneur with an interesting history and an undoubtedly big future ahead of her. The co-founder and CEO of Glow, a start-up backed by rapper Nas, Valliani previously worked as a special assistant for Hillary Clinton and, a few years later, a senior advisor to the Obama administration.

After exiting politics in 2015, she co-founded and led Zomida, a Massachusetts-based marketplace for home-cooked food, which was named one of the best food delivery apps in Boston.

A woman with brown hair, wearing headphones over her shoulders and a leather jacket smiles into the camera in front of a grey background.

Amira Valliani. Image: Glow

Now she’s the boss of a one-year-old start-up that helps podcast creators thrive by providing them with the tools to establish a direct relationship with their customers.

Valliani is taking advantage of the huge growth in podcast listenership in recent years, by offering audio creators the opportunity to become audio entrepreneurs.

Fidelma McGuirk

Founder and CEO of Payslip, Fidelma McGuirk previously founded Sprintax.com and was the CEO of Taxback.com. In 2017, she launched a cloud-based start-up to make the process of managing international payroll a bit smoother .

A woman in a mustard turtle neck jumper, with long brown hair, smiles into the camera in a beige room.

Fidelma McGuirk. Image: Payslip

This year, McGuirk was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the Women in IT Awards for her sense of “clarity of thought and vision”. At the ceremony, she was commended for spending much of her free time helping other women in business.

Anita Finnegan

In 2017, Anita Finnegan’s medical device cybersecurity company Nova Leah was named a high potential start-up by Enterprise Ireland. In 2018, the business raised €2.25m and we included her in our list of trailblazers to watch in 2019.

2019 has been another good year for Finnegan, with Nova Leah taking home award after award. At the KTI Impact Awards, it was named best Spin-out Company. At the Export Industry Awards, it was dubbed Top Exporter. And at the 2019 Technology Ireland awards, Nova Leah was recognised as the Emerging Company of the Year.

A woman in a black t-shirt and white trousers stands in front of a desk with her arms crossed. She has long, brown hair. There are workers at the desks beside her in the photograph.

Anita Finnegan. Image: Nova Leah

As well as being a multi-award-winning business, Nova Leah also shares its key takeaways and commentary from many of the major medtech and infosec conferences that the company attends, such as Defcon, Black Hat and MedTech Boston.

While 2019 was a bright year for Finnegan and Nova Leah, we expect things to become even more exciting for the company in 2020.

Martin Brown

Martin Brown is the co-founder and CEO of Dublin-based automation start-up Unitek.AI. Within a year of setting up, Unitek.AI was recognised as a high-potential start-up by Enterprise Ireland.

Since 2018, Unitek.AI has hired 12 employees and plans to expand the team in the coming months. The start-up has partnered with Flender, Open Grid Europe and a number of insurance and banking organisations in the UK and Ireland. It also recently won awards in the emerging tech and fintech categories at the National Startup Awards.

A man in a navy suit and white shirt stands on a rooftop in Dublin. He has brown hair and tanned skin.

Martin Brown. Image: Unitek.AI

Although the start-up is barely even two years old, Unitek.AI is quickly creating a name for itself in the financial services industry. This is partly due to Brown’s experience in banking, insurance and finserv, which left him well-positioned to spot major pain points in that realm.

Laura Hamilton

HealthBeacon is a Dublin-based start-up that has seen some significant achievements since it was set up in 2013. Last year, the Irish medtech business received FDA approval for its product that helps patients adhere to their medication schedule, meaning the company was ready to expand into the US.

A woman with blonde hair wearing a black blazer and black top underneath stands in front of a green wall that reads HealthBeacon.

Laura Hamilton. Image: HealthBeacon

That’s where Laura Hamilton comes in. Originally from Cork and now residing in Boston, Hamilton is the CEO of HealthBeacon’s North American operations and is leading the company’s stateside expansion.

Hamilton is doing this while simultaneously serving as president of the Boston Irish Business Association (BIBA), which is dedicated to developing meaningful and lasting business relationships between businesses based in Boston and Ireland.

Her work as CEO of North America for Health Beacon has just begun, but already Hamilton has organised a BIBA trade mission to Ireland. We’re excited to see her future plans to strengthen the links between business in Ireland, Boston and further afield.

Paul Klanschek

Paul Klanschek, and his co-CEO Eric Demuth, were named EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 at the European event in Austria this year. Their business, which was also co-founded with Christian Trummer, was founded in 2014. Bitpanda enables users to buy and sell digital assets, such as bitcoin.

Earlier this year, the company launched its global exchange after it raised €43.6m through its Initial Exchange Offering, marking Europe’s best successful IEO to date.

A man in a black t-shirt with stubble and short brown hair smiles in front of a grey background.

Paul Klanschek. Image: Bitpanda

Klanschek and Demuth are names you’ll likely hear a lot in 2020 if you’re in any way interested in crypto-to-crypto trading. The business has a PSD2 payment service provider license, more than 1m users and a team of 120 behind it.

The company plans to expand well beyond Europe in the coming months as it works towards offering a fairer, more transparent and easily accessible world of personal finance.

Jennifer Hourihane

At the beginning of the decade, Cork-born entrepreneur Jennifer Hourihane was beginning her career as a solicitor. A few years later, she noticed that the movement of paperwork was an aspect of the legal industry that was in dire need of a refresh.

A woman in a black cardigan with long, brown hair, stands in front of a brick building on a cobblestone street.

Jennifer Hourihane. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

In 2016, she founded Oathello with the hopes of significantly speeding up the process. After some time, she realised that this wasn’t just an issue affecting solicitors and legal professionals, but a roadblock in many other industries, including financial services.

After successfully completing a term in the fintech cohort of the Barclays Techstars Accelerator, Hourihane has an even better perspective on how many industries could benefit from Oathello’s API.

John O’Connor

John O’Connor is the CEO of Waterford-based waste-management firm Kollect. In November, the start-up announced its plans to seek funding by launching an IPO in Sweden on Nasdaq’s First North, a stock exchange aimed at smaller companies, bypassing the more traditional route of financing a company. What’s more interesting about Kollect, though, is the service that the company offers.

John O’Connor. Image: Kollect

The main offering is Uber-style, on-demand waste collection for all types of waste at less conventional times. Want to put a bin out at 9am on a Sunday morning? Kollect will arrange to have it picked up for a reasonable price. The CEO has even invented a parking space-sized ‘Big Bin’ that can be found at Circle K branches around the country, where anybody can pay to deposit waste at any time of day or night.

These on-demand collection methods could disrupt the waste management industry, but it’ll likely be even more interesting to see what impact O’Connor’s IPO decision will have on the business in the coming months.

Darya Yegorina

CleverBooks is an augmented reality edtech company that provides a STEM-oriented curriculum for kids up to the age of 12. With the aim of developing and enhancing young peoples’ interest in STEM, CleverBooks offers kids courses in geometry, geography, engineering and space.

Darya Yegorina is a founder, CEO and board member at CleverBooks, and this year was a runner-up for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Women in IT Awards.

Darya Yegorina. Image: CleverBooks

What makes Yegorina one to watch is the fact that she runs CleverBooks and its team of 11 people working in four different locations while also working on Verizon Connect’s Strategy and Partnerships team for EMEA.

While holding down these two full-time positions, Yegorina also serves as an ambassador for the MIT Innovators Under 35 list, promoting Irish innovators to compete for the award at European level.

Lewis Loane

This year, Lewis Loane was the first undergraduate to win the top prize at Catalyst’s Invent Awards. The Queen’s University Belfast student was awarded £13,000 to further an electronics project he is working on.

The project began when Loane was tested a guitar that sounded amazing when plugged into a mid-range amplifier but, when he took it home, he realised the quality was pretty poor with his own higher-end amp.

A young man with blonde hair, wearing a black t-shirt stands in a street.

Torann founder Lewis Loane. Image: TechWatch

As an electronics and electrical engineering student, he saw the perfect opportunity to create a signal adjuster that will always provide music lovers with the optimum value when it’s plugged in between an instrument and an amplifier.

Loane now runs Torann, named after the Irish word for noise. He plans to build audio effects devices such as distortion, reverb and delay pedals. After seeking funding in March 2019, he is currently building prototypes. If this is what he has managed to achieve so far on his own, we’re looking forward to see what lies ahead of him in 2020.

Brian Daly

Brian Daly is the co-founder of a platform called Grandpal, which sets out to make life a little less lonely for older people who may feel isolated. While studying and working in Dublin, Daly lived with his grandmother and saw first-hand how beneficial it was for both of them to spend time together.

Wanting to help out other grandparents and older people, he created a platform that can connect a suitable adult who has some spare time each week with a local older person who could benefit from the additional one-on-one time.

A young man in a black t-shirt with stubble stands in a hallway.

Brian Daly. Image: Grandpal

Grandpal has been used by people who have emigrated and want to ensure that their grandparents or parents aren’t lonely, families with hectic work schedules who can’t see older relatives as much as they’d like to, and in nursing homes to provide better social experiences to residents. Volunteers are trained through the app and Grandpal is super selective about who is suitable for the platform, only choosing the most reliable, friendly and caring pals for its older members.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t think this is a lovely idea. As the platform expands in 2020, we are more than excited to follow Grandpal and its founders on their journey.

Ayah Bdeir

Ayah Bdeir is the former CEO of LittleBits, a New York-based STEM edtech start-up that was acquired by Sphero earlier this year. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, LittleBits raised $62.3m since it was launched, with Bdeir at the head of the company.

Prior to working with LittleBits, Bdeir founded a not-for-profit experimental arts and technology lab in Beirut called Karaj, which was built to forge a community between hands-on innovators and artists. Bdeir also co-founded the Open Hardware Summit in 2010 and has spent much of her time researching open source software and looking at how she can apply these learnings to hardware.

A woman with brown, curly hair in front of a blue background.

Ayah Bdeir. Image: Ayah Bdeir

After the acquisition of LittleBits, Bdeir, who is a TED Senior Fellow and MIT Media Lab alumnus, announced her exit from the company and her plans to “pursue her next adventure”. It’s not entirely clear what this new adventure is going to be, but if Bdeir’s career history is anything to go by, she’s definitely one to watch.

Jack O’Sullivan

Jack O’Sullivan is a 23-year-old Dubliner who first began displaying his entrepreneurial streak 10 years ago, when he made thousands of euro each month from selling iPhones that he had refurbished.

A young man with brown hair, wearing a white polo shirt smiles while standing in front of a beige wall.

Jack O’Sullivan. Image: Modmo

By the age of 16, O’Sullivan had founded his first business, Vital Fixies, after he received a loan from his dad and brother which enabled him to buy a few hundred fixed gear bikes and sell them on at a very competitive price.

While still at the helm of Vital Fixies after five years, the young man is already working on his next business idea from Vietnam. He made the move east to find more cost-effective parts from his modular electric bike brand, Modmo.

Andrew Cameron

An Australian who relocated to Galway, Dr Andrew Cameron is one of FeelTect’s co-founders. The company was conceived when Cameron was taking part in the BioInnovate Ireland programme, where he discovered an unmet clinical need in the cardiovascular space.

Dr Andrew Cameron. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

Cameron came up with a solution that simplifies the process of delivering compression therapy for venous leg ulcers (VLU), which improves healing outcomes and patient quality of life. He returned to NUI Galway and found a team to work on Tight Alright, a pressure-sensing connected health device for use during VLU compression therapy.

The team has since won the EIT Health Headstart award, participated in an NDRC accelerator programme and received the award for Most Cost Effective Product at the IMSTA Medtech Awards in October 2019. Last we heard from FeelTect, the company was commencing fundraising for a seed round.

Richard Kennedy

Richard Kennedy is the CEO of Belfast-based agritech business Devenish, which supplies high-quality nutritional products to the agriculture and aquaculture industries.

Devenish CEO Richard Kennedy. Image: Maxwell Photography

Officially recognised as EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year 2019, Richard Kennedy’s company has grown from having a £5m turnover and 23 employees in 1997, to more than £250m in turnover in 2018 and more than 500 employees.

While this is an impressive feat in its own right, Kennedy doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. He hopes to grow the company’s turnover to £350m within the next three years.

Fiona Edwards Murphy

You may remember Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy from last year’s Sci-Tech 100. She’s the CEO of Cork agritech firm ApisProtect, a start-up that monitors the health of honeybee colonies.

A woman in a black blazer and black shirt sits in front of a grey background.

Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy. Image: Claire Keogh

Last year, Edwards Murphy’s business had just closed a seed round and had plans to aggressively accelerate its international expansion. In the year since, Murphy has announced partnerships with global mobile satellite player Inmarsat and, most recently, the European Space Agency.

While ApisProtect is already reaching great new heights in its ambitious plan to protect one of Earth’s most important species, the company is only just getting started. It is in the process of utilising data sets and learnings from its global validation trials and is preparing to build its final commercial product. By the looks of things, 2020 is going to be a big year for Edwards Murphy and the team.

Anil Srivastava

Not to be confused with the Indian politician of the same name, Anil Srivastava is a Swiss CEO and the head of Leclanché, a high-quality energy storage solutions business.

A man in a white lab coat stands with his arms crossed in a room that appears to be designed for manufacturing.

Anil Srivastava. Image: Leclanché

This year, Srivastava was named European CEO’s Entrepreneur of the Year in a competition with nominees from 28 countries. The businessman stepped into his current role in 2014, taking over a company with a history beginning in 1909, when Georges Leclanché invented the dry cell battery.

In recent years, the company has been developing ultra-fast charging and energy storage solutions for electric vehicles, other electric transport solutions such as e-rail and e-marine battery systems, and storage for solar power.

David McDonnell

David McDonnell is the founder of Anuland, an agritech business launched in early 2019. At not even a year old, the company was awarded the top prize, as well as two other titles, at the National Dairy Show Innovation awards in October.

A man wearing a navy jacket sits in a field on a green chair wearing blue jeans and green wellies. In the background, there is a cloudy sky.

David McDonnell. Image: Anuland

McDonnell has spent much of his life in agriculture, leaving the industry only to diversify into complementary farm activities, such as developing renewable energy projects and securing a master’s in business administration.

A member of the Irish Wind Energy Association, the Irish Bio-Energy Association and the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland, McDonnell is passionate about sustainability in agriculture. If you don’t see his name come up next year, at least expect to hear plenty more from Anuland.

Patricia Scanlon

Dr Patricia Scanlon is the CEO of Dublin-based speech recognition technology company SoapBox labs. In 2019, her company has made some huge announcements, beginning with a major partnership with Microsoft.

A woman in a black dress, holding a microphone in her left hand, stands in front of a pink screen. She has shoulder-length brown hair.

Dr Patricia Scanlon. Image: SoapBox Labs

As the year went on, Scanlon built a dream team, with former TechIreland CEO Niamh Bushnell and former Shazam CFO Colm O’Carroll. More recently, she was named Digital Hero 2019 at the Spider Awards, right after SoapBox Labs announced a very significant partnership with a US research centre with the aim of delivering next-generation language and literacy assessments for young children.

We expect much of the same in 2020 as Scanlon grows the company and delivers its speech recognition technology on a massive scale in the US.

Are you a sci-tech entrepreneur with an exciting start-up story to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Start-up of the Week’.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic