Start-up of the week: Firmwave

12 Dec 2016

From left: Fintan McGovern, Adrian Burns and Ciaran Burns, co-founders of Firmwave. Image: Connor McKenna

Our start-up of the week is Firmwave, an innovative product and solution design company that specialises in designing ultra-low power hardware and firmware for IoT and wearable devices.

“Firmwave has decades of experience in designing and delivering smart connected sensor products and a successful track record in delivering commercial and industrial grade internet of things (IoT) hardware and firmware to customers in healthcare, smart home and smart office environments,” explained Firmware CEO and co-founder Fintan McGovern.

“We have a product called Firmwave Edge that we license to customers, which can be plugged into all kinds of ‘things’ to make them smart, secure and connected.

‘IoT will be a $14.4trn uplift to global GDP by 2022. We can be a major Irish player in this global market’

These things include “smart meters, asset trackers, health monitoring devices, home appliances and bus shelters to name a few. This shortens the time to market for our customers.”

The market

Firmwave is targeting the emerging IoT sensors market that is predicted to reach $34.75bn by 2023.

“The world we live in will be enhanced by IoT and we are targeting a number of vertical markets such as energy monitoring, health monitoring and agriculture.

“These vertical markets have a major footprint in Ireland and give us visibility and entry into the global markets.

“Firmwave is already working with some great partners here such as Asavie, Nimbus, Emutex, Davra Networks, Vodafone, Intel and IBM to rapidly create secure IoT solutions for our customers.

“Research suggests that by the end of 2016, we will surpass 10,000 global enterprise IoT projects. While most of them are still in the proof-of-concept (PoC) stage, they are rapidly moving from PoC to product (or maker to market).”

The founders

Fintan McGovern is a former Irish Army officer with 15 years of experience at home and overseas. Upon leaving the Defence Forces after completing the MBA from UCD Smurfit School, he took up a role leading the change management for Kenmare Resources in Mozambique.

After that, he moved to Digicel in the telco sector and was regional HR director for the Eastern Caribbean sector before moving onto mergers and new business acquisitions. He returned to Ireland in December 2014 and co-founded Firmwave the following April.

Adrian Burns, CTO and co-founder, brings 15 years of software development experience from Intel, Qualcomm, Teleca, Lake and IBM. Burns has a deep technical understanding and vision of the benefits that IoT will bring the world.

He has previously worked on some leading IoT hardware and software platforms that provide security, connectivity and manageability and was a software tech lead on Intel Quark/Galileo (designed in Intel Ireland) in 2013.

Ciaran Burns, CFO and co-founder, is a chartered tax advisor who owns and runs a successful tax consultancy business. He has an intricate knowledge of the tax and accounting systems both here in Ireland and globally.

The technology

Start-up of the week: Firmwave

From left: Fintan McGovern, Adrian Burns, Caroline Macken, Lucasz Drygiel, Bartosz Ziolek, Kamil Gardziejczyk, Dominika Wojtkowiak, Bartek Bogusziewicz, Pawel Jarzewicz, Marco Pietri, Wassim Magnin, Mike Healy, Maruisz Ryndzioniek and Maoiliosa O’Culachain. Image: Luke Maxwell

Firmwave Edge is the first low-power, wireless sensor network platform powered by Intel Quark MCU technology, but we also use ARM technology,” McGovern explained.

“Organisations wishing to deploy IoT solutions can be overwhelmed by the myriad of sensor and network communication protocols and standards they encounter. This level of fragmentation makes IoT deployments lengthy, costly and inefficient.

“The Firmwave Edge modular hardware and firmware stack allows organisations to quickly and securely deploy edge devices across diverse network types.”

McGovern explained that currently, enabling IoT solutions is expensive and requires highly bespoke solutions, particularly at the enterprise level.

“Enterprises benefit from having a seamless end-to-end connectivity experience, enabling them to capture and securely manage the vast amounts of data transacted between their IoT devices. Organisations can for the first time, access a secure and scalable data delivery channel from edge IoT sensors and IoT gateways across multiple networks including ZigBee, Thread, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRa, Sigfox, and cellular and Narrowband IoT.

“Our ultimate goal is to become global leaders in low-power edge connectivity utilising our platform in millions of connected devices as the first layer of secure connectivity.

“We are an Enterprise Ireland (EI) High Potential Start-Up, and we hope to enter new markets globally through the assistance from EI. We hope to become a key deliverer of managed services to clients and customers who choose Firmwave Edge as their connectivity platform in the form of firmware/software and security updates because, in the world of connected machines, if you can’t update it, then you can’t secure it.”

Edge of tomorrow

McGovern said the company is progressing at full steam.

“We have several customers who are currently using Firmwave Edge as their chosen connectivity platform in their devices. We are working on three leading-edge design projects for clients in the energy, healthcare and smart agriculture vertical markets.

“Our team has grown from 3 to 15 people in just 18 months and we are now hiring more hardware/software developers, as there is an acute need for IoT system design and integration. We have a team in Ireland in the Guinness Enterprise Centre, Dublin and Gdansk Technology Park, Poland.”

McGovern said the hardest part so far has been putting all the right chess pieces onto the board.

“The ability to scale and scale quickly is where we are at. The shortage of key tech people is a real challenge for a lot of tech companies. We have had to think outside the box and look global and feel that with good management systems and procedures, a lot can be managed remotely. We will follow the talent.

“We are an innovative IoT company working in a new business model space, and educating investors to what we are doing and the scale of the opportunity that we are tapping into will take time.

“IoT will be a $14.4trn uplift to global GDP by 2022. We can be a major Irish player in this global market.”

Entrepreneurial spirit

Having recently returned to Ireland, McGovern feels the start-up scene is very active and very conducive to global needs.

“The fact that a lot of the key players from a multinational level are based here means that Ireland has a strategic advantage. The work ethic that exists is also a bonus. In Ireland, there is a really strong entrepreneurial spirit and it’s no coincidence that there has been so much success by Irish people abroad.”

His advice to fellow entrepreneurs is to follow their instincts. “Get out there and do it, but be resilient! There is never a ‘right time’, trust your gut and get good mentors.

“We have taken on board a chairman – Maoiliosa O’ Culachain – with great international credibility who has been through his own successful start-up journey.”

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