Frequency wants to improve communication within aviation

28 Sep 2020

Kris Vansteenkiste, CTO of Frequency. Image: Frequency

Our Start-up of the Week is Frequency, an Irish-based company building an internet-based unified communication and collaboration platform for the aviation industry.

It is no secret that the aviation industry has taken a significant hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, with many flights grounded as countries implement travel restrictions to mitigate the spread of the disease.

This left pilots and airline crews with lots of time on their hands. For three Aer Lingus pilots based in Ireland, the downtime presented the perfect opportunity to launch a start-up called Frequency, which focuses on an issue the co-founders were acutely aware of due to their work within the airline industry.

Kris Vansteenkiste, chief technology officer (CTO) at Frequency, spoke to about the start-up’s ambitions and the need for its communication technology.

What is Frequency?

Vansteenkiste said: “Frequency is an innovative internet-based unified communication and collaboration platform for the aviation industry, optimised to be an effective disruption management tool.”

The co-founder said that the platform can improve efficiency, reduce delays and lower costs for airlines by enabling all team members to communicate effectively using voice, text, file or photo sharing on the ground, in the air or at their destination.

“Our initial target market is commercial aviation. This is a large industry that is currently undergoing a wide shift to adopt and invest in new technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs,” Vansteenkiste said.

Vansteenkiste said that he has always had a passion for technology and innovation, and has always felt drawn to tinker with computers and technology to come up with the next big idea.

His work in aviation, along with that of co-founders Justin Perry and Darach O’Comhrai, gives the founding team a combined 40 years of commercial flying experience, which is also backed up by engineering, law, business and technology qualifications.

The technology

“Frequency is a software-only solution, utilising hardware that is already in place, such as tablet devices in the flight deck and smartphones, which are now widely available to all key personnel throughout the airline,” Vansteenkiste said.

“We are a tailor-made communication and collaboration platform, specifically for companies with very dynamic teams, that are rarely in the same room together and, in the case of some airlines, often not even on the same continent.”

The founding team of Frequency does not believe that broad appeal-based communication platforms currently fit operations teams with very specific needs. The idea for the start-up’s technology began with solving a problem that the team grappled with on a daily basis.

“Solving this problem and bringing value to airline operations teams and improving the passenger’s experience remains our goal,” Vansteenkiste said. “By remaining focused on this, the rest of the potential benefits will largely take care of themselves.”

The CTO believes that Frequency’s technology can help airlines to “bounce back” from the Covid-19 pandemic, as soon as the opportunity arises.

“We are motivated and enthusiastic to contribute to this proactively every day,” he added. “We are finding that airlines that were previously too busy to trial new technology and processes now have that spare capacity and are searching for innovations to improve their efficiency.”

The future

The three pilots behind Frequency recently raised almost €530,000 in funding.

Vansteenkiste said that this will provide the start-up with an 18-month runway, allowing Frequency to focus on customers and product development for the next 12 months, to ensure there’s a product-market fit. The start-up is currently lining up airlines to trial its software in 2021.

One of the investors in the start-up’s first funding round was Enterprise Ireland. Vansteenkiste noted that Ireland is “an excellent place” to launch a start-up.

“There are many supports available through Government initiatives and there is a deep well of other start-up founders at various stages, constantly offering mentorship and connecting you with opportunities,” he added.

When asked what advice he has for others considering setting up a start-up in Ireland, he said: “We strongly recommend taking the chance and beginning the journey as a start-up. We recommend a team of three co-founders, not only to share the workload, but also because of the different complementary skillsets.”

He described life as a start-up co-founder as a “rollercoaster” that comes with its fair share of disappointments along the way.

“Overall, the small victories and progress are more than worth it. There is no way you will know everything and avoid mistakes, so surround yourself with experienced mentors and advisers who have been through it all before and are happy to guide you.”

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Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic