26 outstanding start-ups that smash the ‘boys’ club’ stereotype

17 Feb 2016

Just look at what wonderful things can happen when women-led start-ups get the support they deserve.

A recent dissection of figures from the Irish Venture Capital Association (IVCA) by the Irish Independent found a disappointing trend in the Irish tech scene amongst start-ups.

In the first 10 months of 2015, only 3pc of start-ups the IVCA reported to have secured funding were founded or co-founded by women, and a paltry 0.6pc had a female chief executive.

This prompted cries of a ‘boys’ club’ in the Irish tech scene – and rightfully so – but that’s not to say there aren’t hard-working, successful female founders and leaders out there. It’s just that they are not receiving the same support as their peers.

So, just to remind investors and entrepreneurs and the whole world of the potential diverse nature of the STEM start-up space, here are 26 super start-ups with women at the forefront. Some are early-stage award-winners, and some have graduated from the start-up scene through hefty acquisitions.

Incidentally, if you’re part of an investor-ready start-up with at least one woman in a position of leadership, you may want to check out the Astia Venture Showcase coming to Dublin during Inspirefest 2016.

1. Artfetch

Co-founded by Katie and Patricia Tsouros and based in Dublin and London, Artfetch is an e-commerce platform that showcases emerging artists from all over the world.

Katie Tsouros, CEO and co-founder, Artfetch

Katie Tsouros, CEO and co-founder, Artfetch

Artfetch globally selects, curates and sells emerging contemporary art online. The start-up helps art lovers explore degree shows from Shanghai to San Francisco, Dublin to Dubai, and see what artists are making it in New York, London or Berlin. A personal guide for art-collecting’s next generation, Artfetch manages a global network of curators, critics and advisers, providing users with insights into trends and what’s coming next using cutting-edge online technologies.

2. Beats Medical

Chartered physiotherapist Ciara Clancy founded Beats Medical in 2012 when she was just 22. The company developed a smartphone app that provides specialised cueing treatment for Parkinson’s patients, which is basically sound-wave treatment that enables people to regain mobility and helps them manage their disease at home.

Founder and CEO Clancy had quite the 2015, making a stellar presentation at Inspirefest in June before being named Laureate for Europe at the Cartier Women’s Initiative in October, and then winning Google’s Adopt A Start-up Programme in December.

3. Cortechs

Founded and led by Áine Behan, Cortechs is an Irish start-up that has achieved considerable success in a short number of years with its combination of a wearable brainwave-reading headset and software that uses gaming to help improve children’s focus, attention and relaxation.

Áine Behan, Cortechs

In the last few months alone, Behan and Cortechs have secured more than €200,000 in funding to develop its range of platforms, which will now expand into adult brain-training for the first time later this summer.

As CEO of a start-up of four with plans to expand, Behan was the only Irish finalist at 2014’s Lady Pitch night.

4. Element Wave

Element Wave is a software company that specialises in mobile-gaming marketing platforms. Based in Galway, Dorothy Creaven (CEO) founded what was originally Element Software with James Harkin (CTO) in late 2010, developing high-quality apps dedicated to the ever-evolving world of mobile technology.

Element Wave

James Harkin (CTO) and Dorothy Creaven (CEO) of Element Wave. Photo via Element Wave

Creaven, who has a degree in electronic engineering from NUI Galway, recently launched the company’s marketing automation platform, Mobile Moments. A big achievement for the company, Creaven noted the “huge amount of development” that has gone into building the company’s core technology.

5. Equinome

Genomics company Equinome was co-founded by Dr Emmeline Hill and horse trainer Jim Bolger back in 2009. A NovaUCD spinout, the company hit the headlines when Hill’s published description of the ‘speed gene’ – which contributes to the thoroughbred athletic physique of horses – made waves in the industry.

Dr Emmeline Hill, Equinome

Equinome co-founder Dr Emmeline Hill with her 2014 NovaUCD Innovation Award. Photo via Nick Bradshaw

At the end of 2015, it was acquired by Plusvital, the Irish equine nutrition company, with Equinome the most active publisher of scientific papers on thoroughbred exercise genomics of any other research group worldwide.

Hill’s new position is chief science officer at a revamped Plusvital.

6. FoodCloud

Not-for-profit social enterprise FoodCloud connects businesses with too much food with charities that can redistribute it, tackling the serious problem of food waste.

FoodCloud - Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien

FoodCloud co-founders Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien

Featured as a Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week in 2013, FoodCloud was founded by Aoibheann O’Brien and Iseult Ward in 2012, when the pair were students. They developed an app to connect businesses with surplus food with the charities that need it, and have formed partnerships with mega-brands such as Tesco and Aldi in this endeavour.

O’Brien and Ward were named Ireland’s top young social entrepreneurs in 2014 and went on to the Google Adopt a Start-up Programme in 2015.

7. FormFormForm (Sugru)

FormFormForm is the London-headquarterd company behind Sugru, the “21st century duct tape” created by Irishwoman Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh.

Ní Dhulchaointigh, who is CEO of FormFormFrom, co-founded the company with serial entrepreneur Roger Ashby, and was named one of the Top Tech Superheroes to watch by CNN last year.


Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

Sugru inventor and CEO, Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

Sugru, an adhesive that moulds like play dough, sticks to almost anything, then turns into a strong flexible rubber within 24 hours, also raised more than £3.5m through a crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube last year, smashing its original target of £1m.

Sugru is already available through B&Q and Amazon, as well as Target stores in the US, and Ní Dhulchaointigh now has her eyes on the global prize, with plans to target the lucrative DIY and toy markets and set up factories in seven countries.

8. Frockadvisor

Sonya Lennon is the co-founder of Frockadvisor, which she set up with her Off The Rails co-presenter Brendan Courtney.

Sonya Lennon

Frockadvisor co-founder Sonya Lennon

Frockadvisor, which stylist and TV presenter Lennon described as a “dedicated fashion social commerce platform”, aims to give independent retailers an online destination from which to offer a personal service to customers.

A website and iOS app, Frockadvisor helps customers to find hidden gems on the high street, covering boutiques in the UK and Ireland in the areas of footwear, consignment, high-end and vintage fashion.

9. Grace App Communications

Grace App Communications was founded by Lisa Domican, who is a mother of two teenagers with autism. The company’s flagship app offers simple non-verbal communication for people with autism or other disabilities by creating sequences of pictures to form sentences.

Domican actively campaigns for communication to be seen as a right rather than a privilege and spoke about social entrepreneurship at last year’s Inspirefest Fringe festival.

Since its launch, both Domican and Grace App have received several awards, including the United Nations World Summit Award for m-learning and education, an Irish Web Award for Best App, a Women Mean Business Award, Image Magazine Business Woman of the Year Award and a David Manley Award for Best Social Entrepreneur.

10. Hassle.com

Inspirefest 2016 speaker Jules Coleman is the co-founder and chief product officer of Hassle.com, which allows people to hire a cleaner quickly and easily.

Coleman founded the company in 2011 with friends Alex Depledge and Tom Nimmo and it won the Start-up of the Year at the Tech City Awards in London in 2013.

Jules Coleman

Jules Coleman, co-founder and chief product officer, Hassle.com

Hassle.com works by allowing users to type in their address and browse through cleaner profiles and customer reviews to find the cleaner that best suits their needs.

It was originally based in London but set up a branch in Ireland last year and, in July 2015, it was acquired by Berlin-based home-cleaning services provider Helpling, with the combined entity now operating in 14 markets and Coleman’s role having expanded to being a global one.

11. Kinesense

Dublin-based start-up Kinesense has developed CCTV video retrieval and analysis solutions for the surveillance and security markets. Co-founders Mark Sugrue and Sarah Doyle are behind the business, with 2016 already an incredibly busy time for the now seven-year-old operation.

In January, dRedBox – a consortium involving Kinesense and IBM Research Ireland – won €6.4m in EU funding to develop a next-generation cloud computing server.

Sarah Doyle

Sarah Doyle, MD of Kinesense. Photo via Kinesense

Aiming to double its turnover to €1m this year, Doyle (MD of the company) has seen her business shift from a solely Irish operation to one that’s primary market is in the UK.

“Selling a totally new product to the public service was a challenge. It took two years to get people to sit up and listen, but now, we are the No 1 company in this space in the UK,” said Doyle.

12. KonnectAgain

The brainchild of Jayne Ronayne and Helen Flynn (and a previous Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week), KonnectAgain is an online platform set up with the goal of helping third-level institutions and alumni reconnect. This is Ronayne’s second start-up company, the first of which was UrYearBook, which emerged from the UCC Ignite programme.

KonnectAgain’s Jayne Ronayne and Helen Flynn

KonnectAgain’s Jayne Ronayne and Helen Flynn meet An Taoiseach Enda Kenny

The goal of KonnectAgain is to be the world’s No 1 provider of alumni relations software, not only in the education market but in the commercial and HR market, as well.

KonnectAgain has so far raised $550,000 in angel investment funding.

13. Love & Robots

Formerly known as FabAllThings, Love & Robots is an interactive design brand that uses 3D printing to create unique products on behalf of its growing design community. In essence, products passing through the company are designed with love, made by robots.

The founding team of sisters Emer, Kate and Aoibheann O’Daly and then-CTO Miguel Alonso claimed the €25,000 ESB Spark of Genius prize at the 2014 Web Summit and signed a deal with Amazon, taking the first steps in becoming a global business.

Love & Robots founders

Kate, Emer and Aoibheann O’Daly winning the 2014 ESB Spark of Genius Award. Photo via Love & Robots

Meanwhile, back in Dublin, Love & Robots took its fashionable start-up to the high street last Christmas with a pop-up shop on Dame Lane.

14. Mint Tek

Mint Tek provides a bridge between hardware developers and manufacturers, making it easier, faster and cheaper to create prototypes. Co-founded in 2014 by CEO Siobhán Ní Chofaigh and CFO Georgina Kearney, Mint Tek aims to help inventors at all levels of technical know-how take their designs to the next level.

Siobhán Ní Chofaigh and Georgina Kearney of Mint Tek

Siobhán Ní Chofaigh and Georgina Kearney of Mint Tek at a mentor evening for the DCU Ryan Academy High Fliers programme. Photo via Mint Tek/Flickr

Ní Chofaigh and Kearney have used their extensive experience in electronics and finance, respectively, to grow the business. Mint Tek – a former Start-up of the Week on Siliconrepublic.com – was recently selected as a participant in Bank of Ireland’s first tech incubator in Galway, and it plans to create eight new roles over the next three years.

15. Nuritas

Founded by Inspirefest 2016 speaker Nora Khaldi, Nuritas combines the advanced fields of artificial intelligence and nutritional science, which has led to the development of an advanced computer algorithm to break down a food source to molecules that can then be used for scientific research.

Based in Dublin, the start-up achieved success in October last year when it raised $3.2m in funding to develop its advanced platform, despite the fact Khaldi’s company concept was dismissed as unachievable.

“I was told this was impossible and I decided not to listen,” Khaldi said. “I built a team who believe in what we do and together we made it happen. We have discovered and patented some incredible life-changing ingredients and we will discover many more.”

16. Opening.io

A start-up designed to simplify the recruitment process, Opening.io matches talent with tech and creative industry jobs, utilising linguistic algorithms to map patterns in job posts and CVs. Founded in November 2014 by CEO Andreea Wade and CTO Adrian Mihai, Opening.io is designed to help with internal and external hiring and assignation of roles.

Andreea Wade

Opening.io co-founder and CEO Andreea Wade. Photo via Andreea Wade/Flickr

Wade has a history of building great start-ups, and is behind AskATon and StartupHiking, as well as former Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week Brandalism.

17. Opsh

Fashion e-commerce site Opsh was founded by sibling trio Jennie, Sarah and Grace McGinn, who hold the roles of CEO, head of marketing and head of product respectively.

Unlike most other online shopping platforms, Opsh does not hold any stock, rather it facilitates the transaction between consumer and retailer, and allows customers to shop across multiple stores and brands on one site and using one checkout.

The site celebrated its first birthday in October and in that time it grew from a team of six to 15, expanded the number of retailers on its site to more than 30, and grew its user base to 65,000 shoppers. Expanding to the UK in September last year, the trio also recently learnt that Opsh had been selected to take part in the Microsoft Ventures London Accelerator.

18. Ourobotics

Ourobotics, headed by Jemma Redmond, has developed a 10-material bioprinter capable of printing items for use in medicine. The company’s URL – www.weare3dbioprintinghumans.org – gives you an indication of its lofty ambition.

Jemma Redmond, Ourobotics

Jemma Redmond, Ourobotics. Photo via Google

Often blogging about bioprinting, Redmond’s role at the start-up has proved award-winning thus far, and the company released its second-generation open-source Renegade 3D bioprinter this month.

Only a few weeks ago, Ourobotics took the top prize at the SVOD Europe competition, following Redmond’s effective pitch. It saw Redmond awarded €5,000 in Google Adwords credit.

19. Pharmapod

Launched by former pharmacist Leonora O’Brien, Pharmapod aims to improve knowledge-sharing among pharmacists. The cloud software caters for both community and hospital pharmacies, and should prevent errors or medication-related incidents.

Leonora O'Brien, Pharmapod

Pharmapod founder Leonora O’Brien picks up her Cartier Women’s Initiative Award

NDRC graduate Pharmapod has scooped numerous accolades, with O’Brien winning the top European prize in hthe Global Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards in 2013.

A key turning point for the company came in 2014 when Pharmapod secured a deal with the UK’s National Pharmacy Association.

20. Restored Hearing

If you’re on the Irish start-up scene and you haven’t heard of Restored Hearing, then its founders Rhona Togher (CEO) and Eimear O’Carroll (CTO) have a rather innovative solution to that problem.

Once featured as Siliconrepublic.com’s Start-up of the Week, Restored Hearing has developed two core products: Sound Relief tinnitus sound therapy and Sound Bounce hearing protection, which use the internet of things to track quality of hearing over time and try to reduce tinnitus severity.

Restored Hearing founders

Eimear O’Carroll, CTO, and Rhona Togher, CEO, Restored Hearing

Both Togher and O’Carroll are tapping into a market of the hundreds of millions people worldwide who suffer from tinnitus. In 2014, they were shortlisted alongside Love & Robots as finalists for the ESB Spark of Genius award.

21. Simteractive

With the gaming industry awash with male-led companies, it’s a refreshing change to see the success achieved by Simteractive’s founder and CEO, Elaine Reynolds. The Dublin-based video game company specialises in casual sim free-to-play games for smartphones and tablets.

Elaine Reynolds, Simteractive

Elaine Reynolds, founder and CEO, Simteractive. Photo via Simteractive

As someone who has given much of her time towards positive STEM measures like Coder Girl Hack Day, Reynolds and her company were chosen by the Irish Game Makers Association (IGMA) as one of the recipients of a scholarship funding to take the company to the US.

Speaking about the Irish gaming scene recently, Reynolds said that it’s competitive as a start-up, but a challenge to relish. “Among the game developers in Ireland, there is a feeling that we’re all in it together,” she said. “We are rooting for each other and want to see an Irish success story.”

22. Skytek

In the almost 20 years since it was co-founded by Dr Sarah Bourke and Paul Kiernan, Skytek has become synonymous with space-tech and other aeronautical technologies here in Ireland.

Highly skilled in the world of software development, Bourke and Skytek developed a piece of software known as the International Procedural Viewer, which has been operating aboard the International Space Station since 2005.

Dr Sarah Bourke, Skytek – start-ups

Skytek co-founder Dr Sarah Bourke

For her efforts as one of the leading figures in one of Ireland’s most innovative sectors, Bourke was included among the nine finalists of the EU Prize for Women Innovators 2016, with the winner to be announced in March.

23. ThoughtBox

Yet another previous Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, ThoughtBox is an award-winning educational company developing mobile experiences centred on game-based learning.

Headed by Cristina Luminea, the company’s first product – Numerosity: Play with Math! – is an iPad application aimed at 7-to-10-year-olds that makes maths into a game. In Numerosity, kids are encouraged to control and manipulate the numbers and signs (such as addition, subtraction, etc), make mistakes and learn from them in order to advance to the next level.

ThoughtBox - Cristina Luminea

ThoughtBox founder and CEO, Cristina Luminea. Photo via Cristina Luminea/Twitter

ThoughtBox is understood to have raised $150,000 in seed funding so far and is a graduate of the Wayra and NDRC incubators. Luminea, originally from Romania, has four degrees under her belt, including two in software development, a degree in marketing, and a master’s in engineering.

24. TickerFit

Dublin-based TickerFit is a healthcare company that has developed a cloud platform for prescribing and delivering personalised programmes to patients. Essentially, it offers a follow-up treatment schedule for patients after they leave hospital.

Founded by chartered physiotherapist and exercise scientist Avril Copeland, and technologist Greg Balmer, the start-up recently started a 10-month accelerator programme in the UK called Velocity Health.

TickerFit founders

TickerFit founders Greg Balmer and Avril Copeland. Photo via TickerFit

Last May, TickerFit won the Innovation Award at the National Healthcare Conference, with related accolades coming in the UK late last year.

25. Viddyad

Headed by Grainne Barron, Viddyad is a cloud-based video ad creation tool with access to millions of videos and images. Users can simply select the videos and images, add text, logos, music and special effects, and the Viddyad platform creates a video commercial in seconds for use online, through social media, blogs or websites.

Viddyad founder Grainne Barron - start-ups

Viddyad founder Grainne Barron

In 2013, Viddyad was named an ESB Spark of Genius Award winner and a key turning point for the company was when it struck a deal with imagery giant Getty Images. Now San Francisco-based, Barron has an MBA from UCD and a BSc in business and law from Fordham University, New York.

26. YellowSchedule

In early 2011, Martina Skelly paired her digital marketing and management experience with her brother Michael’s programming skills and together they established YellowSchedule, a platform to make managing appointments easy and friction-free.

YellowSchedule’s cloud-based scheduling software has attracted praise from clients around the world and investment from the likes of Enterprise Ireland and angel investor Sean Riddell.

YellowSchedule co-founders Michael and Martina Skelly – start-ups

YellowSchedule co-founders Michael and Martina Skelly

Hundreds of thousands of appointments have been made using YellowSchedule, which has reaped the rewards of this success. In 2013, it won the Digital/Online Startup of the Year Award and a Women in Business Award for CEO Skelly at the Vodafone Startup Awards, plus it was named the Most Indispensable Cloud Service for SMEs at the 2013 IIA Net Visionary Awards 2013.

Women Invent is Silicon Republic’s campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. It has been running since March 2013, and is kindly supported by Intel, Open Eir (formerly Eircom Wholesale), Fidelity Investments, Accenture and CoderDojo.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Join us again from 30 June to 2 July 2016 for fresh perspectives on leadership, innovation and diversity. Get your Early Bird tickets now.

Image of signs via Gajus/Shutterstock