20 success stories from a decade of Irish start-ups in the spotlight


31 Jan 2022

Image: © vpanteon/Stock.adobe.com

After a decade of showcasing early-stage Irish businesses in our Start-up of the Week series, we have seen some great successes.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

We first launched our Start-up of the Week series in November 2011 and in the decade since we have put more than 450 start-ups in the Silicon Republic spotlight. In that time, we’ve seen many Irish start-ups rise and fall on the rollercoaster journey of early entrepreneurship.

Future Human

Here’s a selection of some of the great successes – and a reminder that we know them before they were cool.

3D4Medical

Then: We featured 3D4Medical, a Dublin-based developer of medical and fitness apps, as our Start-up of the Week way back in 2012. Back then this start-up was already “fast making waves” after first starting out as a resource for medical stock images. Having pivoted along with advances in mobile devices, founder John Moore said: “The very nature of the iPad with its large screen and processing powers just worked incredibly well with what we could do and push the boundaries.”

Now: 3D4Medical was acquired by pharma giant Elsevier for a reported $50m in 2019 and continues to offer 3D anatomy apps across many platforms. Among other things, Moore is now the owner of Roomality, which is developing a 3D AR imaging system that doesn’t require a headset or glasses.

FoodCloud

Then: When we profiled this student-led, Dublin-based social enterprise in 2013, the team’s app helping businesses with surplus food redistribute it to charities and local community groups had landed a spot in a student start-up incubator and launched a pilot.

Now: 2014 would mark the EU’s Year of Food Waste and a prime launchpad for FoodCloud. Building on what it learned from the pilot, FoodCloud has now given supermarkets the tools to donate tonnes of food to charities, with partners including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Waitrose. The company recently earned support from Nestlé and founder and CEO Iseult Ward won the Social Responsibility Award at the first ever European Tech Women Awards.

Scurri

Then: We spoke to Scurri founder Rory O’Connor when his Wexford-based e-commerce shipping platform was fresh from participating in a 2013 Dublin pitch contest. Scurri was incubated in the Telecommunications Software & Systems Group at Waterford Institute of Technology and O’Connor had plans for rapid expansion in the US and beyond.

Now: Last year, Scurri was named among the world’s top 40 retail tech start-ups and its growth continues. Strong performance and a €9m investment last summer kicked off a two-year expansion plan and new jobs for Wexford.

CurrencyFair

Then: We caught up with CurrencyFair co-founder Brett Meyers at the 2013 Dublin Web Summit where he told us all about his peer-to-peer model for money transfers. It all started when the Australian in Ireland called friends to make a currency swap so he could send money home without being hit by fees or a poor exchange rate. Then at 30,000 customers, Meyers said “we now want to bring it to the rest of the world”.

Now: Last year, with five times as many customers, CurrencyFair merged with Australia’s Assembly Payments, forming new fintech Zai. “Our vision with Zai is to boldly transform the future of financial services,” said CEO Paul Byrne.

Artomatix

Then: When we profiled Artomatix in 2014, the company had just started a Kickstarter-style crowdfunding campaign for its creative AI based on 20 years of academic research. Still at alpha stage, Artomatix was building a system to quickly generate and scale photorealistic digital graphics based on inputs from an artist. Co-founder Dr Eric Risser counted the entrepreneurs behind Irish gaming middleware successes Havok and Demonware among his advisers and mentors.

Now: Artomatix was acquired by gaming software company Unity Technologies in late 2019 in a deal valued at up to $60m. Out of this merger came 100 new jobs for Dublin.

Lios

Then: When their start-up was known as Restored Hearing, we spoke to entrepreneurs Rhona Togher and Eimear O’Carroll about building a company from a BT Young Scientist project. Restored Hearing was launched while its founders were doing the Leaving Cert and five years later had two core products: SoundRelief tinnitus sound therapy and SoundBounce hearing protection.

Now: Rebranded as Lios in 2020, the out-of-this-world start-up landed work with the European Space Agency developing SoundBounce for use in the next generation of space transportation technology. “Our new company identity reflects our global customer base across the aerospace, automotive, home appliances and power generation industries,” said Togher.

Taxamo

Then: Rules for EU VAT compliance changed in 2015, which is when we spoke to Kerry’s Taxamo about its tech to tackle this challenge. CEO and founder John McCarthy told us of a “robust pipeline” of new products and features. “We believe that we can lead taxation services in this new digital age,” he added.

Now: Last year, Taxamo was bought by Vertex in an all-cash transaction valued at $200m. McCarthy joined the US tax software provider as president of e-commerce, overseeing the company’s global e-commerce and marketplace strategy.

Engage XR

Then: The recently renamed Engage XR was known as Immersive VR Education when it was selected as a Start-up of the Week in March 2015, when we learned all about its educational VR experiences. At the time, the company had just surpassed a €30,000 funding target on Kickstarter. “My inbox has been flooded with requests from schools, colleges and universities for demonstrations,” said CEO and founder David Whelan.

Now: Today, with a strategic partnership with HTC in hand, Engage XR has a new name and a broader outlook. After a strong performance during the pandemic, the Waterford-headquartered company raised €9m to support the building of its “metaverse for business”.

Deposify

Then: Jon Bayle left a decade-long career in corporate finance to found Deposify and provide three key services to landlords: banking, dispute resolution and compliance. “We’ve been busy in closed beta testing with a number of large and small letting agents who are keen to use Deposify to help them increase their sales and reduce their costs,” said Tracy Keogh, a member of the operations team when we profiled the company in 2015.

Now: Deposify took its software platform to the US market with backing from Bank of Ireland and Enterprise Ireland and, earlier this year, Bayle revealed that the company had been acquired by a private equity firm. Keogh, meanwhile, became the co-founder of Grow Remote and is a leading voice in helping Ireland realise the full potential of remote work.

LetsGetChecked

Then: Featured in 2015, six months after its launch, LetsGetChecked was already up and running with its testing kits that could be ordered online across Europe for use at home or accessed at more than 100 pharmacies across Ireland. “The opportunity is about making testing more accessible and removing the burden from existing healthcare systems,” said founder Peter Foley.

Now: Foley couldn’t have predicted how important this proposition would become. Having developed an at-home test kit for Covid-19, LetsGetChecked raised one of the biggest Irish funding rounds of 2020 with $71m pumped into the company. It went on to raise double that in 2021, achieving a valuation of more than $1bn.

Buymie

Then: We profiled Buymie, an Irish on-demand grocery delivery service powered by an algorithm nicknamed JARVIS, in 2016. The goal of the start-up was to make online delivery services available to retailers of any size and at that point the platform was more than a year in development and had secured early interest in its pilot testing.

Now: Another start-up that proved its worth during the pandemic, Buymie saw its business boom with 300pc growth in Q1 of 2020. First it took Dublin, then Cork, Galway, Limerick and expansion to the UK followed. It was recently valued at €15m.

Firmwave

Then: Another 2016 Start-up of the Week was Firmwave, spotlighting its ultra-low-power hardware and firmware for the internet of things (IoT) and wearables. CEO and co-founder Fintan McGovern said: “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.” Identified as an Enterprise Ireland high-potential start-up, the young company had already started working with big names such as Asavie, Vodafone, Intel and IBM.

Now: Firmwave was snapped up by another Irish IoT company and a long-time collaborator, Taoglas, three years later. The merger created a one-stop-shop for IoT engineering services that has been going strong since.

Nova Leah

Then: Dr Anita Finnegan started Nova Leah on the basis of a cybersecurity framework she developed during her PhD. The company officially spun out of Dundalk Institute of Technology in 2016 and, less than a year later, was featured in the pages of SiliconRepublic.com. “My plan is that Nova Leah will be the number-one solutions provider for intelligent cybersecurity risk management systems in the medical device industry,” said Finnegan, and the start-up had just begun onboarding its first major customers in Europe and the US.

Now: In 2019, Nova Leah secured two rounds of funding under the Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund along with a string of awards and accolades. Last year, it closed a round of seed funding that opened up collaboration with New York healthcare provider Northwell Health, which operates 23 hospitals and 830 outpatient facilities.

ID-Pal

Then: Dublin start-up ID-Pal was a 2018 Start-up of the Week. It was the only Irish start-up selected for Salesforce’s four-month EMEA Accelerate programme and had recently won an industry award for its know your customer (KYC) tech. At the time, ID-Pal was scaling up activities in the US and preparing to launch outside of Ireland, starting with the UK. “ID-Pal’s KYC solution is relevant to all financial service providers, brokers and advisers. Needless to say, the market is huge,” said co-founder James O’Toole.

Now: As well as partnerships with Salesforce and Temenos, ID-Pal has built an impressive client list including AIB Merchant Services, Elavon, Fexco, Mercer and many more. The pandemic accelerated its scale-up journey and its customer acquisition platform is now in use in 43 countries across the EU, US, Middle East and Asia.

CitySwift

Then: We profiled the company formerly known as CitySwifter in March 2019, speaking to co-founder and CEO Brian O’Rourke. He told us how the Galway start-up was using data analytics and machine learning to improve public transport with predictions on journey times and passenger demand, and responsive timetables. “The ultimate goal is to get our product active globally in major cities on every continent,” said O’Rourke.

Now: In 2020, CitySwift raised €2m in a funding round led existing investors from a previous funding round in March 2019. It went on to land a deal with UK bus operator the National Express West Midlands and, today (31 January), it announced a partnership with the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the largest public transport operator in North America.

ApisProtect

Then: We profiled Cork start-up ApisProtect on Earth Day 2019, after it had received seed funding to grow its team and the same year the company joined a European Space Agency business incubator led by Tyndall National Institute. ApisProtect uses sensors to monitor the health of honey bee colonies and co-founder and CEO Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy said the company mission is “to save the bees, because if we don’t take action now we’ll lose our most important insect ally”.

Now: Last year, ApisProtect launched its flagship commercial beehive monitoring platform in the US and was later noted in Scientific American for its potential to help ailing bee colonies. Edwards Murphy was also among about a dozen Irish people named on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list of young innovators.

Tines

Then: When we profiled Tines in 2019, the security automation start-up was just about to blow up. Co-founder and CEO Eoin Hinchy had spent 15 years working in cybersecurity for “the most attacked companies on the planet”, inspiring him to build an automation platform that security teams could use without needing to write a single line of code. The signs were already there that this one-year-old start-up was resonating with users. “I was with a customer a couple of weeks ago and they used Tines as a verb,” said Hinchy.

Now: Months after its Start-up of the Week appearance, Tines landed an $11m Series A, followed last year by a $26m Series B. This last funding injection put in motion plans to open a new office in Boston, which is now up and running.

Flipdish

Then: Flipdish was a Start-up of the Week in March 2020, right as the pandemic was about to change everything – and opportune timing for a start-up with a platform to facilitate online ordering for restaurants and takeaways. CEO and co-founder Conor McCarthy told us of a five-year struggle to get these businesses to warm up to the tech: “At the beginning, we found it hard to get customers to believe in us. We were unproven and therefore a risky choice in their eyes, but we were very confident that our product and approach would deliver significant ROI.”

Now: How right he was. We had already tipped Flipdish as one to watch pre-pandemic but the past two years saw its rising star skyrocket to success. It started the year as Ireland’s newest start-up in the unicorn club and now plans to hire 700 people.

Thriftify

Then: Another start-up with great timing was Thriftify, which we profiled in 2020. The website that brought charity shop stock into the e-commerce age had launched in 2018 and was becoming more popular as climate-conscious shoppers turned away from fast fashion and new buys. At the time, the company was readying its UK launch.

Now: Thrifity proved its purpose during the pandemic, as charity shops needed an online presence to keep operations going under social restrictions. After a funding round led by Elkstone Partners and Enterprise Ireland in 2020, it now has a whopping 98pc of Ireland’s charity retailers on board and 35 charities signed up so far in the UK. It also has plans to launch a B2C app this year following successful roll-out of a B2B app last year.

Shorla Pharma

Then: The team behind Shorla Pharma told us about their goal to develop accessible and affordable treatments for women’s and paediatric cancers in May 2020. Based alongside a cluster of pharma businesses in Tipperary, Shorla’s R&D focuses on improving established treatments; for example, one of its products has redeveloped a children’s cancer drug from a difficult-to-swallow capsule into an oral solution.

Now: Shorla Pharma announced an $8.3m Series A led by Seroba Life Sciences just after appearing as our Start-up of the Week. Following that, it was granted an expedited FDA review for its drug designed to treat T-cell leukaemia and opened a new office just outside Boston amid the Cambridge biotech cluster.

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