Ireland’s indigenous tech industry has its finger on the pulse of the most promising fields to keep an eye on in 2018.
“Rude health, I like that phrase,” TechIreland CEO Niamh Bushnell muses as we go over the data organisation’s first sectoral review of the indigenous Irish tech scene.
The Irish tech sector has had its ups and downs over the past decade but, across emerging areas such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, fintech and agritech, as well as traditional fields such as health and security, the industry is buzzing in terms of funding and activity.
‘It’s about quantifying Ireland and giving it a reputation and perspective when it comes to commercialising and developing products’
– NIAMH BUSHNELL
The data is more of a snapshot of a moment in time of the indigenous tech sector in Ireland, and it is not a complete picture as sectors such as social/advertising, travel, e-commerce and industrial technology are due to be covered in future reviews.
Bushnell pointed out that the State of the Innovation Nation Review 2017 is focused on product companies and not on services companies. In many ways, it is about the founders and co-founders who risked everything to build businesses from scratch by developing their own core intellectual property (IP).
“It’s about quantifying Ireland and giving it a reputation and perspective when it comes to commercialising and developing products. The reason we focus on founders and co-founders is because these are the people who have taken risks, in lots of cases remortgaging their homes, and going from being breadwinners to bootstrapping or living on a shoestring to prototype products.
“That’s the reality of start-ups, that’s what people have to do.”
TechIreland revealed last week that Irish start-ups with women founders secured just €79.4m worth of investment out of a total of €580.2m raised in 2017, or just under 14pc of the total amount.
Another facet to emerge from the latest sectoral review is that women founders are still in the minority among the fast-growing sectors in Ireland. Despite this, Bushnell believes Ireland bucks the international trend in terms of the proportion of women founders leading tech companies.
Ireland’s tech sectors to watch in 2018
Ireland has 77 companies that can describe themselves as active in the AI space, out of which only 17 have women founders.
Overall, 24 Irish AI start-ups raised €79m worth of funding during 2017.
For example, Voysis raised €7m in funding from Polaris; Soapbox Labs raised €2.8m in funding from investors including Astia as well as funding from Horizon 2020; Artomatix raised €2.1m in funding; Pointy raised €4.5m from Frontline and Draper Esprit; and Aylien raised €2m and announced 70 jobs.
“In 2017, it was already very challenging to hire AI experts in the US; the competition is strong and the costs are prohibitive,” warned Patricia Scanlon from Soapbox Labs. “The EU has proven itself to be a fantastic source of AI experts, and Irish companies can leverage this to compete with global companies.”
There are 58 companies active in agritech and food, out of which 21 are women-led. Nine agritech companies raised €25.4m in funding last year.
A key development to help the sector was the arrival of the Pearse Lyons Accelerator at Dogpatch Labs, which saw Moocall and MagGrow get selected. Herdwatch won a prestigious UK award for its farm management app, Carlow’s MicroGen Biotech won the Thrive Sustainability award in California, and Equilume introduced a new Bovine Light Mask to provide mobile light therapy for horses.
“In 2018, we need more agritech innovations and idea-stage agritech companies who can avail of the early-stage supports, then scale to get at the bigger funds,” urged NUI Galway’s John Breslin.
“2018 is the year to accelerate the agricultural innovation ecosystem in Ireland.”
Augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are among the hot sectors to watch for the coming years and Ireland is no slouch, fielding 17 start-ups, out of which four are women-led. In 2017, four AR/VR start-ups raised €4.5m in funding between them.
Wexford-based Immersive VR Education raised €1m in funding during the year while 3D4Medical launched its complete anatomy application with VR.
“2018 will see a jolt in the arm for AR/VR with more affordable, new-form devices,” said Rob Quigley, principal engineer at Daqri. “Ireland is well placed to exploit the VR uplift in the gaming arena in particular, with several of the leading international and independent game developer companies here pivoting their businesses to take advantage of the opportunities.”
One of the most fascinating areas of technology to watch for the foreseeable future, blockchain is garnering some interest in Ireland’s tech industry.
TechIreland’s research surfaced 12 companies, out of which only two had women founders. Two firms in the blockchain space in Ireland raised $550,000 in funding in 2017.
Key developments during the year saw MingoCoin announce an initial coin offer (ICO) pre-sale, Gecko Governance expand to New York, and Confideal reveal the ability to power smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain.
“2017 has not lived up to the potential for blockchain development in Ireland because all of the attention is being absorbed by cryptos and the ICOs,” railed Stan Nazarenko, founder and CEO of Dublin-based PipRate.
The edtech sector is also burgeoning, with 67 tech companies active in the space, out of which there are 16 women founders. Four firms in this field were funded in 2017 to the tune of €3.8m.
EmpowerTheUser won global recognition, An Cosán secured funding, and Adaptemy secured €2.7m to expand to Africa and Latin America.
Entertainment and sports
In the entertainment and sports segment, TechIreland surfaced 165 companies, out of which 25 had female founders. 20 of these achieved funding of €28.3m in 2017.
Headline activities included: Black Shamrock being acquired by Virtuos, games firm WarDucks raising €1.3m in funding and Axonista raising €1.7m in Horizon 2020 funding. Meanwhile, Glofox, a gym management software firm, raised €2m; rugby headguard maker Contego raised €1.6m in funding; and sports science and AI player Orreco raised €1.7m in funding.
Elaine Reynolds from Simteractive, a previous Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, pointed out that Ireland should move to capitalise on Brexit and offer video game tax breaks in line with those offered in the UK, France and Canada. “This should be extended to games to help grow the industry here and attract more international companies,” she said.
There are a whopping 160 fintech companies active in Ireland, according to TechIreland, but only 16 of these have women founders. €77.6m in funding was raised in 2017 by 20 firms in this space.
Key developments included: Aid:Tech, focused on blockchain for distributing funds and social services, being awarded a grant by Dubai Expo 2020 Fund; Plynk rising €25m in funding and creating 40 jobs; Blink Insurance being acquired by CPP Group; and PFS in Navan surpassing €1bn in sterling transactions.
“In 2017, we saw the emergence of increased regulation, which is a challenge to established financial players but also very positive for Irish companies doing great things in the regtech space such as Corlytics, Governor Software, AQMetrics, Gecko Governance and Know Your Customer,” said Eoin Fitzgerald from Enterprise Ireland.
“2017 also saw the growth in online lending – Marcus, the Goldman Sachs platform made $2bn in personal loans since October 2016 – and there is a knock-on positive effect for Irish companies in the P2P space such as Flender, LinkedFinance, Grid Finance and InvoiceFair.”
The research surfaced 78 green/energy companies, out of which there were just four women founders. Six of these companies were funded in 2017 to the tune of €54.8m.
Key activities included Saudi player Aramco buying a stake in wastewater treatment management tech player OxyMem, and Ambisense raising €1m in funding.
As an area of technology, health is rising fast and, out of 251 companies active in this space, there is a considerable core of 53 women founders. 43 businesses in the health/medtech space raised a significant €180.3m worth of funding in 2017.
Among these developments were: Coroflo, winner of the 2017 ESB Spark of Genius start-up competition, which raised €925,000 in funding; SilverCloud, which raised $8m in funding led by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin; Nora Khaldi’s Nuritas, which raised €16m to unlock the data in food; and health-tracker player Jinga Life, which raised €1.3m.
Other core health sector developments saw Pharmapod secure a deal to onboard more than 4,000 pharmacies in Canada, and SaaS-for-healthcare player Salaso partner with one of New York’s largest healthcare providers.
“2017 saw the increasing use of digital interventions and therapeutics, like the use of VR to relieve pain,” said Clyde Hutchison of eHealth Ireland.
“Irish companies SilverCloud, Cortex, Beats Medical and Restored Hearing are all developing exciting solutions in this area. We have also seen the emergence of healthcare AI and machine learning with Irish companies Nuritas, Medxnote and PatientMPower becoming international leaders. The healthcare industry in Ireland also began to adopt technologies from companies like SwiftQueue, Pinpoint Medical, Elemental, TickerFit and Salaso that improve the flow of patients through the system.”
In terms of IoT, 116 companies were tracked, out of which there were just 16 women founders. 15 IoT companies received €105.7m in funding in 2017.
These included: Wia, which raised €750,000 in funding from Suir Valley Ventures and Enterprise Ireland; and Ambisense, which raised €1m from Atlantic Bridge and Enterprise Ireland. Key developments included Blue Tree Systems being acquired by Orbcomm, and Action Point embarking on collaborations with Microsoft, Dell and Intel.
“Dear 2018, please deliver a large-scale, open-access, rapid-prototyping ‘maker space’ to Ireland where connected hardware/IoT entrepreneurs can design and develop the instrumented, intelligent and interconnected ‘things’ to connect our vehicles, our homes, our farms and our industry to the internet,” implored DCU’s Ronan Furlong.
In terms of cybersecurity – an area that will only spiral in importance – Ireland fields 57 indigenous security companies, but only five are led by women founders. €3.2m worth of funding was raised by seven companies operating in the security space in 2017.
Nova Leah, headed by Anita Finnegan, secured €422,000 worth of funding from Enterprise Ireland and Cosimo Ventures. Meanwhile, portable VPN firm InvizBox raised €50,000 in Horizon 2020 funding as well as a further €280,000 through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
The growing appetite for broadband and 4G and 5G wireless technologies continued to stir the telecom tech pot. Out of 74 companies, only seven of which have women founders, 11 were funded in 2017 to the tune of €63m.
Among these were Cubic Telecom, which raised €40m in funding. Meanwhile, Sigfox player VT Networks became part of a major project to provide 250,000 Sigfox subscriptions to gas tanks for Dunraven, while local player Corvil reported a 60pc jump in profits.