KegoMatic is brewing up a storm in the Northern Ireland start-up scene, and TechWatch editor Emily McDaid decided to find out a little more.
Any bartender will tell you: it’s only when the pub is packed that the keg runs out. The scene quickly sours when the pints stop flowing, causing a 10-minute delay in service, angry customers and a backlog at the bar.
Amazingly, there’s never been a solution, even though humans have been drinking beer for 4,000 years. There’s no way to tell if an aluminium keg is running low, except by shaking it.
Enter KegoMatic, the brainchild of six electrical engineering students from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB): Connor Carville, Conor McGurk, Donovan Campbell, Patrick Devlin, Bryan Murphy and Aaron Rath.
KegoMatic enables multiple kegs (two, three or four) to be tapped at once, and it switches the line automatically when the keg runs out. The technology not only prevents the problem of changing a keg during service times, it also provides critical data analytics to the business. The system includes hardware, packed with LED sensors and weight scales, plus a tablet app to manage the influx of data.
Carville said: “For an average bar in Northern Ireland, our system would immediately save £2,500 annually, purely because it means their beer lines won’t fill up with foam. When a keg runs out, the foam fills the line and that takes 1.5 or 2 pints to clear – those pints are put down the drain.”
Kegs are changed “27m times in the UK each year”, according to Carville, so the need is real.
‘There are a few [competitors] doing data analytics for beer stock, but they’re all focused on looking backwards, whereas we look to the future. We help pubs to plan’
– CONNOR CARVILLE
Connecting to the KegoMatic system involves detaching beer and gas lines, and plugging them into the KegoMatic lines. Simple stuff, but what’s more complicated is how these young entrepreneurs will get their product into pubs.
“We’ll sell through the large beer distributors, and we’ll motivate them with a cut of our revenues. Large distributors like Diageo would be our target customer,” said Carville.
Once installed, the kegs sit on a base with in-built weighing scales. By analysing the weight over time, KegoMatic’s companion software, BarTrender, shows the rate at which beer is being poured.
It can help with planning live music or events in the pub, and obviously with stock management.
Also, it can link this data in with till data, to ensure all pints that are pulled are also put through the till – catching any thievery by pub staff. The data can be compared with employees’ shift timetables if a thief needs to be uncovered. Up to 30pc of pubs’ stock is lost to theft and wastage, the founders claim, and this is where KegoMatic aims to show real return on investment of its product.
The product will cost around £995 to start, plus a 30pc subscription fee for the data analytics software.
McGurk explained: “When an optical sensor placed at the start of the beer line detects foam, a solenoid closes that beer line and simultaneously opens the line from the next full keg, resulting in a continuous flow of beer to the tap.”
Carville added: “There are a few [competitors] doing data analytics for beer stock, but they’re all focused on looking backwards, whereas we look to the future. We help pubs to plan.”
Onto the most important issue: is the beer fresh and tasty? “There’s no difference in freshness in a keg hooked up to our lines as one sitting in storage, and that’s crucial,” said McGurk.
“We took a market survey and taste was the number one factor in a customer’s purchasing decision – even more important than the amount of time they waited for their pint.”
According to the ambitious co-founders, there are just shy of 60,000 pubs in the UK and Ireland, their initial target markets. “We can also target the concert and festival market. If an intermission at an event is 15 minutes long, and people are standing at the bar waiting for 10 minutes while the bartender changes the keg, that’s a lot of business lost,” McGurk said.
“Right now, we’re focused on getting the prototype right. We have applied for Techstart and we’ve won some awards (including QUB’s Dragons’ Dens finalists) but we’ve taken no other funding.”
If they advance further in the Invent competition, there will be prize money coming their way. Good luck to KegoMatic.
By Emily McDaid, editor, TechWatch
A version of this article originally appeared on TechWatch
The annual Invent competition is run by Connect at Catalyst Inc, and aims to showcase the best and brightest innovators that Northern Ireland has to offer. Invent 2017 will take place on Thursday 5 October in Belfast, where 12 finalists will battle it out for a £33,000 prize fund and the chance to attend a Northern Ireland tech mission to California.