What are the hot areas of growth for start-ups in 2019?

4 Dec 2018

Ben Hurley, CEO, NDRC. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

NDRC CEO Ben Hurley tells us what’s in store for the accelerator next year as it keeps its eyes peeled for promising entrepreneurs.

As we look ahead to 2019, those just starting out on the path to entrepreneurship might be wondering about the current trends in the Irish start-up scene.

Based in Dublin, with a footprint spread to Galway, Waterford and even Oman, NDRC is an early-stage investor in high-potential start-ups in the digital sector.

To get an idea of what budding entrepreneurs can expect in the year ahead, we got some insights from NDRC CEO Ben Hurley.

Tell us what you have achieved at NDRC in 2018.

2018 was a pivotal year for NDRC in that it marked our first decade of investing. NDRC has now invested in more than 250 companies. Our portfolio has reached a market capitalisation of almost €500m, with close to 1,000 people now employed across our ventures.

Perhaps a separate, but equally important, element from 2018 came in the shape of the Department of Communications’ decision to continue funding NDRC in this space, citing and backing up an independent report from Indecon that stated: “NDRC is a high-performance initiative consistent with international best practices.”

What are your immediate plans for 2019?

We’re delighted to have recently delivered the second of our investment programmes in Galway, alongside our partners GCID and PorterShed, following the conclusion of another regional programme, NDRC at ArcLabs, earlier in the year. 2019 will see us continue this partnership approach, which is delivering really interesting business propositions in the regions.

Throughout NDRC’s first decade of investing, we’ve on occasion had to change our model to reflect the market’s need. From investing a range of sums in the translation of deep research through third-level institutions, to targeting more agile, tech-savvy digital start-ups which require smaller funding to get to investor-ready stages, we consistently review what the ecosystem needs, and how we can best meet that.

At the moment, we are seeing that a lack of seed funding means that the challenge is even tougher for start-ups to get to the stage where VCs take an interest. We are looking at this very closely and hope to deliver some exciting news around this in the new year.

You’ve partnered with organisations to spread your footprint to Galway, Waterford and Oman. Have you plans for further expansion?

We’re always looking for new ways to reach entrepreneurs in Ireland. NDRC at PorterShed and NDRC at ArcLabs came about through a look at how best to bring our model to other regions in Ireland. Asking entrepreneurs to move up to Dublin to benefit from our activities seemed a prohibitive obstacle for some, and we reacted. That reaction was helped by our partnership approach, with GCID, PorterShed, WIT ArcLabs and the opportunity provided by Enterprise Ireland key to this.

However, at the moment, we feel the three locations in Ireland, as well as our support of similar activities in the Middle East, is balanced well with the availability of viable digital start-ups. In saying that, we always have our eyes open for new opportunities.

Are you looking at initiatives to encourage diversity among the founders and entrepreneurs the NDRC supports?

Diversity is key to any successful start-up. That’s diversity in its truest sense and not restricted to a gender look at things, with founding teams greatly benefiting from a varied make-up of founders. In our portfolio of companies, almost one-third have female members on the founding team, with one-fifth of all founders coming from outside of Ireland.

Add to that the varied skillsets – 60pc are from a non-computer programming background – and the evidence for diversity is there. In terms of direct activities, NDRC’s model clearly appeals to a diverse collection of entrepreneurs, and engaging with various communities to maintain and increase that interest will be key.

What do you think will be the hot areas of growth for new start-ups coming up in 2019?

Some of the most impressive start-ups we’ve seen in recent years have not come with an elaborate, technically brilliant solution, rather a deep understanding of a particular area of business and the knowledge that there are ways to disrupt and improve. We think that this trend will continue, with potential to disrupt in any place you discover processes are still operated on paper.

From a business sense, areas in B2B, enterprise and SaaS continue to see interesting propositions. From a technical viewpoint, AI, machine learning, augmented reality and data analytics could be interesting.

Who are your start-ups to watch in 2019?

NDRC has a number of exciting start-ups on our books at the moment. Cerebreon, which brings machine intelligence to the insolvency sector, is one such example. Led by Gillian Doyle, and coming from Donegal, the team won our Dublin investor showcase in 2018. Other businesses such as Trezeo (raised almost €500,000 via crowdfunding in 2018), EnteraSense, PlanDomino (which won our investor showcase in PorterShed) and Nuritas, which continues to excel in its field and attract significant investment accordingly, will also be worth keeping an eye on.