15 trailblazing entrepreneurs to watch in 2019


11 Dec 20183.64k Views

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From promising new start-ups to billion-dollar ideas going global, here are the entrepreneurs skyrocketing to success in 2019.

Seasons come and go, and each new year tends to produce a fresh new batch of eager start-ups.

While we pride ourselves on keeping our finger on the pulse of start-up activity (indeed, we profile a new company every week), we also keep track of the stalwarts of the entrepreneurial arena, including those who have seen massive success with a single great idea.

From familiar to fresh faces in the scene, from past Inspirefest speakers to future ones, here is our pick of promising entrepreneurs you should keep your eyes peeled for in 2019.

David and Julie Gray

A woman stands between two men on Belfast's waterfront holding an Invent award.

Julie and David Gray of Gray’s Clip with Gavin Kennedy (left) from Bank of Ireland UK. Image: Brian Morrison

After repeatedly encountering the frustration of manually clipping cables to hold them in place, electrician David Gray had a brainwave – and Gray’s Clip was born. The nifty invention is a plastic clip that uses a battery-powered stapler, meaning electricians can secure their cables without using a hammer. After more than two decades of perfecting the product, David and his wife Julie brought Gray’s Clip to market, with a little help from Invest NI and Queen’s University Belfast. Earlier this year, they took home top prize at the Invent Awards in Belfast.

“Julie and David demonstrated outstanding commitment, passion and belief towards realising their ambition in bringing their idea, Gray’s Clip, to market,” said Gavin Kennedy, representing event sponsor Bank of Ireland UK.

Yaniv Altshuler

Yaniv Altshuler, smiling wearing glasses and a black suit jacket with a grey shirt.

Dr Yaniv Altshuler. Image: Wachsman

In November, Siliconrepublic.com spoke to Dr Yaniv Altshuler, a researcher at MIT Media Lab, to find out a little more about the evolving landscape of data analytics.

Altshuler is the CEO of Endor, a spin-out from MIT that uses advanced artificial intelligence (AI) technology based on the principles of social physics. Its technology quickly analyses and predicts complex human behavioural patterns, aiming to democratise predictive science. It leverages blockchain to make its offering more cost-effective and secure.

Altshuler explained: “Just like physical laws governing the natural universe, social physics detects patterns in the human universe.”

Conall Laverty

Headshot of a young man outside against a brick wall with strands of ivy.

Conall Laverty. Image: Wia

Conall Laverty is the CEO of Wia, a start-up that provides a cloud platform to help developers connect devices to the internet of things (IoT). A former Start-up of the Week on Siliconrepublic.com, Laverty started his business in Belfast before moving to the NDRC in Dublin to accept a place on its LaunchPad accelerator. The company has gone from strength to strength since then.

November was a successful month for Laverty as Wia was nominated in the Smart Docklands category at the Docklands Business Awards and the CEO was named one of the Irish Independent’30 Under 30.

Áine Kerr and Mark Little

Side-by-side black-and-white headshots of Mark Little and Áine Kerr.

Mark Little and Áine Kerr. Image: Kinzen

Set to grace the Inspirefest stage next summer, Mark Little and Áine Kerr are the co-founders of Kinzen, along with former Storyful colleague Paul Watson. Founded in 2017, Kinzen is an Irish start-up that aims to give people more control over their daily news experience.

Little is a familiar face in the Irish media scene, having worked for two decades in broadcasting with RTÉ. He founded Storyful in 2010 in a bid to integrate social media into the reporting scene. The company was acquired by NewsCorp in 2013, and Little is now leading Kinzen as CEO.

Kerr formerly led global partnerships at Facebook and worked with major newspapers The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner. She later became managing editor at Storyful and is now chief operating officer at Kinzen.

Deepa Mann-Kler

Deepa Mann-Kler is the CEO of Neon, a company that aims to alleviate chronic pain by harnessing the power of virtual reality (VR). With BreatheVR, users just need a phone and VR headset and they can view a picturesque nature scene in 360 degrees, calming their mood.

At Inspirefest 2018 earlier this year, Mann-Kler pointed out that VR could be a powerful tool in the battle against the opioid epidemic in the western world. “There’s extensive clinical evidence that VR can dampen pain signals to the brain and there are neurological benefits to deep breathing.”

Ciara Donlon

Ciara Donlon is the founder and CEO of Theya Healthcare, which designs bras and briefs made from a unique bamboo fabric mix for women post-surgery. In 2017, she won Laureate for Europe in the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards and was shortlisted for both EY Entrepreneur of the Year (Emerging category) and the Matheson WMB Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

At Inspirefest 2018, Donlon said the company has a lot of other products coming soon for different groups that need help, including those with EB, in conjunction with Debra Ireland.

Niall Dennehy

Aid:Tech co-founder Niall Dennehy speaking on stage in a blue blazer and white shirt.

Niall Dennehy, co-founder and COO of Aid:Tech, speaking in 2018. Image: Katie O’Neill/TEDx Trinity College Dublin/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Niall Dennehy is the co-founder and chief operations officer of Aid:Tech, a Dublin-based start-up that uses blockchain to help aid organisations track a charitable donation from the person donating to the person receiving it. Earlier this year, the company raised €1m and it has been named as one of the top fintech start-ups in Europe as well as winner of the Irish Times Innovation of the Year award 2018.

Dennehy will be speaking at Inspirefest 2019 in what he says promises to be a big year for the company.

Nora Khaldi

Dr Nora Khaldi has had a phenomenal year. Having started 2018 by collaborating with food giant Nestlé, her biotech start-up Nuritas recently had a breakthrough in significantly improving human health by harnessing the power of AI to create a bioactive ingredient. The company also became the first Irish biotech to gain direct support from the European Investment Bank European Growth Finance Facility with a new funding round worth €30m. It’s clear that Khaldi is a force to be reckoned with and this latest funding will be used to further increase and accelerate the development of AI and DNA analysis to improve global healthcare.

Des Traynor

Two men, one wearing a lanyard from Slush, sit in a darkly lit conference space.

Intercom’s Des Traynor and Vainu’s Mikko Honkanen at Slush 2017. Image: John Kennedy

Des Traynor is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Intercom, a platform for customer interaction needs, from marketing to product development. Along with co-founders Eoghan McCabe, Ciarán Lee and David Barrett, Traynor started the company in 2011 and it has seen monumental growth since then.

At the beginning of this year, Intercom announced it would almost double its workforce worldwide during the following 18 months. This was shortly followed by news that a funding round of $125m saw the company achieve unicorn status.

Anita Finnegan

A woman in a black dress sits on a couch next to an open laptop displaying the Nova Leah logo onscreen.

Anita Finnegan. Image: Karl Hussey/Fennell Photography

Anita Finnegan is the founder and CEO of Nova Leah, a Dundalk start-up that has developed a pioneering cybersecurity compliance solution for medical device manufacturers and healthcare providers. Earlier this year, Nova Leah picked up the Grand Prix Startup of the Year gong at the final of the National Startup Awards. It was also named overall winner in the Emerge-Tech Startup category.

Looking ahead, the future is bright for the company as it recently secured a funding round worth €2.25m to improve the security of connected devices used by healthcare providers.

John and Patrick Collison

Leading sellers to market: Stripe reveals handy new e-commerce tools

John and Patrick Collison. Image: Stripe

Irish brothers John and Patrick Collison have had major success with their payments company Stripe and are set to rise even higher next year. Having been listed among world’s youngest billionaires by Forbes in 2017, the brothers announced intentions to establish a major European Stripe engineering hub in Dublin in February of this year. Now, with a recent major investment of $245m from Tiger Global Management, Sequoia and DST Global bringing Stripe’s value to $20bn, it seems the company will reach new heights in the new year.

Closing out the year with a push for change in the start-up ecosystem, we reported that Patrick was among an initial list of 30 CEOs of European start-ups asking policymakers to make it easier for employees to acquire a slice of the companies they work for.

Fiona Edwards Murphy

Smiling woman with blonde hair and black jacket beside a bee hive.

Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy. Image: Clare Keogh

Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy is the CEO of innovative Cork agritech firm ApisProtect, which monitors the health of honeybee colonies. Last year, Edwards Murphy completed her PhD in electrical and electronic engineering at University College Cork, focusing on applications of wireless sensor networks for honeybee health.

ApisProtect recently closed a seed round led by Finistere Ventures, Atlantic Bridge Capital, Radicle Growth, The Yield Lab and Enterprise Ireland. The company will use the investment to aggressively accelerate international expansion, opening its first US office and planning to build its team over the next three years.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event celebrating the point where science, technology and the arts collide. Tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are available now.