Tech start-up of the week: Adtruism

23 Jun 2013

Brian McCormick, founder, Adtruism

UPDATED: Our tech start-up of the week is Adtruism, a new social-tech venture involving seven third-level students from universities across Ireland. The company’s founder is Brian McCormick, a law student at University College Dublin (UCD). He is steering Adtruism, an independent non-profit that has come up with an inventive way for people to embed non-intrusive widgets on their websites or blogs.

The widgets display commercial advertisements and all the ad revenue gets donated to a charity of your choice – be it to support an environmental cause, or cancer research – and for website owners to do some social good. Call it an effortless form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or giving back to society if you will.

A creative fusion of the words ‘altruism’ and ‘ad’, Adtruism is emblematic of the new wave of tech social enterprises that are coming onto the scene in Ireland. The company is being steered by seven Irish third-level students, including McCormick, who are just about to finish up their respective courses at universities on the island, including at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and the aforementioned UCD.

McCormick, for instance, has just finished up his law degree at UCD.

Kicking off in conversation, McCormick is very articulate about his ambition for Adtruism. Firstly he is keen to get across that 100pc of a site user’s donation will end up with the charity when they click through an ad created by Adtruism’s widget to donate to a cause.

He says that the idea for the start-up came about as a result of a series of coincidences –  the group all know each other as friends first of all. And it was during a stint in San Francisco last summer that McCormick started working on Adtruism.

“I was working in Dublin at a law firm and then headed over to San Francisco. My friends were working over there so I decide to go over there and work on the business.”

He says that he spent a couple of weeks working on the Adtruism project and then got Zedo on-board.

“Zedo is an ad-tech provider and they are providing the ad service pro-bono ­– that has been our biggest achievement so far.”

And between the team members, there is an eclectic mix of skill sets.

“There is never a dull moment,” explains McCormick. “Most of us just finished our finals at university just three weeks ago. We will be graduating in September.”

McCormick is now preparing to focus his attention on growing Adtruism for the next 18 months in tandem with studying part-time for his Law Society exams. Plus, he has already secured a trainee solicitor position at McCann Fitzgerald in Dublin, a position he has deferred until 2015.

But, for now, the goal is to build up Adtruism and gain traction.  

“I am hoping to work full time on the project for as long as needed to get started,” explains McCormick.

In terms of his ambition in the legal space, McCormick says he is also very interested in intellectual property, data protection and privacy.

“I would like to practice in that area at some stage.”

Going viral? ‘We’re on a mission to end online slactivism’ – McCormick


Social entrepreneurship

Two weeks ago the Adtruism team got a big boost when the non-profit was picked as one of the eight semi-finalists in Social Entrepreneurs Ireland’s (SEI) next cohort of awards for social enterprises.

Indeed, SEI has been helping nurture social entrepreneurs around the country for more than 10 years now. And now it appears to be time for the next wave of social enterprises: social tech. Capitalising on the always-on, global presence of the internet to make a difference to society.

“SEI has been really helpful in giving us investment to begin with so that we don’t have to try and monetise from Adtrusim immediately,” explains McCormick. “It’s strange that the attitude is that you should be sustainable if you are a non-profit, but the majority of web companies that are for-profit go between five and 10 years on funding before they ever try monetise from it.”

The start-up will be guaranteed at least €22,000 in cash and €10,000 in services from SEI.

Finally,  McCormick says the ultimate goal is to scale up Adtruism and become as international as possible.

“Projects like this can really justify themselves in terms of their social impact,” he concludes.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic