Our tech start-up of the week is TenderScout, a new online service based in the cloud that’s aiming to help SMEs win tenders, as well as carry out research before they decide to go for a tender, especially in the public sector, so they can have a better chance of winning a contract. Tony Corrigan is behind the venture, which is based in the Docklands Innovation Park in Dublin City.
TenderScout, which is hosted in the Amazon cloud, provides decision-making information about buyers, competitors and tenders, and identifies partners that will enable companies to be successful, according to Corrigan.
From its Dublin base, the company employs six people, but Corrigan says TenderScout is planning to take on new hires, particularly in the areas of data analysis and tender consultancy.
The six people involved in the TenderScout team, apart form Corrigan, are primarily involved in developing technology and data mining.
How TenderScout came about
With a background in IT, Corrigan says the genesis of TenderScout first took root in 2010 when he was working as a tender consultant to government and SMEs.
"I noticed how few SMEs actually responded to tenders even though they clearly had the capability to fulfil the contract," he explains. "They told me they didn’t bother because they lacked insights into the tender and the buyer: that the big players had it wrapped up, that the incumbent has the inside track."
Such SMEs, explains Corrigan, were also afraid that they would waste hundreds or thousands of euro writing tenders that they should have known from the start weren’t right for them.
He says SMEs could often be forking out in the region of €4,500 when researching and writing their proposals in order to win a public tender, for example.
And, apparently, less than 10pc of Irish SMEs has ever won a tender.
The procurement process – giving a digital helping hand
That’s when Corrigan decided to take things into his own hands – to come up with a system to ensure SMEs in Ireland could get more of a tranche of tenders, instead of mostly being overshadowed by the bigger players.
He set about building a service that would empower SMEs to compete on what he describes as a "level playing field" for tenders.
Corrigan used his expertise in the IT space to design the algorithms for the TenderScout platform.
He says the platform has mined a lot of information and runs a load of algorithms, so users of TenderScout can find out information on aspects such as winners of tenders for a particular company in the past.
"By providing as much decision-making and market intelligence information as possible, companies can put together submissions that have all the ingredients for success."
Capitalising on the cloud
As to how the TenderScout system works via the Amazon cloud, users can sign up for free to see live and upcoming tenders personalised to the areas of interest to them.
"So if you are only interested in digital media contracts, you can generate a pipeline of opportunities over the next year.
"More importantly, because we get tenders from multiple sources, you reduce the risk of missing out on valuable business opportunities," explains Corrigan.
For users that want to gain insights into specific tenders, TenderScout has developed a subscription model. This supplies people with "innovative decision making tools", he explains. Think competitive analysis, buyer habits, and market trends.
Corrigan says this subscription model is all about saving people time trying to track down vital information about tenders.
"We also have a really clever tool to find partners to work with you on specific tenders. So if you have the skills to design a website, but need a programmer so that you can compete for a tender, TenderScout will generate a list of potential partners with that skill, who have previously won a tender."
Challenges when setting out
TenderScout’s major challenge, says Corrigan, has been overcoming the perception that tendering is too difficult with too little chance of success.
"We want to prove to SMEs that tendering is a viable revenue stream worth competing for. If we can do that, then more SMEs are going to be successful, which will in turn promote job creation, drive innovation and deliver increased value to the public sector."
Turning data into something meaningful
On the practical side, he says challenges have included trying to develop a technology that can make sense of hundreds of thousands of pieces of information so someone can see at a glance whether they can win a tender.
"That is an ongoing challenge as each day we incorporate thousands of new pieces of data into our overall body of knowledge."
On a positive note though, Corrigan says finding customers is one area that’s becoming easier.
"We’re seeing clients move from winning one in five to winning four in five tenders and that kind of good news travels.
"Our challenge is to continually find ways of staying ahead of the curve by innovating new insights and tools to make tendering more inclusive and viable for SMEs."
On the horizon
As for his immediate plans for TenderScout, Corrigan has some ambitious targets.
TenderScout, he says, is progressing its development roadmap, particularly in the area of collaboration and partnering.
"We have just gained our first customers in the UK and are working on partnerships that will help us deliver TenderScout across Europe," he says.
Corrigan’s advice for other digital start-ups who are trying to get their ventures off the ground is to stick to their vision.
"When you explain your concept to other people and they think it’s ludicrous, take that as a positive indication that you’re about to do something sensational! If you can’t believe in it then nobody else will."