Our technology start-up of the week is Ultan Technologies, a Dublin-based venture that is developing software products to allow utility companies to bill customers more easily and efficiently.
Cathal Brady set up the company, which is based in the Docklands Innovation Park in Dublin 3, in 2009, after he was made redundant from the furniture brand where he had been working.
"I have always wanted to work for myself, so it was a perfect opportunity," explains Brady. "I set up Ultan Technologies as a consultancy business in the expectation of finding some idea for a product."
So far the company has developed a software product called H2OCIS for water utilities to bill and manage their customers.
"Variants of that product can be used for different utilities, such as electricity, gas, refuse and sanitation companies. The product is already being used by one electricity utility in Ireland," says Brady.
He says the H2OCIS product can take meter readings, as well as generating invoices for a utility’s customers.
"It tracks receipts, expenses and lodgments for the utility. It is a full customer relationship management tool, so it allows utilities to manage their customers. It also allows them to map their meters and networks," explains Brady.
Ultan Technologies has also developed another product called SensorCIS. He says this product can be used for companies to manage, monitor and eventually control devices, such as gas and water meters and temperature sensors.
Brady says the company will be announcing a "major" deal for this software in the next month.
As well as this, Ultan Technologies develops bespoke software systems for companies. This segment of the business helps fund the product development side of Ultan Technologies, according to Brady.
Right now, the company’s customer base is in Ireland and the UK, but Brady now has his sights set on the US marketplace for the H2OCIS product.
"There are about 1,300 water schemes in Ireland, but there’s a huge market in the US. There are about 50,000 water utilities in the US. There’s also a big market for us in Canada and Germany," he says.
As for the SensorCIS product, he believes there will be a huge number of uses for the software.
"For instance, meter companies that don’t have great software themselves might use it for their customers. We’re already talking to one of the larger water utility companies in the world about that."
Brady says the technology could also be used by gas and electricity companies, as well as companies that need to monitor large amounts of fuel usage, such as in a hospital.
"Any device that can send a reading can be hooked up to this particular platform to monitor it from the cloud."
Right now, Ultan Technologies employs four people in Dublin, while it also works with developers in the Ukraine on projects.
In 2011, the company took part in the Hothouse business start-up programme that’s run by Dublin Institute of Technology.
Brady says the programme was very beneficial. "Getting involved and meeting other start-ups that are in the same boat as yourself was very useful."
Just this past March, Ultan Technologies won the top prize in the 2012 Docklands Innovation Awards. The company has also availed of a small grant from Enterprise Ireland.
And the plan for 2013?
"We have private funds committed and we’re just trying to finalise that. We are going to use that money to enter new markets," explains Brady, who is also on a mission to grow the company’s turnover to €14m in the next five years.
His advice for other start-ups out there is to keep persevering.
"It’s really hard, but the longer you stick at it, the better the chance that you will spot a great niche for your product. Be prepared to change the focus of the product – follow your customers.
"Work on getting revenue as early as possible, so don’t develop a huge product initially, but develop the minimum product that will get you in front of customers," adds Brady.