Tracworx: Multi-purpose tracking technology made in Limerick

7 Mar 2022

From left: Chris Kelly, Fionn Barron and Eoin O’Brien. Image: Tracworx

Limerick start-up Tracworx has taken some strategic turns in order to keep its business on track through the Covid-19 crisis.

Like many businesses, Tracworx made a pandemic pivot. Before Covid-19 became prevalent in our lives, this Limerick start-up offered tracking systems to hospitals. Tracworx technology could be used to track both patients and assets and was intended to be used to improve workflows, increase capacity and reduce costs.

“Our system had been operating in several hospitals and our outlook for the rest of 2020 was bright,” said co-founder and CEO Chris Kelly. “Multiple clients were about to begin onboarding and we were looking forward to a successful year.”

We all know what came next, with access to hospitals becoming necessarily limited and business as usual put on pause while the world navigated the Covid-19 crisis. “The market conditions of a worldwide pandemic led us to reconsider our offerings,” said Kelly. “As experts in tracking technologies, we had the ability to make a perfect solution to help businesses fight against Covid-19.”

And so the Tracworx developers worked up a system to automate contact tracing for people in workplaces. “Multiple large companies adopted our technology, helping them to combat Covid-19 and return to work safely,” said Kelly.

Businesses in pharma, medtech, manufacturing and the film industry took on Tracworx’s reworked technology. “Facing the threat of a global pandemic was unforeseen but enabled us to come together and grow as a company to take on this challenge,” said Kelly.

‘Our long-term goal is to remove the need for single-use packaging and enable a returnable packaging economy’

Kelly founded Tracworx as Pinpoint Innovations in 2016 along with Fionn Barron and Eoin O’Brien. The trio had met a year earlier while studying computer science at University of Limerick (UL). “We all shared a love for business and building solutions to fix problems,” said Kelly.

They initially set out to simply build an app “for finding things in buildings”. It was noticed by a hospital employee who said a system such as this could enable low-cost patient tracking, seeing as it didn’t require the installation of dedicated infrastructure. This led to a study testing Tracworx’s effectiveness for tracking in the medical field, which was published in the British Medical Journal.

“From there we moved into the private hospital market and raised some seed investment,” said Kelly.

However, when hospitals were overrun with Covid-19, development on this path stuttered. Now, after the contact tracing pivot, Tracworx is focused on tracking for global supply chains.

“Managing returnable assets such as kegs, pallets and cylinders is incredibly difficult for companies,” said Kelly. “These assets move about frequently and cost companies millions of euros per annum.”

Tracworx is now targeting its technology at managing and tracking these assets, with an ultimate end goal that could have a major environmental impact. “Our long-term goal is to remove the need for single-use packaging and enable a returnable packaging economy,” said Kelly.

‘Simplicity and usability are always on the top of our priorities’

Tracworx has essentially created the digital infrastructure to enable returnable packaging. “Using a combination of sensor chips, returnable packaging can be traced through the supply chain from A to B and eventually back to A again, giving full visibility to the owner of the packaging,” explained Barron, the company’s COO.

According to CTO O’Brien, “Unsuccessful attempts at returnable packaging have inflicted crippling costs, operational nightmares and fractious customer relationships on companies. They failed because they forgot about the consumer’s role within this model.”

O’Brien said Tracworx can help businesses transition to returnable packaging in a way that is easy, seamless and worthwhile. “Companies don’t have the headspace to be dealing with tedious and labour-intensive solutions,” he said. “The Tracworx solution is simple to use, simple to implement and cost-effective.”

Barron agreed that “simplicity and usability are always on the top of our priorities”.

‘We used the lessons we learned from pivoting the company previously to how we operate now’

Tracworx is currently piloting its returnable packaging system across three different industries. “All companies are global leaders in their field,” said Kelly. “Once these pilots are complete, we are looking to scale up our team and begin recruiting new hires.”

For these new recruits, the company hopes to not have to look far, as it is one of the many Irish and multinational companies to partner with UL’s Immersive Software Engineering programme to boost tech talent in the region. Launched last year, this immersive education programme has ardent support from fintech payments giant Stripe, and co-founder John Collison said earlier this year it could be “the best computer science programme in Europe”.

“We are extremely excited to be working as a partner in this programme and to see the impact it will have on the community as a whole,” said Barron.

Meanwhile, the Tracworx team is in the process of raising a fresh investment round to support its expansion and to grow its product offering. Last year, the company was awarded a second tranche of funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme to support the R&D side of the business. At the time, Tracworx had secured a total of €2.6m in funding to date, including a €100,000 cash prize as the 2019 InterTradeIreland Seedcorn competition winner.

Kelly is immensely proud of his team who “took tracking software and hardware product from ideation to built in 60 days, and sold and implemented across five countries during the pandemic”.

“Along this journey, we have encountered many challenges,” he said. “We used the lessons we learned from pivoting the company previously to how we operate now.”

In its latest form, Tracworx is helping to address the environmental issues that are plaguing the world today. “We are constantly investing money to offset and reduce our carbon footprint,” said Barron. “From sourcing environmentally friendly materials to build our products to aiding eco-friendly initiatives, reducing our carbon footprint is a huge priority for us.”

When it comes to the environment, Barron stressed that every business must play its part. “We can’t pass the blame solely onto the consumer,” he said. “As companies we have to recognise the part we play is crucial, especially when you look at the scale we work at. Luckily, all the companies we work with are aligned with this thinking too.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.