6 women entrepreneurs who made success of a competitive start

27 Jun 2019

From left: Sheelagh Daly, entrepreneurship manager, Enterprise Ireland; Minister Heather Humphreys, TD; and Leonora O’Brien, CEO, Pharmapod. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

As the latest call for women entrepreneurs to apply for a Competitive Start Fund rings out, we look at some start-ups that have benefited from this support.

Women entrepreneurs have until Tuesday 16 July to apply for up to €50,000 in equity funding for early-stage start-ups with high potential.

Enterprise Ireland defines high-potential start-ups (HPSUs) as those likely to employ more than 10 people and achieve €1m in export sales within three years, and the purpose of the CSF for women entrepreneurs is to accelerate the growth of women-led HPSUs.

In addition to the funding, successful applicants will be awarded a place on Dublin BIC’s Innovate accelerator programme at the Guinness Enterprise Centre. This 12-week programme aims to leave participants investor-ready.

A maximum of 15 successful applicants will be awarded from the latest €750,000 fund, and the full criteria for eligibility can be found along with the application form on the Enterprise Ireland website.

Those considering an application need only look at the success of these previous CSF awardees to see what this funding can deliver.

Soapbox Labs

AI player Soapbox Labs is doing groundbreaking work in speech technology with Dr Patricia Scanlon at the helm. Founded based on Scanlon’s own research, Soapbox Labs is building speech technology specifically for young children to help with learning, literacy and much more.

As well as receiving a boost of CSF funding, the company has raised more than $5m from investors that include Astia Angels and EASME, the EU Executive Agency for SMEs. Meanwhile, Scanlon has been recognised by Forbes as one of the world’s top 50 women in tech and the company recently received an honourable mention in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas Awards 2019.

Tandem HR Solutions

Tandem HR Solutions was unsuccessful in its first CSF application with an idea that was just too early in development at the time. But success did come later through the CSF for women entrepreneurs, and a further €2m in seed funding led to significant jobs growth in 2017.

Founded by Aisling Teillard (CEO), Clare Bonham and Jim O’Brien, Tandem seeks to improve the process of employee feedback and performance management. Its HR tech solution helps organisations reshape how employee performance is managed through enhanced coaching and feedback practices. The company continues to grow and expand its business from Ireland into international markets, with a range of blue-chip clients already using its platform.


Founded by Louella Morton and Sheena Bailey, TestReach enables organisations to create, deliver and mark exams online instead of on paper. While online assessment is not a new phenomenon, TestReach is a single resource that allows exams to be run and created in a variety of ways, including web-based remote invigilation.

In 2018, the company picked up the Enterprise Ireland Digital Disruptor award and, at the time, CEO Bailey noted, “The ability to run an exam anywhere, at any time, and have it professionally invigilated over the web by trained supervisors, is a game-changer.”


Wellola is a medical software solution that offers in-house and video consultation scheduling in one system to make patient management easier. Founded in 2017 by CEO Sonia Neary and Dr Greg Martin, its secure patient portal includes a reservations system for online therapy, video consultation with no third-party downloads, integrated payment, and e-invoicing and messaging in compliance with GDPR.

Focusing in particular on the mental healthcare space, Wellola has identified a market of huge potential in that, in May 2018, more than 6,500 children and young people in Ireland were waiting for their first psychological appointment. Clearly, this was enough to convince Enterprise Ireland of Wellola’s HPSU status.

Hidramed Solutions

Hidramed Solutions has developed an intuitive and easy-to-use wound dressing system inspired by founder and CEO Suzanne Moloney’s own experience with hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), a debilitating skin disease.

A former chef and bakery owner, Moloney quickly brought her new company from strength to strength. Last year, Hidramed secured CSF funding from Enterprise Ireland and was accepted into the BioExel medtech accelerator. Since then, the company has secured almost €200,000 through grants and enterprise competitions.

Hidramed’s first product is scheduled for launch later this year, initially in Ireland and the UK but planning to roll out quickly throughout Europe and into the US.


Established in 2012, Pharmapod received a CSF in its early days.

Founded by CEO Leonora O’Brien, Pharmapod is a cloud-based platform for recording and sharing healthcare information. The system originally targeted pharmacists and has been built specifically to help reduce medication errors, the cost of which is estimated to be $42bn annually. It now also provides incident management software for care homes, and patient safety software for hospitals is coming soon.

At the moment, Pharmapod is active in Ireland, the UK and Canada – the last supported by significant investment from the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Meanwhile, the company continues working through its global expansion, with the Middle East being a key focus.

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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.