World-class evolution of Irish start-ups on show at NDRC Lift Off

29 May 2014

Pictured: Rugby star Jamie Heaslip with Lift Off winner Ian Nolan, CEO and founder of Legalshine. Photo credit: Conor McCabe Photography

I’ve reached a point in my life where the only two kinds of people I like to see on a stage are either rock bands or start-ups. It was evident last night at the NDRC Lift-off Dublin is becoming a world-class ecosystem for start-ups and we have plenty of rock stars in the pipeline.

Usually I leave start-up pitch events to the people they are intended for – investors. My sense of empathy usually leaves me quaking in hope, dread and fear for those about to go up and sell for their life before veteran investors and normally I pick up quickly on the nerves in the room.

Last night at the NDRC it was brought home to me how much things have changed in Dublin when a decade ago fumbling founders would either talk for too long, elicit embarrassed laughter from the crowd for stuttering hastily through a PowerPoint or be greeted by incredulous stares – and silence – at the audacity of their plans with little underlying research..

None of that was evident last night.

It was an exacting audience, with the cream of the local venture capital and investment community in attendance.

NDRC was named ‘Top IT University Business Incubator for 2013’ in the world by UBI Index. Its portfolio of startup ventures have cumulatively secured €40m in commercial follow-on investment from angel and VC investors, with a combined market capitalisation of approximately €120m by the end of 2013.

Every one a winner

If the start-ups were nervous – which I’m sure they were – they didn’t betray it. Instead nine start-ups took to the stage and steadily delivered sharp, short and professional pitches that would have impressed and amazed even the most jaded and cynical of Sand Hill Road veterans in Silicon Valley.

The startups had just completed the intensive three-month NDRC LaunchPad programme with each receiving up to €20,000 in pre-seed investment.

Each of the start-ups were given five minutes to pitch to an audience of investors, mentors and a judging panel that included: Conor Stanley (Tribal VC), William McQuillan (Frontline Ventures), David Bowles (Delta Partners) and Ben Hurley (CEO of NDRC).  

The nine start-ups included Akita which reimagines customer intelligence and lets businesses use today’s productivity software from Dropbox to MailChimp and Google Apps to get a greater insight into their business and how they are interacting with customers. The company aims to raise seed funding and plans a full product launch this summer.

Adyuka showed how it can help consumers better organise their online product searches, share them with friends and family and predict future buying trends. It is hoping to raise €500,000 to scale its team.

goBramble is a start-up that has created an app to allow plant lovers to identify plants by just taking a photo. “The average person knows 1,000 brand logos but couldn’t name 10 plant species,” reasoned founder Orla Fitzmaurice. She told the audience she wasn’t looking for funding but planned to spend the summer travelling through Ireland in her campervan snapping photos of plant species to beef up the goBramble app.

Legalshine is an app that reads text on legal bills in order to help firms understand what the lawyers actually did for them. The company demonstrated that by targeting organisations with revenues of €1m a year, it is looking at a revenue opportunity of €1.5bn. The company has already analysed €1.2m worth of legal bills and has signed up six brand names, including AIB as customers.

BookieWookie is a start-up led by a husband and wife team who are credited with having already sold 26m mind game units and are now attempting to create a global brand by fostering childrens’ love of reading and writing. The company aims to take on players like Club Penguin and Moshi Monsters by creating a marketplace, publishing platform and toys that allow kids to publish their own books on demand.

Meebler is a multichannel engagement platform that allows businesses to simply communicate and engage with customers over any messaging service on any device.

Tubett is gamifying how people consume, interact and share YouTube videos; by creating a social game where players can buy/sell videos in a fantasy stock market. Value of the stock fluctuates in proportion to video’s popularity. They are transforming social actions on videos, of over 100 million people per week, into a game.

Zilta is a start-up that makes simple phones for smart people by focusing on web accessibility and continuous learning and is targeting the over-55s market. It plans to have the first Zilta smartphone on the market by December this year.

And finally Localmint helps consumers find retailers easily and quickly no matter what device they are using. Last year more than 850,000 consumers in the UK and Ireland used the platform.

Poise and performance

The overall NDRC Lift Off winner at the end of the night was Legalshine, which will have access to €30,000 in follow-on investment and was presented with its prize by Ireland rugby international Jame Heaslip.

The poise and performance of the various start-ups last night is an indication of just how far the local start-up scene has come in Ireland.

Ideas and business plans were well thought-out and reasoned.

The ideas came from a real sense of passion for the market, focus on the opportunity and each founder offered a fresh technology perspective on solving acute problems and needs.

We’ve come a long way in a very short time. And there’s more to come.


John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years