Ten of Ireland’s brightest startups: From disinfection robots to motion-tracking for kids, Ireland is brimming with the sort of blue-sky thinking the economy needs
Last week hundreds of Ireland’s most promising entrepreneurs descended into the main hall of Dublin’s historic RDS convention centre – with many in attendance reflecting on just how far the country’s business community had come in the past 10 years.
hey were on their way to Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Startup (HPSU) Showcase – which had also attracted a band of multinational partners, politicians and funders looking for the next crop of Irish businesses with the potential to taste international success.
Last year, Enterprise Ireland supported 161 early-stage companies (through HPSU and Pre-Seed funding).
It invested more than €22m of direct equity into 91 HPSUs, 37pc of which were female led.
The activity level led to the agency being named Europe’s most active domestic seed investor in terms of deal count by PitchBook, a leading investment platform.
Here the Sunday Independent profiles 10 of the brightest start-ups with significant growth plans.
Ex-investment banker Aoife Matthews was living in Spain when she co-founded Sisterly, a supplements brand designed for women, in late 2020, alongside Jennifer O’Connell and the Los Angeles-based Louise O’Riordan.
Through market research, the trio learned how poorly served women are for health and wellness products.
As a result, Sisterly is developing a premium range of supplements for women between the ages of 30 and 60.
“We are launching in September with a listing in Brown Thomas,” O’Connell said.
“We are hoping to progress into the UK in January and have had some preliminary meetings with Selfridges.
“Predominantly, we will list ourselves online. That is where we will have all the educational material, having teamed up with many female health experts.”
Matthews said Sisterly had plans to raise further finance to help it with a launch into the US.
Mayo-based Olas operates in the recruitment and staffing industry, with its flagship product, Squire, a conversation insights engine.
The product helps to improve the bottom line at recruitment companies by capturing every call a recruiter makes and analysing and extracting the correct information.
Rory O’Doherty, chief executive officer of Olas, had been working in New York in technology consulting and moved home during the pandemic.
With the technology sector currently going through well-publicised challenges, O’Doherty believes some opportunities exist for domestic firms.
“The challenges have hit big tech more than the startup space,” he said. “There are huge supports and grants out there.
“Without being too crude about it, people coming out of big tech means more talent out there for innovative projects like ours.”
Peachylean is a supportive athleisure wear brand designed by women for women and focused on women in the over-30 demographic.The company offers an inclusive size range from 6 to 26, designed to provide support.
Its products include leggings, bras, t-shirts, tank-tops, and hoodies.
The company, founded in 2018, has already tasted success, with its sales in 2021 hitting €1.1m and exports already reaching the UK, with plans to grow in Germany and the US.
Founder Sharon Keegan, who appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den series in 2021, raised €750,000 last year.
Keegan acknowledges the activewear space is very competitive, but she believes authenticity and innovation help Peachylean win consumers.
“We are trying to be the Dove of activewear,” she added, referring to the well-known soap brand.
Artificial Intelligence-powered motion tracking and movement analysis platform MoveAhead has been specifically designed for children with the hope of supporting more physical activity among younger people.
MoveAhead supports ‘connected products’ that marry the real world and the digital world with the advantages of technology to enhance the users’ experience and their physical and cognitive development.
The company was one of three to secure a strategic innovation partnership with the IRFU to test and validate their products with the rugby body.
MoveAhead co-founders Jamie McGann and Johann Issartel said the area of child-focused technology had been thriving.
“It is kids that rule the digital world,” said McGann.
Female-led Bonafi brought its domain expertise in regulatory technology to the pharmaceutical sector and spotted a sizeable gap in the market.
The company offers digital and automated software as a service solution that helps companies in the pharmaceutical industry authenticate customers and suppliers.
The company’s service is the pharma equivalent to the finance sector’s ‘Know Your Customer’, preventing falsified and substandard medicines from entering the legal pharmaceutical supply chain.
CEO and founder of Bonafi, Katarina Antill was born in Sweden but came to Ireland to work in the country’s burgeoning pharma sector.
She saw the challenges of verifying the authenticity of suppliers in the industry.
As a startup, she said funding and finding talent had been challenging.
Despite this, Bonafi is closing a €1.3m seed round, providing it with an 18-month runway.
“It’s a global solution, so we are ready to cater for a global market,” said Antill.
Positive Carbon has designed a system to help hotels and restaurants reduce food waste, which accounts for 10pc of greenhouse gas emissions.
The hospitality sector produces an estimated 23pc of food waste in Ireland. Positive Carbon claims to have developed a system based around brown food waste bins, which helps commercial kitchens cut that by up to 60pc.
A camera above the bin and a weighing scale below feed information to an app which uses machine learning to detail precisely which foods go into the bin.
This allows kitchen managers to adjust their ordering and preparation to stop the kitchen from producing an excess of the types of food that are regularly being binned.
The company was co-founded by Aisling Kirwan and Mark Kirwan, who are not related.
Mark said the company was in the process of raising a seed round worth around €1.3m, with its green credentials as an environmentally friendly firm helping to attract potential investors.
University College Cork-based startup Teleatherapy offers speech therapy technology to clinics and individuals with the disease.
Parkinson’s disease is the fastest-growing neurodegenerative disease worldwide, and 90pc of patients experience difficulty with speech. Approximately 12,000 people are living with the condition in Ireland.
The company recently raised €700,000 in pre-seed funding from private investors and Enterprise Ireland.
As a result, it has created the first full-circle platform connecting speech therapy clinics with its clients.
Co-founder and CEO Clare Meskill said it had been “all-go” recently. Teleatherapy landed its US-based Food and Drug Administration registration and has been piloting with the HSE.
Aisling Cullen, the founder of meat-free sausage brand Thanks Plants, used to live in Malaysia where she opened a coffee house and restaurant.
When she moved back to Ireland in 2017, she wanted to continue to follow her passion for food and plant-based cooking, eventually deciding to set up the business in 2020.
Thanks Plants has already tasted success, with listings nationwide in retailers, including Tesco and Supervalu.
In October 2022, the company also set up a food truck in Dundrum Town Centre.
The goal of ResHub’s digital health platform for aged care facilities and independent living communities is to improve resident well-being by facilitating enhanced communication between residents, their families, and nursing home staff.
The company already has live customers in Ireland, Australia and the UK and has just signed a contract in the US.
Seán McLoughlin, who co-founded the business alongside Neil Hosey around three years ago, said Covid had changed the mindset in the healthcare industry, with the industry now more open to technological solutions to improve the quality of service.
McLoughlin has raised around €1.8m so far, with plans to raise more for the US launch.
“There is a really strong opportunity right now, and it is needed to capitalise on it.”
Trinity College Dublin spinout Akara has developed an artificial intelligence and robotic solution to reduce infections and increase the capacity of hospitals.
Akara’s platform disinfects hospitals and healthcare settings, with fully autonomous disinfection robots carrying out air and surface decontamination in clinical settings.
CEO of Akara Conor McGinn said the company’s main focus was on Ireland and the UK, but was open to international opportunities in Europe and the US.
Last November, Akara teamed up with Estonia’s largest healthcare provider for a pilot project using the startup’s technology in Tartu University Hospital.
McGinn said some of the key challenges of being a startup in Ireland included funding and understanding it can take time to develop success.
“What we are doing is conventionally seen as high-risk.
“Robots and hardware cost money to build, so there is a high capital trajectory from day one.
“This is nothing we are unfamiliar with.
“It is a credit to the team that we know what our north star is – the potential opportunity here is massive.”