In this era of widespread remote working, employee engagement and wellbeing matter more than ever. Isolated workers need to feel a sense of community and get support from their employers in line with their company’s values.

From boosting physical and psychological health to enabling better employee communications and performance management, Irish talent tech companies are leading the way.

The five companies showcased below provide companies around the world with cutting-edge digital solutions to enable streamlined, effective work by HR departments, managers and employees.

Most are also focused on integrating with the existing technologies used by companies, meaning those in charge of IT budgets can maximise their legacy investments.

Workvivo: Engaging employees with a highly social experience

Workvivo is an enterprise social network, designed to enable organisations to engage as well as communicate with their employee communities.

“We took activities such as posting, liking and sharing content to an activity feed, which people are used to on social media apps outside the workplace, but developed them in a business context, enabling people to more easily engage with one another and with their company.” says Pete Rawlinson, Chief Marketing Officer at Workvivo.

“Disengagement was an issue for as many as 70% of businesses before the pandemic,” he adds. “One-to-one communication tools such as email or messaging facilitate communication but don’t do anything to provide that sense of community and culture. People need to feel part of something, especially when they are working remotely.”

Since the pandemic spread, Workvivo has seen a significant increase in enquiries. “Companies are seeing that many remote workers can feel isolated. Our platform helps bring employees together through a highly social experience. We see customers using the platform to host activities such as quizzes and competitions that really help create that important sense of community….and fun!”

Woodies, an Irish chain of DIY stores, found that its Workvivo activity went up when its workers were furloughed due to Covid-19. “These were mainly employees with no work email account or company device, but they wanted to stay engaged,” says Rawlinson.

Workvivo has sought to ensure it can integrate with existing communication tools such as Slack, Zoom and Workday, and also includes built-in engagement analysis through pulse surveys, he says, adding that many customers report higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement than before they implemented the platform. “Higher engagement typically leads to increases in talent retention and acquisition,” he said.

Established three years ago, Workvivo now has customers in 35 countries with over 150,000 users on the platform, including NETGEAR. The company is headquartered in Cork, Ireland and has recently opened an office in Sacramento, California. Having recently secured $16m (€14.2m) in Series A funding, and with Eric Yuan of Zoom as an existing investor, it is now focused on expanding its US client base and accelerating its product development plans.

Frankli: automating continuous performance management

While performance review cycles can strike dread into both managers and employees, Frankli aims to make performance management easier and more intuitive with its end-to-end platform.

“Our product allows managers to have much more meaningful conversations with people and support their development,” says Noel Dykes, founder and CEO of Frankli, which is headquartered in Sligo. “This approach is transformative and agile — we don’t set out to be a once-a-year annual cycle of goal-setting and meetings.”

A software engineer by background, Dykes worked as a consultancy practice manager in New Zealand and saw first-hand that younger employees were particularly keen on continuous feedback and recognition.

“People want to be truly connected to the work,” he says. “They want to understand their purpose. Why are they there? What is the company they are working for trying to achieve?”

He adds that purpose-driven organisations will thrive, especially as remote working opens up a global marketplace.

“Managers are going to become coaches, rather than engaging in direct management in the office where they can see employees and know what they are working on. From now on, they will have to trust people and give them much more autonomy.”

Within Frankli, managers can set up regular recurring one-to-one meetings with their team members, setting priorities, agreeing action items and supporting accountability on both sides. The software suggests recommended talking points, based on insights from organisational psychology. Employees can also contribute comments and suggestions.

The product also enables businesses to offer more tailored learning and development opportunities, including a two-sided mentor marketplace tool.

Frankli has customers of all sizes in Ireland, the UK, Poland and New Zealand. While its core focus is midsize companies looking to scale, it already supports workforces of as many as 70,000 employees.

Empeal: personalised employee wellbeing at scale

While many employee wellbeing platforms work on a one-to-many scale, says Sohini De, founder of data-driven start-up Empeal, her business aims to deliver 1:1 wellbeing support at scale.

“If someone is having trouble with sleep, perhaps not doing too much exercise, eating unhealthy food or generally falling into bad habits, they can go through the programme on our system,” she explains.

“They start by completing interactive questionnaires and we can also integrate data from their wearable devices. They could be given a personalised programme to improve their sleep hygiene, for example. If they continue to have problems, their case is escalated to a sleep expert.”

With users in Ireland and India, including ABP, one of the biggest media houses in India and Kingston Technologies a multinational hardware manufacturer, Empeal is now focused on expanding those markets and pushing into both the UAE and the UK.
So far, it has seen engagement rates of 60% on average, which De says is high for a wellbeing app. “We have also seen very encouraging results in terms of people achieving their health goals,” she says.

In addition to helping employees improve their wellbeing, Empeal also provides anonymised aggregate data to employers to enable them to make better decisions, improve staff retention rates and attract more talent.

To help companies navigate the coronavirus crisis, Empeal produced a free toolkit of resources and also made its community-level module free. “We were finding a lot of employers were asking, ‘How can we take care of our people at this time?’ — they were very concerned about how everyone in remote locations was coping not in touch with their workplace or workmates,” says De.

“The community engagement part of the platform, which includes fun challenges and community boards, helps employees feel connected and it’s very simple to roll out for HR teams.”

Peptalk: building community through connection and wellbeing

The three founders of workplace wellbeing platform Peptalk — all former sports stars, including , Michelle Fogarty, former Head of HR in EMEA for Twitter — know more than most the value of wellbeing when it comes to performance.

“We had all been involved in high performance sports,” says CEO James Brogan. “We had seen that to get the best out of people, their lives need to be in balance. What you do off the pitch is as important as what you do on it.”

Peptalk aims to help companies build sustainable high performance cultures through its community-driven employee experience platform. The product includes an insights tool, management toolkits, an employee app and a real-time measurement dashboard.

“We’re helping organisations with those off-the-pitch activities. We’re helping humans to be better at what they do, to have more energy, and to be more focused and resilient,” says Brogan.

He adds that the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the issue of work-life balance: “Senior leaders have seen a different side to their staff. They’re now acutely aware that, unless people have proper support, they won’t be able to work to the best of their ability.”

During the crisis, Peptalk has seen increased engagement from existing clients, while also doubling its usual number of demos to potential customers.

Set up in late 2016, Peptalk has a global user base in over 10 countries, including PayPal, AIB and Northern Trust. “This is a global challenge faced by multinationals. We offer one solution that works across an organisation, so there is no sense of disconnection with different offices doing different things,” says Brogan.

With serious plans to scale further, Peptalk expects to close out its current funding round later in 2020. “This is the time for us to get out and support as many organisations as we can,” says Brogan. “It’s a challenging time and the need has never been greater for the type of services we offer.”

Wrkit: easy to implement and clinically-backed

Founded two decades ago, Wrkit was originally a group benefits scheme, which evolved into an employee discount scheme. While users can still access thousands of discounts on holidays, food, clothes and other products, Wrkit has expanded to offer other services, including a learning portal with 4,500 personal and professional courses, a recognition portal and a wellbeing portal called Powr.

“POWR stands for Positive Occupational Wellness Resources and offers tools such as meditation, breathing exercises and reflective journalling,” explains Jason Brennan, Wrkit’s Director of Wellbeing and Leadership.

“The big differentiator between Powr and similar apps is that it offers 430 clinically based behavioural plans put together by psychologists,” says Brennan. “These are based on six paths — mind, sleep, work, life, food and active. When users answer the questionnaires for these paths, they are given a personalised plan.”

“POWR users begin by finding out how they score clinically in the 6 areas of wellbeing and are instantly provided with personalised clinically based plans to improve engagement and growth in each area. During Covid for example we saw a huge up take in the activity, work and life plans, helping not only users but employers by feeding back what is happening in real time with their anonymised and aggregated dashboard”.

Wrkit is based in Dublin, but also has offices in London and Massachusetts. Its clients include multinationals such as KPMG, FedEx and Boston Scientific. Its internet-based application can be launched quickly as it requires no specific IT infrastructure, says Brennan.

“All we need to launch is the list of employee ID numbers, and we provide lots of webinars and video tutorials to help staff engage with the tool, which is of course completely confidential.”

When Covid-19 struck, Wrkit quickly found demand rose. “We launched to 60 companies in eight weeks,” says Brennan. “We also quickly created a Coping with Covid portal to help users.”

Enterprise Ireland client companies have helped put Ireland into the top echelon of countries whose innovative solutions are helping to reduce the impact of Covid-19.

A global survey ranks Ireland among the top countries in the world for producing innovative solutions to the current crisis.  Ireland has come sixth in a global ranking of those responding best in terms of innovation to the pandemic.

Inventive solutions coming out of Ireland span everything from med tech devices to diagnostics solutions and contact tracing software, and place the country just behind innovators such as the US, Canada and Israel.

The survey is compiled by StartupBlink, a Swiss-Israeli producer of global startup ecosystem maps, in association with the UN-backed Health Innovation Index (HIEx) and partners such as Crunchbase, a US business information platform.

Ireland’s top ranking position reflects the fact that within weeks of the World Health Organisation declaring the pandemic, on 11th March, more than 100 Enterprise Ireland client companies had responded with innovative solutions.

As a result Ireland is one of just a few in the Top 20 country ranking which is singled out by the report’s authors for “over-performing in Covid-related innovation”.

The rankings consider the number of innovations in each country, giving extra points for those which it selects as ‘outstanding’ in the fight against the virus.

The scale and scope of Ireland’s innovation response to the pandemic is immense. It includes examples such as nutraceuticals firm Mervue Labs in Cork partnering with iconic drinks maker Irish Distillers to create hand sanitisers.

Similar initiatives are to be seen among human and animal health companies such as Univet, Chanelle and Ovelle.

Irish mask maker Irema, a contract manufacturer to US conglomerate 3M and other medical device suppliers, has expanded its workforce and built a new production line to ramp up production of reusable respirator-grade masks.

Ireland’s engineering sector stepped up to the plate quickly too. Long established companies such as Automatic Plastics and Key Plastics, whose clients range from pharmaceutical and food packaging to telecoms and aerospace, pivoted to manufacture face shields for use by health service workers.

High potential start ups are responding fast too, with CALT Dynamics, a 3-D printing company backed by Stanley Black & Decker, making protective visors.

Software companies have risen to the challenge with alacrity.  Clinical practice management solutions company Wellola launched a secure patient communication portal for general practitioners in Ireland’s national health service, the HSE. By providing treatment remotely, it is helping to keep queues and wait times down, while at the same time protecting both doctor and patient from the spread of Covid-19.

Scheduling software company Swiftqueue is optimising appointments at Covid-19 urgent test centres.

Irish medical devices innovators are coming to the rescue too. PMD Solutions, creator of pioneering patient monitoring devices, is trialling a new respiratory monitoring solution in one of Dublin’s biggest hospitals.

Jinga Life allows people to securely record, store and share their own medical information. By providing for the digital transfer of things such as CT scans, MRIs and x-rays, it reduces the risk of infection from handling current technologies such as CDs.

Digital healthcare company PatientMpower provides tech solutions for people living with long term illnesses. Its remote monitoring enables clinicians to provide continued high quality care to vulnerable patients without the need for hospital visits during the Covid-19 crisis.

One of the world’s leading digital mental health providers, SilverCloud Health, is opening up part of its platform free of charge to help millions of people cope with the impact of Covid-19.

The Irish company has offices in Boston, Dublin and London and clients such as Ireland’s HSE and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) and Canadian retail pharmacy chain Shoppers Drug Mart. It is providing programmes on stress, sleep and resilience for free to its clients’ 150 million customers.

Tracking and tracing is an effective weapon in the fight against Covid-19 and Waterford based software development company NearForm is working with Ireland’s HSE to develop a mobile tracing app for the disease.

The potentially life-saving app will facilitate the rapid notification of people who have been in contact with someone who is subsequently been found have tested positive for the virus.

Irish artificial intelligence start up Oblivious AI has developed a Covid19 contact tracing solution that provides accurate information at speed while at the same time protecting people’s privacy. It is being piloted in India.

Internet of Things specialist Taoglas is helping public and private sector organisations to manage crowd sizes in order to maintain social distancing in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Augmented reality hand washing app SureWash, which is already used by healthcare workers globally to ensure proper hand hygiene, has been made available by the company to the general public, to stem the spread of the virus in the community.

Dublin based HiberGene Diagnostics, a developer of molecular diagnostics tests for human infectious diseases, is developing a new and rapid test for the novel coronavirus, based on non-invasive human samples such as swabs.

Because it is a “near patient test”, samples will be taken and tested on location, without needing to be sent offsite to a laboratory. It could produce a positive COVID 19 result many times faster than the fastest existing molecular diagnostic tests.

Fellow Irish biotech company Aalto Bio Reagents has launched a new protein with the power to fight the Covid-19 on three fronts – diagnosis, vaccines and research.

Irish med tech company Aerogen has pioneered new ways to help people in respiratory distress using aerosol drug delivery technology.

Unlike conventional nebulisers, Aerogen has an in-line circuit design, which means the ventilation circuit does not need to be broken for drug delivery. Its management team believes it could therefore be a viable option to help deliver industry-leading care to patients infected with Covid-19.

Finally, innovative plasma technology developed by Irish company Novaerus is helping to close the infection control loop of hands, surfaces and now air. It uses a patented technology that kills airborne viruses by sucking air from a room and passing it through patented plasma coils which destroy them, reducing the risk of cross-infection.

Irish companies are continuing to respond to the pandemic challenge with resourcefulness and creativity, says Tom Kelly, Enterprise Ireland’s divisional manager for innovation and competitiveness. “We are seeing companies innovating, adapting and creating new solutions.”

An Enterprise Ireland-hosted conversation with industry thought leaders hears why airline and hospitality brands are looking to the tech industry as a painful rebuilding process is set to begin:

“Every crisis requires innovation,” is Henry Harteveldt’s parting shot. It’s a good way to finish, a welcome note of optimism but also a rallying cry to purveyors of bright ideas in the tech sector and elsewhere. Deep in crisis, the travel industry needs creativity and innovative solutions like never before.

One of the leading voices in the US travel industry, analyst and researcher Harteveldt has been in conversation with marketing and customer loyalty expert Dave Canty as part of an Enterprise Ireland-hosted conversation examining the impact of Covid-19 on the travel sector.

It’s been a sobering 60-minute discussion led by Enterprise Ireland for its travel technology companies. Of all global sectors affected by the spread of the virus, arguably none have been hit harder than the travel industry. For airline and hospitality brands that have withstood a succession of natural and man-made disasters in recent years, will Covid-19 prove to be the final straw?

Emotional v financial impact

“Well, we’re on an odyssey that nobody could have expected,” says Henry Harteveldt at the outset. “The financial impact of this is going to be extraordinary on a worldwide basis but I think the emotional impact is going to be even greater, and that’s something travel companies really have to think about.

“We have to ask the question ‘What are we going to be like after this?’ because there is going to be a lot of lingering psychological impact and nervousness,” he says. “How are we going to feel about being in a busy neighbourhood restaurant, never mind a crowded convention centre or even an airplane?

“So, there are all these unusual things to consider, even before we talk about the rebuilding of the industry,” adds Harteveldt. “Unlike a recession where things get bad and then things get better, the recovery from this is going to be uneven. It’s probably going to be slow and steady. We hope it will be steady, but it will certainly be slow.”

Rebound likely “by mid-2021”

“We’re in the jaws of this right now but you would hope that the containment efforts are going to bring some positive trends in the second half of the year,” says Dave Canty. “By next spring, maybe summer 2021, I would expect to see things starting to climb back.

“When confidence does start to return, I think leisure will rebound a lot faster than anything on the business side,” he says. “But even on that point, confidence may be a generational thing – it will certainly be subjective – and it may be a while before older generations feel comfortable travelling again, if ever again.

“Business travel will phase back in, but you’ll definitely see organisations re-assessing their travel budgets,” says Canty, pointing to the success of platforms like Zoom and WebEx in keeping people connected during the crisis. “Last to recover may be those hotels that have made big investments in events and conferences. They may suffer for longer.”

“It goes back to the psychology,” agrees Henry Harteveldt. “Organizations may not be sure they want their employees being in a large gathering of people. But we’ll also take our cue from public health officials. The challenge is that there’s a kind of patchwork of restrictions so it might be easier for some businesses to get back quicker than others.”

Both agree that travel companies will need help to ride out the storm.

“A lot of travel firms have gotten rid of contractors and outside resources to reduce expenses, and that’s had a massive impact on IT departments,” says Harteveldt. “In terms of technology investment, neither hotels nor airlines have been doing as good a job as they could have been doing or needed to be doing. That’s maybe an opportunity.

“Ancillaries are going to be hugely important, for hotels especially,” he goes on. “The challenge for hotels, unlike airlines, is that each hotel may have a different selection of products and those products are more likely to be at a property level rather than at a corporate or brand level. So, selling them may not be as easy.

Ancillary, subscriber-based products

“I think there’s going to be a big scramble for hotels to work on their ancillary retail, but their ability to sell these products is largely dependent on personalization,” says Harteveldt. “This is an opportunity for companies to sell subscription-based products into hotels.

“It may be easier if you’re able to bear more of the risk and tell clients that you’re willing to take it on the return,” he adds. “Also, the easier it is to implement any kind of technology solution, the more work you can take on for the company, the better.

“What sort of innovation do travel companies need? Anything that can improve their data insights and their personalization,” he says. “Tools that can help brands improve their retail, more targeted content. Any form of innovation that can help travel companies to be more effective and sell their products.”

“It’s delicate because you’ve got a lot of brands that are literally trying to survive,” says Dave Canty. “I’d suggest that if you are approaching travel companies, tread carefully and make it clear that you’re trying help. Can we help you connect better with your customers? Is there a way we can help you engage more deeply with your loyalty base?

“That might be a content offering that you can provide to travel brands, even on a free basis for a period of time, that they in turn can offer to their subscribers,” he says. “A crisis situation is when your loyalty programme should shine, so companies that haven’t invested in loyalty fundamentals are falling behind. They need to start making those investments now.”

David Canty is a partner with New World Loyalty, a partnership and loyalty advisory firm based in Atlanta. Henry Harteveldt is President of Atmosphere Research, a San Francisco-based market research firm serving the global travel industry. He recently authored Enterprise Ireland’s white paper on Maximizing Revenue across the traveler’s journey

Irish digital technology is taking up the fight against Covid-19

All over Ireland digital technology companies are taking up the fight against coronavirus. Innovation is rapidly emerging in response to the global pandemic.  A number of critical solutions are already in the fray, with many more set for rapid deployment.

Tech for tracking

We know from the World Health Organisation that tracking and tracing is an effective weapon in the fight against Covid-19.

In Ireland, Waterford based software development company NearForm is working with Ireland’s Health Service Executive, the country’s national health service, to develop a mobile tracing app for the disease.

The potentially life-saving app will facilitate the rapid notification of people who have been in contact with someone who is subsequently been found have tested positive for the virus.

Ireland’s HSE is just one of a number of major clients the company has worked with. Others include internationally known organisations such as the New York Times, US retailer Walmart, and ridesharing platform Uber.

NearForm was recently invited to participate in IBM’s Call For Code in Geneva, a worldwide developer initiative that seeks technology solutions for natural disaster preparedness, response and, crucially, recovery.

The new real-time symptom tracking and digital contact tracing app will curtail the spread of the virus and help eliminate the growth of clusters. As such it will be a vital part of Ireland’s national response to Covid-19.

Keeping a safe distance

Social distancing is a key protection against infection.

A new solution from Irish Internet of Things (IOT) specialist Taoglas is helping both public and private sector organisations to manage crowd sizes and social distancing, as part of the fight against Covid-19.

Called CROWD Insights, it supports the urgent public health need countries are experiencing globally to manage group sizes and, where people do come together, to keep them at least 2 metres (6 feet) apart.

Taoglas’ cloud-based analytics platform can measure, monitor, predict, alert and notify public gathering and social distancing breaches. It works in both indoor and outdoor spaces.

The company is currently working with one of Ireland’s leading hospitals and in time will offer the solution to municipalities, governments and enterprises, as well as healthcare systems.

The solution is quick and easy to deploy. It uses existing Wifi systems and collects anonymised data via smartphones. It can be up and running – remotely – in just one day.

“We believe this will be vital in the days and months to come, to allow people to move around safely without fear and to get the economy moving again,” says Ronan Quinlan, co-chief executive and founder of Taoglas.

“With a cost-effective tool to measure, monitor and manage people movement, we’re looking to help to expedite getting life – and businesses – back to normal.”

Taking the isolation out of self isolation

Keeping in touch can be a matter of life and death right now.

International mobile phone top-up provider Ding is helping people around the world to do just that, despite the challenges of Covid-19.

Since the international mobile phone top-up company was established in 2006, its users have sent more than 300 million top-ups globally. In fact, Ding delivers a top-up every second, via 600 mobile phone carriers across 140 countries.

Pre-paid mobile phones account for three quarters of the world’s five billion mobile phones but fully one quarter of them are estimated to be off-line and in need of top-up at any given time. Right now, a topped-up mobile phone is more important than ever.

In March Ding, which is headquartered in Dublin, launched a week long free fees initiative to help people keep in touch during a particularly critical phase in the disease’s progress.

Now Ding is focusing on its Access For Good charity programme, partnering with Medecins Sans Frontiere (Doctors Without Borders) so that every time someone uses the platform, Ding makes a donation to support doctors fighting against Covid-19.

 

Getting in a lather about hygiene

Hand hygiene is important to public health.

Irish healthcare technology company SureWash has been working to ensure people all around the globe are keeping their hands squeaky clean. Washing hands is known to be one of the most effective weapons we have at our fingertips. It helps to keep ourselves, and others, safe.

Research shows that correct hand hygiene can be over 90% effective in preventing the spread of harmful germs. But it only works if it is done properly.

SureWash is an augmented reality hand washing app which was developed in Ireland to provide proper hand hygiene training to healthcare workers, patients and visitors worldwide.

It was developed by health professionals, in conjunction with technologists, so the the app ensures compliance in hand hygiene to World Health Organisation protocol standards.

What makes it even more effective is that it delivers its life saving information in a fun way, using gamefication to improve engagement. It provides users with real-time feedback too, to help them improve their hand washing technique.

The software system behind it also provides infection control personnel with the data necessary to monitor hand hygiene progress and to guarantee positive results.

In response to the pandemic SureWash made its app to the general public in one clean sweep, so that everyone can play their part in stemming transmission of Covid-19.

 

Giving news organisations the whip hand

Finally NewsWhip, the Irish news analytics platform, has quickly become the ‘go to’ resource for media organisations around the world as they look to tackle Covid-19.

A pandemic is by its nature global, which presents its own challenges in terms of managing news. But Covid-19 is also the fastest paced rolling news story this generation of media has ever seen. Keeping on top of it is hard, which is why NewsWhip helps.

The corporate sector is also turning to the news analytics platform, to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the virus on their brands. They rely on it to see what kind of responses – positive or negative – their Covid-19 communications are eliciting.

It’s why use of its real-time product has gone up by more than 25%.

As authorities around the world struggle cut through all the misinformation spreading online, it’s good for all our health to know that NewsWhip is also being used by anti-misinformation groups, to monitor fake news and debunk myths about Covid-19 as they emerge. No one should die of ignorance.

 

One of the most immediate consequences of Covid-19 has been the rapid global shift towards working from home where possible.

This move to digital remote working gives rise to countless questions and challenges, many centring on employee and device safety and security. According to EY, 77% of organisations want to move beyond having basic cybersecurity protections.

“Cybersecurity has therefore become a board-level issue for businesses,” says Sarah McNabb, Market Advisor, Digital Technologies at Enterprise Ireland UK.

“Once a reactive issue, this is rapidly becoming a proactive concern, as companies race to ensure devices are safe and home WiFi connections are secure, while employees are well trained and understand the risks of phishing and cyber-attacks.”

During these uncertain times, Irish cybersecurity companies can offer innovative solutions to the challenge of managing a remote workforce. Many are free or open to all, including:

Read on to discover best practices and advice from some of the Irish companies that can help your employees work from home safely and securely.

  1. Edgescan: continuously monitoring threats

Remote working must happen over a VPN or similar solution to help ensure secure, encrypted communications, says Eoin Keary, CEO and founder of Edgescan, an award-winning vulnerability management service (SaaS) and one of Ireland’s largest cybersecurity exporters.

“Access to network systems in the office should be on a least-privilege basis and if your organisation has a Network Authentication Server (NAS), make sure it’s configured and enabled appropriately,” he says.

Appropriate patching and anti-virus measures should also be enabled on employees’ computers, he adds, to prevent viruses spreading into the office network once people return to the office.

Edgescan helps its clients worldwide to understand, prioritise and mitigate cyber security risks on a continuous basis, including when offices are closed and employees are working remotely.

  1. CWSI: ensuring secure enterprise mobility

The rules governing data security and cybersecurity don’t go away just because people have to change how they work, says Philip Harrison, CTO and co-founder of CWSI, which specialises in secure mobile and workforce solutions and works with many large organisations from its offices in Dublin and London.

“The cyber-criminals and hackers certainly aren’t taking a break to let us all adjust, so more businesses are more vulnerable than ever,” he says.

A core tenet of any information security management system is that your security or compliance is not weakened during a business continuity or disaster recovery scenario.”

Two-factor authentication, he adds, is critical to protect corporate data. Businesses should also ensure mobile devices are secured with a mobile thread defence (MTD) solution.

Employees should be encouraged to report security incidents to IT while they’re working from home and to be vigilant about keeping data secure at home, even through simple steps such as locking their screen when they walk away.

  1. Cyber Risk Aware: training on cyber security in real time

Using VPNs and patched applications on encrypted up-to-date devices is critical to security for remote workforces, agrees Cyber Risk Aware’s CEO and founder Stephen Burke, himself a former chief information security officer (CISO).

These devices should be company-issued, with password-protected and encrypted files and data, he says. “I know what it’s like being on the inside defending a network. Personal accounts and devices can really leave a business insecure and vulnerable to cyber attacks,” he says.

Clear, secure lines of communication are also critical, he adds, advising companies to avoid channels such as social media and Whatsapp when working with sensitive data. Likewise, businesses should avoid ‘shadow IT’ or the unauthorised downloading and use of software and systems.

Cyber Risk Aware is the only company in the world to offer a real time cybersecurity awareness training platform. It helps companies worldwide assess and mitigate human cyber risks, the root cause in over 90% of security incidents, by running simulated phishing attacks, assessing cyber knowledge to locate risks within a business and providing security awareness training content when needed.

  1. Sytorus: specialising in data and privacy management

Companies and organisations around the world have been urgently seeking information on minimising the risk of data breaches or employees getting hacked while working from home. So says John Ghent, CEO of Sytorus, which offers a SaaS privacy management platform and is a global market leader in data protection and privacy management.

“Many people newly working from home are likely to have smart TVs, gaming platforms, and wireless routers, with some also having Internet of Things (IoT) devices installed,” he says.

“All these can add complexity to the security challenge and vulnerabilities to the network, and home networks are not usually sufficiently protected.

Ghent advises organisations to update their remote access policy or develop one if none is in place, and to ensure all staff complete a full cyber security awareness programme (covering topics such as malware, acceptable use and device security) and understand the high risk of Covid-19 related phishing emails.

  1. TitanHQ: protecting higher education and business

Along with businesses that must suddenly enable remote working, universities and colleges that now have to facilitate remote lectures and study must also be mindful of coronavirus-related cyberthreats, says Ronan Kavanagh, CEO of TitanHQ, a multi-award-winning web filtering, email security and email archiving SaaS business.

“We have seen massive demand so far this year for two products in particular that can be rolled out seamlessly to remote devices,” he says.

“These are SpamTitan cloud-based email security, which protects students and staff from the newest iterations of phishing attacks, and our AI-drive DNS security product, WebTitan. Combined, these create an umbrella layer over all students and staff protecting their devices.”

While the way we work has been evolving significantly in recent years, the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the need for many people to work remotely. And during this seismic global shift, Irish talent technology is helping thousands of employees and employers to transition from working at their office desks to their kitchen tables.

Ireland’s progressive, globalised tech sector has cultivated a particularly innovative group of talent technology companies. Their smart, disruptive products and services are enabling companies around the world to attract, engage, manage, and retain their workforce in these uncertain times.

Supporting employees

While remote working had become common in certain sectors, especially those in which skilled talent is in high demand, it’s new for many companies. They need to quickly implement new technology to ensure their employees can adapt and continue to be productive while working from home.

Talent tech is enabling home-based employees to engage with colleagues, maintain their wellbeing while in a new routine, and upskill at home through online courses.

Benefitting employers

Meanwhile, employers can use Irish-built tech stay in operation, keep their workforce engaged, and manage, schedule, and pay their employees while the latter work remotely.

While some industries will see temporary workforce reductions, those such as health, retail and other frontline industries will need to hire more people fast. Talent tech can provide them with remote technology for sourcing and interviewing potential employees.

How Irish talent tech firms can help

These nine Irish companies offer disruptive technologies businesses can use to manage how employees work as they navigate these turbulent times.

  1. Wellola

With healthcare systems under huge pressure due to coronavirus, optimising care capacity is crucial. Wellola has collaborated with the Irish public health services provider, the Health Service Executive (HSE), to launch a new online portal that enables GP and healthcare providers to treat people remotely so as to protect themselves from Covid-19.

  1. Abodoo

As the world turns to remote working, Abodoo is there to connect global citizens with remote jobs. With 23,000 members across more than 60 countries, Abodoo’s SaaS platform uses smart matching technology powered by data analytics to match people to roles. This means companies can build highly scalable distributed teams quickly and cost-effectively.

  1. Sonru

With in-person interviews on hold for now, recruiters must turn to virtual solutions. Sonru is an award-winning global leader in asynchronous video interviewing, which gives both candidates and interviewers flexibility. Importantly, it also removes pain points such as interview scheduling, time zone restrictions, dispersed hiring teams, and time lost on no shows.

  1. Peptalk

To thrive and survive, companies need to promote a high performance culture. PepTalk is a workplace wellbeing platform that drives team engagement, productivity and connection across organisations in a fun way. Peptalk’s ‘whole person performance’ approach unlocks employee potential, helps companies to reimagine their work cultures and delivers bottom-line results.

  1. Workvivo

During times of crisis, internal communications are critical for engaging and reassuring employees. With the Workvivo internal comms platform, employees can read and post content to an activity feed, and like, share and comment as they would on non-work social media. They can also recognise others through shoutouts, link posts to company goals and values, create community spaces, and publish articles and events.

  1. FlexTime

Especially now, employers need to be able to manage flexible working arrangements and the changing needs of their employees. FlexTime offers flexible working, time and attendance, and scheduling solutions. Its products, which eliminate the need for manual tracking, are used by over 400 customers, in more than 5,000 implementations for over 200,000 users.

  1. PulseLearning

Now more than ever, it’s vital to protect employee mental health and wellbeing, and promote self-care. PulseLearning, an award-winning, global top 10 learning company founded in 1999, developed the I Am Here programme to facilitate a cultural change within organisations so team members know it’s absolutely OK to ask for help and how they can.

  1. Flexiwage

Managing finances can be challenging at the best of times. Flexiwage, which integrates with existing payroll packages, empowers employees and employers to make smarter financial decisions. Employees gain a fully flexible pay schedule, getting paid when it’s best for them, while employers can consolidate payroll, reduce costs and promote financial responsibility.

  1. LearnUpon

It’s still vital for employees to learn and train while they work remotely. LearnUpon is a powerful learning management system (LMS) platform with a practical approach. Organisations can use it to manage, track, and achieve their learning goals. Trusted by over 1,000 customers worldwide, LearnUpon is one of the fastest growing LMSs in the world.

Whether it’s Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Augmented Reality or the Internet of Things, the world’s biggest brands know they must harness the power of digital technology to gain that all important competitive edge.

When it comes to sourcing excellence in digital innovation, Audi, Philips, Primark, Women’s World Banking and the Special Olympics look to Ireland for smart digital solutions.

“Irish tech companies listen to the demands of the global market and understand those needs. CEOs know the value their products and services can bring to global brands and they deliver to the exceptional standards required” says Carol Gibbons, Head of ICT within Enterprise Ireland, Ireland’s Trade and Innovation agency and the VC arm of the Irish Government.

Small island, global mindset

Ireland is home to a vibrant cluster of more than 1,000 Irish digital technology companies. In addition, many multinationals firms have chosen Ireland as their strategic European base, making Ireland one of the largest and most spirited tech hubs in Europe. The strong Irish company base is dominated by an international sales focus and a flourishing startup entrepreneurship base.

Many of these Irish tech companies are proven world leaders in their industries, delivering smart, effective products to global household name businesses, across a diverse range of industries: HR to Media, Travel and Manufacturing, Financial Services, Social Media and Games, Mobility and Project Management.

“There’s incredible energy and depth in the Irish tech space,” says Gibbons. “We have a truly open innovative economy. Irish tech companies here are driven and forward-looking, and work with a global mindset. More than half of their turnover comes from export sales.”

The largest demand for Irish tech is in North America with Irish technology companies exporting €1.6bn in 2018. This is followed by the UK with €0.9bn exports and the Eurozone with €0.5bn exports in 2018.

Standing tall with global giants

Securing deals with global brands such as Audi, the Special Olympics and Women’s World Banking is far from easy, but Gibbons says Irish companies succeed because of their domain knowledge, their ability to apply relevant technology and their global experience.

Many tech titans have EMEA and development centres headquartered in Ireland. “Irish tech firms have grown up alongside these global leaders, often collaborating with them bringing technology and know-how together to facilitate new technological developments enabling more rapid research and development. Irish companies are immersed, in this culture of pursuing excellence in innovation,” says Gibbons.

Embracing innovation, fostering excellence 

“Across the globe, Ireland is known for its deep-rooted pedigree in software development. That has laid the foundation for the extraordinary digital technology innovation now happening here, across AI, Data Analytics, Blockchain, AR VR, Cognitive Cloud Computing and IoT,” says Gibbons.

“We also produce and attract amazing talent to work in this sector, and our tech firms are supported by a world-class R&D ecosystem and vibrant investment activity.”

For decades, Ireland has had a strong innovation agenda, to become one of the leading Research, Development and Innovation locations in the world. Over the past thirty years, Ireland has built a growing reputation for scientific excellence and is now a world leader in generating and using new knowledge for economic and social progress.

In fact, in 2018 the European Innovation Scoreboard ranked Ireland first for innovative SMEs and first for employment in knowledge-intensive activities. Ireland has also had a very strong success rate in Horizon 2020 funding, the EU-wide programme for research and innovation. Since the programme’s inception in 2014, Ireland has secured more than €500m through Horizon 2020.

“Initiatives like Ireland’s €500m Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund is game changing. The funding enables companies to collaborate on disruptive technology with true innovation value. We’re seeing an exceptional output from this in areas such as AI, Blockchain and sustainable technology.”

Backing brilliance, building the pipeline

Recently named by Pitch Book as the second largest VC investor globally, and first in Europe, by deal count in 2019. Enterprise Ireland invested €24 million in 127 start-ups in 2019 and €72 million in venture funds in 2018, as part of its Seed and Venture Capital Schemes.

“We walk the journey every step of the way with Irish tech firms,” says Gibbons. “We know the global landscape and we know what it takes to transform a high-potential start-up into a globally scaled business. On a daily basis our network of 40 international offices work with companies to help them source innovative Irish technology not just to grow and lead but to reshape the entire customer journey and accelerate growth in the years to come.”

Over the last 10 years, Ireland has emerged as a significant player in the start-up space, with a strong focus on leading-edge and disruptive technologies.

Ireland’s world-class start-up ecosystem and skilled entrepreneurs were celebrated last week at Start-Up Showcase 2020. The event, organised by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, brought together 127 companies in which it had invested in 2019, to the tune of €24 million.

Ireland is steadily building an impressive pipeline of high potential start-ups (HPSUs) that are benefitting from a highly developed start-up ecosystem, an unrivalled culture of connectivity and innovation, and a broad range of supports from Enterprise Ireland.

“Strategically, start-ups are critically important to the Irish economy, as they operate at the leading edge of innovation,” says Niall McEvoy, manager of the HPSU ICT team at Enterprise Ireland.

“Among the start-up companies that we support every year, there will be some that go on to be the great Irish companies of the future that are globally scaled and internationalised. So it’s absolutely critical to the future of the economy that the State and other funders continue to invest in start-ups.”

It’s that rationale that has made Enterprise Ireland unique in a global context in being a significant investor in early-stage businesses. In fact, Pitchbook recently ranked it the number one investor in Europe and number two in the world for the number of investments in start-ups in 2019, by VC deal count.

Supporting start-ups through early challenges

Every start-up faces similar key challenges: refining the product to attain optimum product–market fit, fundraising and, once market validation is achieved, building a company that can deliver real scalable growth.

“Enterprise Ireland has a wide suite of programmes and financial supports, as well as a team of advisers that have built up a huge bank of experience around helping our clients overcome these early challenges,” explains McEvoy. “We work with start-ups at the pre-seed/validation stage and also at the seed and scaling stage.

“Our pre-seed support focuses on mentoring, helping companies with market intelligence, skills development and customer engagement all the way up to starting to win business and preparing for investor funding. Financially we support pre-seed companies via our Competitive Start Fund, and through feasibility funding and Innovation Vouchers.”

Stage 2 support is about accelerating the  early stage growth of the company, Enterprise Ireland is a significant direct investor at this stage through its iHPSU funding mechanism and also participates in follow-on investment at Series A stage for those companies making the most progress.

“As well as this financial support, we have an extensive network of international offices that start-ups can work with to explore overseas markets,” says McEvoy.  “That’s a key differentiator when you compare Enterprise Ireland with other agencies around the world.

“Companies also get very intensive advisory support and we encourage peer-to-peer learning, for example through the HPSU Founders Forum, which connects companies to each other, and to previous generations of entrepreneurs.”

The strength of the ecosystem

McEvoy believes that one of the things that makes Ireland such a great place to start a business is how connected the ecosystem is.

“Enterprise Ireland is a significant player but you also have VCs, and accelerator and incubator programmes across all of the key verticals that help companies test, validate, grow and attain product–market fit,” he says. “It’s very much about the power of the network and the wider connectivity to investors, to other entrepreneurs and to international market opportunities.”

Connectivity to universities and research centres is also important. Last year, 13 of the start-ups supported by Enterprise Ireland were spin-outs from third level organisations.

“A lot of innovation is coming out of research labs; through our Commercialisation Fund and other supports Enterprise Ireland provides the conduit to spin-out and turn the research into real-world, commercial opportunities.”

There’s also a healthy interest in start-ups within Ireland’s multinational business community, which recognises the value of the innovation and disruption that are a natural part of the start-up arena.

“The level of collaboration between indigenous companies – established and start-up – and multinational companies has never been greater, particularly through initiatives like the Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund, which encourages indigenous companies, multinationals and third level institutes to work collaboratively,” says McEvoy.

Ireland has a growing global reputation as a tech hub and this, says McEvoy, is down to the emergence of technically strong and focused start-ups.

“To be a strong tech hub it’s not just about having the people, you need to have resources, education and training and the connectivity. Whether a new HPSU is emerging from an indigenous company that has already scaled or whether it’s emerging from university or from the multinational sector, they all need to be able to progress rapidly and get the supports that come from the ecosystem. The strength of the ecosystem is absolutely key.”

Sectors and standouts

ICT continues to be the dominant sector for Irish HPSUs, with some 70% of new companies funded last year falling broadly into this category.

Fintech has been particularly strong, and in recent years we’ve been seeing a growing focus on deeptech.  A lot of our early stage companies are starting to employ artificial intelligence and machine learning in their software solutions. That’s a very strong and exciting trend,” says McEvoy.

Dublin company, Aylien is one such company. Its AI-powered news intelligence platform digests the world’s news content and identifies what matters to a business with human-level accuracy. Artificial intelligence is also at the heart of EdgeTier’s technology, which increases the efficiency of customer service centres by helping human agents to respond to customer queries by suggesting responses and providing context-sensitive and personalised data.

Meanwhile, VR Education is using augmented and virtual reality to transform training content, and is working with organisations such as the BBC and Oxford University.

In the medtech / life sciences sector, which after ICT is the next biggest focus for Irish start-ups, Nuritas is combining artificial intelligence and genomics to discover and unlock natural bioactive peptides with health benefits.

“I believe that Ireland is punching above its weight in terms of the strength of its start-up ecosystem and the cutting-edge innovation that is driving new company establishment and growth,” says McEvoy.

 

Soils all over the world are contaminated with heavy metals and not fit for crop production. Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal meets Microgen Biotech, the Irish start-up company that’s changing that.

In 2014, the Chinese government published a new report on the health of the country’s soils. The numbers were frightening. The report showed that almost a fifth (19.4%) of China’s farmland was contaminated by organic and inorganic chemical pollutants as well as heavy metals such as cadmium and arsenic.

For context, 20% of China’s farmland equates to just under 62 million acres, which is an area three times the size of the island of Ireland. Any crops, such as rice, grown on this contaminated farmland will be poisoned and not fit for human consumption. Given that China is trying to feed a fifth of the world’s population, its highly contaminated soils are a major concern.

However, new technology is emerging that could have a key role to play in solving this crisis and allow Chinese farmers to grow safe, high yielding crops. MicroGen Biotech, a start-up company based out of Ireland’s Institute of Technology Carlow and co-founded by Dr. Xuemei Germaine, has developed a new biotechnology that can protect crops from heavy metals in soils.

According to Dr. Germaine, who is the company CEO, MicroGen Biotech has developed a range of plant growth promoting bacteria, or PGPB for short, which are tolerant to heavy metals and can protect plants against metal toxicity, while at the same time increasing root length, improving nutrient uptake and boosting yields by up to 10%.

Right now, MicroGen has over 800 field trials ongoing in China where it is trialling its PGPB technology on rice crops growing in heavy metal contaminated soil. So far, the company is finding its microbial products are resulting in a 30% to 40% reduction in cadmium, which is a significant impact.

MicroGen Biotech in China

While China is the core market being targeted by MicroGen, the company’s new microbial biotechnology has far reaching applications that will be of interest to farmers all over the world. After all, soils that are high in heavy metals is not just a Chinese problem but rather a global one.

In South America, cocoa farming is significant in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Colombia where a significant dark chocolate industry exists. However, in many of these countries soils contaminated with cadmium is a major problem for farmers.

The problem escalated significantly for South American cocoa famers earlier this year when the European Union, which is a major importer of dark chocolate, announced very strict limits on the amount of cadmium in cocoa products.

Since January 2019, a 100g bar of dark chocolate containing more than 50% cocoa solids must not have more than 0.08mg of cadmium. MicroGen has seized on this dilemma for South American farmers and is now trialling its technology in cocoa plants to help safeguard the crop from cadmium contamination.

While MicroGen’s core focus is developing crop protection products through biotechnology, it has also developed a range of products that can clean up polluted soils using microorganisms that degrade toxic substances. This process is known as environmental bioremediation.

The company was recently engaged by Greencore to carry out a commercial trial of this technology at the old sugar factory in Ireland’s Carlow town, where parts of the land have been contaminated following the decommissioning of the sugar plant.

The trial at Greencore’s old sugar plant was successful with the soil decontaminated and the pH restored to a healthy level once more. MicroGen has since signed another agreement with Greencore to carry out a second commercial trial at the Carlow site after another part of the old sugar factory was found to be contaminated.

Founded

MicroGen Biotech was founded in 2012 by Dr. Germaine and is a spin-out of IT Carlow. Prior to starting the company, Dr. Germaine had completed a PhD in environmental biotechnology before joining Pfizer for a number of years.

In 2014, the company became a client of Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, after it received €50,000 in seed funding from the state agency’s start-up fund in exchange for 10% of the equity in the business. Dr. Germaine admits she had no business experience when starting the company but was able to avail of Enterprise Ireland’s new frontiers programme, which provided her with six months of business training.

A year later, in 2015, MicroGen Biotech carried out its first significant funding round when it raised over €800,000 from private and public investors, including €250,000 in matched funding from Enterprise Ireland’s high potential start-up (HPSU) fund.

MicroGen Biotech is still a young company but its technology is enormously promising and has applications all over the world. With the world headed to 10 billion people and more food needed than ever before, MicroGen’s range of biotechnology products looks like an important development.

Right now, the company is seeking to raise a substantial $7m (€6.3m) in new capital from investors.

However, given the exciting results already provided by the company’s range of biotechnology products, this latest funding round is sure to attract plenty of interest from agritech funds and investors in Ireland, Israel and the US.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

In a relatively short period, Oakpark Foods has diversified its product range in order to win new business in Europe, reports Lorcan Allen of the Irish Farmers Journal.

Last year, Ireland shipped roughly 150,000t of pork to the UK, which was valued at €373m. This was more than half (56%) of all Irish pork exports last year, underlining the pork sectors reliance on the UK as an export market but also its exposure to Brexit.

Oakpark Foods, one of Ireland’s largest pork processors based in Cahir, Co Tipperary, has been exporting to the UK for more than a decade thanks to nationwide contracts with supermarkets Lidl UK, Morrisons, and Iceland. Of Oakpark’s €35m in turnover last year, almost 40% was generated from export sales with the majority of export sales coming from the UK.

In a bid to de-risk from the UK market, Oakpark managing director David Brett has been steadily steering the company in a new direction and is starting to build sales with new customers in mainland Europe.

However, developing new customers in Europe for a traditional Irish pork business is not straightforward. According to Brett, the company has had to adapt its product range to the tastes of European consumers as rashers and bacon joints are not widely consumed products in Europe.

Investment by Oakpark Foods

Instead, Oakpark has started producing new product lines of streaky bacon and lardons on a much larger scale to win over more European customers. The company is midway through a €1m investment in R&D and new product development spread over three years, which has been supported by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency.

At the same time, Oakpark has recently completed a major capital investment in a second processing facility located in Clonmel. Having acquired the facility in late 2017, Oakpark spent the next six months retrofitting and renovating the plant to bring it up to the BRC global food standard.

“We’ve developed the Clonmel facility to produce a completely new product for the company which is turkey bacon,” says Brett. “The market for turkey bacon is small in Europe but it’s growing rapidly because it’s a low fat, high protein product that appeals to the health-conscious consumer,” he adds.

Turkey bacon, which is effectively strips of turkey cut in the style of a rasher, is hugely popular in the US. As part of his research into the product, Brett spent time in the US studying the turkey bacon market and found that turkey bacon accounts for between 35% and 40% of total bacon sales in the entire US market.

The popularity of the product in the US coupled with its attractiveness to health-conscious shoppers convinced Brett turkey bacon could work in Europe. Since 2019, Oakpark has been producing turkey bacon from its Clonmel facility and has won customers in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands.

Volumes

“We’ve only dipped our toe in the water with turkey bacon but it’s so far so good. The volumes aren’t huge to start out with but the early feedback from consumers has been encouraging,” says Brett.

The biggest part of the capital investment into the new facility was buying the processing technology required to make turkey bacon.

“The equipment required to produce turkey bacon had to be sourced from the US and Canada. It required a significant investment but Enterprise Ireland really supported our plans and were able to assist us with capital grands on the new equipment,” he adds.

The biggest advantage of the investment at Clonmel is that it leaves Oakpark with the option to look at producing other white meat and turkey products down the line as opportunities present themselves.

While bacon and rashers are still the core business for Oakpark, it’s remarkable how much the business has been able to diversify its product range in a very short period. Since the Brexit vote in 2016, the company has expanded into streaky bacon and lardons aimed at customers in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, while at the same time it has taken its first steps into the white meat category with its turkey bacon offering.

It just goes to prove, there are always opportunities to be found in challenging times.

Brexit: Act-On Initiative

Despite the focus on new markets, the UK will continue to be a core market for Oakpark Foods. With the country only 60% self-sufficient in pork and relying on imports for 80% of its sliced bacon, the UK will always have an import requirement for pork.

As such, Brett and his management team have worked closely with Enterprise Ireland to Brexit-proof Oakpark Foods as much as possible. Through Enterprise Ireland’s ‘Act On’ initiative for Brexit, Oakpark has carefully mapped its full supply chain in terms of where it sources inputs such as plastic, cardboard boxes and other packaging.

Where possible, Oakpark has switched to suppliers in the EU in order to minimise the impact of Brexit on its supply chain. Oakpark was also awarded the status of accredited economic operator (AEO) by Ireland’s Revenue Commissioners, which will effectively allow it to fast-track the customs process as a so-called ‘trusted trader’.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

An Irish start-up has become a rising star after developing a sensor technology to monitor the health of bees. Lorcan Allen of the Irish Farmers Journal speaks to ApisProtect CEO Fiona Edwards Murphy.

If you find yourself in Texas in the spring and drive west along Interstate 10, you might notice something strange. Every year, a great migration takes place along the road as convoys of trucks carry an unusual passenger west.

The destination for the trucks is the central valley of California. The cargo is millions of bees. In total, more than 30 billion bees are migrated to California every year from all over the US, but mostly from southern states like Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Georgia.

The arrival of the bees in California is timed for the start of spring when millions of acres of almonds begin to flower. Without the bees pollinating the almond trees every year, the world would have no almonds, as California accounts for 80% – 90% of global almond production.

Beekeepers all over the US rent beehives to Californian almond growers every year for prices ranging from $200 to $250 per hive. With some beekeepers owning as much as 60,000 hives, you can see why they would be prepared to drive their bees 4,000 km across the US every spring.

Pollination creates billion dollar industry

And it’s not just Californian almonds that US beekeepers play a crucial role in pollinating. They also transport their beehives all across the US to wherever farmers need them, whether it’s to pollinate apples in Michigan, cranberries in Wisconsin or blueberries in Washington State.

The migration of bees around the US to pollinate fruit and nut crops has created a $1 billion (€905 million) industry. A study by Cornell University in 2012 estimated that pollinator bees contribute almost $20 billion (€18 billion) to US farm incomes because of all the crops they pollinate.

It’s an amazing statistic that shows just how reliant farmers will always be on nature despite the ever greater advances in technology.

An Irish agritech start-up company based in Cork is looking to tap into the global pollinator bee industry with a new technology that will allow beekeepers to monitor the health and activity of their bees like never before.

Founded in 2017, ApisProtect uses sensor technology to collect data from inside the beehive for a number of readings, including temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, sound and movement.

Dr. Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO at ApisProtect and one of the company’s co-founders, says the technology is providing beekeepers with a level of data they never had before, which in turn lets them make more informed management decisions.

“What we’re doing with this technology is trying to understand all of the conditions inside the beehive,” says Edwards Murphy.

Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO and Co-founder, ApisProtect

Fiona Edwards Murphy, CEO and Co-founder, ApisProtect

“Our technology is collecting all of these readings from inside the hive and is then using machine learning to analyse the data and compare it with other hives. The technology can then inform the beekeeper if they need to feed the beehive, replace the queen bee, apply a treatment to the hive for pests or even split the hive in two if it’s grown too large,” she adds.

Sensor technology from engineering innovation

As chief executive of the company, Edwards Murphy now finds herself immersed in the global bee pollination industry. However, her background is firmly in engineering, where she first developed a love for sensor technology.

“My background is in engineering, which I studied in University College Cork (UCC),” says Edwards Murphy. “I fell in love with sensor technology and all the different applications it had. The sensors could be applied to almost every sector,” she says.

As she explored options about a possible PhD in sensor applications, her supervisor in UCC suggested a study of the uses of sensor applications in beehives.

“My supervisor got the idea of using sensors in beehives because his dad was a beekeeper. I grew up in rural Kanturk, County Cork so I understood farming but beekeeping was new to me at the time,” says Edwards Murphy.

“Since I started my PhD I’ve learned a huge amount about pollinator bees and the beekeeping industry, especially how important bees are to the global food system,” she adds.

After completing her PhD, Edward Murphy co-founded Apis Protect along with Dr. Padraig Whelan of UCC and Andrew Wood, who previously worked for Accenture and Ernst & Young.

“Between the three of us we bring skills in engineering, science and business to the table of this company. It’s a really good mix,” says Edwards Murphy.

It’s still early days for the company but ApisProtect is already monitoring the health of 10 million honey bees, having partnered with 20 host beekeepers in Europe and North America to trial the technology.

As the company installs its technology on more beehives around the world, its datasets will continue to grow, which will in turn fuel the power of its machine learning technology and improve its understanding of what’s actually happening inside the hive.

“We’re finding that large scale beekeepers are very excited about our technology because it can help them identify problem hives with great accuracy. It can also tell the farmer when things are going wrong in the hive, which allows for informed decision making in real time,” says Edwards Murphy.

Investment from Enterprise Ireland and others

In 2018, ApisProtect raised €1.5 million in series A seed funding to help it develop to the next level. This series A funding round was led by Finistere, the US venture capital firm, which has its European headquarters based in Ireland.

Dublin-based investment fund Atlantic Bridge also took part in the funding round, along with Yield Lab Europe and Radicle Growth, an investment firm based out of California.

Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, invested €250,000 during this seed funding round through its Innovative HPSU fund, which targets matched funding at companies it believes are high potential start-ups (HPSUs). These are typically companies with the capacity to reach €1 million in turnover and employ at least 10 employees over time.

ApisProtect has set a target of instrumenting its technology inside 800,000 beehives around the world over the next five years. It’s an ambitious target but the company has set its sights on cracking new markets around the world that are major producers of soft fruit and nuts. These include the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, as well as countries in Mediterranean Europe. With the demand for food growing rapidly as the global population heads for 10 billion by 2050, the pollinator bee will become more important than ever.

This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

Ireland hasn’t always been synonymous with automotive manufacturing. While Henry Ford did establish a factory in the land of his father 100 years ago, Ireland hasn’t had the heavy car manufacturing footprint of Detroit or Japan.

What Ireland does have is a very strong and innovative technology sector, and as the future of mobility motors towards increased use of connected, shared, autonomous and electric (CASE) vehicles, Irish companies are providing global automotive manufacturers with a range of software and hardware solutions.

This capability is being delivered across the whole CASE ecosystem spectrum, from software and data platforms, to connectivity solutions, and all forms of componentry and electronics.

It is also being provided individually and collectively through collaborative industry organisations such as CAV (Connected and Autonomous Vehicles) Ireland.

Many of these companies are new disruptors from non-automotive backgrounds but with technologies and solutions that can be applied across sectors. All of them are focused on meeting the needs of a rapidly changing industry. Here are some of the companies leading the charge.

Getting connected

At Cubic Telecom, the vision is to enable any connected device in a car. Their connectivity platforms overcome the technical and data issues that automotive manufacturers encounter with mobile carriers and regulators in 145 countries around the world.

This allows customers such as Audi, Skoda and Volkswagen to collect data on vehicle performance while enabling more than 2.8 million drivers to enjoy internet capability in their cars.

Cubic CEO Barry Napier says: “Digital enablement is what we are trying to achieve. You talk to anyone at the OEMs and they’ll tell you they want to try to do more via connectivity and software. Go via the cloud, get rid of the hardware, get rid of the cost, get rid of the wiring, create the car lighter, create it faster, make it more efficient, make it safer.

Cubic CEO Barry Napier

Barry Napier, CEO, Cubic

“We provide the specialist knowledge around connectivity, giving them a software solution that any part of the car ecosystem can plug into.”

The right signal

Taoglas’s cutting-edge antenna and radio frequency solutions for IoT applications ensure that not just cars, but any smart vehicle or machine, can network with the outside world.

Taoglas CEO Ronan Quinlan says: “There is probably a need for 30 antennas in the next generation of cars. You hear a lot of talk about connectivity, but you also need to know exactly where the vehicle is and what kind of vehicle it is, especially with autonomous vehicles. With our products, we can know where a device is within one centimetre outdoors, and two centimetres indoors.”

Taoglas CEO Ronan Quinlan

Ronan Quinlan, CEO, Taoglas

“Our verticals include the navigation of robotics and heavy machinery, vehicle tracking, connected vehicles, e-bikes and scooters, drones, agricultural equipment, and a range of IoT applications,” Ronan says. “Last year, for example, we sold one million antennas for positioning in robot lawnmowers.”

Smart software

The artificial intelligence-based object and gesture recognition systems developed by software manufacturer Emdalo Technologies also have benefits beyond the automotive sector.

CEO Daire McNamara says: “There are solutions out there using AI and IoT that can help improve car parking, public safety, congestion detection on streets, at airports, and in subway stations.

“Our customers tend to be experts within their own field – whether that’s automotive, medical imagery, smart cities, agriculture, or whatever – but they’re not experts in AI. We work with them to determine whether an AI solution can solve a problem that they have.”

Daire McNamara, CEO, Emdalo

Daire McNamara, CEO, Emdalo

Cost saving solutions

Transpoco’s GPS tracking and fleet management software solutions offer benefits across areas including fuel consumption, vehicle maintenance, driver behaviour and administration.

CEO Andrew Fleury says: “With the Spanish national airline Iberia, for example, we get data from their vehicles on the ground at airports that allows us to really understand where savings can be generated. We can look at it by driver to driver or journey to journey together with the customer. With Iberia, we generated a 66% reduction in their vehicle running costs.”

Andrew Fleury, CEO, Transpoco

Andrew Fleury, CEO, Transpoco

Moulding the future of vehicles

Producing the vehicle of the future is not just about software and digital hardware. It involves rethinking every part of the traditional car, including the materials it is made from.

Mergon International is demonstrating its capability to customers including Tesla, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Volkswagen and Rivian through innovative new plastic moulding processes and materials.

The company’s Vice President of Business Development, Caolan Bushell says: “Lightweight air management systems is really what we’re famous for. Companies like Zoox and Canoo have come to us to design heating and air conditioning duct systems in their cars.

“That involves a number of different technologies, which have traditionally been blow moulding but is now flow moulding, injection moulding, polyester fibre ducting, and foam blow moulding. These enhance the performance of the car, particularly the acoustic performance. It also lowers the weight of the car, which in the electric vehicle market increases the vehicle range. We’re also using recycled materials in many cases as well, which increases the environmental credentials of the cars.”