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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.”
An ambitious new initiative is designed to tap into latent entrepreneurship, explains Sheelagh Daly, entrepreneurship manager at Enterprise Ireland.
Ireland is to leverage a vastly underutilised resource identified by its government as having the potential to drive significant economic growth – It’s called women.
Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan for Women in Business 2020 is part of a major strategic initiative that will grow the country’s stock of female founders, leaders and angel investors. The goal is both to create better businesses and to ensure faster economic growth.
Ireland’s ambitious plans for supporting women in business
By 2025, Enterprise Ireland – the country’s trade and innovation agency – plans to double the number of women-led companies growing internationally, and to increase the participation rate of women on its management development programmes by 100%.
The unprecedented initiative will see the number of women participating on start-up programmes, and the supports given to women in business through its Local Enterprise Offices nationwide, jump by 50%. Enterprise Ireland will grow its proportion of female-founded High Potential Start-Ups to 30%.
Currently in Ireland the proportion of female chief executives is significantly lower than men, with the imbalance particularly pronounced in larger companies. Moreover, even where women are in senior management level positions, they are less likely to be in strategic roles.
Their underrepresentation is most pronounced in manufacturing, technology, engineering and construction.
Underrepresentation of women clear in numbers
“Women make up more than 50% of our population and yet are underrepresented across the spectrum of economic activity,” says Sheelagh Daly, entrepreneurship manager at Enterprise Ireland.
“Ireland has a 12% gender gap in labour force participation rate; just 30% of senior managers in Ireland are women and less than 20% of chief executives in Ireland are women – falling to just 9% in larger companies.”
Ireland has the highest gender gap in self employment in the EU, less than 10% of venture capital funding goes to companies with female founders, and just 3% of angel investors are women.
In all, it’s a massive and interlinked imbalance but one that comes at a huge opportunity cost to the State. International research has established clear links between gender diversity at senior levels and better decision-making, improved productivity and increased profitability in business.
“Right now in Ireland, three times as many men as women are starting and growing a business. The gender gap is the result of multiple factors, some of which are complex, cultural and social, but what is clear is that if we can get more women engaged in entrepreneurship it will have benefits for the overall economy,” she says.
Action Plan for Women in Business
The agency will work to increase the participation of women in entrepreneurship and business leadership in a number of ways.
These include increasing the number of women-led, established businesses that are growing internationally; increasing the number of women becoming entrepreneurs; and increasing the number of women-led start ups with high potential.
“On top of that, in what is a totally new departure for us as an agency, we need to increase the number of women in senior management roles. This is because senior people in any business are much more likely to see an entrepreneurial opportunity and to have the confidence, skills, ability and network connections – as well as better access to funds – to capitalise on it. In addition, we know that businesses with diversity in their senior leadership teams perform better.”
Enterprise Ireland’s Action Plan for Women in Business contains clear but broad ranging steps. These include promoting more women in its marketing campaigns and ensuring all of its programmes and supports are designed to maximise participation by women. Externally, it will work with key stakeholders to influence national policy, identify and address barriers to women’s participation in enterprise, and improve gender diversity at board and senior management level.
A new grant will facilitate the recruitment of part-time senior managers.
“This is not aimed at women only, but our experience suggests that women are more likely to take it up. It is about encouraging our companies to provide more flexible work practices as a key way to attract and retain women,” says Daly.
The agency will assess all its programmes on the basis of gender inclusivity and take the same approach to government policy, from education policy to employment choices to labour force participation initiatives.
Redressing imbalances in the funding landscape is key. “Again it is down to a combination of factors but the fact is that there are more men in venture capital, which means more men making the funding decisions. The ‘homophily effect’ means that people tend to relate better to people that are like themselves. That can impact on women’s ability to raise funds,” says Daly.
On the demand side, research indicates that women who do seek out business funding tend to look for less money, “which can limit their opportunity to take up opportunities as they arise.”
Such barriers are well understood in the venture capital sector, which has introduced unconscious bias training and greater gender balance on pitching panels to help counteract it. “What we are trying to do is accelerate the pace of positive change,” said Daly.
She points to Enterprise Ireland’s experience with one of its best known start-up programmes, the Competitive Start Fund, as an example of what can be achieved.
“Simply changing its name by introducing a special call for a Female Competitive Start Fund saw applications from women grow five-fold.”
It’s exactly the kind of latent entrepreneurial potential that the Action Plan for Women in Business 2020 is designed to unlock.
“The fact is that the whole entrepreneurial ecosystem, the financial system, the business landscape has, for generations, been led by men. It’s only in recent times that women have begun to participate. This is about making sure we are saying to women ‘This is for you’, it’s about inclusion,” says Daly.
“It’s also about building a pipeline of female founders and achieving a significant cultural shift. That shift has of course already started. What we are doing is simply accelerating the pace of change – to the benefit of all.”
Michael O’Grady, business development manager at Abbey Machinery, tells Lorcan Allen from the Irish Farmers Journal how the company’s investments in R&D are helping farmers to meet environmental regulations and stay sustainable.
In 2016, Abbey Machinery opened its doors on a new purpose-built manufacturing facility that would set the company up for continued expansion over the coming years. Situated on a 30-acre site in Ireland’s County Tipperary, the 100,000 square foot facility represented a €10 million investment, a remarkable achievement for a family run business that has been manufacturing agricultural machinery for more than 70 years.
Today, the company is led by Clodagh Cavanagh, who is the fifth generation of the Cavanagh family to work in the agricultural machinery space. The Cavanagh family’s links to making agricultural machinery can be traced as far back as the 19th century.
Abbey Machinery’s investment in the manufacturing facility provided it with several new production lines but was also fitted with class leading manufacturing equipment, such as enhanced laser and plasma-cutting facilities, semi-automated robotic welding and a state-of-the-art sand blasting and paint plant. It also provided an extra 35% in warehouse capacity for Abbey’s Q Parts business, enabling increased levels of service to its global customer base.
The company’s product range is aimed to cater for the ‘total cow’, starting at the front of the cow where Abbey manufactures precision diet feeders, grass toppers and fertiliser spreaders.
For the back end of the cow, the company also produces a range of environmentally focused slurry spreading systems including tankers, muck spreaders and slurry agitators.
How Abbey Machinery stays lean
Building a new manufacturing facility allowed Abbey to intensify its focus on lean manufacturing. According to O’Grady, lean manufacturing techniques allow the company’s senior management team to critically analyse all areas of the business.
“Lean is at the core of what we do in Abbey. It has improved process flow, manufacturing time, production costs and overall manufacturing efficiencies in the business,” he says. “We’re now continuously measuring what we do in many areas of the business. If it’s not being measured, it cannot be managed,” he adds.
The longevity of Abbey Machinery is testament to its ability to remain relevant to its farmer customers but also its continued investment in developing new technologies for the farmer. Every year, the company sinks up to €0.5 million into research and development (R&D) work in order to have a continuous pipeline of new products.
Earlier this year at the FTMTA farm machinery show, Abbey showcased its new ‘Plus’ range of diet feeders, which are aimed at larger scale dairy and beef farmers, and have a capacity range of 24m3 to 30m3.
In 2017, the company launched a new door mounted band spreader, which can be retrofitted to existing slurry tankers. This new band spreader places the slurry directly onto the soil, which the company says reduces ammonia emissions, improves nitrogen retention and reduces odours during the application process.
Building strong relationships with local partners
With almost two thirds of sales coming from export markets, maintaining competitiveness in the international marketplace is essential for Abbey. The company first began exporting machinery to Northern Ireland and the UK over 30 years ago but has since developed markets in Scandinavia, Central Europe, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, Asia, and South Africa.
When exploring opportunities in new markets, Abbey works closely with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency, to help to develop market entry strategies with the right local partners.
“We build strong relationships with the key players in markets by looking at local needs and establishing a footprint on the ground,” says O’Grady.
The company is seeing increased demand from farmers for precision feeding technology and low emission slurry applicators because of ever increasing environmental regulations and a drive to lower carbon emissions from farming.
“Our feeding systems can help reduce ammonia and methane emissions from the cow by mixing and chopping feed mixes in a way that allows the animal to absorb the maximum amount of nutrients from the feed, which minimises negative emissions,” says O’Grady.
“On the slurry side, our low emission slurry applicators can inject slurry into the soil and significantly reduce ammonia emissions. Recent trial work carried out earlier this year by Teagasc [the Irish agriculture and food development authority] highlighted a near 80% higher growth rate in grass from our vertical trailing shoe tanker versus a splash plate. This highlights a win-win for both the farmer and the environment,” he adds.
At a time when climate change is leading to major changes for farming in Europe, Abbey’s investment in developing its range of low emissions slurry applicators and diet feeders is almost certain to pay dividends in the years ahead as agricultural compliance rules and regulations evolve.
This article originally appeared in a special publication by the Irish Farmers Journal in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency. 1