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A Guide To Getting The Most From Digitalisation In Your Startup

A Guide To Getting The Most From Digitalisation In Your Startup

By New Frontiers blog

A Guide To Getting The Most From Digitalisation In Your Startup

In our recent blog, Use These Easy Time Management Skills To Help Run Your Startup, we looked at how you can try to gain extra time in your day through some simple time management tricks. Sometimes, though, time needs a bit more help and that means looking at digitalisation!

Digitalisation isn’t simply about automating time-consuming tasks. Yes, it can help to streamline your processes and workflows, but it also brings in benefits such as:

  • improved information security
  • more flexible access
  • easier collaboration and communication
  • better customer experience
  • greater transparency
  • fewer duplications
  • centralised insights for better decision-making

Let’s see what’s involved.

What is digitalisation?

First things first, what exactly is digitalisation? Surely every tech-savvy startup in 2023 is digitalised by default? Actually, not always. Even startups that code software for a living can find huge digitalisation gaps in their operations workflows or back-office procedures. That’s because good digitalisation doesn’t just happen, it’s a deliberate strategy and takes thought and planning.

Digitalisation means using the right combination of tools in a way that simplifies what you do across all your departments – sales, marketing, operations, accounting, etc. – and centralises data so that you have clarity over what’s happening in the business. Ideally, these tools will be integrated so that key data can move seamlessly between teams and it’s easy for colleagues to collaborate and communicate.

How do you make a start on digitalisation?

To see where you need to bring in digitalisation, or improve digitalisation, you’ll need to assess your business processes. Remember that as a startup grows, some of the tools being used will no longer be a good fit – you could be losing out on valuable data, missing opportunities to connect dots with other parts of the business, making teams work with clunky workflows, etc. So, I advise that you assess every workflow in the business, even if you think it’s already digitalised.

You’ll want to document your processes so you can see how they can be optimised. To do this, you could:

  1. Interview/survey employees at all levels of the organisation to understand how they complete their tasks and what processes they follow.
  2. Observe and document processes by watching employees as they complete tasks, documenting the steps they take.
  3. Identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies as you document processes, looking for areas where tasks are taking longer than expected or where there are delays in getting things done.
  4. Pinpoint opportunities for automation, because manual data entry is error-prone and many repetitive tasks can now be automated thanks to machine learning and AI.
  5. Find opportunities for connectivity either through better collaboration or by syncing data across your digital solutions.

This exercise is vitally important in a startup because you may have started witht just one or two people who did everything but now have entire teams in place for these functions. You will probably find they are working in a very different way now that everything has scaled.

The resulting documentation can take whatever form works best for you. The only requirement is that it is easy to understand and can be easily updated, because its crucial to keep process documentation up to date so that everyone works the same way and you can spot any inefficiencies that creep in.

Typical formats for documenting business processes and workflows include:

  • Flowcharts
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Work Instruction manuals
  • Process maps
  • Mind maps

Define what digitalisation tools you need

Now you have a clearer idea of how everyone is completing tasks, you can define your requirements for new digital tools. This is an important step in the process of selecting the right tools for your business. Some approaches you can use include:

  1. Look at business goals: Identify the specific business goals you want to achieve with the digital solution. This will help you focus on the features and functionality that are most important for your business.
  2. Explore pain points: What pain points (inefficiencies, delays, manual tasks, etc.) did you identify when documenting your processes that could be solved with the right digital tool? These could be pain points experienced by the team or by your customers/end-users.
  3. Discuss employee requirements: Talk to employees at all levels of the organisation to understand the challenges they face so that you can find solutions that align with their workflows.
  4. Research industry best practice: Take a look at best practice in your industry to understand what other businesses are doing and what solutions are available.

The end result of this process will be a document that outlines your specific requirements for a digital solution. It should include a clear statement of the business goals you want to achieve, the pain points you want to address, and the features and functionality that are most important for your business. It should also include any specific technical requirements, such as compatibility with existing systems, security requirements, GDPR compliance, etc.

Finding the right digital tools

Your documented requirements will help you evaluate the solutions in the marketplace and serve as a reference when you talk to software vendors, as well as the developer or internal team that will be implementing the solution. It can also be the basis for creating a request for proposal (RFP) if you decide to look for vendors that way.

Evaluating digital tools in the market can be a time-consuming task. Here are a few ways to tackle it:

  1. Research existing solutions: Before you start testing different tools, research the market to identify products that might be a good fit. Look for ones that are designed for businesses similar to yours and that address the specific needs you’ve identified.
  2. Use online resources and reviews: Many websites and blogs provide reviews and comparisons of different digital tools. These resources can help you get a sense of the pros and cons of different products without having to sign up for a trial.
  3. Ask for a demo: Lots of digital platforms and software solutions provide demos of their products, which will give you a sense of how the tool works and whether it’s a good fit for your business. Don’t be afraid to ask questions during the demo and ask for case studies of how the solution has been implemented in a business similar to yours.
  4. Sign up for a free trial: Plenty of platforms also provide free trials, which can help you test the tool in a realistic setting and see how it works in your business environment. Make sure you are testing the full product, though, as sometimes free trials only give you access to a ‘lite’ version of the solution.

Remember that digital solutions are constantly evolving, and new tools are being launched all the time. It’s important to regularly review the digital tools available and the workflows in place to make sure that the best tool is being used.

Of course, you could go through this process only to discover that you are already using the perfect tool for the function in question, which is great and still a valuable exercise. You could even find that your existing solution is the right tool, but you aren’t on the right plan and so not getting the range of benefits or functionality you need. A simple upgrade could eliminate many of the pain points identified.

Harnessing the potential of digitalisation

Sometimes the biggest wins in digitalisation come from the smallest improvements. It could be that you are using tools that are perfect for your needs, but each tool stands alone within the business. This can lead to two major issues:

Data isn’t syncing across the business

This could occur in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Your ecommerce solution doesn’t connect with your in-store inventory, so you don’t have real-time stock data online.
  • Your employee leave information isn’t available wherever you do your job scheduling, so you have to keep cross-referencing to check availability.

Multiple instances of the same data

This could occur in a variety of ways, for example:

  • Your marketing team and sales team have their own CRMs, meaning you have duplicate data and a high probability of inconsistencies/errors.
  • You create your quotes in your CRM, meaning you have to then input the same information again when you invoice in your accounting software.

The solution in these situations is to get your systems talking to each other. This starts by mapping the data in your business and where it is able to travel from one solution to another. Then you will be able to see where it isn’t being communicated between tools and look for ways to change that.

You could assess the connectivity of different software with:

  1. A data flow analysis: Visualise the flow of data between different tools and systems in your organization. Identify where data is being duplicated and where there are gaps in the flow of data.
  2. A data map: A map that shows the relationships between different data sets and how they are used across different tools. This also helps you identify where data duplication is happening and where there are gaps in the flow of data.

Your next task will be to find ways to integrate your tools or allow data to move between them. Sometimes you only need the data to move in one direction, other times you will need to ensure that data added, updated, or deleted in one system will sync through to one or more other systems.

Improving connectivity between your systems

One way to do this is with a data integration tool that connects different systems in order to automate the flow of data between them. You can also such a tool to bring key data through to a central dashboard for monitoring KPIs. Zapier and are two well-known examples, but there are many others and the one that’s right will depend on which tools you are trying to connect.

Another way is to use the Application Programming Interface (API) of your digital systems to communicate and share data, enabling seamless integration and automation. This is a really flexible and scalable way to improve connectivity, but you will need support from a developer if this isn’t your area of expertise.

Good digitalisation: key principles to remember

As you can see, digitalisation can greatly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of a startup, but it’s important to have a thought-out strategy. As you embark on your own digitalisation journey, don’t forget the key principles outlined in this blog: prioritise your goals, work on connectivity, and continuously monitor and maintain your integrations.

Don’t forget to implement data governance policies and procedures to ensure that data is accurate, consistent, and up to date across all systems. This includes creating guidelines for data entry, data validation, and data security. Regularly review the flow of data between different tools to ensure that they are working as intended and that data is accurate and consistent.

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Customer Discovery Helps You Build Products/Services That People Want

By New Frontiers blog

Customer discovery helps you build products services that people want

Most startup founders are familiar with the concept of idea validation. In fact, Phase 1 of New Frontiers is all about helping entrepreneurs to validate their startup idea and get them to a go/no-go decision. Idea validation can be summed up as finding out if people want what you are planning to build – i.e., if it’s a viable product/service that’s worth further investment.

But there’s another area of early-stage research that is too often forgotten or neglected by startup founders, and that’s what we want to look at today. Customer discovery provides a more in-depth understanding of the needs and preferences of potential customers, which helps inform product or service development. By conducting customer discovery, founders can ensure that their product or service idea is aligned with the needs of their target market, increasing the chances of success. Let’s look at what’s involved.

What is customer discovery?

Customer discovery is a process for understanding potential customers and the problems they are trying to solve. This involves conducting research and interviews with potential customers to gather information about their needs, pain points, and preferences. The goal of customer discovery is to validate the assumptions you are making about the target market, and to identify potential areas for change and improvement.

Customer discovery has many benefits for a business. The top ones are that it helps you to understand the needs and preferences of potential customers, uncover possible challenges and obstacles that may present themselves, and cement early relationships with potential customers who can help kickstart sales and marketing.

If you’re looking to develop your own discovery process, here are some steps you might start with:

  1. Define the problem or need you are trying to solve: Before starting, be clear about the problem or need that the startup is trying to address. This will help you focus your research and interviews on gathering information about the specific needs of your potential customers.
  2. Identify potential customers to interview: Identify people who are likely to have that problem or need. This can be done through, for example, research and networking.
  3. Conduct interviews with potential customers: These interviews can be in-person, over the phone, or through online surveys. During the interviews, you should ask questions about the potential customer’s needs, pain points, preferences, and other relevant information.
  4. Collate and analyse the data collected: Look for patterns and trends in the data and identify common themes and insights.
  5. Use the insights to inform development: This can involve making changes to the product, adjusting the business model, or developing a new marketing strategy. By incorporating the insights from customer discovery, you can better meet the needs of potential customers and improve its chances of success.
  6. Iterate and continue the process: Customer discovery is not a one-time process. As the startup continues to develop and grow, you should continue to conduct customer discovery to gather new insights and make ongoing improvements to your product or service.

Getting customer discovery right

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

Daniel Kyne at the Product Management Festival 2021

We spoke to Daniel Kyne, co-founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool that enables qualitative research at scale so that companies can find their product/market fit faster. Daniel is a New Frontiers alumnus and also trains New Frontiers cohorts to improve their own customer discovery processes. He is something of a nerd in the area of actionable user research strategies, so who better to bring the theory to life for us!

According to Daniel, one of the best places to start if you are new to this concept is The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick. This book addresses a lot of the misconceptions people have about customer conversations. Typically, people think customer interviewing boils down to creating a giant PowerPoint, making people watch it, and then asking, “Would you like this product/service?” Research proves that, if you do this, you will tend to just get people agreeing with you (beware of flattery during this process!). Partly this is because people don’t want to hurt your feelings by saying, “This doesn’t seem like a good idea,” or, “I wouldn’t want this.”

The Mom Test takes you though some basic principles to avoid ending up in that situation. The key takeaways are that you should never use customer discovery interviews to tell people what your idea is or pitch them your product. Instead, you should focus on their lives and their problems – diving into the stories that give you all the context and details needed to really understand real-world examples of the problem. It’s also important that you don’t look at hypothetical scenarios, but actual examples of when the situation you are discussing happened.

As Daniel points out, customer discovery is the wider context of idea validation. It’s about finding the right combination of ingredients that can go together to build a successful business. Done right, it should answer questions like:

  • Who the customer is
  • What problem you are trying to solve
  • How their life will be better once you solve that problem

As a concept, customer discovery really revolves around interviews. There are lots of great resources out there to help you get to grips with what good interviewing looks like, how to find people for interviewing, and most importantly what to ask/not ask. It’s a skill you can learn with just a little effort and practice.

Using customer discovery to prioritise problems

But uncovering problems isn’t the end of the process. It’s vital to understand how much of a priority the problem really is. This is an area of particular interest for Daniel, which he really started to investigate after seeing a tweet from Shreyas Doshi of Stripe, who was working directly with founders Patrick and John Collison.

Shreyas broke down the principles covered in The Mom Test, where founders or product managers try to use interviews to validate that the problem they are trying to solve exists. Described like this, it sounds like this is focusing on the right thing. But Shreyas showed that building a successful startup/product isn’t JUST about solving a problem for someone, you need to know that the problem is high up on their list too. If you are solving a problem that is only a mild inconvenience, people may not care enough about the solution!

Daniel says, “It’s not enough that you’re solving a problem. You want to be solving a ‘hair on fire’ kind of problem. This is the most missed element of idea validation. The way to do this is through what we call customer problem stack ranking, which is a survey technique to find out what really matters to people by getting them to prioritise problems. Once you know this, you are developing products/services with high impact that people will want.”

Getting started with customer discovery

How does Daniel suggest founders start discovering what people care about? It starts with asking yourself why this problem happens and what solutions people are using at the moment. For lots of founders on Phase 1 and even Phase 2 of New Frontiers, the challenge is to park their assumptions far off to one side, go back to the beginning, and re-validate everything they know. There’s a framework called the startup bow tie that you can use for doing this:

  • Stage 1: persona (who is the customer), problem (what is the need), purpose (why does the problem need solving), product (the proposed MVP), positioning (understanding the context), and proposition (value proposition)
  • Stage 2: pull
  • Stage 3: model, medium, and market

Stages 1 and 2 of the bow tie framework are what happen before you gain traction. This is what occurs before you get the combination of ingredients that resonates with people and that people react to in a way that shows there is real need. At the early stages of the bow tie, a lot depends on your ability to interview well, because this is external information that you need to access. You can’t influence results much at this point, as you are still collecting data and insights. It’s at Stage 3 of the bow tie that you have the chance to turn insights into action and results. Daniel recommends checking out the breakdown of how this works in his article, Deconstructing WeatherBill’s $930M Startup Pivot.

As you can see, customer discovery is an essential part of any successful product or business strategy. By conducting interviews and surveys with potential customers, you will gather valuable perspectives that can help you create more effective products that are in tune with your customers’ needs and preferences. In addition, you’ll have an advantage when it comes to positioning your solution in the market and selling it to prospective clients!

Daniel Kyne is the Co-Founder and CEO of OpinionX, a research tool for ranking people’s priorities that’s used by thousands of teams at companies like Google, Amazon, and Shopify. Prior to OpinionX, Daniel was a Digital & Innovation Lead at Unilever UK, a Global Facilitator for Techstars Europe, Head of Speakers and Startups at Dublin Tech Summit, and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. He writes about actionable user research strategies for product teams and startup founders on his newsletter The Full-Stack Researcher.

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Former Programme Manager Jenni Timony Shares Insights For Startup Founders

By New Frontiers blog

Business advice from New Frontiers Programme Manager Jenni Timony

Jenni Timony is a past New Frontiers Programme Manager and, more recently, the founder of her own startup – FitPink. In a wide-ranging conversation, we explored Jenni’s three decades of entrepreneurial experience, and how it has shaped her approach to her new business.

Jenni Timony former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Jenni Timony, former New Frontiers Programme Manager and founder of FitPink

Based in Donegal, FitPink is an activewear business selling functional fitness clothing for women. The company takes a women-focused approach to product development: designed for women and run for women. Starting off with leggings and sweatshirts, Jenni soft-launched the company in 2019, fitting the work around her day job at the Innovation Centre in ATU – Sligo Campus. In fact, she didn’t work full-time on FitPink until November the following year.

The business had its full launch in January 2020, eight weeks before the pandemic hit. Jenni feels that the changes in lifestyle and shopping habits caused by Ireland’s lockdowns probably accelerated the growth of the startup by two years. It brought people into ecommerce that previously would not have bought online, meaning the brand got in front of people much faster than might have happened otherwise. Luckily, these customers also proved to be very loyal.

But it’s a myth to think that if you just launch a website, you can simply sit back and watch the sales pour in. FitPink’s success to date is not accidental. What learnings from previous ventures did Jenni bring to this business? How did she get here?

An early introduction to business

Born in Ireland to an Irish father and Indian mother, Jenni’s family immigrated to Australia during the 1980s recession. She attended high school in Australia and then returned to Ireland for university. Unfortunately, the family’s time living abroad meant that Jenni would have to pay ‘international student’ fees. These being out of reach, she decided to work instead and became self-employed at the age of 18 – starting off with a café and later moving into pre-packed food.

The food company made sandwiches, which were distributed across the country into schools, hospitals, airlines, and retail. With 35 full-time employees, this was a challenging business from the start.

“A mistake that many entrepreneurs make, that I made myself, is falling into a business. You see an idea, you decide to jump in and do it, and from that point you are operating from a position of blind faith rather than informed decision-making. You haven’t researched the market or the industry. I made that some error myself with the sandwich business.

It was a situation where there was demand for the product and very little competition (apart from one publicly listed company, Kerry Group). I just saw this as an opportunity to compete, but what I should have been asking myself was ‘Why are there no competitors in this sector?’ Some of the reasons might have been that food products are very low-margin, have a short shelf-life, are capital- and labour-intensive… It’s really difficult to make money in that kind of business. If you look at the big companies that make products like these, you’ll see that the profit margins are slim to none.

That’s the kind of learning that I always advise other entrepreneurs to take on board at the very start. Do the cold research. Don’t fall in love with the idea until you’ve really looked into it!”

Market research and product-market fit are essential for a business to succeed. Some of the most famous companies in the world took years to find their sweet spot. Even if you’re already weeks or months into your idea, it’s always worth stepping back and doing that research. If you decide not to go ahead, that’s still a good decision.

Lessons from recession

Jenni’s sandwich business stayed the course despite the challenges. But when the last recession hit, it became an early casualty. The company had always ploughed turnover back into the business, meaning there were no cash reserves in place to help cushion the effects of the downturn. It’s one of the common reasons that businesses fail when hit by external or internal shocks; lack of cash is a risk factor for any business – regardless of size or age.

Jenni is adamant about operating on data and not gut instinct. This means research at the very start of the business, but also continually exploring the data in the business and looking into other ways of doing things as the years go by. One example she gives is Facebook Ads. These would have been a go-to for almost any B2C company a few years ago, but given they are universally in decline now, it’s crucial not to be overly reliant on them as a sales pipeline and start experimenting with ads on other channels.

“It’s really important not to get fixated on what’s working for you now, because that won’t necessarily be what works for you next year. This requires continuous research and keeping your eyes open. People have a tendency to assume they know who their customers are, but you must remember to keep researching them and listening to them. And don’t forget to also look outside of that circle to who else might be a good customer or what trends are coming along that your brand might be a good fit for. It’s about being open to opportunity and open-minded – that’s what we call the ‘growth mindset’. I think it’s important to make sure the whole team has that growth mindset.”

Every sector and industry has its opportunities and pitfalls, but it’s important to understand that these cannot be blindly applied, and a good entrepreneur will look at their specific business and context when making decisions. Start with your goals and establish what kind of business you want to run – then work back from there to decide how this will play out in the day-to-day operations of the company. What is different at FitPink given Jenni’s experience working in and advising successful businesses?

A recipe for success

“I was careful not to outsource customer service or fulfilment. Lots of business owners might see these as obvious overheads to optimise through a third party, but I would argue that these are part of the customer experience and therefore core to the business. I don’t see many businesses with 98% un-incentivised five-star reviews that have also outsourced their fulfilment.

It’s said that you can do things when you’re small that you won’t be able to do when you scale, and we’re holding on to doing these things for as long as we can – at FitPink, customer queries and fulfilment are completely manual. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that when we are selling into multiple other countries and languages, but we can for now and that’s vital.”

There’s a lot of advice out there about outsourcing everything you can and automating every possible process within the business, but it isn’t right for everyone. Purpose-driven businesses and those that leverage values-based marketing have been championing approaches like Jenni’s for some time. A good rule of thumb is to outsource strategically and in a way that gives you good levels of control. For cash-strapped startups, it’s a balancing act between operational effectiveness and affordability.

“When you do need to outsource something, staying involved and understanding the ins and outs of what you’re asking for is important. Marketing is a good example; not all agencies can deliver the kind of value that a startup entrepreneur is looking for as agency fees are quite high and the return you can expect from some of the activities often isn’t there. However, if you’re able to put in as much effort or time as the agency, you often get much better results. If you find an agency that is transparent and happy to work in partnership with you, this can be much more productive.”

While the pandemic proved to be an unexpected boon for FitPink, the startup is now closing its third ‘proper’ year in business. In a reversal of the usual startup timeframe, Jenni sees the coming year as offering the biggest challenge so far, with the economic downturn and cost of living crisis presaging a tougher market for the company.

Focus on your core values

External shocks are always easier to navigate when a startup is built on strong foundations. Jenni’s focus on customer service means that the people who buy FitPink products are passionate about them and help spread the word. The team sees this play out in all kinds of ways – for example, if they get a sale in a new area geographically, they see a mushrooming of sales in that same area six or eight weeks later. The company’s quality and environmental credentials also factor in brand loyalty.

“We’re the opposite of fast fashion. While we don’t use ‘recycled polyester’ because it’s not a very technical fabric – we opted instead for a high-quality product at an affordable price. I think that’s important in the current climate. We’re the same quality as our international competitors but at half the price, and right now that’s very important to people.

From the day we started, we used biodegradable packaging (it decomposes at the same rate as a banana skin). Competitors have taken our lead and adopted that since, and I’m glad to see it because that’s great for the planet. Since day one, we’ve supported Plan International – one of the largest international child-centred development organisations. Even through we’re just a tiny business finding our way in the world, I believe that we all have an impact. That’s the power of compounding. It would be great if all startups had that attitude.”

FitPink plans further growth in the Irish market and is moving into the UK market. Jenni intends taking it one step at a time so that she maintains control over those things that are so important to the brand, such as value and customer experience. She will keep operations in Ireland for as long as possible, rather than distributing the team too early. It’s a sector that’s full of opportunity, and FitPink has already proved it can gain traction with its winning combination of quality and comfort without compromise!

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

By New Frontiers blog

Drone Consultants Ireland wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Bruce Hannah, (Irish National Space Centre), Ian Kiely, Peter Downey and Keith Tracey (Drone Consultants Ireland) at the Galileo Masters

A huge congratulations to New Frontiers participant, Ian Kiely, and his team at Drone Consultants Ireland on being announced as the winner of the 2018 European Satellite Navigation Competition (aka the ‘Space Oscars’).

A Media Cube (IADT) company, Drone Consultants Ireland offers a range of aerial solutions and develops UAV ideas for companies looking to improve efficiency and safety. The company also runs Drone & Tech Expo in the RDS.

The European finals of the competition took place in Marseille as part of European Space Week. Drone Consultants Ireland’s entry, Jack in the Box,  is used for UAV Persistent Surveillance. Self-contained, tethered, and aircraft-deployable, the system provides real-time visual data and pinpoints locations to assist emergency services and disaster relief in remote or inaccessible areas. It monitors up to 300 square kilometres from a fixed position, with flight times up to 500 hours. It can also operate in adverse environments without risking lives.
Jack in the Box can provide reliable positioning data to support emergency services, environmental protection, government bodies, civil defence, and border control on land, at sea, and in remote locations. It offers benefits such as reliable real-time data, extended flight times, re-usable hardware, the ability to network multiple devices, variable payload options, and cost-efficiency compared to standard aircraft.

Drone Consultants Ireland New Frontiers company wins European Satellite Navigation Competition

Peter Downey, Ian Kiely, Keith Tracey (Drone Consultants Ireland) with Bruce Hannah, (Irish National Space Centre)

Congratulating Ian Kiely on winning the European Finals, Dr. Annie Doona, President of the Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Dún Laoghaire praised the winning submission:

“We were delighted when Ian Kiely, a New Frontiers DIT/IADT graduate company from the Media Cube, won the recent Ireland Regional Competition of the 2018 ESNC Awards. To win the overall European Award is a remarkable achievement. I would like to congratulate Ian Kiely and his team and thank him for his engagement with the staff and students at IADT.”

Jessica Fuller, Head of the Directorate of Creativity, Innovation & Research at IADT commented:

“It is uplifting when a New Frontiers graduate flourishes on the programme and Ian’s success is well deserved. “The real value comes from the mentoring and financial supports available through the Media Cube. We are always looking to support entrepreneurs and innovators with a thirst for international success. It’s wonderful to see innovators like Drone Consultants Ireland being acknowledged and awarded for the risks they take. A considerable amount of effort and research made the Jack in the Box vision a reality. We look forward to working with Ian and Drone Consultants Ireland on future projects’.

The Media Cube works in partnership with Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Office in the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Council and beyond. It provides state-of-the-art facilities including office space, meeting rooms, boardroom and canteen facilities, serviced reception areas and of course the best sea views from its rooftop terrace!

Ann Marie Phelan, Enterprise & Innovation Manager at the Media Cube and New Frontiers Programme Manager in partnership with DIT Hothouse, works closely with client ventures to help them formulate and refine their proposition and navigate the investment options available to support the growth of their start-up. She is delighted with how well the company is doing:

The success of Drone Consultants Ireland centres on the fact that they started from the premise of building their technology around the problems faced by the emergency services in dealing with natural disaster events. The technology was specifically tailored to address the problems of trying to properly survey inaccessible locations, the need to speedily determine whether there were injuries or fatalities and the need to identify the most efficient rescue route out of the disaster area. A classic example of responding to the pain points of those they wished to serve.

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Drone Consultants Ireland (DCI), were announced by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar as winners of the Ireland Regional Competition of the 2018 ESNC (European Satellite Navigation Competition) awards.

Drone Consultants Ireland (DCI) wins regional competition of ESNC 2018

By New Frontiers blog

Drone Consultants Ireland (DCI), were announced by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar as winners of the Ireland Regional Competition of the 2018 ESNC (European Satellite Navigation Competition) awards.

Drone Consultants Ireland (DCI) was announced by An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, as the winner of the Ireland Regional Competition of the 2018 European Satellite Navigation Competition (ESNC) awards.

DCI won the regional competition with its Jack-In-The-Box concept and will represent Ireland as they proceed to the European Finals which take place in Marseille at the ‘Space Oscars’ during European Space Week on the 4th December 2018.

Jack-In-The-Box is a self-sustaining, aircraft-deployable drone system that can be parachuted to remote and inaccessible locations, enabling it to gather critical data where natural disasters occur. This technology has the potential to assist rescue services in saving lives and calculating the safe and efficient deployment of resources.

DCI is based at the Media Cube in Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology (IADT). The company was founded in 2016 by Ian Kiely and Peter Downey to provide consultancy and support to a variety of emergency response services, government entities and private clients as well as organising and hosting the Drone & Tech Expo Ireland. Ian Kiely is a recent alumnus of Phase 2 of the New Frontiers programme at IADT.

Receiving the award, DCI’s COO Ian Kiely said,

“We are really excited to receive this award and are also looking forward to attending Space Week in Marseille in December to compete for the top awards. We believe this product has significant potential and we are working to bring it to market. DCI is a growing company and we are looking at partnerships and preparing for funding in the immediate future to launch a successful commercial product. We are grateful to the New Frontiers programme and for the ongoing support from Enterprise Ireland and The Media Cube at the Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) in Dún Laoghaire where we are currently based.”

Bruce Hannah, CTO of the National Space Centre and head of the Irish judging panel said,

“The Jack-In-The-Box entry from DCI demonstrates the potential which satellite navigation data holds to deliver life-saving new technologies to the world stage. The DCI entry leverages existing technology alongside innovation with exponential potential. We wish Ian and his team every success in Marseille.”

Annie Doona, President of IADT, praised DCI for their commitment to research and development,

“Innovative companies like DCI make more than a commercial impact – their technology has the potential to save lives in the aftermath of a vast array of natural disasters. Through their risk-taking and tenacity, we all stand to benefit and we wish them every success in the finals of the ESNC competition.”

For further information, contact Ann Marie Phelan, Enterprise & Innovation manager at the Media Cube, IADT: annmarie.phelan @ / 086 701 5922.

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Lean Startup: using customer-focused development processes

By New Frontiers blog

Lean Startup using customer-focused development processes

Originally published in 2011, The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss was an important moment in the history of startups. The book sets out a clear approach to developing new products and services that has established itself as the standard framework that startups now use to turn ideas into companies.

At its core, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses proposes that startups use a build, measure, learn framework in an iterative product development cycle that places the customer at the heart of the process. With each iteration, the lean startup method brings the company closer to achieving product-market fit by developing a product that serves a real customer need.

Get out of the building

The Lean Startup How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful BusinessesThe customer-focused development process which was originally developed by Steve Blank is at the heart of the lean startup. The answers about which features to build and which markets to target are to be found out in the field talking to customers, not at the whiteboard. The only way an idea can be turned into a successful business is through a process of validated learning and the lean startup lays out key steps to achieve this:

  • Identify your key “leap of faith” assumptions about your product and customer
  • Build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to test these assumptions as quickly and cheaply as possible
  • Measure your customer reactions
  • Learn from the data collected during the customer development process
  • Change direction if your hypotheses are disproven (pivot or persevere)
  • Iterate on your original idea based on the feedback

Building a Minimum Viable Product – perfection is the enemy

The goal with an MVP is to push it out rapidly with a minimum of time, development effort and expense. If your team is in a position to develop a software product in-house it is easy to become obsessed with the quality of your offering and spend too much time building features and refining the user experience.

The unfortunate fact is that quality is irrelevant if nobody wants what you are building. Rather than building out out a fully realised product and then starting to look for feedback, in the lean startup approach, the idea is to build the most basic demo possible and iterate on it early and often with customer input. If your potential customers complain about missing features this can be used to drive product development in the next iteration.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn founder

IMVU – a harsh lesson in customer validation

In The Lean Startup, Eric Reiss details how his startup IMVU spent months coding a complex backend system that would allow interoperability of various instant messaging clients. Once it was ready to ship they found that no one would even download their new 3D messaging client it in the first place, so the entire development effort went to waste. They had failed to test some of the most basic assumptions about their customers before committing to a development effort. The author comes to the crushing realisation that they could have learned just as much about their customers by creating a simple sign up page where they could have gauged early interest without committing to a costly development process.

Dropbox – a highly effective MVP

As a counterpoint to IMVU’s failure to validate with customers, the author describes how the founder of Dropbox used a cleverly edited video to show how Dropbox would work in practice, long before any actual software had been developed that would allow it to work in real life. Overnight, this video allowed them to sign up over 70,000 people who wanted to use the service, proving they were meeting a real market need.

Customer development over product development

Most startups that don’t make it have usually failed due to a lack of customers rather than a lack of product development. Placing the customer at the heart of the development process, as outlined in the lean startup, is crucial for a successful outcome.

Lean Startup methodology, along with Steve Blank’s customer-focused development process and Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, provides an excellent framework that any startup can use to test its hypotheses with the market and develop products that serve real customer needs.

About the author

Dara Burke ShowhouseVR New Frontiers ProgrammeDara Burke

Dara Burke is a past participant of the New Frontiers programme in the north-west and the founder of ShowhouseVR, a virtual reality startup that enables users to visit spaces before they are built. He has combined his deep industry knowledge with a passion for technology to launch a VR startup serving the construction sector.

Dara is a qualified architect and 3D visualisation specialist and has worked as a design architect, project manager and team leader in the construction industry since 2004. Working as an architect, he specialised in large housing developments and high-end residential projects. He has over 20 years’ experience working in 3D visualisation and is an expert in VR development, real-time rendering technology and adapting game engines for commercial uses.

Innovation: give your SME a competitive edge with SBIR

Innovation: give your SME a competitive edge with SBIR

By New Frontiers blog

Innovation: give your SME a competitive edge with SBIR

Young companies tend to be perfect micro-cultures for the development of novel approaches to common problems. Enterprise Ireland manages a national pre-commercial procurement programme, Small Business Innovation Research Ireland (SBIR), designed to tap into this well of innovation.

Does your start-up have the drive and vision to come up with a workable prototype to overcome a societal problem? If yes, keep reading to find out what is involved in this great public-private partnership!

Public-private partnership through SBIR

SBIR is a global innovative pre-commercial procurement initiative. It aims to address public sector needs and more generally benefit citizens, through engagement with the private sector. The public sector body (or challenge owner) in partnership with Enterprise Ireland, identifies an unmet need or unresolved problem. The idea is for small businesses to present innovative solutions to government agencies and public sector bodies to resolve societal problems. Each problem statement is tested through a competitive challenge.

Each challenge is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is a technical feasibility study, and enables the company to really understand the scale of the problem. At the end of this phase, the companies present their findings and recommendations for Phase 2. A smaller number of companies are selected for Phase 2. Successful companies develop working prototypes that are tested in the field. Illegal dumping, flooding, and increasing the number of cyclists on city roads are just some of the challenges local councils have put to market through SBIR.

SBIR Smart Dublin announcement

(l-r) Therese Langan, Transformation Project Manager, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Marguerite Bourke, Manager, SBIR Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Nicola Graham, Smart Dublin Regional Data Coordinator.

SBIR Smart Dublin announcement

(l-r) Maeve McGonnell, LexIcon Library, Tony Lawlor, Challenge Champion (Bathing Water Quality) Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Therese Langan, Transformation Project Manager, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Marguerite Bourke, Manager, SBIR Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Ronan Herron, Digital Strategy Officer, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, Mary Hegarty, Challenge Champion (Internet of Things) Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council.

SBIR Advantages for SMEs

SBIR is a unique and practical approach with benefits for both the public and private sectors. Public procurers can drive innovation in a direction that meets their needs. Young businesses are given the opportunity to put their prototypes to the test, giving them that all-important competitive edge upon entry to the market. An SBIR award is not a grant, rather it is a 100% funded development contract, where the company get to work hand in hand with the specifiers to address the problem at hand. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!

SBIR also provides opportunities for businesses to collaborate with other key stakeholders. After demonstrating success through a public procurement process, many products will go on to provide other real-world applications. Companies retain intellectual property rights over their product with certain rights of use retained by the contracting department. This enables the company to replicate the SBIR success in other public and private markets globally.

Thinking outside the box

Local authorities face a variety of challenges when managing cities and counties. Traditionally, when going out to procurement, authorities specify the type of solutions they were seeking. These pre-conceived specifications often made it difficult for companies to come back with novel approaches.

The beauty of SBIR is that it allows innovators from outside the local authority to look at a problem with fresh eyes, providing much more innovative solutions. Now, authorities can access and test new technologies that they might not otherwise have considered.

“For many years there hasn’t been the fast pace of technology, while searching for municipal solutions councils would have spent a lot of time developing what programs to put in place and what kind of infrastructure they might have. SBIR means that things move much faster and it’s much easier to go to the market and say ‘here’s our problem’.”

Philomena Poole, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County council

SBIR’s impact on Irish SMEs

By providing a budget for product development and feedback from reference customers, SBIR helps start-ups overcome obstacles to the commercialisation of their prototypes.

Take Sparrowatch as an example. This SME produces smart, low-cost security cameras. Company founder and CEO, David Tunney, had been developing and experimenting with different security camera ideas for a while and, through the SBIR Challenge, his security cameras became the solution to illegal dumping that local councils needed. Before he got in contact with SBIR, the business was not yet trading!

The growth and expansion of Sparrowatch is a typical example of how an unmet need in the public sector was addressed by the technological development of a small business. David Tunney is certain that the benefits of the SBIR programme were invaluable for his business and “unique, in that you can actually talk directly to your customers and get validation on your concepts”.

Sparrowatch is now working with all four Dublin local authorities in partnership with Enterprise Ireland in a bid to tackle illegal dumping and fly-tipping.

Case Study: Liberty Bell Project – safer cycling in Dublin

Conor Cahill and Síle Ginnane run a development company called FluidEdge Innovation. Conor has a keen interest in cycling and as well as volunteering with Dublin Cycling Campaign, he had worked on a wearable medical device and was keen to work on more Internet of Things projects. By chance, he attended an event where Sarah Scannell, the Walking and Cycling Promotion Officer for Dublin City Council, introduced the Smart Cycling Challenge, which aimed to increase cyclists in Dublin City. It felt like fate to Conor, and although there was less than a month until the deadline, he decided to submit a proposal.

The solution put forward by FluidEdge was deceptively simple. The only touchpoint for participants was a bell on their bike which they used to record actual or perceived obstacles to safe cycling, as well as positive experiences. But plenty was happening behind the scenes: the Bluetooth-connected device was generating data about hotspots, which were highlighted in real time so that authorities could be alerted to poor road conditions or poor behaviour by other road users. Unlike the numerous audit solutions already available, FluidEdge’s solution collected qualitative, as well as quantitative, data about the cycling experience.

SBIR Cycling challenge

(l-r) Mark Bennett of BikeLook, Conrad Christensen, Philip McAlesse, Conor Cahill (FluidEdge, creators of Liberty Bell)

Liberty Bell successfully completed Phases 1 and 2 of the scheme, with feedback from the various stakeholders being continually fed back into the project. Apart from the funding that supported the development of the Liberty Bell project, having Dublin City Council as the first customer was a huge benefit for Conor and Síle, and opened many doors for them. They have since gone on to win the international Bicycle and Pedestrian Challenge run by the Colorado Department of Transport (CDOT) and are looking for new cities to run the project in. You can find out more at

Thinking of throwing your hat into the ring?

Niall Doolin of Cara Ireland had the following tips for small businesses thinking about participating in Enterprise Ireland’s SBIR programme:

  1. Be attentive to the needs of the client – remember the SBIR process is demand-driven.
  2. Keep it as simple as possible – good ideas are not always complicated (as demonstrated by the Liberty Bell solution)!
  3. Don’t lose sight of future expansions and add-ons – the potential for commercialisation is a major advantage of participating in the SBIR process.

Enterprise Ireland’s SBIR programme provides fertile ground for small or young businesses to put their innovative ideas to the test. The programme has a dedicated fund to co-support innovative and competitive challenges. The experience provides a route to market for products that may, unknown to their creators, be the solution to an ongoing public service challenge.

Next steps

SBIR Ireland is managed by Marguerite Bourke. You can get in touch with the SBIR office at sbirireland @ enterprise-ireland . com or by calling 01 727 2178. You can also follow them on Twitter.

You can check out what SBIR projects are currently open for offers by logging into your eTenders account, or you can see a preview by visiting the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) section of the Enterprise Ireland website.

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

Featured startup: Dublin Design Studio (Scriba)

By New Frontiers blog

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

David Craig is the founder of Dublin Design Studio and inventor of Scriba, a new generation of stylus for mobile devices. David wrote an article for New Frontiers over two years ago, recalling his journey through the early-stage development of Scriba, up to its highly successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2015.

We thought it would be a good idea to catch up with David, as he prepares to send out the first batch of Scribas to his Kickstarter backers. It’s been a longer production period than expected, but the product has undergone a few significant improvements, which David hopes will make it worth the wait.

Let’s get back to summer 2015. The team had already experienced the trials and tribulations of hardware development and had fully working prototypes. The discussion moved on to materials, manufacturing, logistics, and the other elements involved in delivering a quality, shop-ready product. David was clear he wanted to manufacture in Ireland, instead of going the somewhat obvious route of finding a plant in China.

David was introduced to the business development manager from Hasbro – the famous toy manufacturer – who was able to offer a partnership with Cartamundi, their Waterford-based manufacturing arm. With a strong manufacturing support, this meant the team could move into the design for manufacturability (DFM) phase. A whole new language had to be learnt at this point, as David worked with engineers and the Hasbro/Cartamundi team to perfect the design, assembly and materials. There were plenty of challenges and even the bespoke packaging that suspended the product to show off its unusual form was a complex design challenge that needed to be solved.

(click to enlarge the images)

Through an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, Dublin Design Studio worked closely with Athlone Institute of Technology’s CISD to develop the design of the 3D model that would be used to create the very expensive tool required by injection moulding. Getting the geometry correct from both a manufacturability perspective, in addition to the look and feel of the product, required many iterations; even though the electronics of the product were well-established, the form and feel of the product would have a huge impact on the user experience.

By Christmas that year, David assumed they were ready to go into production. However, a suggestion of an alternative tool design that would yield noticeably better quality results and an associated quote from the tool makers that was double the anticipated cost meant David had to make a difficult commercial decision.

“I felt strongly that anything that might let down the perceived quality of the overall product must be sorted out, and with competition from the likes of Wacom, Adonit and even Apple, it was important that Scriba was as perfect as humanly possible.”

With support from volunteers and numerous interns – David thinks his team may have involved a total of 50 people – all contributing their own expertise and insights to the product, Scriba has evolved into more than just a stylus. David has grown a network of mentors, advisors and friends who have also been instrumental to the realisation of this product. With such a complex project, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details or be consumed by the technical difficulties, so his strategy has been to celebrate the small wins whenever they happen.

“What I probably didn’t appreciate as much at the outset is that as a startup, developing hardware encompassed so many other fields. For instance, we’ve not only developed a hardware product, we’ve also created an ecommerce site, developed an SDK for software developers and produced six apps to go with it!”

The manufacture process itself threw up a number of technical hurdles, each one seemingly insurmountable. David credits the openness of the wider network he had at that point with his ability to overcome each one… companies went above and beyond what would have been commercially expected, and generously gave any insights and expertise they had. In addition to Cartamundi, of particular note were IPC Polymers in Kilbeggan who opened their doors to David to develop and test composite plastics to meet the product’s particular technical requirements. Scriba really is a testament to the Irish business ecosystem.

In parallel with the hardware and materials, the team moved onto software – developing apps and adding functionality (for instance, Scriba can trigger your iPhone camera and you can use it to control presentation slides or annotate PDFs).

“I wanted to change people’s perception of what a stylus could be. Every day I would ask myself: what value can we add for our end users? Sure, people will use the stylus for sketching and drawing; but that’s not all they do during the day so how can we fit into their lifestyle even more?”

A selection of artwork created with Scriba

(click to enlarge the images)

David, an architect by training, says he doesn’t get to spend long days ideating and being immersed in design. As a startup founder, his time is mostly taken up with other, more pressing issues: marketing, logistics, HR, management, finance and business development.

To keep the lights on during the development of Scriba, Dublin Design Studio has taken on a variety of architectural projects, and collected a few awards for these over the past couple of years, including Best Housing in last year’s RIAI Awards. Scriba itself has won a shelfful of accolades – the Irish Times Innovation Awards, UK Design Week Awards, Bank of Ireland Startup Awards and the IDI Awards to name just a few.

Fast forward to October 2017, and the very first batch of Scriba styluses has been manufactured, packaged, and is currently heading out to those first Kickstarter investors, who pledged over two years ago. David has been careful to keep these backers up to date along the way and has sent them regular updates and progress reports.

“I’m pretty hands on and to understand the process, I spent the day at the plant in Waterford working with the operators on the assembly line. That incredible moment of having the very first one, boxed, in my hands, was just amazing. It’s been such a long road and thanks to everyone’s perseverance and hard work it’s now a reality.”

General sales of Scriba are about to go live, initially via their own website – – and also on Amazon. Scriba has been accepted onto the Amazon Launchpad programme, which showcases innovative new products from startups. This will be crucial to the firm’s success, as they have identified Amazon as the key channel for their target market.

David is keen to point out that Scriba is only the first product the studio plans on creating. The collective knowledge the team has acquired since David’s very first prototype will be no doubt be channelled into other exciting projects. It certainly sounds like David is itching to get back to design, so I don’t think we’ll have a long wait!

About the author


Scarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.

Economy think outside the box to stay inside the circle

Economy: think outside the box to stay inside the circle

By New Frontiers blog

Economy think outside the box to stay inside the circle

As the global economy continues to expand, the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for products and services means that most businesses have adopted growth strategies that are not sustainable long-term. But there is an alternative to the traditional open-ended economy, and many startups are adopting these business models to build profitable companies with a lower environmental impact.

The circular economy

Over the past number of years, the circular economy has grown in popularity. In some cases this is out of necessity, in others it stems from the realisation that as a society we have created unsustainable practices – and within this problem lie significant business opportunities for those who wish to provide sustainable solutions to ensure the stability of business in the future. In the natural world, there is no landfill. Plants and animals are born, they grow, eat each other, die and their nutrients return to the soil where the cycle begins again. Nature, being the most complex system known to man, operates using a seamless cycle, with each element integrating itself into a synergised system devoid of waste. It is a purely circular ecosystem.

The linear system

In contrast, for the past 250 years, humans have been favouring the alternative linear system – take, make, and dispose – fueled by the availability of plentiful and inexpensive natural resources. To date, this system has been attractive and successful for both business owners and consumers reaping the short-term rewards. When environmental and social impact is not a concern, businesses can take any necessary means to become more efficient, reach more customers, and sell more of their product. However, we are rapidly reaching the point of no return and the global economy is increasingly using finite resources at a rate which the planet is unable to replenish the raw materials.

Over the last century, we have watched prices decline as consumers demand cheaper and cheaper goods, yet we have never been in a situation where the price of resources has been so volatile. Renewable resources such as trees are being cut down faster than they can grow, clean water is being polluted and non-renewables, such as metals and fossil fuels, are fast depleting in an effort to keep up with global demand. The danger is that if we continue to operate using liner systems that the planet cannot sustain, our businesses, much like our finite resources, will cease to exist. After all – when all the trees have been cut down and all the rivers have dried up, we cannot eat money. Where will your business be then?

The future of business

Prof. William McDonough at Stanford remarked to the World Economic Forum:

“The ‘problem’ we find ourselves in is also the largest business opportunity ever seen by our species. The leaders of the economic future will be those that understand that by design we can create perpetual assets and optimise them to create businesses that thrive and are enjoyed by people everywhere, all the time, forever. Why would we want to miss that?”

Every traditional industry using a linear system has all the hallmarks of an industry ready to be disrupted. The long-term problem is unworkable, unavoidable, urgent, and underserved. This is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, as here lies the opportunity to be part of global business solutions that fundamentally reinvent our economic model and build businesses that will shape the future of our planet.

So, what is the alternative? The circular economy! The circular economy is not reliant on the use of scarce resources to achieve economic growth, instead it uses disruptive technology and business models to profit from product longevity, renewability, reuse, repair, upgrade, refurbishment, capacity sharing, and dematerialization. Circular models do not focus on driving volume and squeezing lower costs through ‘efficiency’ measures in their supply chain. Instead, they design products to be ‘future-proof’, to fit within the limitations of our planet’s resources. There are five circular business models:

  • circular supplies
  • resource recovery
  • product life extension
  • sharing platforms
  • product as a service

Case study: The Nu Wardrobe

I will delve into a circular solution through the lens of my own company, Nu. Our startup has developed a platform that lets you bring your wardrobe online so you can share and swap your clothes with friends and other Nu. members. Our solution combines the thriving fashion industry and the rapidly growing sharing economy. The fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry, after oil. 25% of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production and the industry contributes 10% of the world’s global carbon emissions. The textile industry uses more water than any other industry, apart from agriculture. The rate at which apparel is created and consumed is unsustainable and the fashion industry is becoming ever more scrutinised for its lack of progress towards sustainable practices.

After conducting market validation, we found that although the fashion industry’s supply chain is highly efficient, this model is completely inefficient for the consumer. People invest in outfits that they may never wear or rarely wear. In cases like this, it would be far more efficient for people to borrow or rent clothes, rather than buy. This ties into the product life extension model, and sharing platforms which are part of the circular economy. In short, people have a lot of clothes and have made a huge investment in their wardrobe.

People want a constantly changing wardrobe, but the current model insists that consumers must make a purchase each time they want something different to wear. By providing a sharing platform, people can leverage the value already in their wardrobe to borrow clothes from other members. This cuts down on textile waste and extends the life-cycle of products already in circulation. Nu. profits by providing a service that connects users with people they can share or swap clothes with.

Changes like this can be seen disrupting industries the world over – prime examples being Airbnb, Lyft, and Guest to Guest. The sharing economy is set to boom over the next decade, estimated to be worth upwards of $335 billion by 2025. It is actually profitable, when setting out on a new business venture, to consider the future and how the business will thrive with it.

About the author

Aisling ByrneAisling Byrne Nu New Frontiers

Aisling is a New Frontiers participant and the co-founder founder of Nu. – a platform which lets individuals take their wardrobe online so they can share and swap clothes with friends and other Nu. members with a circular economy ethos… [Read Aisling’s profile]

New Frontiers Innovation Vouchers Technology Gateways Enterprise Ireland

Extend your R&D capability with an Innovation Voucher

By New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers Innovation Vouchers Technology Gateways Enterprise Ireland

Are you an Irish SME looking for help with research and innovation? Have you a product or service that requires expertise currently outside of your existing R&D capacity? The Technology Gateway Network, in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers, can help!

Technology Gateways

The Technology Gateway Network is composed of 15 specialist gateways, situated within 11 Institutes of Technology around Ireland. We focus on key technology areas which are aligned to industry needs in areas such as polymers, photonics, mobile, coatings, industrial design, mechatronics, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, wireless technologies and precision engineering. Each centre works in conjunction with industry to aid the research and development of innovative products and services through a dedicated team of specialised engineers.

Technology Gateway Clusters

To boost the power and knowledge of the Gateways, three unique gateway clusters have been developed to enhance the delivery of research and innovation for Irish SMEs. These clusters are in the areas of Applied Internet of Things (A-IoT), Engineering, Materials and Design (EMD Ireland), and Food and Beverages. Each cluster consists of relevant specialised gateways and a dedicated support office, which can assist you with any questions you may have about the Technology Gateway Network or the upcoming Innovation Voucher call.

What is an Innovation Voucher call?

The Innovation Voucher scheme is run by Enterprise Ireland and opens approximately three/four times a year. Small and medium-sized companies can apply for a €5,000 voucher for the purpose of gaining academic support in research or innovation from a listed knowledge provider. Vouchers are valid for 12 months from the date of issue and can be used throughout the Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway network. However, you must apply for a voucher during one of the open calls. The latest call for Innovation Vouchers opens today (26th April 2017) and closes on Wednesday 10th May. For more information about the vouchers, you can see the FAQs on the Enterprise Ireland site, or contact either the A-IoT or EMD Ireland support offices.

How can Technology Gateways and an Innovation Voucher help your company?

We strive to have a close connection with industry and this shows in our results. Since 2013, we have provided support to over 500 Innovation Voucher projects throughout the network. Last year alone we supported over 210 projects. We view each project as unique and as a result the assistance we provide is tailored to its specific needs. Our specialist gateway teams ensure that projects are delivered on time and within budget, and provide a wide variety of support and assistance ranging from prototype production, business model development, process optimisation, customer interface, technical specification, new service development and technology audits. We can even help with the voucher application process itself.

But don’t just take our word for it! Irish companies such as Incereb, Bustard Heating and Kilkenny Cooling Systems have all collaborated with various gateways through the Innovation Vouchers scheme and experienced the benefits of the network.

Case studies

Incereb has developed a novel EEG electrode scaffold, known as the butterfly device. This device will enable technicians to apply in minutes the internationally recognised montage for optimal neonatal EEG brain monitoring and seizure detection. Incereb collaborated with the MiCRA Gateway through a series of Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers, as well as 100% Incereb funded, projects to co-develop the electrode which will be incorporated into the butterfly device scaffold. The prototype arising from this investigation is a fully functional device suitable to be scaled up for production.

We have prototypes which work, and are very close to what we think will be the final product. The documentation and final report on the project was top class, and slotted immediately into our technical and design history file. We have absolutely no hesitation in recommending MiCRA to any interested party.

Jim Roche – CEO, Incereb

Bustard Heating is an SME based in Donegal that provides a range of heating and plumbing services to the domestic and commercial building markets. As an ancillary to their core heating and plumbing business, the company instalsl a range of renewable energy and heat saving products. One such product is their Mobile Heat Switch, used to autonomously control heating and hot water systems by SMS phone text activation. Through an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, the PEM Gateway in IT Sligo undertook an investigation to optimise the existing mobile heat switch device by re-designing the control box interface so that a manual time-clock activation device could be integrated, offering the end user both remote and manual setting functions. This included a 3D printed component to realise the design modifications and to test compatibility with the existing heat switch device.

Operating in a progressive and fast changing building services market it is important that we act on end user feedback to optimise our products. The R&D input supported by the Innovation Voucher initiative was invaluable in helping us realise necessary and further potential for our heat switch device.

Trevor Bustard – Bustard Heating

Kilkenny Cooling Systems is a leading manufacturer of refrigerated storage equipment for the dairy, brewing and food processing sectors. A sector where Kilkenny Cooling Systems is particularly prominent is the beverage cooling industry. Through an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher and Partnership Feasibility study, the TEC Gateway undertook a performance assessment of the company’s Kilkenny VS prototype beer cooler and bench-marked it against competitor cooling systems such as a conventional ice bank system and a full glycol system. The Kilkenny VS Beer Cooling System went on to be shortlisted for the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Award for Innovation in 2015 and the 2016 IBEC Environment Award for best new product; winning the latter.

The Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher scheme played a key role in the progress of our VS Beer Cooler R&D project. I would strongly encourage any business considering undertaking their own R&D to avail of an Innovation Voucher. Having expertise on hand such as that provided by Nimbus was extremely helpful and definitely contributed to this project’s successful outcome.

John Smee – Kilkenny Cooling Systems

Next steps

If you think the Technology Gateways can help your company, get in touch through the Technology Gateways website, or contact the A-IoT or EMD Ireland support offices.

Various Innovation Voucher clinics are also being held in regional centres to provide information and assistance with Innovation Voucher applications. Check out how they can help and register online.

This post was published in collaboration with the Technology Gateway Network

About the author

Grainne Foley EMD Ireland Technology Gateway NetworkGráinne Foley

Gráinne is the Marketing Executive of EMD Ireland, a cluster group of six Technology Gateways operating within the engineering, materials and design sector. The cluster strives to provide companies nationwide with access to the wide range of expertise within the Gateway structure, who can support and aid the development of research and innovation in industry.

Technology-enabled innovation pathways to success

Technology-enabled innovation: pathways to success

By New Frontiers blog

Technology-enabled innovation pathways to success

Any new technologies can face a certain degree of hype. Gartner, a US-based IT research firm, developed the hype cycle – a graphical representation of the maturity, adoption and application of specific technologies. Such hype cycles can drive both venture capital and media attention towards the great potential, or lack thereof, of new technologies. Attention is also given to ‘experts’ predicting that a given technology is the future, or the contrary.

In actual fact, it takes many years of testing technologies and evaluating them for different use cases before they’re ready for mainstream use. Standards must also be proposed or adopted in real time, before technology can achieve mainstream adoption to enterprise or consumer level.

Driverless cars and a mushroom analogy

Consider the shape of a mushroom. The stalk represents growth of a technology for two to six to ten years, followed by an explosion of adoption of that technology into different use cases. The technology then resonates with users to the extent that customers can’t imagine what life was like before said explosion (i.e. the iPhone is only ten years old, Hailo only five). Basically, we see apprehension first, a growing buzz about a technology and, at the right time, mainstream adoption follows.

An example of this behaviour is evident in the case of the future technology in driverless cars.  Initially, people will be very cautious; we will hear cases of fatal traffic accidents and instances when the car couldn’t differentiate a bike lane from a car lane, 3.5 million truck drivers in the US being laid off, and so on.

However, it’s clear that some consider driverless cars to be the latest ‘mushroom explosion’ in the making, as 2016 saw the online transportation network, Uber, purchasing a driverless truck company for approximately $680 million. Warren Buffet is quoted as saying the biggest risk to banking and insurance conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway is driverless cars, because their widespread use will mean fewer car accidents, and therefore less need for car insurance.

When the cars are ready for mass consumer adoption, infrastructure providers will catch up, and dedicated lanes, electronic signage and municipal vehicles will all play their role in facilitating this emergent technology. Exact timing can’t be predicted, but eventual productivity gains will ensure that technology will facilitate for driverless cars and societal acceptance will follow.

Other emergent technologies

Using this mushroom imagery to explore the stage of development of other new technologies, we would see emergent technologies on the ‘stalk’ as being:

  • Augmented/virtual reality technologies
  • The mainstreaming of data mining and data analytics at consumer level, as platforms such as Facebook and Google fully monetise their data
  • Enterprise-level data analytics insights from equivalent platforms such as Microsoft and SAP

The key issue around innovation, and especially some of the technology-enabled innovation today, is the time it takes to get to the stage of mainstream adoption and how that timeline applies to you or your company. Are you going to invest early and lead, while facing an uncertain length of time along the stalk, or are you going to trail early leaders and join the mushrooming market, but as a follower? The length of the testing phase is hard to predict (ask Blackberry or Nokia), but the outcomes are immense (ask Google or Uber).

I wonder if this mushroom-shape of adoption can be also applied to commentary outside of technology innovation; a long phase of emergent thinking before action – Brexit or Trump anyone?

About the author

Alan Costello New FrontiersAlan Costello

Alan Costello is a business consultant and Enterprise Ireland/New Frontiers mentor, helping scaling companies across multiple sectors. Alan is also the founder and managing director of Ruby Consulting, a strategy and innovation-focused boutique consultancy which strives to assist in the growth of companies and to work with business owners and leaders to help orientate planning for action.

After completing his MBA, Alan began working with early-stage startups, VCs, PE firms, universities and enterprise agencies. Alan provides high-value input for small/early-stage/HPSU companies, as well as delivering projects and programmes for public sector agencies, universities, colleges, large corporates, venture capital and many early-stage startups with ambitions to scale internationally.