Lift Off at the NDRC


 Nicola Farronato and his team receiving their prize from Ben Hurley, CEO of NDRC

At the Digital Hub in Dublin yesterday nine companies showcased their businesses in a series of short presentations. They had all just completed twelve weeks of the National Digital Research Centre’s (NDRC) Launchpad programme. This event was an opportunity to pitch their business to an invited audience of more than a hundred people. More than half of which were potential investors.

The teams also had to pitch to an investor panel that would choose the winning presentation that would receive €40,000 from a total prize fund of €60,000. This money had been donated by people from the investment community that support the work of the NDRC.

The judges on the panel consisted of: Shay Garvey Delta Partners. HBAN Angel Investor of the Year Conall Lavery from TechExecs Syndicate and who is CEO of AscenTrust. Brand Consultant Noel Toolan and Ben Hurley, CEO, NDRC.

The winning business was B-SM@RK who developed an online tool for emotionally tagging and reviewing web content called mysmark. It offers top brands and retailers enhanced market intelligence. CEO and Director Nicola Farronato says that this product that he and his team have created is five times more effective than the Facebook “like” button. It makes the user content interaction more personal and accurate.

Nicola who is from Venice, Italy, said that he came to Ireland because after much research he decided that Ireland was, “the best digital environment in Europe to do a startup.

“The NDRC is an amazing environment for digital projects. It has been great because it has allowed us to stay focused on our business idea.

“You go in with a business intuition for the idea then you process it for twelve weeks and then you showcase and present it in the lift off event and it is something that gives you focus and strength to transfer your business idea to the world.”

One of the judges with the very hard job of choosing a winner was Conall Lavery of the Tech Exec Group which is facilitated by HBAN. The Tech Exec Group is made up of 14 technical entrepreneurs and fills a gap in the funding cycle in Ireland by being able to syndicate risk. According to Conall by organizing themselves as a syndicate they can, “ do more investments and minimize our risk by bringing in more expertise.”

The investor panel took longer than the allotted time to make their deliberations which reflected on the quality of the companies presenting and the seriousness with which the judges took their duties.

As Conall says, “ It’s a big responsibility and it is really quite tough. If you were cynical you could do it quite quickly but we didn’t. We genuinely thought about the entrepreneurs.

We took two criteria into account. One, basically, what their business model was and whether they would be successful. What we would do if we were making an angel investment ourselves? But we also asked, ‘Who would do the most with the money in terms of what they actually have at the moment?’

In addition to the main prizes the Irish Internet Association offered a prize of a Diploma in Internet Marketing. The judging panel decided that the business that would most benefit from the course would be Uvoice.

Patricia Baker is the CEO and Founder of the company which has developed an audio social-media platform that is designed to interact with user communities through the spoken word rather than with text or web.

She developed the idea of Uvoice from when she was in Nairobi, Kenya working on how people engage in forum, “I was blown away with radio. The simplest of tools. Since then I have been running temporary radio stations and producing radio programmes.

She says of her experience of the Launchpad programme, “I came in with an idea for people getting their voices heard on radio. What I have come out with is a company that has had seven trials in four markets and that is only the start of it. Now we know what we need to do. We need to become the voice of Facebook.”

The twelve weeks of Launchpad is a very focused experience for the teams that participate. Even the final presentations offer valuable learning opportunities as Patricia points out.

“One gentleman asked me, ‘what problem was my product solving?’ It always amazes me that you think you have been really clear about a subject but you’re not. You need to check continuously, ‘Am I getting the root message across?” You need to continually ask, ‘What’s the story? What’s the problem I’m solving?’ And you need to deliver on those two things.”

NDRC’s LaunchPad is now open to applications from small entrepreneurial teams with strong digital start-up ideas to secure a place on the investment programme. The deadline for applications to LaunchPad is 8th July. For full details and application form log on to www.ndrc.ie/launchpad.

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