Global Business Register: Irish Online Verification Company Expanding

In a recent press release by Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton, he named a number of High Potential Start ups in Ireland that are generating income for the economy and creating employment in Ireland, among these was Global Business Register (GBR) who plan to hire 34 people by the end of 2011.

GBR is an online company founded in 2007 by Robert Leslie and his business partner Ben Cronin. The initial plan for the company was to connect in a single network all the company registers of European countries into one portal, “if you wanted to get information on a company in Germany you could come to our portal and do the same for companies in Italy or Spain.”

GBR began with 12 countries connected to the network and have expanded to include businesses in 24 European countries and 44 US states, making a total of 55 million companies that you can access official government information on directly, “If a company wants to do due diligence or know their customer they can come to our website and check this.”

With more and more companies now crossing the frontier of doing business online, it is important to be able to show that your company is trusted and has a good reputation. “We take all the available information about this company and aggregate it in a way that people can easily assimilate it.

Coca Cola have built up a brand and a reputation over the years, people automatically put trust in it but for a small company who have never traded outside of their locality it may be difficult to sell to France, Germany or Italy, they need a way to show they are a genuine company and have a good reputation.”

“A company like GBR can enhance general trustworthiness by 86%. Studies show that 70% of online shoppers abandon their carts before check out due to a lack of confidence in the website they’re using.

“Our job is to confirm that online businesses have a physical presence, if they have a registered office unit we will independently find a way to contact them at that address. By sending a letter or making a phone call, we’ve now tied a virtual identity to a real identity which really is a key to trust.”

With the variety and number of customers they have, from small solicitor firms to HSBC banks, GBR realised that having access to this much data could do much more than what they were utilising it for. “We created an API that allowed a company who would be quite a large user to integrate search and retrieval capability into their own system, meaning huge time savings in terms of their client process. Users may just want to check that your company is genuine, not fraudulent, up to date with it’s taxes and does all it’s filing, all of this can be done in an automated way without having to get a person involved.”

Systems like this API have huge implications for PayPal and Amazon; ecommerce companies doing business online who need to ensure that sources and receivers of funds are genuine. This was when GBR began to tailor specific products to solve specific problems.

“Take for example an SSL certificate, used to encrypt credit card information when purchasing online. Issuers of SSL certificates have to make sure they are issuing certificates to genuine businesses, that they are able to confirm in the real world you are who they are, research has shown that the more you can show how trusted you are, the more likely it is someone is going to deal with you.”

GBR has now evolved from a company that was once a purveyor of information to one which now creates software solutions that revolve around trust identity. “When we see an opportunity we’ll go after it, we move really fast in terms of making changes when we need to, we’re not going to flog a dead horse.”

ITLG to Host Innovation in Entertainment Showcase in Hollywood

The Irish Technology Leadership Group is to host an Innovation in Entertainment showcase in Sony Pictures Studios in Hollywood, to mark the launch of the ITLG’s Southern California Chapter next month.

The showcase event, to be held on September 13th, will feature keynote speakers and panelists from top Hollywood studios such as Sony, Warner Bros and HBO, as well as Bloomberg Television, and some of the top technology companies involved in the entertainment sector, including Gamestop Ventures and Logitech.

The event’s main sponsor will be Invest Northern Ireland, and keynote speeches will be delivered by Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness, as well as the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa.

John Hartnett, President and founder of the ITLG says the event’s theme of Innovation in Entertainment arose out of a growing convergence between the fields of technology and entertainment, citing special effects in film, the games industry, mobile applications and social media as examples of this blurring of the lines between the two disciplines.

“You look at all of this convergence happening, and you start to say, “How do we make sure that Ireland is well-positioned to take advantage of this?

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for Ireland to showcase what it has to offer to the entertainment industry, both North and South.”

John Hartnett points to the success of Emmy-nominated HBO series Game of Thrones as a prime example of how Ireland can be an attractive target for the entertainment industry.

The event will give a number of high-potential Irish companies the opportunity to showcase their products in front of influential business leaders in the US, including confirmed attendees from companies like Apple, Google, Intel, Nokia, Dreamworks, Disney, and Twentieth Century Fox.

The ITLG President is hopeful that with such a cast of business luminaries in attendance, these companies will demonstrate the range of technological innovation to be found in Ireland.

“It’s really like bringing a young actor to Hollywood; we’re bringing young companies to Hollywood and hopefully they will make their breakthrough based on the platform that we’ve created.”

As well as demonstrations from major players in the entertainment technology sector like Logitech, Irish companies such as 3D Printing startup MCOR Technologies, and iPad app developer StreamGlider will showcase their breakthrough technologies at the event.

Other companies showcasing include web event-guide Live Matrix, and anti-piracy technology company Pirate Eye. Many of the companies showcasing are resident at the ITLG’s partner incubation centre for launching Irish startups in Silicon Valley, the Irish Innovation Centre, of which John Hartnett is also Chairman.

Together with the IIC, the ITLG is committed to fostering and cementing the links between Irish business and Silicon Valley, and having opened a New York Chapter in May of this year, the opening of the Southern California Chapter will see the 3,000-strong organisation with a foothold close to the three strongholds of American business, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and Wall Street.

“If you think of the three powerhouses of the US, it’s Hollywood for entertainment, Silicon Valley for technology, and Wall Street for finance, and we want to be positioned in all three areas. They’re effectively the biggest locations and biggest brands in the world and that’s where we want to have a very strong centre of positioning,” says the Limerick-born ITLG founder.

“What we’re doing is strengthening the links between Ireland and both Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and networking is an important aspect of building the relationships between key executives in the entertainment industry with key young companies in Ireland.”

Due to strong demand for tickets for the event, registration will close on August 31st.

Orchestra joins Engine Yard: A Great Opportunity for PHP Developers

Orchestra Co-founder Eamon Leonard describes the Irish Platform as a Service (PaaS) provider’s primary value proposition as saving developers time. PHP script-based Orchestra was founded in February 2011 as a spin out from web consultancy and software development firm Echolibre. A little over six months later, Orchestra, has been acquired by PaaS pioneers Engine Yard. Clearly, time-wasting is not on his agenda.

Having worked with over thirty startups from Ireland to Hong Kong and Australia since 2008, Eamon and his colleagues found that the repetition of certain tasks from project to project was distracting them and their clients from more activities like coding.

“There’s nothing worse for a software developer than to be doing the same thing over and over again. A software developer likes to be challenged, likes to be faced with problems to find interesting solutions to.

“Every time we started a project we’d have to set up a new server from scratch, we’d have to configure it, and then we’d have to put the code onto the server and then we’d have to maintain it.

Eamon recalls situations when servers would go down at the most inconvenient times, “You’d have a scenario when you’re on your iPhone trying to connect to the server to bring it back up and that’s ridiculous.”

The then-Echolibre team looked at the different trends happening in the market around them and the subset of cloud computing known as Platforms as a Service was one that Eamon saw as, “Gaining momentum,” particularly amongst developers using the Ruby on Rails web development framework.

“We saw that what the Ruby developers had was they could basically deploy their code; with a couple of clicks they could create servers and then they could have it automatically monitored with a whole lot of fail-safes built in in case anything goes wrong. So, those guys could actually go out at the weekend and enjoy it and not have to worry about their servers going down because they were hosted in the cloud.”

PHP developer Eamon wanted to bring the convenience and peace of mind that PaaS brought to the Ruby community to the global PHP development community, which he numbers at between four and five million people worldwide.

“Ultimately, we wanted to never have to spend literally four or five hours setting up and configuring a server every time we that wanted to deploy a project, so we created Orchestra to allow us to do that.

“That’s the immediate value proposition to developers, it saves time. The second value proposition is the fact that it gives you peace of mind, and it gives you the ability to focus more on your code and writing good code, than being a system administrator.

“Most developers, given a choice, would go for writing good code over sysadmin any day, because sysadmin is a different mindset it’s a different kind of problem that you’re solving, and there’s a lot of repetition in it and that doesn’t sit well with developers.”

When Orchestra’s founders were approached by Engine Yard, pioneers of Ruby-based PaaS, Eamon says the decision to approve the acquisition was, “a no-brainer”, as the market is moving away from single-stack PaaS, offering support for only PHP, or only Ruby.

“We saw that there was an opportunity for us to get where we wanted to go faster with a name like Engine Yard behind us, who were pretty much one of the pioneers of PaaS, so when the option presented itself to us, we went for it.”

Engine Yard now owns 100% of Orchestra, and Eamon and his co-founders are now responsible for the PHP stack in Engine Yard. Despite this, Eamon says there are no immediate plans to retire the Orchestra brand or to alter their plans for the future.

“Both Engine Yard and ourselves feel that Orchestra is a strong brand and has a certain degree of recognition in the PHP community so it doesn’t make sense to go and mess with that. Nothing’s changing in the immediate future.

“Up until now we were in a position where part of the team were doing client consultancy work to pay for the development of Orchestra. But now we’ve left that behind and we can be one hundred percent focused on it and it’s a great opportunity for us and it’s a great opportunity for PHP developers.

“We have a long road map of uses we want to add in based on conversations we’ve had with our peers and our customers, and we’re focused now one hundred percent on rolling out those features.”

While Eamon envisages that he will be doing a lot more travelling now, he is adamant that Orchestra will remain based in Ireland, and will be creating jobs here.

“It is a very synergistic meeting of companies and we’re really happy with it. There was never any talk about [leaving Ireland]. We’re not going anywhere.”

Cork Security Software Company Working with Giant US Retail Chain

As mobile phones grow smarter every day, the consequences of losing them become more severe. As well as friends’ and contacts’ phone numbers and personal text messages, phones can contain potentially sensitive emails, access to online banking as well as photographs which may not be easily replaced.

When Irish company was founded in 2004 by Paul Prendergast and William Fitzgerald, with then-CEO Frank Hannigan, it was initially focused on the production of physical tags. The team were soon joined by Pat Lynch and Peter Bermingham, and the company pivoted into the area of mobile device security, developing software which help deter the theft, and aid recovery, of mobile devices, tablets, and laptops, while continuing to make physical tracking tags.

“We kind of came to this market when it wasn’t desperately fashionable”, recalls Paul Prendergast, now the company’s head of sales. “Only about two and a half years ago, you’d walk into a carrier and smartphones might only be 6% of their portfolio; that now is over 50% and it’s growing rapidly.”

Following the change in focus, the company went, “Into R&D mode,” and only returned to the market in the past two years, which Paul understatedly describes as having, “Gotten quite interesting.”

The Cork-based company’s Mobile Superhero software is now available across a range of platforms including Android, Windows Mobile and Blackberry, while an iPhone version is available in the United States. Laptop and Tablet Superhero software is also available, as are the physical tags with which started.

Where has really excelled, though, is in the provision of white-label solutions through collaborations with partners including Best Buy, Tesco, Vodafone, and Telefonica.’s software is now available in every one of electronic retail giant Best Buy’s U.S. stores as part of their Geek Squad Black Tie Protection. Like Mobile Superhero, this software offers features such as remote, automatic, and SMS locking, SIM change locking, Device Scream, Location Mapping, Theft Deterrent and Recovery Encouragement.

“The feature set is very, very strong”, says Paul. “We’re one of the very few companies globally who have got large-scale anti theft implementation in place right now with big clients, and that gives our customers peace of mind because we’ve shown we can do it with big customers at a huge scale. We’re in every one of their [Best Buy’s] 1,200 stores with those programmes. And for a very small security software company based in Cork, that’s a very big win for us,” says Paul.

“It’s really a case of working with large insurance companies and warranty providers is our main focus right now. That may change, as the market matures, but I think that’s definitely our primary focus.

“We’re big believers that we should leverage Telefonica’s brand, Best Buy’s brand, or Tesco’s brand, as opposed to trying to build our own brand, and that’s working quite well.”

It has worked so well that, in addition to the USA, they have just closed their first deal in Mexico, and are active in Canada, the Philippines, Spain, the UK, Holland, and Ireland.

“We’re currently at about twenty staff and we expect to increase our staffing quite considerably over the next twelve to eighteen months. There’s a large number of deals that we have just signed that will be going live in the next three months and they would be household names, so that’s going to be good for us.”

Paul attributes the company’s success to a skilled team, and a dedication that has seen the group, “…pretty obsessed about the whole anti-theft, loss recovery space for a large number of years”.

“It’s a very strong engineering company. Peter [Bermingham] has built an incredible engineering team, and typically, when we’re up against other competitors, major, billion-dollar organisations, we’re beating them hands down, because the engineering and technology is better, because we’re very, very focused on what we do.

“It’s very hard for people who’ve only entered this space in the last nine to twelve months to have the depth of knowledge that we have had.”

“So, we’re kind of a small, little success story in Cork City, but it’s the strength of the technology team that’s really the basis of our success today.

Paul acknowledges that Enterprise Ireland have played an important role in YouGetItBack’s success, with their international offices providing invaluable advice and connections.

“Enterprise Ireland have been with us literally since day one. When you’re relatively small and you don’t have the contacts, Enterprise Ireland are a huge asset to any company that’s exporting globally, and whether it be Japan, China, Australia, South America, you name it, these guys have huge contacts.”

Although commercial contacts will have to be maintained in these new markets, Paul maintains that the company’s core development team will remain in Cork.

“It’s quite fashionable to outsource a lot of software development, but the quality of development, and the amount we can get done with a relatively small team is incredible. Big clients of ours are always very surprised that we can get stuff done so quickly, to such a high quality, with such a small team, so our view is, “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.””

Lyra McKee: TechFluff Making PR Accessible for Startups

“Our big mission is to get the best stories and to get them out there, so really it’s all about connecting startups with journalists, not just Irish startups, but startups across the world.”

Belfast entrepreneur and former journalist Lyra Mc Kee set up public relations firm TechFluff and Co in May of this year to cater specifically for the marketing and PR needs of startups, who she felt had not been receiving adequate attention from larger PR companies.

Lyra is determined that TechFluff and Co, which is based in Belfast, and is shortly opening a New York office, will not be just another PR company, “In a lot of ways we’re trying to change the face of the PR industry.”

“The big issue startups have with the traditional PR and marketing agencies is that they’re competing with much bigger clients, and they’re not getting the time. Only the big companies tend to fare well at these big [PR] giants.

“If you go to a PR company and they charge £500 a month, but then they go and get a contract from, say, Tesco, and Tesco is paying them a £10,000 a month retainer, the startup doesn’t get a look in.

“So that’s why we started TechFluff and Co, which was really as a way of using my skills in PR ad journalism exclusively for startups and help them build their brand and PR.”

Having worked in startups in the past, Lyra is aware that many startups cannot afford the services of a PR company, but also that they have great stories that need to be told.

With this in mind, she has set up Techfluff Newswire, @tfnewswire, a news feed designed to put startups in touch with journalists, a service which will help both disciplines. The startups get much-needed exposure, while journalists get access to interesting stories, which might otherwise go untold.

“I’ve always been of the belief that great stories should be told, and that’s really what we want to do with Techfluff Newswire, we want to tell those stories, we want to get them out there”, says Lyra.

“If you’re in a startup, it is hard, especially if you don’t have PR or marketing skills. Some of them just have really, really good stories and they just don’t know which journalist to go to to tell the story. For us it’s a way of connecting those stories with the journalists, and then getting the startups exposure.”

A former Sky News Young Journalist of the Year, Lyra has freelanced with Private Eye Magazine, Channel Four, and the BBC, and is aware of the value of a good story. She sees the role of Techfluff Newswire as, “the funnel” for these stories, and views the fact that this is helping journalists at the same time as something which, “can only be a good thing.”

Lyra believes there is a funding problem in the startup ecosystem, which leaves startups in Ireland at a competitive disadvantage compared to their compatriots in Europe and the United States. Often times the marketing budget simply does not exist for these fledgling companies.

While these problems need to be addressed, Lyra maintains that, “in the meantime we’ve got to do other stuff”. In this case, “other stuff”, is promoting startups, from Ireland and abroad, and making sure that their stories get told, while the bigger picture of why they cannot fund their own marketing is hopefully resolved.

For now, Lyra will try to help these startups, “scream and shout in other ways, and Techfluff Newswire is one way we can do that.”

Eolaí: Painting Ireland through Social Media

As Irish artist and blogger Liam Daly shows off his Motorola Zoom tablet, the nerve centre of his social media-driven painting tour around Ireland, he first produces an armoured yellow case. It looks as though it could be used to transport vials of some dastardly chemical weapon as easily as a tablet device.

His G-Form Extreme Sleeve is reputed to be able to withstand any fall and it has already been, “not intentionally”, put to the test during his trek around Ireland’s thirty-two counties. Luckily only the tablet and case ended up under the wheel of a tractor in Kerry and sore knees aside, Eolaí, as he is known on Twitter and his blogs, is in good health as he approaches the half way mark on his journey.

The case and tablet, and some dry-bags for covering his painting equipment were funded by ten paintings commissioned over Twitter, beginning a artistic journey around Ireland fuelled almost entirely by social media.

Liam was, “one of the lurkers” on Twitter in its first year and as he and around one hundred other Irish bloggers began the first wave of adoption of Twitter in Ireland, the idea first occurred to him to marry his passions of painting and cycling through social media.

“I can’t remember why, but someone that I knew through blogging, once said to me about visiting them and doing a painting for them, that basically I’d get a holiday, and they’d get a painting, and I liked it.

“It kind of niggled away at me for a few years, and liking Twitter as much as I did I thought, “I wonder could I do something mad like the whole country?” When I was much younger, and skinnier, I toured across America and across Europe.

“I keep referring to it as a social media tour, but it’s 95% Twitter, really. There is a slight angle on Facebook, but Twitter has really driven it and it’s the Twitter people for the most part that have jumped in with the commissions and jumped into hosting me.”

Although the idea had been with him for some time, when he made the decision to undertake the tour, he made minimal preparations, preferring the spontaneity of taking to the road, come what may.

With modest funding from his ten commissions, Eolaí gan fhéile (he translates this loosely as “guide without a festival”, meaning he’s no saint), took to the road, relying on Twitter users to provide bed and board in exchange for a painting.

“It’s a bit ambitious but so far it’s kind of worked. The ‘nowness’ of Twitter means you don’t have to necessarily plan. You could spend everyday planning the next day and then you don’t spend time with people, and it’s very easy to do that, because with Streetview, I could pick the perfect roads inch by inch.

“I’ve barely touched it for research like that, though, because that takes time and I’d rather be talking to someone in the flesh that I’ve been chatting to online for years and have now met for the first time.”

Liam tweets about his activities under his Eolaí account, including photos of paintings and of vistas soon to become paintings, and having resolved some technical issues plans to use Audioboo to make the tour an all-round multimedia experience. The hashtag for the tour is #paintingtour.

He has been reluctant to track too much of his movements, however, being conscious of the privacy of his hosts.

“With social media, some people are anonymous, some people are pseudonymous, and you want to protect whatever level of privacy they would like, so I don’t want to publish a map that guides someone to their house.”

Liam has seen his email usage decrease by what he estimates to be 95% since he started using Twitter and, having in the past been a user of MySpace and Bebo, he is uncertain of how long Twitter will retain its influence.

“If you’d told me six years ago that I would have been doing this, I would have thought you were mad. I wouldn’t have known that it [Twitter] would exist, that I would participate in publishing banalities that have a value, even in a business sense, and that I’d ultimately visit loads of people. That wouldn’t have struck me as right.

“Given that email has almost disappeared for me, I wouldn’t be surprised if in two years we were saying,“remember that thing called Twitter, wasn’t that great fun?”.

“It’s particularly Twitter that has driven this trip, and I’m not convinced it will always be there, and if it was to go very quickly I would have hated myself for not trying this.”

Twitter, Liam believes, has a unique character which sets it apart from other social networks. Although, after having seen other networks fade into obscurity, he is unsure about its longevity, he has found offline tweeters to be refreshingly similar to their online personalities.

This has made it easier for him to make the transition from social media to social acquaintance as he meets a new host each evening.

“There’s something about that whole 140-character thing that kind of forces an honesty out of people. It’s very hard to pretend to be what you’re not. As a result, whenever I’ve met people, they have been exactly as I thought they would be.”

“You’ve got that shared history. Either you’ve been following each other for ages, or if you haven’t, you’ve at least looked through tweets to get a sense of each other. They’re not strangers at all, they’re people I’ve been interacting with for years, in many cases.”

Having stayed longer in Galway than planned thanks to its famously inclement weather, a well-rested Liam is conscious that he is not always as positive as this about the trip; the physical side of cycling around Ireland has at times proved difficult.

“It’s great fun as a concept in a pub. There are times when my knees don’t think it’s that much fun. The overly-ambitious aim is thirty-two counties. That might not happen. If it doesn’t, fine. I’ll have met loads of people and painted lots of pictures and cycled around.

“The people of Twitter have been fantastic. From being taken for a drive to buy supplies, to giving me things, to packing me lunches, people have gone way, way above and beyond, it’s been fantastic.”

Lean Startup Machine: It’s Not About the Logo

Lean Startup Machine, (LSM) a startup weekend concentrating on lean startup methodologies, is coming to the United Kingdom, with weekends scheduled for Edinburgh and London and Berlin over the coming month.

Kelley Boyd, one of the Machine’s advisors and mentors is heading up the european events, and describes LSM as similar in design to the traditional startup weekend layout, but differs greatly in its emphasis from other events.

“These teams want to say, “OK, here’s what I’m going to build. I need to design a logo, I need to set up a website”.”

Kelley explains that according to lean startup methodologies, there are many more important questions to be considered than websites and logos, and if these concerns are not addressed, the startup is, “hosed”.

“At LSM we really do focus on, “What is the problem that you’re solving? What is your solution hypothesis? What does the market look like?”

“A really important part of figuring out what your solutions should look like is, “What have people already done? If they are successful, how do you differentiate yourself? And if they fail, why did they fail, and why are you different?””

The process of taking an idea, deconstructing it, analysing it for flaws, and then having to face the prospect that it may need alteration or may not be workable at all, is not one that entrepreneurs warm to, but this is one of the core methodologies of the lean startup.

“They [entrepreneurs] don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to look at their baby and think that maybe their baby is a little bit ugly.

“An LSM weekend is an exercise that really opens your eyes. You can bring an new idea, or you can pitch your existing startup, particularly if you are struggling to get from the early adopter to early market phase and want to really focus on applying the techniques and methodologies in a very concentrated way. Teams are amazed at what they learn!”

“Sometimes the very first thing they [entrepreneurs] want to do is design a logo. Seriously, sketch something out and put it on your forehead because it doesn’t matter, a logo doesn’t matter. What does matter is who is your customer and what is the problem that you are solving for them.”

Kelley describes her role as mentor as, “The grown up that asks the tough questions that need to be asked of entrepreneurs at the startup stage, “You need somebody else’s brain on it, and you really need someone who’s not drinking your Kool-Aid, that’s going to be objective, that’s going to hold you accountable”.

“This is a boot camp for knowing how to recognise the places you can tighten up the business, ways that you can either tighten up the technology, tighten up the marketing or tighten up the customer segment.

“There are lots of different things you can do to tweak and tweak and tweak before finally you’ve got smooth sailing to get your target market to move from, “Hey that’s a good idea”, to “Wait, we have customers”, to, “Wait, we’re making money”. It’s a process.”

Lean Startup Machine’s visit to Edinburgh later this month is coinciding with Edinburgh’s Turing International Technology Festival, and anyone wishing to travel to the Edinburgh event can avail of accommodation through an, “adopt a hacker” scheme organised by Gordon Guthrie.

LEAP: The Business of Producing Businesses

“There’s a thought process that we’re a small country, we can’t really produce a Fortune 500 company, we won’t produce a Facebook, we won’t produce a Twitter. There’s a mentality that says we can’t do it, and I don’t know why. If you look at the heads at some of the biggest corporates around the world, they’re Irish. 39% of directors in the UK are first generation Irish. You have to turn around and say, “Why do we not have our own cluster of home grown Fortune 500 companies?””

These are the words of Graham Royce, Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform (LEAP) Programme Manager. He goes on to say, “We don’t have any indigenous Fortune 500 companies here, because a company gets to a certain size and traditionally, they’ve sold out.

“They’ve sold to America or Europe and so on and so forth. Because nobody has sat down and said, “Hang on a second. Instead of selling these companies out, if we’d have hung on to some of those, they’d have gone from the €14m companies to the €400m companies quite quickly and we had one recently, which came out of UL (University of Limierick) which was sold for €40m. Quite frankly had they not sold it and hung on to it, they could have turned it into a Fortune 500 company, whereas it got lost to America and is creating employment elsewhere.”

Graham’s remit is to find high potential startups which he defines as companies that have ideas that can grow from nothing to €1m by year three and potentially employ ten people. He has mentored over 200 companies since 1995 and since 2007 from his ground floor office at the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre at the Limerick Institute of Technology he has been putting between 20 and 30 startup companies through their paces as part of the LEAP programme.

The LEAP programme exists because, “Ireland Inc needs to create and develop new businesses to continue its economic growth.”

“It’s a year long programme so basically you get me for a year, and in that one year, if a business is not trading, we want it commercialized and training within the year, so it’s a really intense year.”

A basic quality that is deemed necessary for acceptance on the LEAP programme lies in the character of the candidate. “Does that individual have an ambition? Ambition — not passion. There’s a difference between ambition and passion. Ambition has been knocked out of people. It’s all very well educating somebody, but if you knock that ambition out of them, you can educate them as much as you like, but it isn’t going to work.”

Closely following on ambition is determination. According to Graham, “You have to be determined. You have to be clear about what you want to do in your mind. You have to be clear that there’s a market there. You have to go out and ask the question. “If I do this, will you buy this?” You have to go out and talk physically to the people. You have to get a really clear definition of what you’re doing, a really clear definition of the market.

Implied in the process of investigating the market for a product is having the necessary willingness to change and adapt as new information becomes available. Graham explains, “To me it’s the individuals, not the project. there are very few projects that come in here which are right first time. All of the projects that have come in here have changed at some time during the course of their journey within the LEAP programme.

“Money does not make a business work, this common mistake of thinking, “Give me the funding, I’ll make the business work,” is rubbish. You do need funds to get the business going. You need to fund yourself correctly at the right time. However, if you don’t have the other things in place, all the money in the world won’t make it work.

“Do we need the government to help us? Yes, and that’s not by giving us money. It’s by clearing some of the red tape that’s around the place in terms of getting things done.”

LEAP is not purely concerned with getting startups off the ground. There is a much bigger picture to take into consideration which concerns Ireland’s economic growth as a whole. “To my mind, I have the tools to take someone to 20, 30, 40 million, [but] we also need to put the tools in place that helps a company grow to 400m.

“There’s a whole different set of tools required for that level which we’re trying to put into place. We’re going for it. We want a Facebook, we want a Twitter, and we’ll find one. I am of a complete belief that before I finish my work we’ll have at least half a dozen Fortune 500 companies here in Ireland.”

If you are interested in enrolling on the LEAP programme you can visit the website for more information.

Visible Light Communications: A Greener, Broader Spectrum for Data Transfer

“We can thus, without a conducting wire as in electric
telephony, speak from station to station, wherever we can project a
beam of light” — Alexander Graham Bell, 1880.

One hundred and thirty years after Bell invented the photophone, a Professor at the University of Edinburgh is once again proposing using light as a means of data transmission.

With an estimated 5 billion cellular phones currently in existence worldwide, and the proliferation of data-hungry smartphones and tablet devices in recent years, the strain on the wireless networks that carry our data is growing.

As the increasingly-congested radio frequency (RF) spectrum bends under the weight of the data demands of the human race, more and more energy inefficient radio base stations are deployed. There are currently 1.4 million of these masts dotted around the globe, many of them diesel-powered.

Professor Harald Haas is Professor of Mobile Communications, at the Institute for Digital Communications. Based in a building named after Bell at the Edinburgh University, Professor Haas has been studying Visible Light Communication since 2004, in an attempt to solve what he sees as a data “bottleneck”, with a more energy-efficient method of wireless data transmission.

Although the idea of transmitting data via the visible light spectrum is not a new one, the development of the light-emitting diode, or LED light, has allowed Professor Haas to create technology that can transfer vast quantities of information across a spectrum 10,000 times wider than the radio frequency spectrum.

Professor Haas’ spatial modulation and SIM/OFDM (subcarrier-index modulation/orthogonal frequency division multiplexing) technologies allow the LED light to modulate at a rate so fast as to be imperceptible to the human eye but which can be picked up by receivers such as smartphone cameras at speeds of hundreds of megabits per second.

“If you use already-installed lighting equipment as an infrastructure”, explains Professor Haas, “we just piggy-back on the existing illumination functionality, and provide additional data communication. It’s data communication through illumination; two functionalities combined”.

“Our technology even works if you dim down the lights to a level where it appears to be off. You can still transmit data, so even during daylight it can work in buildings, so there’s a big energy-saving advantage.”

Visible Light Communication also has the added advantage that it can be used in areas where RF wireless communications are not permitted, such as in hospitals or in chemical plants or on oil rigs.

“Wireless communications is not available is hospitals. It’s not available in airplanes. However, there are many lights installed in hospitals, and there are many lights installed in an aircraft cabin. And even underwater, where radio frequency communication doesn’t work, light propagates underwater.”

Since radio frequencies penetrate walls, they are easy to intercept. For more secure data transmission, VLC could offer an alternative, whereby the data is only shared with whoever it is directed at.

“People with bad intentions can do all sorts of bad things. Light is harder to penetrate through walls and there is only data where there is light. We can see where we send the data to, because we see the light beam. So it’s much easier to control where the data is sent to, and it’s not lost in all directions. It’s a directed wireless transmission, and it is therefore, more secure.”

This strength is, in another sense, a weakness, as VLC can only operate where light can shine, and lacks the all-pervasiveness of radio frequency WiFi. For this reason, Professor Haas does not see it as a replacement for existing WiFi technology, but rather as an accompaniment.

“It is a complementary solution to the classical WiFi situation. Go in to a hotel at certain times and people are all using the WiFi in the hotel, it is painfully slow, it doesn’t work because there is only limited frequency spectrum.

“If you use light you can relieve some of the over-used spectrum so that in total there’s more data transmitted, so it’s complementing the RF. But we have these additional environments, underwater, intrinsically safe environments, hospitals and so on, where RF doesn’t work or isn’t allowed, but light would be workable there.”

Speeds have been recorded in lab environments of up to 500mb/s but Professor Haas is more concerned with test results garnered in real-life conditions
“If you record a number then you need to say what are the underlying conditions? What is the energy you invested? Is the room dark? Or, does it work in ambient light situations?

“At the moment we can run a practical demonstration in ambient light conditions with 100mb/second.

“We have unique technology which we call spatial modulation and SIM/OFDM, with that technology we achieved 600mb/sec theoretically. That’s what we’re developing now and we can even see a data rate of up to 1Gb, under practical, realistic situations, rather than artificial lab conditions”.

Light bulbs are all around us, and Professor Haas believes the essential infrastructure is in place for incorporating VLC, or “LiFi”, as it has been dubbed.

“You take the light bulb, we would integrate our technology which is a chip and a little bit of analog circuitry, very simple analog circuitry as compared to WiFi, because we don’t have an antenna. It’s analog circuitry and a digital chip that needs to be fitted to the light bulb. It’s not a major operation. The infrastructure’s already there.”

Professor Haas has been running a proof of concept project, funded by the Scottish Government for the previous eighteen months, and at the moment is developing a pre-production prototype which he hopes to have ready by the end of the year.

“Hopefully we will find a pilot customer, school, hotel, or private enterprise where we can install our technology in the first half of next year and after the middle of next year we will be able to have the technology available in a larger scale.”

Main picture: “Copyright (c) Peter Tuffy, The University of Edinburgh”