A Selection of Interviews from the StartApp Competition

On the 3rd and 4th of June in Belfast and Dublin respectively, Irish Startups were given the chance to pitch their products at StartApp Competition. A group of VCs and investors were brought over from the United States to view their presentations in a Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank scenario.

Phil McNamara (in blue shirt on left) emceeing the presentations during the StartApp Competition at the Wayra in Dublin. A similar event took place in Belfast the previous day.

Tom M: Why are we dong this? Why are we here?

Phil M: We are doing this because we love helping startups and it’s also good for business. What
Voxpro
does is help U.S. companies that are expanding and growing in Europe. We help them with their contact centres in Ireland. We also love working with other startups. Big startups like Google and Airbnd and Nest…
What we are doing here is we’re encouraging U.S. investors to come to Ireland, meet with some of the best Irish startups and then enjoy kite-surfing in Achill Island, in the West of Ireland.

Tom M: Kite-surfing, is that what they get at the end of all this? Can you give us a sense of the temperature of the event? How it’s going down? What’s the response been like?

Phil M: So, it’s going really, really well. We are sold out completely in the event in Achill Island. We’ve had a lot of really, really good startups apply. We’ve had over 200 startups apply from all over Ireland — both North and South. So it’s an all Ireland event.

We had a winner announced in Belfast last night — which was Plotbox. And we are in the midst of the startup event here in Dublin in Wayra. And we are looking at some very hot startups now.

So, people are really excited about it. They are very interested in the prize. The prize is a very, very good one. it’s a month’s accommodation with Airbnb in San Francisco. We’ll give them mentoring. We’ll give them introductions to VCs. We’ll also give them car hire to use, a phone, introductions to Y Combinator, to all the biggest startups and three months in RocketSpace. So it’s a really, really good prize.

Tom M: I can see why you would do this for fun. Because it’s obviously entertaining to have all these people together in one room discussing their projects. But on a more serious note, do these Irish companies really need this sort of help or encouragement or invitation?

Phil M: I really think they do. It’s really, really tough to build a global brand out of Ireland and by having them encourage them to come to the U.S., especially Silicon Valley, they’ll get access to more capital, they’ll get access to more customers. It’s a much, much easier place to do business. it’s more competitive but it’s a really, really good thing to be able to pull them out of here for a couple of weeks or a few months…explore Silicon Valley, help them to see there’s a huge market out there and get them thinking in a more Silicon Valley way.

Clare Fitzpatrick is the Financial Controller of Wayra in Dublin

Tom M: What do all these people do here normally?

Clare F: Normally, we have ten startups in here and they come in for a period of nine months. We put them through an incubator program. We invest in them and take a share in them.

And then, before that they get mentoring, they get access to the Telefonica markets and so they get to pitch their projects into the Telefonica corporate, if they’re fit.

They spend nine months here. Over that period they, I guess, grow. We support them with individual support depending on what they need. They would also benefit from being part of the eco-system and learning from each other over that period.

Tom M: Do these products have to be destined for telecommunications?

Clare F: No, not necessarily, we have a very wide range of products from fashion apps to fashion supply chain software…
OptiWi-Fi which would be one which…actually puts wi-fi structure in…but it’s not restricted to that at all.

Tom M: Why do we need something like this? What prompted people to start it?

Clare F: I suppose Telefonica saw a need for innovation and to be in that space and, I suppose, to gain from startups. As in, we take a share of them. Why not be a part of that? If a startup can get a corporate like Telefonica to sign up as a customer it gives them validation moving forward.

They only need one — they make that big sale to corporate and then they can use that as validation to move forward.

But, believe me, it’s a commercial, it’s a commercial reason to be in it too.

Tom M: Engineers and startup people tend to not be the most financially attuned so what would people have to do to prepare for coming here or to prepare to launch their own app?

Clare F: I guess, from a financial perspective they are savvy enough. They mightn’t know the detail but they are savvy enough. They need to have cash coming in, in order to have cash coming out.

I think they need to understand the speed at which the money goes and then understand how necessary it is to get it in. So that’s the balance they all need to achieve.

Neal O’ Gorman (on the right in the picture) who along with his Co-Founder, Eric Risser (on the left) were the winners of this year’s StartApp competition

Tom M: And the winner today is a happily smiling Neal O’ Gorman from…

Neal: Artomatix

Tom M: And what is Artomatix?

Neal: Artomatix is solving the problem that art creation costs too much and takes too long, particularly in the video games and movie industries. We solve it by automating, semi-automating the creation of art based on the examples that artists have created.

So, we solve an industry problem by solving an artist’s problem. Artists are creating pieces of art that aren’t very creative. They start with something creative but then they have to iterate, and iterate and iterate.

And we’re saving the drudgery or pain…We are optimising, we are insuring they are more efficient with their time.

Tom M: So who are your customers?

Neal: Our customers are video game developers and movie studios along with art out-sourcing companies. Particularly in Asia, there’s a bunch of companies that have a very large number of artists whose sole job is creating new art…

Tom M: You were here in a Dragon’s Den or a Shark’s Tank pitching away today, how was it? Would it be something you’d recommend to other startups?

Neal: It’s part and parcel of being in the startup world. For me it was a little bit easier. My Co-Founder who’s the more natural presenter presented. But if you’re not comfortable presenting and pitching you shouldn’t be here.

Tom M: What are you going to do when you get to San Francisco?

Neal: For us, lots of the game developers and movie studios are there so we will be talking to investors but we’ll also be talking to customers too.

The interview with Bill Tai took place after a speech he gave at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin at a reception following the StartApp Competition which took place in Belfast and Dublin at the beginning of June.

Tom M: Why have you come to Ireland?

Bill T: I am here for a couple of reasons. One is, as I mentioned, startups are blossoming all over the world. And I have heard so many great things about the startup entrepreneur, the quality of startups and start up entrepreneurs in this area that I wanted to come out.

And Phil McNamara, he’s a good, dear friend and he’s been so high on what’s happening here he just convinced me I really needed to come out and give it a look myself and look for interesting investing opportunities. Along with that, of course, is quite a healthy contingent of kite-boarders in this part of the world and everyone who knows me knows that I love to kite-board. And I wanted to check out Achill Island as well.

So, in combination with the StartApp Competition we are doing a Mai Tai gathering in Achill Island.

Tom M: So how do the startups compare with startups you see back in the States?

Bill T: Ah, well, you know they are pretty comparable. What’s been happening in the States – the trend line has been for the average age of entrepreneurs to be coming down year after year. So, what that’s done has created a sort of normalising effect around the world. Where it used to be fifteen or twenty years ago if you were doing something in hardware you needed somebody that was sort of on their fourth generation of product at a well established company because they knew the subtleties of what those are.

What’s happening now is you really need to look for people that are young enough that they don’t know any better, and they think things should be a certain way and they’re not, so they set out to do that.

And what that’s down is, kind of, allow young people everywhere in the world, they don’t have to be young but oftentimes it is the younger people who are a little more disruptive in their thinking because they don’t understand why the existing infrastructure is the way it is.

So, I think the startups are not that different.

Tom M: You spoke about disruption there and there are a lot of Irish companies that are very similar companies so where do you see the gaps? Where should Irish companies be looking to develop ideas?

Bill T: As I mentioned, I think there is a lot to be done on interesting web services that can be delivered by mobile that are very low friction to access. I think that all the kinds of existing things what we’ve seen that are pervasive behaviours, whether they’re communications through messaging and email, to ways to shop, to ways to access financial date or whatever you want to do.

Those are areas that are constantly evolving with every generation of people and the mechanism for delivery, because it’s gone mobile so quickly, has just created new opportunity sets for a lot of people.

So, I think those are kinds of things that are, kind of, happening now. I think as we go forward, data science is going to become more and more important because the companies that are the winners in their respective segments of the web are the ones that understand their data and understand what’s happening with their users because they are recording, and measuring and analysing.

And that type of applied data science is going to move from just the web world, where it is predominately, to every type of business that is a bricks and mortar business on the planet.

So, I think there is an enormous wave of opportunity there.

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