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
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.

Technology Voice Podcast Episode 11-“Big Brother is Manipulating You”

00:00 Start
00:13 Introductions: John Breslin @johnbreslin
Marie Boran @pixievondust
Jack Harty ie.linkedin.com/pub/jack-harty/15/92b/1b9
Andrii Degeler @shlema
Fergal Gallagher @gallagherfergal
Tom Murphy @tom_murphy
01:23 Credit FlirtFM @flirtfm wwww.flirtfm.ie
01:43 Facebook – Unethical Experimentation
10:50 Social Mirror http://www.thersa.org/fellowship/news/rsa-launches-tablet-application,-social-mirror
12:54 Youtube Fan Funding http://www.forbes.com/sites/jaymcgregor/2014/06/27/youtube-announces-60fps-video-fan-funding-and-new-music-show/

16:08 Teaching unions ban coding to be taught in Irish Schools due to bigger fight about Junior Cycle reform.

22:09 Interview with Leigh Graves Wolf – Progam Director of Master of Arts and Educational Technology
#GREAT14 NUI Galway, New Engineering Building, July 15 1pm-4pm

Save the Date! #GREAT14 Galway, Ireland July 15, 2014

30:26 Aereo Loses case https://www.aereo.com

37:27 Yo! http://www.justyo.co

40:54 StartApp Competition report http://www.startappcompetition.com
Phil McNamara – Voxpro http://www.voxprogroup.com/news/
Clare Fitzpatrick – Wayra http://ie.wayra.org/en/academia/dublin
Neal O’Gorman – Artomatix http://artomatix.com/about
Bill Tai – VC http://about.me/billtai

50:14 Tech Finance with Jack Harty
Cash Burn
CEO vs Non-Executive Director
Difference between Cash & Profits http://www.investopedia.com/articles/analyst/03/122203.asp

60:51 Amazon’s Firefly http://gizmodo.com/firefly-lets-fire-phone-scan-just-about-anything-and-bu-1592717776

61:00 Startup Galway – http://startupgalway.org

62:00 Wrap up and thank yous

Technology Voice – Episode 10

00:00:11 Introduction

  • John Breslin @johnbreslin,
  • Fergal Gallagher @gallagherfergal
  • Marie Boran @pixievondust
  • Andrii Degeler @shlema
  • Tom Murphy @tom_murphy
  • and Jack Harty

00:02:08 Pocket Anatomy http://www.pocketanatomy.com
00:06:42 Antivirus-Symantec http://symantec-norton.com
00:10:58 Watson – Debate Function http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson/
Monty Python Argument Clinic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNy3ld_1OXo
00:13:21 Vkontakte http://vk.com
00:19:10 John discussing opportunity for European social network.
00:20:12 Ali Baba Sale http://www.alibaba.com
00:23:13 Biz Stone Part One http://jelly.co
00:30:40 Jack Harty Re: Gately & Cunningham “The Contributions and Disconnections Between Writing a Business Plan and the Start-Up Process for Incubator Technology Entrepreneurs”
00:44:16 eCars http://www.esbecarsblog.ie
00:49:51 3D printing pen http://the3doodler.com
00:52:41 Smart Bikes
00:55:00 Neuromorphic Chips http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/526506/neuromorphic-chips/
00:57:11 Oculus Rift Finance http://www.oculusvr.com
00:59:54 Battery Charger http://www.store-dot.com
01:04:10 Biz Stone Part Two http://jelly.co
01:10:48 Rails Girls Galway http://railsgirls.com/galway
01:11:27 StartApp Competition http://www.startappcompetition.com
01:12:54 End Show
01:13:24 End Music

Episode #9: Apps-tention

Hosts: John Breslin, Tom Murphy and Fergal Gallagher.
Special guest: Jack Harty

News on tax breaks for startups from our New York correspondent. Show also includes discussion on Trustev, Carplay, Pebble, WhatsApp, Microsoft, Project Siena, GoldieBlox, Tether Cell, Blackphone and Phonebloks.

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

Technology Voice is brought to you by Cinema Listings Ireland, available now from the Google Play store.

Running time: 60:00

00’10” Introduction
01’05” FlirtFM Acknowledgement
01’22” Fergal Gallagher in New York http://startup.ny.gov/
08’53” Rochester Institue of Technology
10’10” Capital Gains Tax Ireland
11’10” Shutterstock
11’45” Trustev
13’10” Carplay
16’00” Apps-tention
17’53” Pebble
18’30” WhatsApp
26’05” Stephen Howell: Academic Engagement Manager at Microsoft
30’10” Project Siena
32’06” Jack Harty
51’10” Cool Tech
Tether Cell
52’43” Blackphone
54’21” Phonebloks
56’04” Outro
56’42” End
60’00” End of Music.

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

Episode #8: Wearables, Wifi & Wii U

Hosts: John Breslin, Marie Boran and Tom Murphy.

Facebook response to Princeton, Google acquisitions, DeepMind, Nest Technologies, iRobot, Internet of Things, Google[x] Loon, Nintendo Wii U, Samsung, Android, Eurapp, Startup Galway, Startup Digest,
Entrepreneur of the Year, Engineer’s Week, Apps4gaps, Apple 1984, CES – Wearable Devices, and Shimmer

Download or subscribe to this show at technologyvoice.com/show.

For additional show notes, visit the full page for this episode.

Technology Voice is brought to you by Cinema Listings Ireland, available now from the Google Play store.

Running time: 48:47

00’09” Introduction
01’18” Acknowledgement: FlirtFM
01’46” Facebook response to Princeton
08’41” Google acquisitions
08’50” DeepMind http://deepmind.com
10’25” Nest Technologies https://nest.com
12’50” iRobot http://www.irobot.com/global/ga-ie/
14’15” Internet of Things
15’50” Google[x] Loon http://www.google.com/loon/
18’42” Nintendo Wii U http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu
22’55” Samsung http://www.samsung.com/ie/#latest-home
24’35” Android
25’16” Privacy & apps
26’33” Eurapp http://eurapp.eu
30’49” Startup Galway http://startupgalway.org
32’33” Startup Digest https://www.startupdigest.com/digests/galway
33’00” Upcoming Events
33’04” Ernest & Young, EoY http://www.eoy.ie
33’25” Engineer’s Week http://www.engineersweek.ie/events-2014/
33’53” Apps4gaps http://www.apps4gaps.ie
38’38” Apple 1984
42’30” CES – Wearable devices
47’47” Shimmer http://www.shimmersensing.com
48’47” End

Special thanks to Flirt FM http://www.flirtfm.ie
Intro/outro music is “Alone But Not Lonely” by Stefan Ternemar http://archive.org/details/mtk121
Queries and suggestions to editor@technologyvoice.com
Visit our website at http://technologyvoice.com
Follow us on Twitter @technologyvoice http://twitter.com/technologyvoice

World Backup Day

For the third year running we have World Backup Day. A simple idea originally posited on Reddit and one that we all know makes sense. Nobody wants to wake up a fool on April Fool’s Day.

Not much to say on the matter really that people don’t already know and have usually learned the hard way. So, lick the last of the Easter egg chocolate off your fingers on the Bank Holiday weekend. Go plug in your external hard drive or connect to your Cloud storage service of choice and transfer away.

I backup to both a local hard drive and a number of cloud based services. I use Dropbox, Amazon, Skydrive and Google Docs for two reasons.

One is that the free tiers of these services don’t offer enough space for everything so I have to split storage up, usually by category.

And two, I am still uneasy about committing a) really personal stuff or b) really valuable stuff to folks who whose business is to make money out of people’s personal likes and dislikes.

I refer to them collectively as my Cloudbase to remind myself of my view of the operators as having the possibility of being got at by the Mysterons.

But whether it is a hard disk in front of me or somewhere out there in Serverland be sure to keep your data safe.

Personal story: I lost all the pictures of my son both as a new born and over the following first week of his life due to my laptop going kaput. Ten years later and the memory of discovering their disappearance still sickens. (Mercifully, I shared a few copies with relatives which I had hard copied in those pre-Facebook days but that only amounts to three photographs.)

An Irish Smartphone – Why Not?

Plato wrote about Socrates wandering around Athens questioning assumptions and challenging complacent thinking and conventionally held views. (It didn’t end well.) Over the last few months in my own very minor way I have been wandering around asking myself and the odd person here and there — Is it possible to build an Irish smartphone?

It wasn’t a survey where I had people ticking boxes. It was just an idea I floated into the conversation every now and then. I was curious to know whether others, or even I, thought it could or couldn’t be done.

The engineering knowledge already exists to build a smartphone. All the hard grind has been done. Although, it is still by no means an easy task — if you take a few minutes to watch John Breslin’s video, “Lecture 2: Systems, Plugged In” you can’t help but marvel at the amount of things that have to happen in such a tiny space and the nature of the components needed — but it is a knowable task.

Aside from resolving patent issues, either by licensing or innovation, there are no major R&D costs. Manufacturing is undoubtedly a challenge but there are companies around the world that specialize in the volume production of the needed components. Assembly tends to be handled separately from manufacture and the location for that part of the process is determined mostly by labour costs and access to transport.

So making an Irish smartphone, while difficult and challenging, is far from impossible. There are no wheels to invent.

But that is just the fabrication of the smartphone. We now have this great device made of the finest materials able to run the software apps that most users would use frequently, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. (What apps do you use? Let us know at podcast@technologyvoice.com. I am very curious now that I have brought the subject up. The Podcast app gets the most use on my phone.)

The next stage is to sell it.

The first step of getting the device into a customer’s hand is to tell them that you have it in the first place so it has to be marketed.

Oh, goodness, not that black box of nonsense.

Marketing seems to be an anathema to many of those who think of themselves as practical sorts who deal daily with quantitive realities. After all it took an extraordinary amount of very hard, concrete thinking and experimentation to make the device a reality, introducing intangible and unquantifiable attributes such as branding and the creation of customer desire for the product seems like being dropped into a room full of smoke and mirrors with only magical thinking to guide you to the exit.

This is a terrible, self-defeating error. Marketing is not something separate to innovation and development. It is just as integral to the process of making ideas a reality as the first sketch on a napkin or in notebook.

So, as makers of a device that has the same quality standards and functionality as any other smartphone out there, but lovelier to look at and easier to use, we now have to get into the hands of customers.

First of all would they want it? Well we know the market for smartphones is growing. Over a billion have been sold already and that figure is expected to double by 2015. Clearly, people want them. More importantly, we know they will want more in the future. So there is plenty of room to expand.

What about competitors? All we know is that they exist but also that they come and go. It is not a static marketplace. Just before the start of the smartphone era mobile phone use was essentially divided up between Nokia in the domestic market and the Blackberry for business. Eighteen months ago Apple was predominant and HTC was the alternative of choice.

Now we have a situation where Apple is no longer the leading player in smartphone sales. Samsung now shares (for the time being) the number one spot. HTC has faded away, Nokia is down but not dead and Research In Motion (Blackberry) are promising to reignite their sales efforts with a new product.

Essentially, no one owns the market. There is no monopoly to overcome. No absolute deterrent to participation.

After discounting all the other factors involved in making or selling a phone we are left with financing the initial stages of product development. Engineering and the marketing factors are well known and therefore R&D costs are minimal but it would still take a chunk of change to get to the stage where one could plant one’s studs in the grass.

But even then, considering that no original or very little original research work has to be done, what is really needed is a team of highly organised managers that are solely devoted to the development of a system of creation and delivery that are as competitively efficient as any other manufacturer.

Ireland has some of the best managerial talent in the world. Just by looking at the names listed in company reports in the US and UK, executive ability seems to be one of our more successful exports. Lack of ability isn’t a barrier.

I acknowledge that to many people this seems silly and impossible and, of course, they will have all sorts of good reasons why that may be so and they are right. But they would be missing the point.

If, on paper anyway, it is possible that we can contend favourably in the global market for smartphones then by the same logic we can participate in any technology-based global market.

Just a reminder that we are going to put out a podcast in a couple of weeks time (TBA) and we would love to have you send in comments, suggestions, questions, points for debate to our good selves at podcast@technologyvoice.com. Look forward to seeing what you send.

Shamrock image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Thomas Gun