Enterprise Ireland holds its Start-Up Showcase event in Croke Park today, which will be attended by over 600 companies, investors and representatives of the start-up ecosystem.
Enterprise Ireland, the state agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish companies in global markets, invested €31m in Irish start-ups last year. It also supported 181 highly promising start-up companies, 55% of which were based outside of Dublin.
Start-ups supported by Enterprise Ireland last year included 90 new High Potential Start-Ups (HPSU). These are start-up businesses with the potential to create 10 jobs and €1m in sales within three to four years of starting up.
91 new Competitive Start Funds (CSF), which inject critical early stage funding into new businesses, were also started. Enterprise Ireland noted that 67 investments were in female-led start-ups - amounting to 35% of all start-up investments while 15 spin-out companies also came from the third-level sector.
Meanwhile, 18 investments were made in overseas entrepreneurs who have moved to Ireland to establish their businesses.
One of the companies to have received funding during the year was iKydz, which has developed a device that plugs into a home internet connection to give parents greater control over what their children are doing online.
According to Jason Sheehy, who is chief financial officer at iKydz, the issue has become a big topic in Ireland lately but it is also a problem worldwide. "The problem with child online safety is a global issue," he said. "We've developed a suite of products that allow parents to simply control and manage what their kids see and do online and we've also extended that to mobile platforms."
The company is also rolling out the device to schools as it tries to offer protection at all of the potential points of contact between children and the internet. "We believe that you have to start with our most vulnerable in society, which are our national schools," Mr Sheehy said.
There are many software-based solutions on the market, while many manufacturers are beginning to add parent controls to their devices from day one - making it a very competitive market to enter. However Mr Sheehy says that their solution offers better protection than others, as it is far harder for children or teenagers to get around. "Like any software solution, any savvy kid can actually get around it quite easily by uninstalling them," he said. "Our solution provides a safe network within the home - it's a device that plugs directly into your router. That allows the parent to manage all the devices that are connected to that router - so if a kid uninstalls it, they have no internet access," he explained.
Mr Sheehy believes that the scale and spread of the issue offers them a potential for growth in Ireland but also around the world and the company is preparing to take a very international step in the weeks ahead as part of that. "With Enterprise Ireland's assistance we're in Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of this month where we're going to unveil a ground-breaking product," he said. "We're also working with large telecoms and international telecoms in North Africa, Malta and Europe, and they see this as an issue. They haven't developed the solutions and we're partnering with them to offer those solutions," he added.
Another one of the companies backed by Enterprise Ireland last year was Coroflo, which has developed a high tech breastfeeding sensor. This will allow breastfeeding mothers to accurately monitor the amount of milk their baby is getting - in real time via a mobile app. Rosanne Longmore is CEO of Coroflo and she said that critically low rates of breastfeeding make this a very useful product for people in many countries.
"Scientific research continues to show the significant benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby and because of this the World Health Organisation recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first six months," she said. "However we are in the midst of a breastfeeding crisis with Europe having the lowest rates in the world and Ireland amongst the lowest," she added.
Currently just 13% of mothers hit that six month target and Ms Longmore said she believes a large reason for that low number is due to the lack of information that is available on the process. Those feeding their baby formula are able to see and accurately measure exactly how much is being consumed, but current methods to do the same for breastmilk are extremely inaccurate. The Coroflo device aims to remedy that, attaching a small sensor to a nipple shield which can track the flow of milk while a baby is feeding. This is then transmitted wirelessly to the cloud and can be monitored in real time through a smartphone app.
"It looks and feels like a standard shield that are available in all pharmacies, however ours contains a highly accurate micro flow sensor," she said. "The mother can see in real time, accurately and precisely just how much her baby is getting."
Of course the market is already flooded with countless gadgets and gizmos for new parents, with each one promising to solve all of the challenges that come with a young baby. However Ms Longmore believes that their product has a strong enough use case to make it stand out from a noisy crowd. "Ours is a patented technology, it's revolutionary, there is currently no way of accurately measuring milk-flow in a clinical or domestic environment," she said.
The company also hopes that its device will help scientists to better understand the factors that can impact breastfeeding to help make mothers better informed into the future. "Our research partners are a leading Dublin university and a maternity hospital and they, this year, will start to use the Coro in research studies that will examine external factors that impact milk supply," she said. "Aside from our business aims we hope that this will add to the academic body of knowledge that's available," she added.