The next generation of Irish business high flyers tell of their big ambitions for the future
The Healy O’Connor sisters – who both previously worked for Goldman Sachs – co-founded Xelda, an easy-to-use payments engine and finance operating system for SMEs.
It is backed by US venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and the founders of Irish unicorn Flipdish.
“SMEs suffer from a ‘swivel chair experience’ when it comes to payments and operations,” says CEO India. “Xelda streamlines these processes into a single platform that is faster, cheaper and slicker than anything else on the market. We hail from a large family of SMEs and have seen first hand the problems they face.
“We spent several years on the Goldman Sachs sales and trading floor, where we had seconds to make decisions that could make or lose millions,” she says.
“This has provided us with a fantastic mindset when it comes to making big decisions. We also leverage Jeff Bezos’s ‘regret minimisation framework’.”
Xelda plans to launch in Europe, the UK and the US. “Our goal is to become a global multi-billion dollar company,” says India.
Mark Hughes (28)
Mark Hughes felt pressure to join one of the big four accounting firms after college, but he wanted to work at a startup. He joined Intercom, but eventually felt it was time to go down another path – starting his own business. He hasn’t looked back since.
Hughes is already making waves in the world of tech through Gradguide, a career events, mentorship and recruitment platform that bridges the employment gap between college and companies.
The Dublin-based company raised €2m in April 2021 from serial entrepreneur Terry Clune’s CluneTech Group. The funding helped Hughes bring the venture full-time, with it already securing an “exciting” exit.
“I can’t wait to see how the business does under a larger company with more investment behind it to grow the team and product features,” he says.
“The main challenge for a young entrepreneur is less life experience,” Hughes added. “In building a startup, I learned from mistakes every day, and that’ll stand to me in the future.
“I’m fortunate to have a good network of mentors myself – all successful entrepreneurs older than me – and I can learn from their past mistakes, which is incredibly valuable.”
Keilidh Cashell (26)
During the depths of a Covid lockdown, makeup artist Keilidh Cashell decided it was time to chase the dream – and launch her own brand Kash Beauty.
“Makeup is a luxury that everyone loves to indulge in. It boosts people’s confidence and makes them feel great about themselves. So even though we weren’t allowed to go anywhere, people wanted to feel good for themselves – which is the main thing anyway!”
The brand, based in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is now available in 96 outlets across Ireland – including Brown Thomas, Arnotts, and Boots – and has a strong international presence through online sales, selling to 70 countries worldwide.
Building a leading international makeup brand is the plan for Cashell. With over 560,000 followers on Instagram, her work speaks for itself.
“I just want to make Kash the biggest it can be. I want it to be a brand that people trust and come back to, because they’re guaranteed to get quality products that make them feel beautiful!”
Diana Hrisovescu (19)
When Diana Hrisovescu came to Ireland from Romania as a 14 year old, her family faced an immediate language barrier.
“Nobody in my family understood English. It was an extremely difficult time for me. My brother has ADHD and an intellectual disability, so helping him access mental health services through English was vital,” she says.
Hrisovescu learned English in just three months, helping her family through those difficult early days. Out of that experience came the idea for Script – an app to support non-English speakers access State support in their native language.
She has worked on the idea since she was a fifth-year student. It now enables immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, minority groups and any Irish citizen to digitally access government support in a language they understand.
“We currently have Romanian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish and Portuguese, and we are looking for further funding to be able to implement more languages and more forms faster,” she says.
Lia Cowan (27)
Bold designs that grab attention are helping Lia Cowan and her Dublin-based fashion business LIA stand out from the crowd.
Cowan’s fashion pieces include layered, statement dresses and hairbands. She describes her pieces as both “sculptural and modular”, meaning they can be worn in a number of ways – creating multiple looks in one purchase.
“The concept of modular design came from my love of performative movement,” she said. “I was really interested in the idea of the pieces being able to move freely around the body, allowing the wearer to play and experiment with their looks.”
Covid helped give Cowan the time and space to develop her products and bring the business to where it is now. She is now hoping to find funding and expand in the near future.
Leighton Penrose (24)
The entrepreneurial bug bit Leighton Penrose, who is co-owner and head of strategy at money mentor Paul Merriman’s recently acquired marketing agency Leading Social, early on in life.
From the age of 10, Penrose has been building websites and selling products online. He believes his youth has been an advantage so far.
“When I was really young, between 16 and 18, I thought that it was harder for people to take me seriously – but that hasn’t been an issue over the last five years, as my case studies and experience has become undeniable.
“I’m very grateful for being an entrepreneur this young – I really couldn’t imagine how difficult it might be for somebody aged 35-plus with more responsibilities.”
Penrose is now focusing on growing Leading Social and helping it navigate the upcoming economic turbulence.
“We are spending more time in the war room, thinking about how we can make the most of our current budgets.”
David Hartigan (29)
Historically, hemp, a botanical class of Cannabis sativa, has had many industrial uses. More recently, there has been an explosion in its popularity for the production of cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD.
Hoping to cash in on the green rush is former PwC business consultant David Hartigan, who founded Irish seed-to-shelf hemp company Hemp Heros in 2018. It manufactures a wide range of hemp-based products for humans and pets at its facility in Co Wicklow.
In 2017, Hartigan was helping manage pro fighters in the UFC and Bellator, assisting them with their media and sponsors. He spotted the potential in the industry and hasn’t looked back since.
“Our main priority is to expand into international markets across Europe and the US to reach even more customers. Secondly we want to grow our product range with the launch of our new cosmetics range and drinks.”
Nathan Misischi (28)
Turning waste into something valuable is the aim of the game for Nathan Misischi’s Sensi, and he is hoping he has the tech to make it happen.
Dublin-based Sensi has developed Smart Reverse Vending Machines (SRVMs) for the recently announced Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).
The DRS encourages people to recycle drink containers. It works by charging anyone who buys a drink a small deposit for the plastic bottle or can it comes in. Customers get this money back when they return the container to a retailer or other collection point to be recycled.
“Our immediate focus is on winning a significant percentage of the Irish RVM market,” said Misischi. “Plans beyond that will focus on global markets set to introduce deposit return schemes.”
Sensi is in the process of closing a seed round of investment to continue the scaling and growth of the company.
Brandon Blacoe (26) and Eibhlin O’Riordain (26)
Eibhlin and Brandon were best friends when they were kids and used to play video games together all the time, especially ‘Shrek 2’.
Reconnecting at a gaming jam in 2020, Eibhlin told Brandon about her disability, Ehlers Danlos syndrome. Following an injury at the age of 14 due to her condition, she could no longer play video games for longer than 30 minutes.
Brandon and Eibhlin decided it was time for a solution. Enterprise Ireland-supported Byowave and its Proteus Controller was the result.
“The Proteus Controller is a modular video game controller kit that allows everyone to build their perfect controller. Simply connect components together to create over 100 million controller configurations.”
Galway-based Byowave plans on doing its final test phase early next year, where it will test the Proteus Controller with the largest accessible gaming organisations in the world. It hopes to build out its community before launch at the end of 2023.
Kerri (25) and Alexandra Sheeran (22)
Frustration is often the initial building block of the best ideas, and that was no different for sisters Kerri and Alexandra Sheeran.
Their business Taly Subscriptions, which is supported by Enterprise Ireland, offers consumers the ability to discover and manage their lifestyle subscriptions, across the food, beverage, coffee, health or beauty sectors, at one touch point.
“We came up with the idea as we were both keen subscription shoppers, and we had felt frustrated by the lack of a marketplace to browse subscription offerings and manage them in one place,” said Kerri.
“We also discovered how challenging it is for subscription businesses to be discovered, due to the fact there was no aggregator offering visibility to their products.”
The sisters are daughters of jeweller Paul Sheeran. Taly has also been backed by former chief executive of the car hire software group CarTrawler, Mike McGearty.
Dublin-based Taly has already launched into the UK market, with ambitious plans for the US.
Emmet Lowry (24), Elise Vens (25), Nathan Gaborieau (25)
ECode uses a QR-code-based platform as a way for fashion and clothing businesses to communicate with their customers – via the labels on their clothes.
Co-founder Emmet Lowry believes Ecode will thrive as circular fashion becomes an imperative, with inflation and climate issues accelerating the need for greater durability and repairability in our garments.
ECode, he says, is a transparent tool for people to repair, recycle and resell their clothes.
“Ecode differentiates itself by understanding that SMEs lack internal resources to tackle the transition towards circularity. It is easy to use, easy to operate, barrier-free – and has added value for both the brand and the end consumer.”
This past year has been a big year for ECode. It won Trinity College’s Launchbox accelerator programme – a hotbed of startup talent – and received funds to help it develop a prototype. It is currently pursuing additional funding from government and VC firms.
Peadar Kenny (22), Adam Farrell (22), Liam Junkermann (21)
Imprint Esports analyses esports player data to generate player insights and compile player ratings.
It partners with entertainment companies, fantasy betting companies, and esports teams themselves, supplying them with player data specific to their use case, to help enhance their service.
“During the pandemic one thing that remained constant for us was gaming,” says co-founder Peadar Kenny. “It allowed us a social outlet while adhering to the lockdown rules. As our love for this sector grew, so did our knowledge of the industry and some of the problems that exist within it.”
The company initially focused on using data to aid player recruitment before broadening its focus.
“In the next few months we plan to complete support for our first esports game, ‘Dota 2’, and begin providing our data to esports stakeholders that are active within that game. Further game support, including for ‘Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’ and ‘League of Legends’, will follow,” he says.
Marion Cantillon (24)
Limerick agtech innovator Marion Cantillon has created Pitseal, an edible biofilm to cover silage pits that currently are covered with plastic sheeting and waste tyres.
The spray-on solution forms a matrix on the top layer of grass in the pit that seals – and it can support a farmer’s weight. It is made from a seaweed combination that reduces methane levels in cattle after consumption.
“During winter, cows eat the film as part of their silage feed, resulting in a no-waste silage procedure,” says Cantillon.
At UCC she had investigated the impact edible food packaging was having in retail, reducing single-use plastics.
“When my uncle slipped on wet plastic and broke his leg, it prompted me to consider developing a better solution for covering silage pits that would reduce plastic and emissions.”
Cantillon is also developing a similar solution to wrap bales, and has received a great deal of interest from farms in New Zealand and the US.
Luke Rynne Cullen (25)
Songholder enables music fans to buy shares in their favourite artist’s releases, and to get a royalty as a dividend. Founder Luke Rynne Cullen initially developed a live music booking product while working as a freelance violinist.
“I was also managing Trinity Orchestra while doing the festival circuit, and I believed there should be a marketplace to find and book musicians with ease.”
He wanted to support emerging artists with recording, production and promotion costs.
“The rise of influencer marketing made me realise the power in giving fans ‘skin in the game’. New technologies in smart contracts and royalty splits made it possible to provide musicians with some much-needed liquidity.”
Songholder has been entirely bootstrapped and relies on customer revenue but is planning a seed round next year.
“We will also explore establishing a fund to acquire catalogues, invest in emerging artists, and enable investors to spread out investments across an index of releases.”
Aisling Kavanagh (26)
Aisling Kavanagh Design
Aisling Kavanagh grew up with a love of good design and the deeply held belief that good handmade clothing has a timeless quality.
From that starting point, the Grafton Academy of Fashion Design graduate has built a handmade fashion accessory business – making everything from hairpieces to bags, and her pieces are now much sought after by Irish celebrities.
“I’m all about dopamine dressing – mood-boosting dressing, drenched in colour. Pieces that spark joy,” she recently told Image magazine.
“It’s all about dialling it up and adopting a ‘more is more’ approach. I want to forget about the stresses of the daily grind and just have fun.”
But Aisling Kavanagh Design is growing into a fashion business to be reckoned with. It began very organically on social media, creating a place where Aisling would share her creations with friends. She now has 17,000 followers on Instagram, won Irish Fashion Designer of the Year 2022, and has worked with a range of well-known designers – such as Umit Kutluk, Paul Costelloe and Jill de Burca.
Karl O’Brien (26)
Karl O’Brien wants to build the operating system for the e-commerce sector with his new start-up StoreHero.
“E-commerce usage has exploded – but with multiple sales and marketing channels, it’s really difficult to get a central view of what’s actually happening,” O’Brien said.
StoreHero, founded this year, is building a suite of tools to give online sellers a bird’s-eye view of their operations while not being “overly complex”.
The economic slowdown and its effect on online shopping is on top of O’Brien’s mind. He says StoreHero can be a vital resource for sellers in making sense of their data and customers in a difficult market.
“Costs across the entire supply chain are skyrocketing – so e-commerce brands need to ensure their campaigns are dialled in and profitable.”
StoreHero, which was co-founded by Thomas Gleeson, has been bootstrapped to date but is currently raising its pre-seed round.
Clare Meskill (26)
Clare Meskill is a speech and language therapist who has developed an app to help patients with Parkinson’s to manage their progress at home.
Teleatherapy assists patients in carrying out voice therapies in between appointments, monitored by their therapists. According to Meskill, this helps patients keep active with their therapies when not physically with a specialist.
“I realised a lot of patients needed motivation and assistance to complete home therapy. In addition to this, with the challenge of resources in the healthcare system, there were often long wait times between appointments where patients would lose motivation,” she said.
There are around 12,000 people in Ireland with Parkinson’s disease.
Waterford native Meskill set up Teleatherapy in 2020. She completed the Ignite start-up programme and has raised some initial funding from investors.
As a new year beckons, Meskill envisions expanding Teleatherapy in international markets and applying the app’s functions to other conditions.
Andrew Gallagher (27) & Stephen Keenan (28)
Stephen Keenan and Andrew Gallagher were inspired to set up Filter – a digital therapeutics firm that helps people with chronic lung diseases improve their mental health and wellbeing – after Keenan’s uncle found that he was struggling to manage his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Keenan created a self-management programme for his uncle, and they found it vastly increased his quality of life.
“We originally recreated his plan and made it adaptable to any COPD patient,” Gallagher says. “But we learned during this that patients don’t avail of help, due to their mental health. Since then, we have focused exclusively on the mental health of the patients.”
Filter is a mobile app that delivers cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to ease the anxiety and depression symptoms suffered by people who have conditions such as COPD and asthma.
Gallagher says some 400 million people worldwide suffer from COPD and Filter aims to help one million of them within five years.
Stephen O’Dwyer (25)
TrojanTrack provides biomechanical analysis on racehorses, using a smartphone camera and the type of AI known as deep neural networks.
Creator Stephen O’Dwyer, a UCD biomedical engineering graduate, says it measures small imbalances or deterioration against a horse’s healthy gait, giving the trainer objective data for more informed training decisions.
“Biomechanical analysis companies currently utilise wearable technologies that have to be attached to the horse, which is not feasible in large busy yards. We do the data collection in the time taken for the horse to walk by the camera.”
O’Dwyer had focused on applying the technology to humans for his thesis.
“But from my passion for racehorses, I realised the technology would be much better suited to the horse, as they can’t communicate their injury and generally try to hide them.”
O’Dwyer raised €50,000 from Enterprise Ireland and is planning on raising a €500,000 seed round to build the firm’s tech and marketing teams, with a view to exporting to markets such as the US, Japan and Australia.
James Fahy (21) & Ciara Walsh (20)
James Fahy and Ciara Walsh have created an ethical payments platform that allows customers to tip staff directly through e-payment.
The pair have raised over €500,000 for JUSTTIP with plans for a further raise next year. Legislative changes around tipping have helped drive business. The company has been supported by Enterprise Ireland.
“When a customer wants to leave a tip, they either tap their card off our tip terminal or scan our QR code to tip the staff member. JUSTTIP then splits the tip based on the hours worked or direct to the employee.”
Fahy came up with the idea while sitting in a coffee shop in November 2019 after Covid restrictions had been lifted. He wanted to tip but had no cash, and neither did he trust that the tip would actually go to the staff.
“From this JUSTTIP was born. Myself and Ciara spent seven months building the platform and went live in July 2021 and have since achieved 500,000 transactions.”
Diarmuid O’Dwyer (24) & Conor Beenham (24)
When Covid threatened livelihoods across the arts and entertainment sector, stage manager Diarmuid O’Dwyer and computer scientist Conor Beenham, both from Meath, saw opportunity to create an innovative software management tool for production companies.
“PromptPad offers scheduling and report creation, cast and crew dossiers, expense management – the complete digitisation of the traditional paper-based promptbook created for any stage production,” says Diarmuid O’Dwyer.
But they are not stopping there. O’Dwyer says that their company, Stage Exec Ltd, will become the world’s leading company for disruptive and innovative arts and entertainment technology.
“Our immediate focus is on building a strong brand, launching into the Irish and UK markets, leveraging our existing network of potential customers.
“Subsequently, our focus will be on understanding how PromptPad can be implemented for our larger target market.
“In 10 years, we want to have achieved adoption of PromptPad for TV, film, concerts and music festivals.”
Carla Rosenkranz (27)
Barterchain is a peer-to-peer platform where members can swap their skills and services.
“We’re connecting human gifts with human needs,” says founder Carla Rosenkranz.
“Four years ago I was living in Madrid, working hard as an English teacher but finding myself cash-poor. I was stressed out, and needed the likes of a yoga class, which was something I couldn’t afford.
“I had a lightbulb moment: ‘What if I offer an English class in exchange for yoga?’ – and within a week I was getting yoga, Spanish lessons, massages, and my house cleaned… all through barter.”
The app will hit the Google Play Store on December 15. A seed funding round is planned and Rosenkranz is seeking global as well as local partnerships.
“We’ll be monitoring inflation rates around the globe to help determine this app’s roll out – knowing that in certain places, not only will bartering be trendworthy, it’ll be absolutely necessary.”
Jack Dwyer (25), Luke Fagan (27) & Eoin Le Masney (28)
Vyra provides learning and tools to help firms accelerate sustainable development.
The edtech firm – formed by three Wicklow graduates with a variety of experience – provides curated, industry-approved learning modules to equip businesses with the knowledge to help them reach ambitious net-zero targets.
Vyra counts amongst its clients organisations such as Energia Group, Wayflyer, and &Open, and is actively raising a seed round.
“We have seen the huge knowledge gap between the rate at which climate change is affecting businesses and their ability to adapt to it. They face a variety of challenges, which creates a myriad of opportunities for people who want to work on enhancing sustainability.”
Covid was the catalyst that enabled Vyra go from concept to business – with the company acquiring all its first customers through online channels. “We’re doubling down on learning programmes and content that can help firms drive energy efficiency and reduce costs.”
Aine Kennedy (25)
The Smooth Company
While on social media during the pandemic, Lucan-based entrepreneurship graduate Aine Kennedy noticed videos of women using a toothbrush and gel to achieve a slicked-back look to their hair.
“I thought: ‘There has to be an easier way to do this,’” said Kennedy, who has worked in beauty since she was 16.
Kennedy used the money she’d saved for a deposit on a house to test different formulas, and set up The Smooth Company.
After two years of testing, in February 2022 The Smooth Company launched its product – the Smooth Stick. Kennedy used her social-media nous to generate a buzz about her new product on TikTok. She attracted the attention of department store buyers, and the brand is now stocked at Brown Thomas and Arnotts.
Kennedy is confident she can turn The Smooth Company into a global brand within five to 10 years with new products in the pipeline.
Peter Shannon (27)
Peter Shannon picked up his idea for Simply Social! when he was visiting his brother in Toronto and noticed he was using a social-first digital marketing agency to bring his matcha tea brand to life.
“I felt Dublin lacked this offering – because traditional marketing agencies were offering social-media services, but they lacked the specialty aspect,” he said.
The Dublin-based agency specialises in creating trending short-form videos for brands on TikTok, where it has garnered millions of views for clients such as the Boyne Valley Group, Glanbia, and Manhattan Popcorn. Simply Social!, whose employees are all under the age of 30, has just finished a social-first Christmas campaign for Three Ireland and has worked with electric-car maker Polestar.
Shannon has bootstrapped the company to date and aims to expand into the UK next year. He describes Simply Social! as Ireland’s fastest-growing social-first agency, and wants it to be the largest of its kind in Ireland within five years.
Eoin O’Doherty (21), Eimhin O’Neill (20), Hugo O’Reilly (21), John Huggard (20)
Cloud security startup Netsso aims to save firms thousands of labour hours each year by streamlining document requesting during corporate transactions.
Setup by a group of four Trinity College business students, with assistance from the college’s ideas workspace, Tangent, it uses an end-to-end encrypted platform to ensure maximum security and confidentiality for all parties involved.
“During corporate internships with investment banks and hedge funds, we saw first-hand the inefficiencies in requesting confidential information from clients,” says CEO Eoin O’Doherty. “Analysts and interns waste up to 10 hours per week on mindless document-management tasks.”
Netsso’s bespoke encryption algorithm ensures confidential documents are not seen by the wrong individuals, he says. It will begin rolling out in pilot form in the spring of next year, and is considering raising a substantial seed round in the new year.
“The big picture goal is to automate as many processes in the corporate finance industry as possible, and create the ultimate deal-making platform,” says O’Doherty.
Aideen Kate Murphy (27)
True Beauty by AK
Armed with experience and a significant social-media presence, Aideen Kate Murphy was ready to stand on her own two feet and launch her own company. She just needed a name.
“I’ve been a makeup artist for almost 10 years, so having a makeup brand was always something I wanted,” she said.
“Naming the brand was quite tough, because I wanted it to be something really simple and easy to remember – and I couldn’t think of anything. Then my boyfriend Dave came up with True Beauty – and I loved it straight away.”
Love at first sight, the social-media star started to sell her products online and has just launched across 70 stores around Ireland. Now she is hoping to brush up her makeup brand’s reach with new retail partnerships over the next 12 months.
Fergus Grimes (24)
Travelling in Canada was an unforgettable experience for Fergus Grimes, but one significant frustration emerged – something that many GAA fans face while abroad – finding out the score back home.
Armed with that frustration, Grimes returned to Co Meath and decided to set up Score Beo – an app that provides live scores and lineups for GAA intercounty and club matches. Since its launch just 15 months ago, it has already been downloaded over 80,000 times.
Grimes now has big plans to expand Score Beo’s offering into soccer and rugby, as well as provide more data such as wides and kickouts won. He has self-funded the venture to date, but will seek investment in the future.
He says Covid played a role in the business. “GAA supporters were not allowed to attend matches due to reduced capacity. Supporters were forced to find GAA scores online.”
John O’Sullivan (29) and Conor Ralph (28)
Well. Can’d Water
Inspired by years of working in retail and a desire to produce a more sustainable retail water product, Well. Can’d Water was born.
Co-founders Mark Ralph (who just missed out on the 30Under30 list as he’s slightly too old), Conor Ralph and Bohemian FC player John O’Sullivan started the venture during Covid, with their shared hunger to create a business of their own. The Ralph brothers’ grandfather Gerard opened the first SPAR shop in Ireland in 1963, with The Ralph Group operating a number of outlets nationally.
The economic climate is a challenge though, with the price difference between aluminium and plastic proving hard to justify at times.
“Water historically has been almost a ‘race to the bottom’ when it comes to cost, shifting the attitude is no easy feat!
“In discussions with our suppliers over the last number of months, it is clear there is an unavoidable increase in pricing coming from January.”
Having recently secured distribution across Ireland, Well. Can’d Water has plenty reason for optimism. It is also in discussions with a big broker in the US.
Emma Coffey (21)
Emma Coffey’s love of athletics saw her set up her own sports clothing brand, FinalBend, as a fifth-year student. In 2018, when she had to give up on athletics due to injury, she was able to focus more on the company.
“I felt my athletics journey wasn’t over. It was just on the final bend,” she said.
When lockdowns began and college moved online, Coffey scaled Cork-based FinalBend. She turned to TikTok and began making ‘day in the life’ style videos.
These videos gained traction in early 2020 and FinalBend began to take off, with it moving into a warehouse and building a team.
Looking ahead, Coffey (who has also launched an advertising company called UGC.ie with her sister Orla) is ready to focus on sustainability at FinalBend committing to using recycled materials in new product lines.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Monaghan and Jonathan Keane
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/30-under-30-the-young-guns-of-irish-business-aiming-high-42190876.html 30 under 30: The young guns of Irish business aiming high