Axonista was showcased by Scale Ireland at a recent live event with An Tánaiste, Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar, as an example of a high performance fast scaling technology firm driving export revenue, employment and economic growth for Ireland during COVID-19.

Axonista was delighted to participate in Scale Ireland’s recent online event to discuss “The Role of Indigenous Tech Start-Up & Scale-Up Companies in the Recovery.”

Scale Ireland event

Formed in 2019, Scale Ireland’s purpose is to champion the concerns of indigenous start-ups and scale-ups in the technology sector. Following a year of pandemic restrictions, over 500 participants heard from An Tánaiste, business founders, and Scale Ireland representatives. The panelists discussed opportunities and needs for the sector as we transition into a new phase of recovery.

Start-ups are a central driver of a strong regional economy as well as Irish exports

Entrepreneur, investor and Chair of Scale Ireland, Brian Caulfield, outlined how Scale Ireland represents over 2,000 businesses across the country. This ranges from fast-scaling companies like Axonista and Manno Aero, to MedTech, CleanTech, eCommerce and enterprise software providers. Often located in larger cities and smaller towns outside Dublin, these businesses are a key driver in supporting balanced regional development. Every direct job supports five additional jobs in indirect employment nationally.

As the experiences of Axonista and Manna Aero show, in the midst of Covid-19, the technology sector has clearly demonstrated the value it brings to employment, innovation and as an enabler of society. It does this by showcasing how technology can facilitate everyday life – from retail shopping to food delivery – in new ways. 

Both Claire McHugh from Axonista and Bobby Healy from Manna Aero outlined how the sudden and immediate restrictions brought about by COVID-19 drove increased demand for their services. In fact, Axonista is now expanding beyond the US, and has ten new roles currently available. Ireland has worked hard to attract world-leading FDI companies to its shores. However, panelists stressed the need for a level playing field for indigenous start-ups and scale-ups when accessing benefits that are currently only available to FDI companies. 

Scale Ireland event

A pipeline of talent is an essential requirement for long term success, and a definite need for education and training. Bobby raised the complexity and lack of competitiveness around share incentive schemes, which is a potential lever for talent acquisition and retention. Claire flagged the benefits available to the sector via the R&D Tax Credit scheme, but acknowledged that information and awareness of this opportunity is limited, and can be complex and time consuming to take advantage of. However, a number of recommendations have been made on many of these areas by Scale Ireland in a submission to Government, developed in conjunction with sectoral leaders and representatives. 

Supporting entrepreneurs to recover and grow is high priority

The Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar, delivered a detailed keynote address and praised the ingenuity, adaptability and resilience of Ireland’s entrepreneurs. He commended business leaders who have risen to the challenge of Covid-19. This is despite also having to deal with the effects of Brexit, and the new trading arrangements that entails. 

He summarised the range of policies in place to keep businesses afloat. This includes wage subsidies, restart grants, low cost loans, a commercial rates holiday, lower VAT, pandemic unemployment payments, and Covid restrictions support scheme. He emphasised that his department is constantly looking for additional ways to help businesses to look to the future. Here Varadkar cited the Covid business aid scheme as an example.

We must enable companies not just to recover, but also to grow and to position themselves, to compete for new business opportunities. This work must continue and will continue.

– Leo Varadkar

The Tánaiste also highlighted the continued focus from Enterprise Ireland on high potential start-up businesses. Enterprise Ireland continues to be the largest seed stage investor in all of Europe and the Minister for Finance recently announced an additional €30m in the budget to develop the VC sector. The Tánaiste also mentioned the SME taskforce that he chaired in late 2020 and the subsequent taskforce report, ‘The SME Entrepreneurship and Growth Plan, which was published by government last month. This has given government a clear set of recommendations driven by the business community on how to build the best business and regulatory environment for SMEs and entrepreneurs.

It’s vital to have plans beyond COVID-19. I know that’s difficult at the moment, but we have to have those plans so we can create the optimum long-term business environment for our startups, our scale-ups, and also the entire SME sector.

– Leo Varadkar

Panel Discussion: The Axonista & Manna Aero Experience
Pandemic accelerated and created opportunities for technology businesses

Martina Fitzgerald, CEO of Scale Ireland and former political correspondent with RTÉ, brought her considerable broadcast experience to a productive panel discussion with Claire McHugh and Bobby Healy.

Axonista: Embracing the video shopping opportunity

Claire McHugh explained how Axonista’s market, where the company provides video commerce for media companies, doubled in size last year. Live-streaming ecommerce is worth $130 billion in China alone. Axonista is on track to double its revenue this year, and continues to strengthen its foothold in the US and overseas markets.

We see online evolving from being a place to buy, to being a place to shop. Axonista’s technology platform enables livestream shopping for global brands. We’ve been delivering this for global shopping channels like QVC and the Home Shopping Network since 2015 so we are well positioned to lead the worldwide video commerce market from right here in Ireland.

– Claire Mchugh

“Our business has been export focused from day one, particularly in the US markets. We’re at the stage where the market is coming to us, we are looking for strategic partners for that journey. I welcome the recommendations, particularly on EIIS and exports from the Tánaiste today. We’ve been supported by Enterprise Ireland from day one both at home and internationally. We came through their high potential startup (HPSU) scheme and I particularly want to call out their GradStart programme which supports the hiring of graduates, which is very welcome and helpful.

Covid-19 has accelerated our opportunity for growth – the rise of video viewing, the rise in online commerce, and the rise in the live stream shopping market. So, we are actively recruiting for Design, Engineering, Project Management and Operations roles. We’ve been an early adopter of remote working so all these roles involve working from home, anywhere in Ireland. We compete well on this aspect and also in terms of offering a more hands-on impact to the business rather than being a cog in a large company.

Sustainable Development Opportunity

We aim to be a market leader in the adoption of the UN’s sustainable development goals. We believe that this gives scaling companies a significant competitive advantage. If we are scaling in a responsible way, in a green way, this reflects our values, and allows us to work with the very best.”

Manna Aero: the world leader in drone delivery

Manna Aero is a drone delivery service business that has very ambitious international plans in terms of online food and pharmacy delivery. Having grown from the realisation by Bobby Healy that food delivery service outside Dublin or larger cities wasn’t cost-effective, environmentally friendly or always available, Manna Aero adapted its model to deliver essential food and medicines during lockdown. It is the first company to apply to the Irish Aviation Authority for an EU drone operator certificate and has plans to expand in what Healy has identified as a $250 billion industry.

Like many of my counterparts in the start-up world we don’t see the why not, we see the why. Ireland is the number one country in the world for drone delivery and that’s something that we, as a team, are extremely proud of.

– Bobby Healy 

Bobby Healy has brought his considerable experience as founder of CarTrawler to Manna Aero and the company is on a fast growth track with operations in Wales, Europe and Ireland currently employing 40 people. Whilst the opportunity is huge, he outlined the limitations that can be placed on growth of earlier stage businesses. He spoke of this both in terms of accessing capital funds and hiring skilled employees who are also being approached by FDI-backed companies.

The FDI companies have deeper pockets and better ways to incentivise people. For companies like Manna Aero, we can offer salary and stock but we are at a disadvantage to FDI companies because these are high-risk things. Whilst from our point of view, the US market is the biggest opportunity, we want to be able to do it all from here and build the platform here.

– Bobby Healy

Since going live with trials, Manna Aero has grown to lead the world in drone delivery, providing everything from pharmacy to critical food supplies for some 10,000 residents of one town. 

That’s something we are extremely proud of. It leads me to believe that we could build this technology and produce tens of thousands of aircrafts here in Ireland. And we have plans to expand in Ireland. We want to get another two or three times our size. We also have plans for the US – from our point of view, the USA market is the biggest opportunity and the most cohesive one for us, but we want to do it all from here.
I’m just so optimistic about the future because of what’s going to happen after the pandemic.

– Bobby Healy

In conclusion: A bright future ahead

As his final word to attendees, An Tánaiste said it was great for his morale to be at the Scale Ireland event and hear some of the ideas from the future. The positivity and ambition was a welcome change from meetings on pandemics. He said whilst he already shops online, he was now also looking forward to one day being able to order a pizza for drone delivery straight to his balcony. 

He encouraged the panellists, with the voice they have together as part of Scale Ireland, to ensure their insights are included in submissions to Government. In this way, they can ensure they are heard as policy and budgets are developed, maximising support for businesses like Manna Aero and Axonista and  strengthening Ireland’s indigenous technology businesses on the global stage.

About Scale Ireland

Scale Ireland was founded in 2019 to secure a more supportive policy environment on behalf of the 2000 plus indigenous tech start-ups and scale-ups that currently employ more than 45,000 people across Ireland. It is the independent policy voice for Ireland’s high growth tech start-ups. It covers a range of sectors, including ICT, FinTech, BioTech and medical devices. In 2020 Scale Ireland welcomed a new CEO in the form of Martina Fitzgerald, former journalist and political correspondent with RTÉ, best-selling author and visiting fellow at Columbia University in NYC. 

Scale Ireland is supported by the wider sector with leading figures Brian Caulfield (chair and Venture Partner at Draper Esprit, previously founder at Exceptis and Similarity Systems) and Elaine Coughlan (Atlantic Bridge Ventures) as well as Dogpatch Labs CEO, Patrick Walsh on its board. The founders of prominent start-up companies including Teamwork, Lios (formerly Restored Hearing), Axonista, Pointy, and Aylien are members of its Advisory Council.