Disruptors get a warm welcome
DIGITAL CHALLENGE:LAST FRIDAY, at The Workman’s Club on Wellington Quay in Dublin, an Irish technology start-up company called GetBulb was announced as the overall winner of The Irish Times Digital Challenge.
GetBulb has produced a system that can rapidly create data visualisations suitable for both high-resolution print and for online interactive graphics in seconds. This start-up could, quite literally, change how media organisations across the globe approach design.
GetBulb is one of five early stage digitally-focused businesses that entered The Irish Times building for eight weeks as part of The Irish Times Digital Challenge. The other start-ups were: MyiFli, a mobile advertising and content service; PicTurk, a platform for photography awards; KnockOn.ie, an amateur and club rugby community; and Storyflow, a widget to find and show related links in a graphical way on a news story.
A wide range of early stage businesses applied to The Irish Times Digital Challenge, which was announced in May 2012. From these a panel of entrepreneurs, venture capital partners, and senior Irish Times personnel selected five finalists to enter the building. As the overall winner of the Challenge, GetBulb has won a €50,000 prize in the form of a convertible loan note from venture capital firm DFJ Esprit.
The objective of the programme was not only to launch new products and identify new technology, but to position The Irish Times at the heart of Ireland’s vibrant start-up community. Building long term, mutually beneficial relationships with the next wave of disruptors is a key part of The Irish Times’ future.
The toughness of the environment in which The Irish Times Group operates is forcing the organisation to change and rediscover its inventive streak. In 1994 at a time when few readers were using the web The Irish Times was among the first half dozen papers in the world to launch an online edition. It is now picking up where it left off.
According to Kevin O’Sullivan, editor of The Irish Times, “the challenges facing the newspaper industry are forcing us to be innovative, and to think more like a start-up than we might otherwise do. This may be no bad thing. In fact, it may mark the beginning of a renaissance period for news media . . . that is provided the relationship is genuine and sustained.”
Ireland is a good environment for this kind of collaboration. Much as the 1970s and 1980s produced a generation of garage bands, some of whom achieved global recognition, Ireland is now producing a wave of garage companies like GetBulb that have the potential to make a world impact. A glamour is building around tech entrepreneurship in Ireland that draws more young people into the sector, and the country is sufficiently small that investors, founders, and coders can easily meet. However, this smallness has a down side.
Just as the garage bands who went before them had ultimately to break in to the American market to reach significant numbers of listeners, Irish start-ups generally have to target larger markets to grow to a global scale. Under The Irish Times Digital Challenge, however, start-ups have the opportunity to access The Irish Times Group’s several million unique users a month.