Irish IT group Ekco buys Unity from Datalex chairman David Hargaden

The deal brings Ekco’s annual revenues to €105m

Ekco, a fast-growing IT services group backed by high-profile Irish investors such as former Superquinn owner Eamon Quinn, has acquired cloud services business Unity Technology Solutions from David Hargaden, the non-executive chairman of Datalex and a former head of corporate finance at BDO.

The sale price was not revealed but it adds Unity’s more than €13 million in annual revenues to the Ekco group, bringing its total to about €105 million. Unity’s 80 staff will join Ekco, bringing the total to about 300 employees in Ireland, and 500 across the group, which also operates in the UK and the Netherlands. Ulster Bank provided debt financing for the deal.

Ekco, which recently closed a €20 million fundraising round, plans to retain the Unity brand for the time being, while Mr Hargaden will stay on to run the unit to ensure continuity for its business customers. He will also join the senior leadership team of Ekco.

It represents the largest acquisition to date by Ekco, which has completed between 15 and 20 deals since it was founded in 2017 by Dublin-based business partners Eoin Blacklock and Jonathan Crowe. As well as its founders, its shareholders include Nick Furlong’s Pageant Holdings investment group, venture capital group ACT, and several private investment offices of wealthy Irish families.

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Unity was originally spun out of IT group Calyx, which was taken over by Jon Moulton’s British private equity group Alchemy Partners, which bought its debt from Anglo Irish Bank just over a decade ago. Alchemy quickly sold the Irish business to Mr Hargaden, a former chairman of Car Trawler.

The business originally had interests in selling IT hardware and voice services, but Mr Hargaden restructured it in 2016 to turn it into a pure cloud operator, selling data storage and security services to other organisations such as Musgrave, Sherry FitzGerald and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

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Mr Blacklock said Unity has been a partner of Ekco’s for about four years, and a year ago it started discussions about the possibility of buying it. He said it slots “seamlessly” into Ekco, which specialises in selling cloud and cybersecurity services to other businesses.

Mr Blacklock said the days of the largest IT groups, such as Hewlett Packard, dominating the cloud services space were “over”, and there were now “thousands” of businesses such as Unity all over Europe that were active in the space. “We are going to do more acquisitions in the area of cybersecurity and cloud services over the next 12 months. There is massive demand,” he said.

He said the plan was to continue to grow the Unity business here, while also chasing further growth in Ekco’s other core Dutch and British markets. The group, which was previously called Internet Corp before it rebranded in 2020, is run from Malahide in north Dublin. Mr Blacklock and Mr Crowe have a track record in the cloud space having previously built up the Irish-based KeepItSafe technology group for its Nasdaq-listed parent J2 Global, which has since restructured.

Mr Hargaden said he had “a lot of approaches” for Unity but a deal with Ekco made most sense due to “continuity for our customers”.

Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is Business Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Caveat column