Martin McKay, founder of Antrim-based educational technology company Texthelp, has been named EY Entrepreneur of the Year at the annual awards ceremony in Powerscourt Hotel in Co Wicklow on Wednesday evening.
Mr McKay, who also won best international entrepreneur, founded the company in 1996 to help people with communication difficulties, focused initially on those with profound speech and dexterity disabilities. The business has since grown into a global assistive technology company that employs 350 people.
In his acceptance speech, Mr McKay thanked his family, including his father, who was the inspiration for the business.
“I want to thank my investors,” he said. “These people have put faith in me. They have but their money where my mouth is. I really want to do well for them.”
Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr McKay said the award will open “a lot of doors for the business”.
He said: “I know that I’m going to get meetings that I couldn’t have before. I think, just for inbound investors, to have that group of judges, who are all very successful, look at the business and what we do, it will give [investors] a lot of confidence in the business as well.”
Texthelp develops literacy software that helps dyslexic, neurodivergent and physically disabled students to express themselves in the classroom.
The company generated turnover of £27 million (€31m) in 2021, up 22 per cent from 2020, and expects to double its 2020 turnover this year. With operations in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Australia, Texthelp also has a large presence in the US. When Mr McKay was attending the annual EY Entrepreneur of the Year executive retreat in Austin, Texas in September, he told The Irish Times that 14 of the 19 local school districts there are customers of Texthelp, “so we have really good market penetration here”.
The Texthelp group has grown substantially in recent years, acquiring Sweden-based assistive technology firm Oribi in October; the ed-tech division of Don Johnston, a US-based assistive technology company, in January; and Danish firm Wizkids in July 2021.
The awards ceremony was the first time the annual event has been held in-person since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He was nominated in the international category of this year’s awards along with Gregory Bradley, Blk Box Fitness; Jack Pierse and Aidan Corbett, Wayflyer; Jacqueline O’Reilly, KonFloor; Jamie O’Rourke, Mainline Utilities; John T O’Sullivan, BioAtlantis; Justin lawless, Intact; Michael Dixon; Dixon International Logistics; and Mick G Slein, Led Group Robus.
Other winners on the night included Stephen Nolan, managing director of Nutritics, who won the inaugural sustainability award; Fionn Lahart and Christoph Hennersberger, founders of medical tech company OneProjects, who won emerging entrepreneurs of the year; and Tom O’Connor and Kieran Cusack, joint managing directors of Conack Construction, who won best emerging entrepreneurs.
Mr Lahart, whose company is developing a catheter-based medical device that allows doctors to take high-resolution cardiac images for use on patients with arrhythmias, told The Irish Times the award is “a massive recognition” for the company as it enters a crucial two-year period.
“Healthcare is global and the alumni can help us unlock all those other geographies for us. It’s EoY Ireland but there isn’t a person here who can’t help us unlock [other markets].
The theme of this year’s awards was “changemakers”. Social entrepreneur Mary Davis, chief executive of Special Olympics International, received a special recognition award at the event.
Roger Wallace, EY Entrepreneur of the Year partner lead, said: “It’s been an absolute honour to get to know our 2022 finalists and on behalf of EY I am delighted to extend our warmest congratulations to this year’s winners, each of whom have demonstrated cutting-edge, innovative thinking and new ways of working in their respective industries, ultimately shaping how we live and work on the island of Ireland and globally.”