Deloitte buys innovation consultancy Red Planet

Company carved out market niche by matching corporates with startups

Red Planet founder Karl Aherne and Brendan Jennings, managing partner with Deloitte Ireland.

Red Planet founder Karl Aherne and Brendan Jennings, managing partner with Deloitte Ireland.

 

Deloitte Ireland has bought Red Planet, the innovation consultancy firm founded by former Wayra head Karl Aherne, for an undisclosed sum.

Red Planet, which was established in 2015 after the shutdown of the Wayra accelerator when Telefonica sold its O2 Ireland phone network to Three, now plans to add to its staff numbers by the end of the year. It currently employs three people on a full-time basis, including Mr Aherne, along with contractors when needed, but it is planning to expand in addition to tapping into the expertise offered by the Deloitte Digital team.

The company turned the accelerator model for startups on its head. Rather than search out innovative startups and bring them into an academy-style environment, Red Planet works with corporates who need to bring innovation into their business. The company figures out what the corporate needs to meet specific digital challenges, and then seeks out the start-ups that can meet that need.

It was designed to work on a subscription basis for corporates, with startups getting free access until they sold the product they had been developing to one of Red Planet’s members. It was an approach that was working, with Red Planet signing up a number of blue-chip telecommunications and financial services clients.

Mr Aherne said the team wanted to ramp up the pace, and Deloitte would give it the access needed to do that.

“From a Red Planet perspective, we validated that corporates were interested in what we do in terms of outside-in, startup-driven innovation. But we wanted to accelerate. The best way was to use an existing channel that was trusted by big corporates,” he said. “One thing Deloitte has is a very strong digital transformation team. They also have a strong client base, a fantastic brand – it made sense.”

Although the company isn’t giving an exact price for the deal, Mr Aherne said it was a good deal for all involved. In the early days of Red Planet he funded the company from his own pocket. The Red Planet brand will continue for now within Deloitte Digital, Mr Aherne said, but may become part of the Deloitte Digital identity over time.

The company has a co-working space in Dogpatch labs in Dublin, and will also have a presence in Deloitte’s new blockchain lab, dubbed the Grid.

Disruption

“What’s clear to us, is the level of disruption that’s happening in the marketplace, I’ve never seen it,” said Brendan Jennings, managing partner with Deloitte Ireland. “Corporates and businesses like our own struggle with that.”

Deloitte has moved to expand its digital offering in recent months, with the opening of Blockchain Hub in Dublin that will eventually employ 50 people, but it has been adding to its expertise over the past few years, and investing in areas such as robotics, AI and analytics.

“Three years ago, we didn’t have anyone in digital. Now we have 50 people and we see it growing,” Mr Jennings said.