An opportunity to shine and inspire

David Shanahan, partner and Fast 50 programme lead, Deloitte, outlines how the companies that are recognised through this awards programme should inspire us all to embrace the art of the possible

1st July, 2018
From left: Susan Nolan, head of operations, LearnUpon; Deirdre Halligan, chief operating officer, xSellco; David Shanahan, partner and Fast 50 Programme lead, Deloitte; Majella Mungovan, EMEA financial operations director, Facebook and Stephen O’Riordan, chief operating officer, eShopWorld

In June of every year, we put a call out to Ireland’s technology companies to enter the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards. It’s an exciting time for us - our interaction and engagement with the companies that feature on ranking reinforce our view of the significant value that innovative Irish technology companies are delivering.

And this is only going to become more apparent.

Businesses today are dealing with huge amounts of uncertainty. From trade wars to Brexit and potential borders, there is plenty for business leaders to contend with. And yet, that’s not all that is prompting business leaders to consider, and indeed re-consider, how they drive the future of their businesses.

There are a number of trends currently that we see as particularly important.

First, at its core, the very nature of work is changing right before our eyes through the rise of automation, technology advancements and demographic shifts. Jobs and tasks within jobs are vulnerable to automation and jobs are open to redesign, which is leading to business models evolving to keep pace with the rapidly changing environment.

There is an intensified focus on technology innovations and fintech, with greater diligence around cyber security risks – businesses are increasingly recognising the need to evaluate and offer solutions based on the potential of technology advances such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, while being conscious of heightened cyber security risks.

Businesses are also placing huge emphasis on the impact of new industry entrants and disruptors – we have observed that our clients are taking the threat of disruptive influences from bold new challengers more seriously, particularly as they often operate less capital-intensive business models.

And, of course, how and where businesses communicate with their clients and customers, and their own people, is changing – the advancement of social media, collaborative communication and digital tools means there are massive changes under way in how we connect with family and friends, in addition to clients, colleagues and our wider networks.

One of the common factors in all of these areas is, of course, technology as a driver of change, and some would argue, a driver of uncertainty. Technology is enabling new entrants to markets, it is enabling more sophisticated cyber attacks, and it is enabling myriad ways to reach key audiences. It’s not hard to see why many businesses view this pace of technological change as a significant challenge.

Of course, there are two sides to every coin, and what technology also gives us is solutions to these challenges.

One of the things I most enjoy about working at Deloitte is the opportunity to work alongside leaders in the field – the colleagues I work with in Deloitte, and the clients we work with. I am fortunate to be well positioned to observe how embracing technology can really deliver solutions in this uncertain landscape.

I witness this at Deloitte in a couple of ways. First, in the work we do with clients - be it developing blockchain solutions in the regulatory reporting, professional certification, trade finance and commodity trading areas or using drones and Maximo technology to assist utility companies with autonomous drone inspections of assets.

I also see it in how we are evolving the way we do things. For example, robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence are already impacting how we are executing our audit and tax engagements today.

I am also extremely privileged, through my role as programme lead of the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards in Ireland, to see first-hand how Irish-led technology is driving solutions.

Through the awards, we recognise Irish technology companies that are at the cutting edge, using technology for progress, to address the challenges that we all face and to create opportunities, both for themselves and for those that use their products.

The Fast 50 ranking each year provides countless examples of this. Looking at the top three companies in 2017 alone, we see eShopWorld, a global e-commerce leader empowering online retailers to provide a seamless shopping experience to customers right around the world. First-time entrants, xSellco Limited, which achieved second place, provides innovative products that allow e-commerce businesses of all sizes to fulfil their potential, helping companies use data to drive sales.

And in third spot, LearnUpon, the learning management system vendor, also a first-time entrant, provides online-training solutions that help businesses to succeed.

Now in its 19th year, the awards programme is creating a network of technology companies that are masters in the art of the possible.

And what makes them masters?

One of the common characteristics that we observe year after year is the ‘can do’ mindset of these companies. It’s something that we can all learn from.

The potential of these companies is not just being recognised by this awards programme. The level of investment that Irish technology companies are securing is testament to that, with close to €1 billion invested in 2017.

All is pointing to a very healthy sector. But, given the opportunities this sector is creating, it is critical that it is supported. There are a couple of areas that need to be focused on.

With regards to venture capital, the headline figures look strong, but include a number of very large deals. Ensuring that SMEs and start-ups have steady access to funding – both from international and domestic investors – will be important. Recent amendments to the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme, where family and friends are prohibited from participating, is certainly worth reviewing.

It’s also critical that we encourage our technology companies to scale – there are a number of taxation measures that could help in this regard.

Our tax system has a tendency to encourage entrepreneurs to sell their promising businesses early, rather than stay with them and grow them to the next level. If a founder sells shares they could potentially pay a reduced Capital Gains Tax rate of 10 per cent. Whereas, if they seek to hold and scale their company, but take a dividend, they pay a marginal income tax rate of up to 55 per cent. This is hardly an encouragement to retain and scale a business.

A special 20 per cent rate of tax on dividends paid to entrepreneurs, subject to an annual cap, would help mitigate this problem. This would incentivise entrepreneurs to remain with the business for the long term and not cash out prematurely. Such preferential rates of tax on dividends already apply in Britain and the US.

The knock-on economic benefits of successful Irish companies – employment, a balanced economy of indigenous and multinational companies – aside, with this practical support, Irish technology companies will continue to lead the way in developing solutions that address the challenges that businesses face and for which they are seeking solutions.

Technology is fast and ever-changing, but it is also an opportunity. The Fast 50 companies demonstrate how technology cannot just solve problems, but create opportunities for businesses. They are an important reminder to us all, that when it comes to the change that technology brings, our mindsets should be firmly set in opportunity mode.

Focus on FinTech

FinTech award in association with Silicon Valley Bank

For the second year running, Deloitte and Silicon Valley Bank are partnering in the FinTech category in order to attract new entrants in this dynamic, vibrant area. Financial services are key to Ireland’s future economic growth and these players are influencing this space with their technology and innovation.

The award will not only raise the profile of winners, it aims to help them scale and evolve by providing support from both Deloitte and Silicon Valley Bank on a global scale. The winner will be brought to Silicon Valley on a trip tailored to suit their growth trajectory where they will meet with key investors, strategic partners and prospects.

Global Shares was the inaugural winner of the award last year. Tim Houstoun, chief executive, said: “We have been on the business journey of a lifetime, travelling across the globe to showcase our market-leading equity compensation software firsthand in Silicon Valley. We returned home energised and optimistic, with many opportunities, some of which have the potential to be real game-changers for our business. Doors were opened for us and we got the inside track on the market, which will help to formulate our strategy. We forged deeper relationships with our partners and will now be included in more tender processes. We will also sign a number of new contracts as a result of the trip and we have numerous introductions to pursue. We also received a few investment offers. Crucially, we got face-to-face meetings with C-level executives, creating a valuable network of direct contacts for the future.”

Full details can be found at

Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards

The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards for 2018 have launched. Now in their 19th year, the awards rank Ireland’s fastest-growing technology companies and recognise indigenous technology companies that have demonstrated exceptional growth in turnover in the last four years.

To enter the Fast 50 Awards, companies must meet the criteria listed on the website, where entries can be submitted.

Entrants may also apply for the Deloitte MNC Patron award categories.

These are:

1. Innovative New Technology Award in association with Google

This award is for the company that has created or introduced a new or innovative product or service to international markets that has helped grow their business over the last four years.

2. Export Award in association with Intel

This award rewards export-based companies based on the percentage of exports, their export growth and their approach to exports.

3. Impact Award in association with PayPal

This award is for the company that has made the most significant impact within the current year. Companies will be given an opportunity to demonstrate how they have made an impact through their application.

4. Leading Female Award in association with Vodafone

This award will be given to a leading female in technology who has contributed to business growth within their organisation.

5. Life Science Award in association with Medtronic

This award will be given to the life science company that has made a progressive contribution to the industry using innovation.

6. Disruptive Technology Award in association with Facebook

This award is for the company that has invested in R&D activities to create a technology that has disrupted the market leading to growth in their business over the last four years.

The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Cyber Security Award

As the prevalence and sophistication of cyber threats increases, 2018 will see the introduction of a cyber security award.

Open to companies that are focused on developing cyber security solutions and that devote a significant portion of income to R&D, the award is an acknowledgement of the innovative and cutting edge solutions that are being developed by Irish companies.

Colm McDonnell, partner, risk advisory, Deloitte said: “Cyber security is at the top of the agendas for CIOs, CEOs and boards alike in companies everywhere. Ireland has a real opportunity to position itself as a cyber security hub. “This award will showcase the innovation and capability that already exists in Ireland in this critical area for businesses.”

Full details can be found at

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