Celebrating success is something any business would be happy to do, but Deloitte’s Fast 50 Technology programme is unique in the Irish awards ceremony as it works by a single criterion: revenue growth.
“We had more applications this year than we ever had before,” David Shanahan, Deloitte partner and Fast 50 Ireland programme leader, said.
Although this year’s awards look at revenue from 2016 to 2019, and so growth under the pandemic and its attendant lockdown will not be revealed until 2021, this year’s results at least give some indication that the indigenous tech sector is resilient and ready for the challenge.
Cumulatively, the 2020 Fast 50 winners generated approximately €3.3 billion in total annual revenues and employed over 4,600 people in 2019. The average revenue of companies featured in the ranking was approximately €90 million, while the average growth rate of the companies over the last four years was over 400 per cent.
Compared with last year, there are 13 new companies on the ranking.
Naturally, this year’s ceremony was held online.
Perhaps with Zoom-fatigue in mind, Deloitte’s approach to the virtual ceremony is to keep it short.
“True to the Fast 50 name we kept it under 50 minutes,” Shanahan said.
“It was something we gave a lot thought to. Normally we’d have a big gala dinner, and we pushed the date back and back until we decided to go ahead and run it, albeit doing the ceremony in a different way.”
It’s arguably a shame for the participants, though online events are something that we have all become accustomed to this year. In any case, online or not, the celebrations were far from muted. Leo Varadkar, an Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment, joined the virtual ceremony to congratulate the winners. He paid tribute to the Fast 50 companies for their contributions to the economy, the employment they provide and the innovation and entrepreneurship they bring to what they do.
Winner, Everseen, a Cork-based company, took the top spot in Deloitte’s 2020 Fast 50 Technology Awards on its very first outing in the programme. Founded in Cork in 2007, the company develops computer vision and artificial intelligence solutions for some of the world’s largest retailers. Everseen achieved a growth rate of 2,879 per cent over the last four years.
“It gives a great boost to companies to have this recognition,” Shanahan said.
“For companies that have been severely impacted it helps them remain positive. Others have been going gangbusters and they know that next year will be really strong,” he said.
Dublin-based company Webio, another new entrant to the ranking, achieved second spot with a growth rate of 2,794 per cent. The company uses conversational automated intelligence to improve customer engagement: having broken into Europe this year, it plans to bring its platform to the US market by the end of 2020.
Now in its 21st year, with Shanahan at the helm for the last four, the Fast 50 has seen dramatic changes in the Irish tech landscape.
Software-as-a-service, for example, has overtaken traditional hardware and software, reflecting a wider change in how we consume technology.
There have been sectoral changes too.
“E-learning is important this year. A company like Code Institute, which came third last year has featured high once again.
“Digitisation is another key feature this year. Flipdish has suddenly opened-up the market for smaller takeaways. Throughout the pandemic it has been very useful. We will see technology like that coming to the fore next year,” said Shanahan.
Indeed, Flipdish is another new entrant to the Fast 50 this year. Operating globally, it develops a digital ordering and marketing system to restaurants, cafés and takeaways, achieving a growth rate of 1960 per cent.
The relentless march of technology means that more changes can be expected and this year’s awards give a hint of things to come: artificial intelligence, for example.
“Everseen, this year’s winner, is a very interesting company, with a very interesting technology. Certainly I knew, being AI, that it would rank well, but it’s phenomenal growth in a still emerging area is impressive,” he said.
“We were also delighted this week to see last year’s winner, Electricity Exchange, who feature again this year, announce their rebranding to VIOTAS along with a further 60 jobs that they plan to bring online to support their international expansion. It’s fantastic to see these companies go from strength to strength.”
Shanahan said that the awards, both in general and because of this year’s winners, demonstrate how important the technology sector is to the nation.
“Technology certainly has become integral to the Irish company, but we’re evolving to the point where every company is becoming a tech company. It has become the centre of everything.”
Crucially, the sector is export-focused and operates nationwide.
“Electricity Exchange is from Limerick and Everseen this year is from Cork. Eleven are from Northern Ireland [and in total] ten counties are represented. Dublin is well represented. of course, but there is a real mix. It’s not just Dublin-based,” he said.
One of the main issues Irish businesses face, Shanahan said, is funding. This drives them to look abroad, which is good news in terms of exporting, but it does point to a somewhat underdeveloped Irish investment landscape.
“A lot of them are probably looking to the States and to the UK, but they do often look locally to get started. Enterprise Ireland does a great job, but we need to do more,” he said.
One option would be to incentivise the development of angel investment and venture capital nationally.
“Tax has a role to play as part of that,” he said.
Nonetheless, the entire point of the Fast 50 is that the numbers don’t lie and Shanahan said that the companies involved and the economy as a whole can take succour from this: technology is a growing sector of the Irish economy.
The awards also demonstrate support from the multinational sector: the Innovative New Technology Award, also won by Everseen, is developed in association with Google, the Impact Award, won by SilverCloud Health, in association with Facebook, and the Women in Technology Advocate Award, won by Vicki Reynolds, chief technology officer of i3PT certification, is presented in in association with Vodafone.
“The main thing for me is the positivity. I think it is needed. It’s an indication that we’re all trying to move on and the tech industry shows how people have the wherewithal to do it,” said Shanahan.
Inaugural Alumni Award
Winner: Tommy Kelly, chief executive of eShopWorld
The Alumni Award recognises a company that has played a major part in the Fast 50 Programme to date, having ranked in the number one spot for three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017. This year’s Alumni Award winner is Tommy Kelly, chief executive of eShopWorld, a global commerce partner to many of the world’s most iconic retail brands that was launched in Dublin in 2010
Women in Technology Advocate Award in association with Vodafone
This award is given to someone who has demonstrated through their actions that they are an advocate for increasing participation by and promotion of women in the technology sector
Impact Award in association with Facebook
Winner: SilverCloud Health, pictured is Ken Cahill, chief executive
This award is for the company that has made the most significant impact within the current year
Innovative New Technology Award in association with Google
Winner: Alan O’Herlihy, chief executive of Everseen, overall winner Deloitte Fast 50 Ireland
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