Deloitte Tech Fast 50 awards reveal plenty of growth and talent in uncertain times

Irish tech had a strong 2021 – and it is now seeking to continue its growth largely through international expansion, despite global headwinds

Devan Hughes, co-founder and chief executive, Buymie, this year’s Technology Fast 50 winner, pictured with David Shanahan, tax partner at Deloitte and Technology Fast 50 programme leader

Every year, Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 awards, which rank the 50 fastest-growing tech companies, provide a snapshot of the state of the indigenous tech sector. This year, with concerns growing about a slowdown internationally, the rankings paint a picture of an Irish tech sector in rude health.

Now in its 23rd year, the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards is unlike other awards that celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship in Ireland’s indigenous technology sector, as its quantitative measurement of growth means that the subjective opinion of judges has no impact.

The figures are certainly impressive: combined, the 50 companies that ranked generated a total revenue of €500 million, and the average revenue was €10 million. Growth was extremely rapid across the board.

“Average growth was 594 per cent, which is extremely high, with the benchmark for entry the highest it’s ever been with all companies achieving over 100 per cent growth. We also had 17 new entrants on the list this year, with seven ranking in the top 10, which is a testament to the strength of the sector,” said David Shanahan, tax partner at Deloitte and Technology Fast 50 programme leader.

“Although the figures analysed are from 2021, these businesses have showed continued resilience and tenacity as they’ve grown exponentially across a broad range of sectors, coming up with solutions to address changing consumer and business demands,” said Shanahan.

As a result, services that could and did flourish in the environment of lockdown ranked well. However, Shanahan said that these companies, too, now had opportunities to capitalise on their success and continue to grow. Overall winner Buymie, an online grocery delivery app, is one example.

“I think there has been a significant shift in consumer behaviour, mainly off the back of people experiencing how convenient it was, and I certainly think there are longer-term opportunities to continue to address evolving consumer demands,” he said.

Women leadership in tech

Among the identifiable trends in this year’s results is an increase in women-led businesses. While last year saw only a single business with a female chief executive, this year’s ranking features seven.

“The number of female chief executives has gone up sevenfold. In recent years it has been too low; we’re delighted to see this increase up to seven. Hopefully it will be the start of seeing many, many more,” Shanahan said.

Overall, three of the seven female chief executives leading businesses made the top ten, with Andrea Reynolds of Swoop the highest ranking, in fourth position overall.

Capital expansion

Shanahan said the trends and challenges in the sector were mirrored across the companies. While the pandemic has subsided, other challenges have emerged, creating a complex operating environment, but opportunities do remain.

“Hiring and retaining talent was one of the biggest challenges for the Fast 50 entrants this year, with companies putting a strong focus on upskilling their teams to ensure they have the right talent in the right roles. With the slowdown in the global tech sector, there are opportunities for indigenous companies to re-look at their hiring strategies to attract new skills and talent,” he said.

Interestingly, access to capital, which was perennially the number-one concern of Fast 50 businesses, has dropped to third place, behind the challenge of expanding overseas.

“The answers may well be different now [late in 2022], but there has been a sense that there was better availability of capital,” said Shanahan.

Overseas expansion has been, and remains, important because the Irish addressable market is small.

“The vast majority of the Fast 50 companies would generate significant revenue overseas and are continuously looking at new markets for expansion. While there are always challenges in accessing new markets, the companies are seizing the opportunities and forging strong pathways to internationalise their businesses,” he said.

The single most prominent vertical was software, with 33 of the 50 describing themselves as software companies. Only three healthcare companies ranked, but a growing area is fintech, or financial technology, with seven such businesses ranking including Swoop and ID-Pal.

Shanahan said that he expects to see more and more in the fintech space.

“This year, three [fintechs] are in the top ten, four in the top 11. When you look at it in that context, and consider that they’re growing very fast, then it becomes clear that it’s a sector that has become hugely important and will continue to be as the financial services landscape continues to change,” he said.

Across all verticals, half of the Fast 50 businesses expect to grow by acquisition, too, which, while a complicated way of expanding, gives businesses the ability to expand immediately.

“It’s great to see that ambition. Interestingly, we’re seeing a continued trend of Fast 50 companies acquiring one another. Ekco bought Unity Technology Solutions and also took in private equity in recent months, and Viatel bought ActionPoint,” said Shanahan.

In light of all of this activity, Shanahan remains very positive about the future of Irish tech.

“Yes, there are global challenges, but there are real opportunities for the indigenous tech sector,” he said.