Making it Work

How a Dublin-based software firm was born after its founders swapped doctorates for data solutions

Oblivious builds software that helps engineers and data scientists to work on data without directly seeing it, in order to protect sensitive information

Jack Fitzsimons, Oblivious Software: ‘It’s really important for collaboration between organisations or to access stats on sales and marketing without seeing information on individual users or customers.’ Picture: Fergal Phillips

Oblivious is a Dublin-based start-up that was founded in 2020 by Jack Fitzsimons and Robert Pisarczyk. Headquartered at Nova UCD, the business has 12 staff and has raised €900,000 in pre-seed funding.

Oblivious builds software that helps people to work on sensitive data without directly seeing it. These tools, used by engineers and data scientists, can provide access to this kind of data without it ever being downloaded to a device.

“That’s really important for collaboration between organisations or to access stats on sales and marketing without seeing information on individual users or customers. You can imagine that Uber doesn’t want its data scientists seeing where every cab is picking up and dropping off users, they just want the aggregated safe information to be accessed,” Fitzsimons told the Business Post.

The idea grew out of Fitzsimons and Pisarczyk’s time working on their doctorates in Oxford. Fitzsimons was working on machine learning while Pisarczyk was focused on quantum computing and cryptography.

“We came up with ideas on how to solve the challenges around protecting information while making key parts accessible. Instead of writing up some academic papers, we decided to build something ourselves,” Fitzsimons said.

“There’s quite a span of customers. Our clients include the likes of medical businesses, telecoms companies and national statistics organisations. We’re also working with the United Nations. There are scale-up groups, which realise they need to get to grips with keeping data safe as they grow, while census bureaux are trying to balance civil liberties and protect information.”

The business is supported by Enterprise Ireland through grant support in particular.

“They supported us with a grant for a feasibility study. They’ve always treated us well, between trade missions and putting us in contact with people from the US and Europe. They’ve helped us with collaborations with universities and the European Space Agency,” Fitzsimons said.

“It’s a real competitive advantage having them in Ireland. They’re really respectful, helping out where they can, but they also know when to back off.”

Since that feasibility, the business has grown considerably with Fitzsimons even surprised by how quickly it has grown.

“The journey has been amazing. This past year we joined the UN’s privacy enhancing technologies lab. We worked with different national statistics organisations to help reconcile trade information. That was just the start of this new programme which has seen several national government bodies experiment with privacy-enhancing technologies like ours,” Fitzsimons said.

“That has helped us grow our profile internationally. We can better understand the range of problems beyond Europe, we can understand where the roadblocks are and design our tools to address them.”

Fitzsimons said the business is focused on using the next year to broaden interest from the tech community to help work out how best to develop its products.

“We’re rolling out new features to make it as accessible as possible for developers and data scientists to build privacy into their solutions and day-to-day tools. We want to create a community, as the more perspectives and feedback we get the more we will be able to bring along our products.”

This Making it Work article is produced in partnership with Enterprise Ireland