Cliona Murray’s experience in conflict mediation prompted her to start her own business developing new technology to help companies manage workplace disputes.
Murray founded PluAlto in Cork in 2019 and has since raised €200,000 in pre-seed funding to help finance the development and commercialisation of her SolveSmart platform.
She came up with the idea for SolveSmart while working as a workplace dispute mediator for Roundtable, a conflict resolution company headquartered in Dublin.
“The issues I was mediating on ranged from bullying and harassment to dignity at work, hate speech, equality and, more recently, cyber-bullying,” Murray said.
“Working as a mediator, you see first-hand how much damage these conflicts can cause when they escalate, not just in terms of the potential legal costs, but also in terms of stress and potential reputational damage, both to the individual and the organisation.
“Ideally, I think any employer would much rather catch and manage these issues at an early stage, before they escalate. The problem is that they don’t always have the resources they need to do that.”
SolveSmart uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help companies spot and manage disputes and conflicts as they arise, and to identify potential patterns that might indicate a wider problem.
“It’s a two-part platform. The first of our products is a self-service support application, which gives managers and team leaders instant access to HR information and supports,” Murray said.
“Managers can access the app online and via their mobile phones. We use a chatbot, which can triage the situation for them, and then offer advice on best practice compliance and also soft skill approaches to intervention.
“Our second product is an analytical system that provides HR personnel and senior management with predictive data. We capture anonymous data through the management tool and feed it into a system that can provide an early warning system, flagging any wider issues on the ground within a department, for example, or at a specific company location.”
Murray is piloting the technology with four SMEs in Ireland, each with between 50 and 200 employees.
“We have about 60 expressions of interest in addition to these SMEs, and we’re looking at potential partnership opportunities which would allow us to scale more quickly,” she said.
Murray will launch SolveSmart in Ireland initially, but plans to expand into other markets as soon as possible.
“Our solution is built on local legislation, so we have to be very specific about the markets we move into,” she said.
“Beyond Ireland, our plan is to adapt our technology to UK legislation first and, from there, we hope to expand into the US and Canada.”
Murray plans to launch SolveSmart commercially in Ireland in mid-2021, priced from about €5,000 per year for the dispute resolution tool and €15,000 for the analytics platform.
“Our target market includes start-ups taking on their first employees as they scale with limited or no HR experience and also bigger or more established companies whose HR people just don’t have the time or resources needed to identify and manage disputes and conflicts as they arise,” she said.
PluAlto is a client company of Enterprise Ireland, the state agency. “When I came up with the idea starting out, I approached my Local Enterprise Office here in Cork for advice,” Murray said.
“I didn’t have any experience in the tech sector at the time and I thought ‘if I don’t do it, I’ll just end up sitting on the idea’.”
She was subsequently encouraged to take part in New Frontiers, the entrepreneur development programme run by Enterprise Ireland.
“New Frontiers is superb. It helped me to move from my initial idea through R&D and validation, and to nail down my business model and get investor-ready.
“More importantly, I was able to build up an advisory team of experts with a technical lead developer, a HR specialist, organisational psychologist and, more recently, a marketing expert.”