By Jemima Burke Journalism @nuigalway@LaunchPadNUIG. The recent Enterprise Ireland / New Frontiers IoT initiative in Galway proved to be a great success.

Irish Tech News found out more in this interview with Mark Bannon. Founder & CEO at VT Networks

You won an entrepreneurship competition and then full steam ahead!

Yeah, that was over a year ago now, Ireland’s young entrepreneur competition, with our company VT Networks, founded by myself and Will Ferguson.

Our company is a dedicated IoT network. So similar to a mobile network we’re rolling out connectivity nationwide across the country with our network partner, 2RN.  This is a dedicated network for Internet of Things technology.

Let’s talk IoT for a minute.

Internet of Things is expected to be a 19 trillion dollar industry over the next decade. It touches every sector from connected home applications like security systems and smart smoke alarms to utility companies like smart energy meters, tracking devices and has a huge application right across the board in telemetry, in terms of monitoring machinery and equipment, even simple devices like a tracking device for your car that you can stick in your glovebox.

And because of our new dedicated network that tracker will last nine to ten years. It’s a fraction of the cost of existing mobile-based or WiFi based trackers.

So the benefits of our new network is we allow devices to be deployed and work for longer. We’re 300 times more energy efficient and that gives rise to a number of new applications and solutions.

What about the security aspect of IoT?

The problem with existing security systems like WiFi or those based on WiFi (or mobile with a SIM card) is that they can be jammed. Criminals can buy a jammer for 40 euro online, press a button and then shut down your whole system. Not many people are aware of that.

Our network, Sigfox technology, cannot be jammed. Securitas in Spain rolled out 2.5 million of these Sigfox security systems that can’t be jammed for this reason: it’s a huge problem in the industry.

Sigfox, because it’s narrow band technology, then a jammer can’t detect it or jam the signal. So it’s a robust primary and secondary form of connectivity for security systems.

With the cost of the network, you can now buy a security system in a box off the shelf, deploy your movement sensor, your smoke alarm, your door sensor, and your window sensor yourself. It’s all battery powered and lasts for 5 years.

It costs as little as 15 euro a year in subscriptions, and the devices themselves, or the full security system is less than 100 euro. That’s because it’s simple technology using our dedicated network. You don’t need to connect to your WiFi or you don’t need a SIM card. It just works out of the box.

How did you get started?

Two years ago I was an accountant in London, disillusioned with life to be honest and I started reading about IoT. I heard about smart fridges and I was just like “What’s the point in a smart fridge?”

I didn’t see the business model. I started to look more and more and then started seeing, “Right OK, IoT is about long-lasting devices that are cheap to deploy, that are cheap to make and cheap in ongoing costs.”

And importantly, I matched this to certain industries. One of them was tracking wearable for people with dementia because my grandad had dementia and he would wander. There were existing solutions on mobile networks and they lasted for 24 hours in terms of battery. They were hugely expensive and you had to pay ongoing SIM card fees.

SIGFOX, there’s a product on the market right now that has a 2 year battery life. It’s lightweight and low cost, 600 times more efficient than existing solutions that were possible before our network.

I moved on from that. I was on the New Frontiers course in Galway, Enterprise Ireland course. And they developed my business model. From that I moved away from product development into networks and we raised 1.2 million. I can announce today that Colm Lyon is a new investor, the founder of Realax. We also did a partnership with 2RN who are an RTÉ subsidiary rolling our base stations on their towers and masts across the country.

It was 8 months ago when all that started really. And so it’s been a rapid rise and growth in terms of the company and we’re looking to add to that and multiply even more over the next few years.

What would you say to new entrepreneurs?

If you have a vision don’t let anyone steer you off it. Even when you do get steered off it, you could be steered in a different direction. The biggest thing is to just turn up every day. If you think something is not going to be worthwhile at least you’re going and you’re still getting your brain thinking about your business.

I would use every support available from the local enterprise office to Enterprise Ireland. Don’t be afraid. If you believe you can do it tell people you’re going to do it. Keep visualising and things will fall into place. I’m a big believer in that.

Also the New Frontiers course here in GMIT and across colleges around Ireland is hugely beneficial and I’d look that up because there’s a huge range of supports and on-hand support from that.


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