Many startups owe their origins to their founders’ previous jobs where they spot a opportunity in the market and see the germ of a new business. That was the case with Dundalk based company Brandt; the company’s founders –Dermot Hannan and Beate Brandt – are veterans of the software localisation and translation industry.
The concept for Brandt’s flagship product, Shadow, comes from the management and engineering teams’ own experience where localisation and testing typically required a lot of manpower and was not always a very efficient process. Focused primarily on multimedia, e-learning, localisation and agile software testing, Shadow is an automation technology that saves software developers time and money in testing and translating their products – a sales pitch that seldom fails to get an enthusiastic hearing from customers.
“That was where the idea originated – it was to facilitate not just throwing people at a project but building our own proprietary system that takes a lot of the pain out of development and testing of software,” Brandt states. The company can either use Shadow itself on a project, or license it to a customer for translation, engineering or quality assurance tasks. Shadow is patented and has the potential to be a disruptive technology in the sector, Hannan believes.
Brandt acknowledges Enterprise Ireland’s help in the company’s early days. At start-up phase the company benefited from CORD funding and when international markets were experiencing pressures on budgets the Employment Subsidy Scheme proved to be a valuable support. Brandt has also taken part in the agency’s International Selling Programme which was found to be “excellent”. The company is currently applying for R&D grant funding which will help expedite Shadow’s launch in the global marketplace.
The company started in 2002 with four employees and now has 22 staff based in Ireland with a further 24 in Dalian, China. “Our hope would be to strengthen and broaden our software development team this year, hopefully bringing total numbers in Ireland to 30 by 2012,” says Hannan.
The company’s story goes against the standard narrative that lower-cost locations threaten jobs at home. “We’re keeping jobs in Ireland as a result of growth in China,” Hannan states. Staff based in the Dundalk office are in senior software engineering and project management roles. Balancing their experience with colleagues in the Chinese office is key in allowing Brandt to price competitively on customer projects.
As an example, Hannan cites a recent project to provide testing services for software that being translated into 25 languages across 22 different operating systems. Brandt successfully won business from competitors in India, which is widely recognised as the home of global software development. “The project was a four-month cycle and we brought it in early,” states Hannan.
While acknowledging business is “challenging” at the moment, the company is fortunate in working with some of the major names in international software publishing and hardware manufacture., The business is about 10-15 per cent ahead of target this year, and Hannan believes there is enough scope within the current workforce to grow turnover by another 25 per cent next year.
Like many Irish software start-ups, Brandt leaned heavily on services work in the early days to generate cashflow, but the goal was always to create additional value through product development. “We’ve reinvested profits back into the business. We always had the strategy of building the Shadow technology as an enablement tool,” says Hannan.
The company chose Dundalk as its headquarters because it is strategically close to the M1 motorway. In addition, Dundalk IT has one of the strongest software engineering courses in Ireland. Brandt has forged strong links with the college and has recruited half of its team from its graduate pool, and also offers work placements to undergraduates. “DKIT, the Regional Development Centre and the University of Ulster in Coleraine have made significant contributions to the company’s research and development efforts and will continue to play an important role as Brandt builds its international profile,” says Hannan.