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Tech in Wales: The April 2016 roundup

Tech Wales April

Nicholas Fearn, editor at Tech Dragons, rounds up the latest tech developments in Wales.

This year sure is going fast.

Autumn and Winter have already flown by, and now summer is almost here. While the weather’s getting a lot warmer (well, when it’s not raining), the news in the Welsh tech sector is also sizzling.

April saw a plethora of exciting new announcements and milestones, from a FinTech firm winning an award from the Queen to the unveiling of the cohort of Wales’s first ever technology accelerator programme.

Here’s our round-up for the month of April:

TechHub Swansea unveils first IdeasFund cohort

Back in February, incubator TechHub Swansea opened a Welsh tech startup accelerator called IdeasFund.

Well, following a gruelling application process, the programme’s first cohort has been unveiled, and a number of cool digital startups have been chosen to receive up to £10,000 in investment and mentorship from tech heavyweights like Google and JustEat. They’ll also get free desk space at the Hub’s co-working space.

The business ideas selected include hotel management service The Booking Factory, mortgage comparison website RateSwitch, building merchant advertising platform Cut A Deal, referral recruitment tool Seekrs and self assessment app TAXO’D.

GCell announces powerful indoor iBeacon

April proved to be an exciting month for solar technology manufacturer GCell, too. The Newport-based firm announced what it claims to be the world’s first indoor powered solar iBeacon.

If you’re not familiar with this tech, iBeacons are devices that can perform actions when close to a smartphone or other device. There are already 6 million of them being used worldwide in contexts such as airports, restaurants and supermarkets.

The G100, designed and built by GCell, is an enterprise grade iBeacon aimed at large-scale deployments. It offers a long lifespan, a renewable energy supply and a 100-millisecond advertising rate as default. Basically, it’s high-tech stuff capable of doing amazing things.

Speaking in April, Barry Jenkins, business development manager at GCell, said: “We have been patiently watching the iBeacon ecosystem to mature.

“We quickly recognised that battery-life is one of the biggest challenges for iBeacon industry growth. Initially Beacon hardware vendors used small coin cell batteries typically lasting less than a year.

“Each time a beacon requires a replacement battery there is an associated service cost that adds to the total cost of ownership.”

Digital Roots launches to close digital skills gap

Codez Academy, which is based in the Welsh town of Caerphilly, launched Digital Roots in a bid to close the digital skills gap in Wales. It’s a scheme to help individuals hone their digital literacy skills in order to find employment in Wales’s growing tech sector.

Founded by technology entrepreneur Dean Jenkins, it teaches students a wide variety of vocational and digital skills to meet the demands of modern-day employers, including graphic and web design – which Jenkins has experience in himself.

Caerphilly Council and Careers Wales are working in partnership with Codex to boost employment rates and aid economic growth. Many in the industry believe that Wales lags behind other areas of the UK when it comes to people working in tech-related jobs.

Dean said: “There’s an enormous opportunity presenting itself in Wales to help the unemployed, to help those that have been made redundant, and to help those that want an alternative to going to university or taking a trade.

“The digital sector has expanded so rapidly in the past few years that it has left a huge shortfall in skilled people to sustain it.

“We want to give people the opportunity to step in and fill that shortfall, and with it really put Wales at the forefront of the digital sector. We believe that this scheme will go a long way to fulfilling that goal and the benefits to the economy and to people in Wales could be enormous.”

FinTech firm wins award from the Queen

Cardiff-based FinTech firm ActiveQuote, a health insurance comparison site, was presented with the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise marking Her Majesty’s 90th birthday. It received the award for its contribution in innovating the British insurance market.

ActiveQuote became the first ever comparison website for health insurance when it launched in 2009, and has been helping consumers make informed spending decisions ever since. It’s also been working with the likes of Confused.com, Gocompare, Money.co.uk and uSwitch.com.

Announcing the winners, business minister Sajid Javid said: “The Queen’s Awards are a great way of celebrating the best of British business. Whether you’re a disruptive start-up making life easier for your customers, or a large company with a blockbuster product, these awards recognise your contribution to enterprise.

Dr Richard Theo, managing director of ActiveQuote, said: “It is an absolute honour to learn that ActiveQuote is to receive a Queen’s Award for innovation, the most prestigious accolade that could be bestowed on our organisation.

“All of the businesses I have started have been founded on the same principle – to use software and technology to innovate, simplify and create efficiencies that enable us to challenge the status quo.

“At ActiveQuote we created an online service that allows people to take back control by comparing and buying complicated insurance products with complete confidence.

Polling platform raises investment

It’s always great to see new businesses raising investment and growing as a result. And Doopoll, a polling platform that aims to enable effective decision making, is no exception. The company is celebrating after raising funds from investor Konrad Litwin, bringing its valuation to £1m.

While the exact sum of the investment wasn’t announced, the company says the money will help it to build its platform and gain even more success. Having launched just a year ago, it’s already been named the Welsh tech startup of 2016 by ESTNet.

Co-founder Steve Dimmick said: “After a lot of hard work over the last year, this investment allows Doopoll to accelerate our growth. We’re thrilled to be partnering with Finance Wales and Konrad.

“It’s a fantastic milestone for us, building on our achievements to date and giving us a platform for future success. We will now be building a global team and working with great international brands, both in and outside of Wales, to improve the process behind the decisions that drive their businesses.”

Written by Nicholas Fearn, editor of Tech Dragons