Irish SaaS providers set for growth and could make a sound investment
What is SaaS?
SaaS is a service that involves users accessing an application via an internet browser, rather than a more traditional method of downloading software to a PC or business network to run and update. SaaS can encompass anything from communications to office services software and other business functions.
There are various advantages to using SaaS such as accessibility and compatibility, as well as lower costs of installation compared to traditional software, making it easier for smaller companies to purchase. Moreover, it is designed for laptops and tablets that can be used anywhere – and not just connected to a physical server. Software updates can also be made centrally without affecting users.
With superfast broadband and 5G becoming increasingly common across the country, it is likely that more businesses will look to SaaS in the future.
There are already many SaaS providers in Ireland, either dedicated businesses or companies that incorporate it into a larger suite of services.
Irish SaaS providers have already been proving attractive to international acquirers in the past year. For instance, Dublin-based Boxever, a data analytics company that helps businesses to personalise customer experiences, was bought by US customer experience software provider Sitecore in March.
While the financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, it is believed it was a multi-million euro acquisition; Boxever had previously raised $22 million from various investors, including Enterprise Ireland. The deal was part of Sitecore’s international acquisition strategy and Boxever’s platform will be integrated into Sitecore’s platform.
Boxever’s chief executive, David O’Flanagan, said at the time: “Joining forces with Sitecore creates a disruptive proposition that will redefine what’s possible for the industry, enabling organisations of all sizes to create seamless, data driven experiences in any channel.”
Meanwhile, in May EcoOnline, which provides SaaS-based chemical, environmental, health and safety management software, bought Dublin-based health and safety software provider Engage EHS.
Speaking at the announcement of the deal, which was for an undisclosed sum, Engage EHS CEO Darragh Geoghegan said the businesses had a strong cultural fit and the deal would enable EHS to have an impact on more workplaces, leading to better products and services for all customers.
“Our goal with Engage EHS from day one was to deliver the technology tools to help our customers transform how they manage and how their employees engage with safety,” Geoghegan said. “Having taken time to get to know both the company and the management team, we know there is a great cultural fit. We truly believe that as part of EcoOnline, we can deliver more value and opportunity for all our customers, present and future.”
SaaS businesses are also being targeted by investors. In February, it was reported that investment firm Element Finance was looking for opportunities in SaaS businesses in Europe and had a war chest in excess of €41 million available to lend. [www.irishtimes.com/business/technology/element-finance-targets-saas-companies-seeking-growth-capital-1.4496137]
Element Finance, based in the US, but founded by Irish entrepreneur Ed Byrne, provides venture debt funding for SaaS companies with recurring revenues of more than €1 million that are seeking growth capital.
Usually, Element lends businesses €1 million but the amount can vary from €500,000 to €5 million. “There are a huge amount of SaaS businesses and many of these are being underserved by banks because they often don’t have the skills required to assess their business models,” explained John O’Dwyer, one of the leaders of Element. “That coupled with the fact there is such a huge volume of cloud companies now means we are serving a vital role.”
Many SaaS providers have successfully raised millions in funding rounds in recent years. Limerick-based AMCS, which provides software and services to the waste, recycling and material resources industries, has raised €183.6 million in funding since it was established in 2003, according to figures from Think Business. [www.thinkbusiness.ie/articles/irish-cloud-companies-saas/]
Another SaaS provider that has successfully secured investment is Big Red Cloud. The company, which provides accountancy-based SaaS to more than 75,000 customers in Ireland and the UK, raised €2.5 million from DunPort Capital as it seeks to take advantage of the post-Brexit economy and win 100,000 new customers, again according to Think Business.
Why invest in Irish SaaS businesses
There are many reasons to invest in Irish SaaS businesses. Ireland is renowned for being a leader in many technology-based sectors, so it is no surprise SaaS is developing quickly, and it means there is a comprehensive infrastructure in the country to support it. Ireland’s internet speed is one of the best in Europe and the government is currently undertaking a programme to ensure everyone, whether in urban or rural areas, has access to high-speed internet.
Another advantage for Irish companies – and those looking to move into the country – is that Ireland has one of the most qualified workforces in Europe, with plenty of graduates in tech-based subjects. Several universities have strong links with businesses in the sector and undertake valuable research.
The government is also backing the sector. When the Irish government launched Enterprise Ireland’s €1 million Competitive Start Fund (CSF) for ambitious early-stage start-ups in May, SaaS was one of the sectors included for entrepreneurs to apply for up to €50,000 in equity funding.
The CSF aims to help start-ups reach commercial and technical milestones. This includes potential international expansion, building prototypes, developing plans to enter the market and gaining investment from other parties.
SaaS is a developing sector in Ireland, as it is in many other countries around the world, and is set for strong growth in the coming years as more businesses access superfast broadband and will seek to move to SaaS solutions.
As a result, the sector will be ripe for investment. Many SaaS companies are start-ups or SMEs and will require outside investment to be able to expand their markets internationally or research and develop new solutions.
With consistent growth expected, an investment in an Irish SaaS provider could make good economic sense. While no investment is a guaranteed success, the conditions, along with the infrastructure in Ireland, make it more likely than not to provide a healthy return.
Given that many SaaS companies are small, it will also be likely that there will be consolidation in the sector in the coming years, both domestically and internationally. Again, these businesses could provide good value. Irish businesses also have the added factor of being part of the European Union and the single market, which gives them unfettered access to businesses in the 26 other nations that make up the trading bloc. This makes them especially attractive to English-speaking nations such as the US, the UK and Canada.
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