Article by Suzanne Burns
Life as a startup contains as much drama and intrigue as you would find in Lord of the Rings. According to CEO and Founder of Exceedence, Raymond Alcorn, the quests for both are surprisingly similar. Dogged determination to find the ‘precious’, overcoming your foes and dealing with inner and outer demons. The achingly beautiful highs and the devastating lows, to finally emerge, victorious. It takes a special type of person for this quest, and it is not for the faint of heart.
The story of Exceedence has been a fairytale all of its own, blazing a trail in the Renewables industry. The company’s inception began at UCC’s HMRC in 2011 where the company’s software was developed by Dr Gordon Dalton through Enterprise Ireland funding. The company was founded in UCC Gateway with the help of the Local Enterprise Office and moved to the IMERC Entrepreneur Ship when the software was licensed in Autumn 2015. This innovative software allows companies to test the viability of the company at the early stage. They aim to derisk the Renewable sector and bring confidence to potential investors.
Their software is designed to assess a staggering 1,015 variables including parameters such as financial viability, wind speed to company location. This allows companies to reduce risk, save time, increase profitability, maximise resources and optimise the development of projects. They strive to produce the Gold Standard Evaluation Tool with their groundbreaking technology. In less than 2 years, Raymond and his team have amassed an impressive treasure chest of accolades and funding.
A Merry Band
To realise your dreams, you usually need the support and strength of your fellow(ship). Ray’s team has been found on this journey through perseverance and commitment to the task at hand. His merry band are a group of highly skilled and talented individuals who have decided to join Ray on his mission to help fulfill the dreams for Exceedence. The team is composed of Raymond Alcorn, John Keating, Chris O’ Donoghue, Annicka Wann, Bichris Coupama and Anthony Sherlock.
Raymond Alcorn, CEO and Founder of Exceedence
Raymond’s background is in Engineering. He is a chartered electrical engineer, working in research and development of marine renewables, research and commercial career. He saw a problem, everyone needs to present their business in terms of financial information, and there’s no standard way of doing that. ‘’A lot of people are glossing over issues or accidentally making mistakes which did not give investors a lot of confidence. That’s why we wanted to create Exceedence, to level the playing field a little bit’’. Both Ray and his cofounder John have a respective interest in renewable energy and armed with their combined considerable knowledge of the industry, they created the company. Over the past 2 years the team has grown from two to six.
John Keating, Director and Co Founder of Exceedence.
The majority of John’s career has been influenced by the renewable energy industry. He spent almost 17 years in commercial consulting with a heavy emphasis on renewable energy. He was formerly the chair of the Industry Advisory Committee of SFI MAREI. He has sat on the board of the Marine Renewable Industry Association sits its founding 8 years ago.
According to John, Exceedence was borne out of the technological development in UCC to allow companies a more reliable means of understanding and developing financial modelling. Being one of the first spin outs from UCC, it made sense to locate to the Entrepreneur Ship. John considers the facilities at the Entrepreneur Ship to be world class. For Exceedence, it has made the growth of the start up easier and more accelerated than otherwise would have been the case. It is relevant to who they are.
Chris O’ Donoghue, Principal Software Engineer
Chris’s background is in software engineering. He initially trained as a telecommunications engineer, then did a computer science degree at UCC. In his spare time he is a true mountain adventurer, running courses in navigation and mountaineering as well as being a participant in the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association. Chris is an avid cyclist and completed the Tour de France mountain stages a few years back.
He worked with Eircom for a few years and then as a freelance developer and trainer at Fás. He worked in UCC on the original software project which led to the main software product that they sell, Exceedence Finance. Ray launched the company a few years ago and asked Chris to follow him last year, which he was happy to do as he is keen to develop the software further.
Annicka Wann, Senior Project Engineer
Annicka started her journey with renewable energy in Sweden, attaining an MSc Engineering in Energy systems as well as a BSc in Business and Economics. She also completed a Research Msc in Energy Systems from UCC where she modelled the energy system of Ireland’s south west region. Since moving here, Annicka has been working on waste management, hydropower and energy storage. She met Ray through her work on a short Marine Energy Renewable stakeholder consultation project. Ray invited her to join Exceedence and for Annicka, the reasons for joining Exceedence were manifold.
Firstly the project that she was to work on sounded really interesting and was a good fit for her. Secondly, Exceedence and the Financial modelling suited her as per her background in renewables, business and energy modelling experiences. Thirdly, the idea of working with a start up was invigorating where challenges present themselves as opportunities to grow both on a personal level and as part of the company. She believes a strong team and worthy vision has been put in place to make Exceedence successful.
Bichris Coupama, Business Developer
Bichris has had a diverse career path, gaining two Masters degrees in France, one in the management of biodiversity (biology – Ecology) and one in business management. From a previous position she had a number of contacts with companies in the renewable energy sector (photovoltaic, wind…). Wishing to gain more relevant experience and improve her English, she enrolled in an Erasmus programme that sent her as an intern to UCC MAREI. After completing her internship and having seen her work in the communication and marketing sales area, Ray hired her to develop the business of Exceedence.
Having worked for governmental agency and private companies, she sees their benefits and disadvantages. She appreciates working in a start-up as the business is just beginning, the number of employees is reduced, so you have to be versatile to be able to run the business. She likes to see it like an opportunity to add more skills to her resume, in a field that is expanding and will be of importance in the future.
Anthony Sherlock, ICT Apprentice in Software Development
Anthony’s career involved working in bars for the past 12 years but he always had a passion for renewable energy. A lecture last year at CIT on fossil fuels made a lasting impression and a goal to aim for. He had enough of bar work and enrolled in a course in software development at St John’s college. The year long course was cut short by 6 months but the course was replaced by 6 months of practical experience which proved invaluable on his career path.
His enduring interest in renewable energy was the main reason why he wanted to work at Exceedence. Vincent from FIT (Fastrack to IT) sent his CV to Ray and Anthony was interviewed shortly after by Ray and Chris. He now works 3 days per week for the next 6 months and will then transition to full time. 6 months ago he never could have imagined sitting here at the Entrepreneur Ship having a meeting with the CEO and CTO.
In Dec 2015, Exceedence was awarded £90,000 sterling for the Wave Energy Scotland Stage 1 PTO Funding as lead company. This project was successful and in Sept 2016 were awarded a further £495,000 for a Stage 2 development , one of only 4 projects chosen for this prestigious funding.
Jan 2016 saw Exceedence selected by NDRC as 1 of 4 companies to take part in their Catalyser Programme. This gave Exceedence an Investment of €100k but more importantly access to their intensive 3 month mentoring programme culminating in a Liftoff pitch event in June. http://exceedence.com/exceedence-selected-for-ndrc-catalyser-investment/
June 2016 saw Exceedence secure the 100k ODINE Funding. They are the first Irish company to be selected for the Open Data Incubator (ODine). This funding allows Exceedence to develop and offer a cloud based lite version of the Exceedence FINANCE software based around Open Met Ocean Data.
Also in June Exceedence was selected for Microsoft Bizspark Plus Support. Through the NDRC they will be supported for 3 years, with €360k worth of Azure credits and all the development and backoffice software they need to roll out a cloud based SaaS version of the Exceedence Finance software.
There is no doubt that their accomplishments and trajectory are impressive, but what of the day to day and the little things that keep you buoyed? For Ray, it can be these which keep him going ‘’Say on a Friday afternoon, somebody phones you up and says ‘’Hi Ray, we would really like to buy your software, send us an invoice’’.That’s just fabulous, that’s a fantastic feeling to get as you start to get orders. You start to get orders and you start to get sales of what you’re doing. When somebody sends you a purchase order, when that comes through on the email and the payment hits your bank account, you go, ‘’I’m a businessman! So those are the kind of triumphs’’.
Ray says the biggest issue Exceedence faces is trying to shift people away from what is the status quo. ‘’So even though people are using something that’s broken (eg. using Excel as an analytic tool) and they know it’s broken, and they even know it’s inefficient, they are very reluctant to give that up and do something new. So our biggest challenge is being a disruptive technology and disrupting an entire market, not just one guy and one way of doing it. We are trying to level everybody the whole way along the supply chain. And that disruptiveness requires education and that’s our challenge’’.
Sharing the Adventure
Ray’s enthusiasm for the industry and its potential is infectious, ‘’I want to help more people generate projects and be successful. To create a lot more of these opportunities for other companies The likes of trhe companies we share incubation space Dare Technology, Solo Energy etc. to make it much easier for them to raise the finance. If they’ve got a good idea and good project to be able to raise the money to allow them to achieve those kinds of ambitions and be able to share that kind of feeling’’.
Sailing to Success on the Entrepreneur Ship
Since Exceedence spun out from the UCC Gateway building in Autumn 2015 to relocate to the Entrepreneur Ship. Ray has already noticed many benefits to the move.‘’The advantages here are through colocation and we already have projects that we worked on with CIT and the Maritime college and with UCC MAREI. We’ve brought staff in from there, in fact some of our staff are ex UCC MAREI employees as well, including myself. So there’s been a good relationship from that. So we have a lot footfall and we get a lot of projects out of the back of it. The university benefits as well as we are bringing projects back into there’’.
‘’The mentorship network is very good and you are also a relatively big fish in a small pond which is nice because we are very focused on what we do here and we are part of a cluster. Also a lot of the other companies are on a similar journey that we are, at different phases but that shared experience is useful. We share funding programmes, we tell people what else is coming up and we invite people to various workshops and we try and learn from each other. It’s not just who’s around us, it’s also who’s in the building and what they are doing. None of us are in conflict, we are not in competition so we are able to share our experiences’’.
As they continue on their epic adventure, their tale shows us that in real life the surest route to success is holding to your dream with the aid of your allies and forging those bonds. With these lessons, happy endings are real and achievable.