News & Views

Irish Times / Fusion

by Contagious Team

Contagious judges at Irish Times Fusion, a competition pairing startups with the paper's advertising team and external mentors to develop a market-ready idea and refine it as a proposition for advertising

FrockAdvisor, a platform that connects fashion-hunters with boutiques, claimed first prize at the Irish Times Fusion competition on Friday. Boutiques subscribe to the service and recommend items to fashion fans who have opted-in, based on their posts on social media services such as Instagram.

Judges were impressed by the potential dual revenue stream for the company: charging boutiques to access the platform and also developing content sponsored by brands around specific fashion events. Additionally, the nature of the recommendations from the boutiques allow fashion lovers to benefit from highly personal advice, from anywhere in the world.

Co-founder Sonya Lennon told Contagious: 'FrockAdvisor is about high engagement with a strong personal connection between seller and buyer, in many ways it's about trust and human engagement. Pretty old fashioned values, but ones that make the end user much more receptive to the message. Ultimately, FrockAdvisor is an innovation in social commerce, a great idea, with a great team.'  

The Fusion process saw over 100 startups apply for the chance to spend five weeks embedded in the paper's advertising department. Ten companies were selected, with offerings spanning fashion, publishing, health, loyalty, recipes, garden design, and parking. The startups refined their offering and pitches, gaining valuable feedback thanks to surveys supported by the paper. They also received mentoring from members of Dublin's advertising, branding, and creative industries.

Johnny Ryan, Chief Innovation Officer at the Irish Times, described the paper's role more as a validator than an incubator: 'Inside The Irish Times, the startup has to start making micro pivots every week and figure out exactly how it is going to grow its business right from the start. What I hope that means is that by the time the startup leaves The Irish Times it is immune to the startup hype bubble, knows that it has something genuinely valuable to users, and knows how to reach them.' 

GetHealth a motivational app which spans eating, exercise, and wellbeing claimed the runner up slot. The app measures 'munch', 'move', and 'mind' and uses gamification mechanics to prompt people to achieve their health goals, rewarding them for drinking water or exercising, for example.

GetHealth is raising public funds raise on AngelList and was recently announced as one of 13 international companies picked as a 'Healthcare Transformer' by New York-based programme StartUp Health Academy. 

Liam Ryan, co-founder of GetHealth told Contagious: 'Our time at the Irish Times' Fusion programme has allowed us to discover new opportunities to commercialise our product offering and ultimately redefine brand engagement in health. Developing one-on-one relationships with key international media buyers has given GetHealth the opportunity to propose a new product for a brand to deliver to their valued customers.'

The criteria for winners were to find a product or service that is engaging to customers, could be used regularly, and offers strong opportunity for brand engagement. Both FrockAdvisor and GetHealth had clear opportunities for brands to integrate into their offering, and The Irish Times also benefited from being exposed to startups at such close quarters. The winning and shortlisted company will remain at the Times for six months as startup-in-residence.

Ryan shares: 'We know that when the market is hard, the deeper, longer term thinker has the advantage. Over the past months every single member of the advertising team at The Irish Times has had hands-on experience of working with the next generation of disruptive startups.

Each person has had to make the mental leap between working with the inventory that currently exists and conceiving entirely new inventory that the market has never seen before. This radical mental shift within our organisation is a long-term benefit that can not be underestimated.'