Alan Phelan is the CEO of SourceDogg, Co-Founder of Nucleus VP Group and a Director of NVP Energy. His mission is to develop the management and innovation capabilities of early stage companies in Ireland. In this story, we capture his journey from engineering graduate in NUI Galway to MD of a high growth UK rail company to spinning out a successful energy technology company back in NUI Galway.
After studying engineering in NUI Galway until 1990, Alan began his career with the engineering company, Edmund Nuttall Ltd., now BAM Nuttall. Among its portfolio of infrastructural projects, Edmund Nuttall was involved in rail; a sector which Alan moved into in 1997 as Managing Director and Shareholder of Servigroup.
“Servigroup was an opportunity to bring private sector thinking into what was previously a public sector.”
Servigroup provided signalling and telecoms systems to a newly privatised British rail sector. The company gradually became a 1st tier supplier in the industry and under Alan’s leadership it became one of the 50 fastest growing companies in the UK. Reaching a turnover of £25m and over 250 employees, Alan and his business partner, Seán McKeague, sold Servigroup in 2005 for over £20m.
Forging the Nucleus VP Group from Galway
Alan returned to Ireland, settling in Galway where he spent 18 months sifting through over a hundred ideas in NUI Galway’s and other Irish Universities’ Technology Transfer Offices.
“Galway is a location to conduct business and to live. The cost base is low and people want to stay. This is very important to attract and retain qualified talent.”
He observed that many Irish start-ups had limited management experience and were selling out early. In 2010, Alan and Seán founded Nucleus VP Group (NVP Group) to develop the management capabilities and accelerate technology innovation within such early stage companies.
These companies were to be found in Ireland within the software, telecoms and waste to energy sectors. Their first investment was an Irish satellite telecoms provider, Onwave. Drawing on their experience in the UK market, Alan and Seán pivoted the business to become a business telecoms provider to the UK construction and utilities markets, focusing on project and vehicle communications and associated technologies. They adopted by additional new technologies such as cellular, WiMax and fixed line solutions to become and internet service provider and a network integrator.
“At an early stage, you need to be fit – to be able to get up and sell your product. To move from pushing a boulder up a hill to being a runaway train.”
Galway Technology Centre became an attractive destination for Nucleus VP Group. Upon acquisition, Alan moved SourceDogg’s operations to the centre, taking advantage of the flexible services that enabled expansion and contraction on demand. He views the centre as a complete solution that enables him to keep the focus on customers and product development.
“Galway Technology Centre de-risks the start-up phase – the more that can be shifted from capital expenditure to operations the better. The complete service cuts down on things to deal with, creating space to focus on product and customers.”
Uncovering a Nugget in SourceDogg
SourceDogg was founded in 2009. In 2011 NVP Group invested in the company, acquiring a majority share the following year. At the time, the procurement software company was serving small to medium enterprises but Alan identified that the product was better suited to larger clients.
At its core, SourceDogg makes procurement software that collects complex data and simplifies the management of supplier data, buying, bidding and contract processes. It acts as a comprehensive market place and an in-depth solution to manage documentation to maintain compliance and provide simple access to information. This required an experience that satisfied the needs of a wide range of users with disparate needs; from in depth analysis to basic form submission and information requests.
“The challenge was in providing complexity for the power user but simplicity for average user.”
Over two years the platform was rebuilt and targeted towards larger scale organisations. They acquired clients such as L’Oreal and Bank of Ireland and began to displace established providers such as SAP from their new client base. They now have customers as far as the US, Africa, Australia and Singapore across a varied range of industries including banking, property development, outsourcing and cosmetics.
SourceDogg has become fluent in developing its “Software as a Service” (SaaS) platform and continues to refine the product based on feedback from large corporate clients. Now with an established platform meeting the needs of its target market, the focus now is on scaling the product and company.
Sustainable and Financial Benefits in NVP Energy
Developed over a ten-year period in the NUI Galway Department of Microbiology, NVP Energy was formed in 2013 through Nucleus VP. NVP Energy is a clean technology company that has developed a unique revenue-generating, carbon-neutral bio technology. The technology treats wastewater and recovers valuable biogas in the process that can be used as an energy source.
Unique to the technology is the fact that the treatment process operates at much lower temperatures than existing technologies; producing three times as much energy as is required to operate it.
The third company in the Nucleus VP portfolio, NVP Energy has been taken from research and development to commercialisation through the establishment of a management team and board comprising of the inventors of the technology, engineers and experienced directors.
NVP Energy’s technology has applications in the food, dairy, beverage and municipal sectors. They have recently secured a contract to install a system in the UK for one of the largest brewers in the world and the team have just won the 2017 Irish Times Innovation Award for Energy and Environment.
Nucleus VP Group plans to continue to grow the Group revenue and employee numbers by focusing on technologies that enable businesses to reduce costs, improve productivity and reduce environmental impact. “Galway Technology Centre is a great place for us to grow our business due to the location, the flexibility of the team and quality of the offices.”