LEO Dublin City Enterprise Award Winner 2015
Paul McDonald of Sonitus Systems
We discuss the niche of noise management, winning big abroad and the importance of being reliable in business with Paul McDonald, the co-founder of Sonitus Systems.
Having worked in environmental monitoring, equipment design and consulting, coupled with a background in engineering, Paul McDonald saw that environmental experts were all faced with the same problem: trying to collect reliable environmental data with limited man power. That’s when he co-founded Sonitus Systems in 2007, to provide automated noise monitoring services.
‘Sonitus Systems’ is quite a technical and innovative concept, so what services do you provide?
We provide and sell automated noise monitoring equipment that is supported by an online reporting platform, so we operate in a very niche technical area.
As a business, that is quite a focused concept, but at the same time, the idea of noise pollution is one that almost everybody can relate to. The idea behind our offering came from the need to bridge the gap between the very technical area of noise monitoring and the very common problem of reporting noise levels to people who are not technical experts.
Our measurement equipment is supported by a cloud-based analytics platform which allows users to remotely manage their measurement projects.
Our system is based on ease of use and reliability, so that once a customer powers up our equipment we can manage the entire process of measuring, analysing and reporting noise levels.
Who are your customers?
We have customers with applications across a range of sectors, including construction, environment, manufacturing and entertainment.In Ireland, we work with several local authorities in Dublin and around the country, with over 40 active monitoring sites deployed.
We have developed a fully automated noise monitoring network, supported by a public information platform – www.dublincitynoise.ie. This combination of automated equipment and easily accessible online information has made Dublin one of the leading cities in Europe for environmental noise management.
We also do a lot of work in construction noise monitoring, particularly around compliance with planning conditions, so our customers are contractors and environmental consultants.
What benefits can clients expect when using Sonitus Systems?
Our system gives them a very simple and cost effective way of managing noise levels and demonstrating compliance to local authorities. This is a big concern for developers in the UK where noise pollution is very tightly regulated. About 40% of our business in 2014 was to the UK for construction noise monitoring. Over the past few months, we have secured contracts with a number of multinationals, mainly in the mining and gas exploration industries as well as international universities who are planning to replicate what we have done with Dublin City.
What do you think differentiates Sonitus Systems from other companies?
Two things: Reliability and Simplicity.
We take an extremely technical issue and make it easy for people to get the information they need to run their project. We do that with a mix of really well-designed hardware, clever software and by constantly listening to what our customers need our system to do.
Noise monitoring is not usually the main focus of the projects that our customers are working on. On a multi-million euro construction job, constantly managing noise levels is not the top priority, but any project delays caused by complaints or planning breaches can be costly. Our system takes care of all the measurement and compliance checks and sends an alert to the project manager if noise levels are too high, so problems can be avoided before they happen.
You were recently awarded a five year monitoring contract with the Railway Procurement Agency – how did that come about?
The Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) launched a public tender for monitoring services to help manage noise from the Luas construction works. They needed something that was fully automated, operating 24 hours a day and could be used to communicate with all that various companies and contractors involved in the project.
We put together a great solution for them and won a very competitive tendering process. At present we have seven live monitoring points on the new Luas works with more still to be rolled out. All the works are constantly monitored and if noise levels are likely to exceed the limits that the RPA have set then we let the contractor know. They manage their works for the rest of the day and we let them know how they did at the end of the shift. It is one of the first projects in Dublin where noise has been tightly controlled and all the companies involved have been really good to work with. We have developed a number of partnerships as a result of winning the contract and we have gone on to win more public tenders with these companies, even as recently as last month.
What does 2015 hold for you?
We have just completed a deal with one of the largest technology companies in the world, who are incorporating our product into their monitoring solutions. That is an exciting project that could open up a huge international market for us. We have continued to expand our international distribution network, with new partners coming on board across Europe and the Middle East. We’ve also achieved our first sale to the US and signed up one of the biggest mining companies in Asia as a customer.For a small company, we do a lot of R&D and we plan to launch a new product this year aimed at a number of large European markets. It’s going to be a busy year.
How have the Local Enterprise Office Dublin City supported your business so far?
We were awarded a Business Expansion Grant by the Local Enterprise Office Dublin City in October 2014. This grant has helped to fund key hires, which will be crucial for improving our service offering and expanding our sales reach this year. It has also allowed us to invest in a new certification process which will give us a new revenue stream from local customers and open up key new markets across Europe.
You’ve recently gained a customer in Asia. What steps would you suggest to other entrepreneurs when thinking of expanding internationally?
Do your homework in detail and then talk to Enterprise Ireland. They love helping Irish companies get their products out into the world. They have been a great source of advice and guidance for us and they can give you the cold facts about doing business abroad to make sure you are prepared. Understanding the commitment needed to export before spending too much time or money is really important.
Export selling is different, your role changes. Certainly with technical product, you need to find a way to enable your international sales network to successfully engage with your target customers overseas. That means they have to understand and communicate your value the same way you do, but they also have to understand the local market and culture. That means finding the right partner or the right sales channel is crucial. They’ll be representing your product so getting the right person in front of your new customers is key.
Any final words of advice for other business owners?
There are a huge amount of supports available to new businesses here in Ireland, many of which go well beyond offering grants. The Local Enterprise Offices are the front line of that support. We’re extremely lucky in this country to have that. We know from speaking to our customers and competitors that most countries don’t have such an effective local and international network to support companies that are planning to expand. And then once the planning is done, it’s time to get down to work.
Our thanks to Paul McDonald for taking part in this interview
For more in-depth information around the service that Sonitus Systems provide, please visit www.sonitussystems.com, or find them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sonitussystems or on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/company/sonitus-systems