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Business idea a long time in the making

Justin Collery established Waterford company Wi-Pipe in 2004 to sell wireless networking equipment to providers of CCTV, radio frequency and internet services. The idea for the business was, he said, a long time coming.

‘‘I have loved computers since I was a kid,’’ he said. ‘‘When I was 17, I got my first modem, which could only connect to a couple of bulletin boards. It was clear to me long ago that the internet was another utility, which everyone would need, the same as water and electricity. It was also clear that the immediate need in Ireland could only be satisfied with wireless.’’

From its base in Portlaw, Wi-Pipe sells internationally to manufacturers, including Stella Doradus, Ubiquiti, Tranzeo, Valemount Networks and Mikro Tik. The company employs just four people, but generates yearly revenues of €700,000. According to Collery, much of this success is down to the experience he gleaned at the helm of an earlier venture, Diliga Systems, which he sold to Insight Test Services in 2004.

‘‘We set up Diliga just as the dotcom boom was about to bust but, in any case, it would probably not have worked. However, the process of setting up a company taught me a lot about what works and what does not. It is very important to be in business. The next time around, you have a much better idea of what you need to do,’’ he said. With Wi-Pipe,Collery’s priority was to build the business from the inside, rather than seeking advice and support from external sources.

‘‘With Diliga, we went through all the process of chasing grants and external funding, through Dublin Institute of Technology’s Hothouse Venture Programme and Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU[High Performance Start-Up Unit] scheme,’’ said Collery.

‘‘Apart from the free office space,everythingelsewasa complete distraction and made no difference to whether we succeeded or failed. With Wi- Pipe,I have never looked for support from any enterprise board or incubation centre. Support from both my own family and my wife’s family has been key.’’

As co-author of two Wi- Max-based patents, Collery advised other tech-based start- ups to build up contacts from within user and expert communities.‘‘When I established Wi-Pipe, there was a pretty good group of wireless interest enthusiasts around. I became known to them and, as they became more professional, Wi- Pipe grew with them. That helped us to build a broad customer base,’’ he said.

Wi-Pipe also built strong business links with Irish antenna provider Stella Doradus.

‘‘Stella Doradus had been manufacturing antenna for over 20 years, but did not have my technical smarts when it came to wireless. I bought stuff from it to re-sell, together with technical expertise, IT equipment and everything else wireless ISPs would need. That worked out well, and we supplied Clearwire in the US for the initial roll out of WiMax over there,’’ said Collery. For start-ups, he said that
longterm success in business was often down to strong links with partners, suppliers and customers.

‘‘Having the technical expertise right beside you is really important. If a customer has a problem, you can talk directly to the guy who is designing the product, find out exactly what is going on and give the customer feedback directly. That gives you a big edge over competitors shipping in boxes from China,’’ he said.

Wi-Pipe is gearing up to bring to market a series of products it has developed internally. ‘‘Before Christmas, we will release new mobile broad band products enabling our current customers to make more money. We are pushing into Europe and will set up local partners in each market, going for Britain first. In two years’ time, I will be disappointed if 50 percent of our sales are not overseas.’’

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