Cork-based Keelvar is optimising supply lines in the face of Covid-19

Alan Holland, the founder of Keelvar. Picture: Victor Horgan

Keelvar, a Cork-based procurement and supply chain optimisation company, has announced it is expanding with plans to recruit 40 new workers over the next two years.

The artificial intelligence (AI) tech firm currently works out of CIT's Rubicon and boasts high-profile clients such as BMW, Coca Cola and Novartis. It currently manages more than €80bn in spend annually for enterprises in all major industries.

In recent weeks the company announced that it has raised more than €16m in new funding to support its expansion plans for Europe and the US, amid the rapidly-growing need for supply chain automation solutions, which has been further accelerated by the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Founder Alan Holland says the idea for Keelvar came to him while he was studying for his PhD in UCC. The company was founded in 2012.

"It happens to all [big] businesses when they are buying things. When you bid on different supplies, you don't know what combination you're going to win.

"You could have lorries going to Donegal, Louth, Wexford and Limerick, and you might win nothing in between.

"This is common across many industries. You have all of this uncertainty so you don't know what to bid.

"There is an expectation that you don't have any synergies and everything is inefficient. The solution to this lies in computer science."

With Keelvar, suppliers describe what combinations they want to win, and how they would like to piece together the different locations to send them to, in order to maximise efficiency.

"If you get that combination you can offer a discount. If you allow suppliers to be expressive about their strengths and weaknesses, then you can let everyone play to their strengths. It's about helping different companies find efficient ways to work together."

Keelvar's AI system works by using algorithms. "If you think back to permutations and combinations in [maths class in school], these translate into thousands of package bids. You numerate [each bid] out, list all the different packages that could be awarded, and how they need to be pieced together with package bids from other potential suppliers," says Mr Holland.

"That is what we call an optimisation problem. You need algorithms to search through the millions of possible ways to piece these things together, to find the most efficient allocation."

Mr Holland is also keen to contribute to Cork's burgeoning tech scene. He says there are many young, fast-growing indigenous tech companies in the rebel county.

"We are hiring computer science graduates, that is the core of our product development, specifically those with a focus on AI and optimisation. There's also customer success managers, marketing, there's a finance director role open. There's a range of different roles and we are trying to hire as many from Cork as possible.

"Cork has a very strong and vibrant indigenous tech scene. In some ways, I'd nearly say it's the heart of indigenous tech. Dublin has all the big FDI and large American tech companies, it actually makes it harder for indigenous tech to get the talent.

"We have enough breathing room to allow indigenous tech to really prosper. There's been a few big success stories, like Teamwork and WorkVivo.

"Cork probably has some of the fastest-growing young tech companies in Ireland. There's some in other parts of the country but we have a strong base here. Having UCC and CIT producing a number of strong graduates in computing each year is instrumental in that."

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