09 Aug 2017 | 10.00 am
Little Vista Is Expanding Its Horizons
Software for managing childcare facilities
09 Aug 2017 | 10.00 am
It’s said that the best business ideas solve a problem, and software developer Kieran Walkin certainly recognised a need for more efficient communication between crèches and parents when he set up Little Vista in August 2013 with three other founders.
Little Vista, a software platform to manage childcare and encourage better feedback for parents, came about due to lack of feedback from crèches to parents and public concern over mistreatment of children in crèches following a TV exposure.
Two of the company’s founder directors, who spoke for 60% of the initial equity, are no longer directors. Co-founder Maria Demery is still on board, along with Jules Hickson, the chief operating officer, who was in the venture from the start and became a director when the two founder directors left the boardroom table.
Walkin, Demery and Hickson were friends before going into business together. In his interaction with his child’s crèche, Walkin was frustrated that feedback about his child’s activities was negligible. So he bounced around the idea of developing an online software platform and related apps that that would eliminate paperwork and connect carers, children and parents.
In the background, RTÉ’s Prime Time had just aired an investigation into the mistreatment of children at some crèches in Ireland. “The whole industry was up in arms over that, so it was good timing for us to look at a system that could provide parents with a snapshot view into their child’s day,” says Demery (pictured).
Demery was due to return to work at Salesforce after maternity leave, and the opportunity to get involved with a tech startup was appealing. She had previously worked for Dell, so the transition from a large corporate environment was a challenge, albeit a positive one.
“The idea fascinated me and I love technology,” she says. “I thought it was great to get involved at such an early stage as well. Working in a startup is a rollercoaster of emotions and each day can be totally different. I love the diversity of my role and the excitement of seeing our product being developed and growing. I have really enjoyed getting a system that was so new out into a market where it is difficult to effect change.”
Hickson previously worked for eBookers and was involved in the launch of CityDeal in Ireland, as well as having a sales role with mobile banking startup SumUp. Walkin started out developing CCTV systems and then worked on information systems for Dublin Bus and Irish Rail, before heading up software consultancy firm, Plexus Consulting.
Initially, Little Vista’s goal was a system to provide parents with more transparency about their child’s day in the care facility. Demery and her colleagues soon realised there was a need for childcare providers to cut down on paperwork. Each room in a crèche can have up to 22 tots, and that means childcare workers having to fill out 22 separate forms to give to parents. “And that would be meals, naps, nappies, you name it,” says Demery.
With Little Vista, all that information is input on a tablet. Parents get a free app so they can log in and check updates relating to their little Max or Aoife. Little Vista provides the tablets to its childcare customers, who pay a monthly fee for the service.
The business was helped on its way with €30,000 in feasibility grants from the Local Enterprise Office and a €30,000 loan from Microfinance Ireland.
In February 2015, Little Vista rounded up €350,000 from nine private investors. Later that year the company utilised the Employment and Investment Incentive Scheme, which gives investors a tax break. Little Vista went to the EIIS well for €252,000 at the end of 2015 and used the scheme for four allotments in 2016 which raised a further €289,000. A Hong Kong investor chipped in €170,000 and taxpayers, through Enterprise Ireland, invested €250,000.
That’s a total of €1.3m capital raised in 40 months. Investors are encouraged by Little Vista’s traction in Ireland and the blue sky hope that the product will sell in overseas markets too. According to Demery, next up on the agenda are tweaking the Little Vista system for the UK, Switzerland and Austria.
As the platform has developed so, too, has its remit. Little Vista has incorporated Aistear, the early childhood curriculum framework, and a recent announcement by state agency Tusla that digital records will be accepted by its inspectors is good for the product too. Little Vista Manager handles tasks such as fee collection, occupancy planning and subvention management.
The company’s efforts have received the thumbs up from trade body Early Childhood Ireland (ECI), which represents 3,500 childcare providers in Ireland. Now the company is using finance from Credebt Exchange to fund the introduction of Little Vista tablets to play school customers all over the country.
While being first to market has its challenges, an advantage is the head start Little Vista has in terms of developing the software and the online platform. In Demery’s view, competition creates awareness of the features of each system and that is a positive thing. “You know you’re doing the right thing when other people are doing it as well,” she adds.