Mark Bannon – connecting things

Accounting graduate and former PWC employee Mark Bannon founded VT Networks, with colleague Will Ferguson, in mid-2015. In early 2016 the firm raised €1.2 million to roll out the first “Internet of Things” (IoT) network in Ireland.

I would describe VT Networks as a nationwide telecommunications network dedicated specifically to the Internet of Things. Billions of devices will form the $19 trillion Internet of Things market over the next decade, and traditional networks are not designed to support the application or scale of these devices. Our SIGFOX network allows low data rate devices to connect to the internet at 300 times better power efficiency and a fraction of the cost than standard networks such as mobile or wi-fi.

As a company, our biggest achievement to date was convincing SIGFOX Global that we were the best team in Ireland to roll out and deliver their network and the solutions it offers across the country. We faced some stiff competition to get the network licence for Ireland, but our team’s drive, passion and commitment to this technology won us the license.

I don’t view things as highs or lows. It’s all part of the same flow of always moving forward, and it’s all a learning experience. I can’t think of any experience I viewed as ‘low’ or ‘bad’. There have been sleepless nights and 11th-hour deals, but we love every minute of what we do. You have to really.

How do I deal with stress?

Confidence in my team and trusting the processes we have in place gives me a powerful sense that I don’t need to control every situation. If there are not enough hours in the day, or I’ve been working straight for some weeks, I usually take a step back and appreciate that this is what I asked for and get on with it. Other than that I like to keep fit and eat healthily.

If I were to start again? 

I would bring quality people into the management structure from the outset. Until I became aware of my weaknesses and where I need support I was working inefficiently. I really can’t put a high enough value on having people in the team that complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Humility and awareness are essential traits.

The key lesson I’ve learned is to have goals and direction. Setting yourself targets and mobilising teams that are entirely focused on the same targets is vital. Talk freely and openly about these goals as if it is only a matter of time before you achieve them and things will fall into place. The more you push yourself and seek out new and challenging situations, the more comfortable and confident you become.

How did I raise start-up capital?

We raised €1.2m privately from a diverse range of investors and entrepreneurs such as Realex Payments founder Colm Lyon, Patrick Joy of Suretank and telecoms entrepreneur Dara O’Mahony. It was a tough process where we needed to keep on top of communication with numerous different parties at the same time. There was a lot of shoe leather worn out!

Every investor is different but at the end of the day they are investing in you so remember to be yourself.

What would have made the start-up process easier?

The supports offered by LEO and Enterprise Ireland have been invaluable. If I had known what I know now, at the outset, I would have engaged with these organisations sooner. Everything from funding to mentor support is available and having that support would have moved things along a lot quicker from the start.

What is my ambition?

To become a market leader in the ‘Internet of Things’ sector. Not just operating in the Irish market, we want to spread our network and solution capabilities across Europe and further afield.

If there was one thing you could change about business culture in Ireland, what would that be?

The lack of belief that anything is possible if you dedicate everything you do to it. Not just in business either.

Pictured are Mark Bannon (centre) VT Networks with co-founder Will Ferguson and Barry Egan, director of Enterprise Ireland, West. Picture Colm Mahady / Fennells.