Nightingale HQ sings to the AI-ready future of SMEs

Irish and Welsh AI start-up Nightingale HQ has built a platform of tools that automate crucial business tasks for SMEs.

Nightingale HQ is a start-up based in Wales and Ireland that recently won a grant from Innovate UK to help SMEs bounce back from the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown

“We took on an extra five people and launched the GoSmarter Toolbox – automation for SMEs,” explained co-founder and commercial director Ruth Kearney.

“AI and automation offer huge time and cost savings, as well as growth benefits to businesses”

“It’ free for SMEs to sign up and learn and get supported on implementing six AI-powered tools across their business. The tools automate everything from invoice processing, meeting management, online bookings, sales, social media listening and even bigger admin processes that are simply wasting too much time.”

The business has already got a number of innovation spaces and hubs on board, including ICE Wales, Innovate UK and RDI in Kerry, StartupClub and TownSquare UK.

Getting businesses AI-ready

“AI and automation offer huge time and cost savings, as well as growth benefits to businesses at any stage of the maturity cycle, but many are behind in getting started,” Kearney explained.

“We know that the key blockers are a lack of ownership of AI within the company, skills gaps and insufficient technological infrastructure in place to support AI systems. The problem we are solving is in helping business overcome these blockages to successfully adopt AI technologies and become AI-ready.

“It’s not an easy problem but it’s one worth solving especially when the global AI market is expected to be $62.3bn this year alone and exponential future growth forecast. Businesses across Europe are spending $10bn on trying to adopt AI and this means that achieving ROI on that spend is make or break for business. The global pandemic has also emerged as a major opportunity for AI both and has boosted core vertices leading with software, healthcare, marketing and BFSI. Overall, it’s a great market to be in.”

Perfect planning prevents poor performance

Nightingale HQ is an online platform that supports businesses in overcoming the core blockers to successful AI adoption: strategic alignment, internal skills gaps, and execution of projects including the critical data infrastructure that underpins successful AI implementations. Our platform integrates three core products AI Direct, AI Learn and AI Connect.

Commercial director Ruth Kearney comes from a marketing and business development background and has been involved with accelerators, incubators and commercialisation for almost 20 years. All of this and extensive experience in rolling out innovation and industry programmes at Trinity College Dublin and more recently AI and data science bootcamps for Talent Garden has spurred her on to join Nightingale HQ as co-founder.

“You could say it was right market, right time and right co-founder,” she said.

Steph Locke, CEO, is a data scientist with a passion for helping businesses use their data effectively. Working for a single company enables you to make a small difference but Steph wanted to help more businesses, so she started a consultancy. Not satisfied with the scale of consultancy, building a digital platform start-up is helping Steph achieve her goal at a global scale.

Blonde-haired woman speaking from a podium.

Steph Locke, CEO and co-founder of Nightingale HQ

“We’re a Welsh and Irish company and starting out in Wales has been ‘interesting’,” says Kearney. “We see a lot of misconceptions about Welsh businesses because we’re not in London, but we have a fantastic tech ecosystem and a lower cost of living. Having a presence in both markets is extremely useful and gives us a broader perspective and more opportunities in the enterprise space.

“Individually we are well connected and active in our respective ecosystems and this is important, but we are also looking to extend our reach. We have just finished work with a big client based in Germany, so we consider ourselves to be part of a wider international start-up ecosystem.”

“The global pandemic has pushed everything online so we recently joined the Federation of Small Business FSB in the UK which has a massive membership of 170,000 and the Womens Inspire Network (WIN) based in Ireland with 400 members globally, both are giving us great value in terms of networking and doing business within the wider startup ecosystem.

“From a more general perspective, the global pandemic has not been good to the start-ups and when you think of the billions gone in terms of investments, it’s concerning. We don’t have venture capital money and we are trying to build our company on cashflow and it’s tough as the current crisis has stunted a lot of growth. We do hope that businesses will bounce back stronger than ever as they have done during previous recessions. “

She explained that Nightingale HQ is looking for its first investment and is aiming to raise between £350,000 and £400,000.

Making businesses smarter

The biggest lessons so far have come from pitching AI to the SME market.

“We’re passionate about AI and we know it can make a huge difference to making smaller organisations more competitive, but SMEs are not in the early adopter space around AI and don’t yet see the need for it. We’re now aiming at the enterprise market and having success.

“The one exception to this is our new project which is funded by Innovate UK and helps SMEs adopt AI but through the lens of automation and doing it at a tactical level rather than a strategic level.

“We support SMEs to adopt six core automation tools to help them automate tasks and processes across their business, saving them tons of time. It can be as straightforward as automating searchable transcripts on presentations to implementing your own no code FAQ chatbot.

Who dare sells

Her advice to fellow start-ups? “Spend more time selling! The first year, we made the mistake of not getting out into the market and talking to enough of our target market. This meant we positioned ourselves wrong, and we did the famous pivot, but it meant that it’s only been this year that we’ve seen success.

“If we started talking more last year, we could be a lot further along. Of course, there are no certainties in start-up land.”

To stay nimble and agile, Nightingale HQ follows its own advice and automates everything.

“We use all the tech! We are an AI company, so we love to automate as much as possible. Our day to day uses the Microsoft stack and Hubspot with tons of basic and AI-supported automation.

“We try to automate many of the manual back office tasks as possible like invoice processing, meeting management, social media listening, automating PR feeds and even down to more productive meetings with searchable transcriptions so everyone is on the same page.

“We use most of the tools are in our Toolbox that we are rolling out right now,” Kearney said.

Written by John Kennedy (

Published: 13 July, 2020