Meet the technology whizz turned entrepreneur who’s solving the problem on every businesses’ radar – data privacy – and all while he’s still in his teens.
With the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in full force, it’s never been more important to crack down on data management. As consumers, do we know our data rights; what to share, who to share it with, and why? As businesses, do we know how to use data responsibly, and how to protect it in line with changing laws and rising security threats?
Entrepreneur and software developer, Shane Curran is not only making these questions answerable, but making them a way of life – something we, as data handlers don’t think about, we just do. What’s even more impressive, he’s doing all this at the age of eighteen.
We spoke to Shane about how he went from a school boy with a love for technology to an award-winning entrepreneur with a wish to solve one of the world’s most talked about problems – data privacy.
When did your drive to become an entrepreneur begin?
It started pretty young. My first interest was in technology and developing products that would solve problems. Some people learn technical skills and pick them up just for the sake of knowing them, but for me it was always about using these skills to actually solve something that was meaningful. I started at the basics, with things that I was interested in at the time, but overtime I started developing tools that were useful to people. The first proper product that I built was a business called Libramatic, which was a library app to keep track of your books.
Do you think you’re at an advantage to start a business because of your age?
Definitely. From my point of view, I don’t have too much to lose. When I was younger, it was more challenging, especially when taking phone calls and my voice hadn’t broken. But I think when I left school for college, I was taken more seriously and trusted a bit more. People are starting to realise that a lot of great companies are run by teenagers and people in their twenties. When we’re young, the advantage is we don’t have to worry too much about the bureaucratic issues that some larger companies have. But those who just bash out an idea and hope it works need to realise that it’s not a sensible formula.
You won BT’s Young Scientist award last year and were recently featured on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, what impact did this have on you as a business owner?
The BT award is from the technical and science side of things, whereas Forbes is more focused on entrepreneurship and business in general, so it’s nice to have two things coming from two different angles. The BT exhibition here in Ireland was definitely a strong launch pad into what I’m doing now. It provided a lot more credibility because it’s recognisable and people are more willing to take a meeting with you if you have that on your CV. Forbes is very good in terms of selling to potential customers because it’s a renowned brand. It’s definitely been an attribute to the success I’ve had so far.
Can you tell us a bit more about your business?
I launched qCrypt about eighteen months ago as a spin off from my research for the Young Scientist exhibition. It was a platform that allowed companies to secure all their data via quantum computing. This then developed into Muon. Companies don’t just want an algorithm, they want a more cohesive platform that solves one major issue they’re having. Over the last couple of years, that issue has been personal data privacy. Muon is a platform that allows third party services to process personal information, using a combination of secure software algorithms. Individuals don’t even know they’re using Muon, the only ones that know are the companies themselves. Individuals can just worry about using the application as normal, and not about the security of their data.
What inspired you to start these businesses?
I came to realise that the traditional system for storing data and the contracts themselves were pretty poor in terms of securing information for long periods of time. So I wanted to create a solution that, if you signed a contract now, no information would be disclosed for the next one hundred years, and you could rely on the underlying security of that contract. I found a way of using the Laws and Acts to approach the problem and made sure the solution was completely independent from any changes in government. This research, with the more technical side – how to develop the algorithms – turned into a fully featured platform.
Why is now the right time?
GDPR is a major concern for a lot of businesses in Europe right now. I think the initial problem, especially for small and medium businesses, is understanding what GDPR means, having to talk about it with their legal counsel and watching their time and costs add up. That’s our unique selling point – we solve these problems so businesses today don’t have to worry about the legalities. Obviously, GDPR is a very topical issue, especially with the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and all the data hacks that are happening to companies like Equifax. Companies are starting to realise that the technology they’re building aren’t developed with security and data privacy in mind, when it should be taken care of as soon as they start – that’s what we’re trying to change with Muon.
You’re planning on going to university, how important do you think higher education is for entrepreneurs, especially in the tech field?
What you learn in the lecture theatre is very important, but at the same time, it really depends on what you want to do. These days there’s a lot of emphasis on going to university and getting a degree, regardless of what you really want to do. Sometimes, it’s not always the right path to take. For me, I think it is. Particularly in technology, a lot of people go head first into a certain aspect of it before they understand the underlying principles. You may have the skills to build a platform, for example, but when it comes to deriving a solution from scratch (which hasn’t been approached before) sometimes it’s really important to have the fundamental knowledge.
If you could give young, aspiring entrepreneurs a piece of advice, what would it be?
If you’re technical, the best approach is to just build it, but at the same time, make sure people need your solution. I think the best advice I can give is to solve a problem you’ve experienced yourself or you know firsthand is a major issue for a particular group of people you know. Also, I’d say aim big because if you aim low, you’re automatically discounting all the potential you have. Regardless of your capability, you should always aim for 100%.
If, like Shane, you have aspirations to go to university to expand your career prospects, read our interview with entrepreneur, marketer and teacher Christina Richardson. Learn about her Entrepreneurial Marketing and Analytics course at University College London and why academia is the perfect launch pad to start a business from.