Explaining what you do when you work in tech isn’t always straightforward, and when you’re part of a start-up, even explaining what the company does can be a mouthful. Anne Keogh FCCA, CFO and COO of environmental analytics company Ambisense, cheerfully admits that she generally says she ‘works in a sustainability company with AI and data at its core; you tend to lose people after that’.
Set up in 2014 and based in the DCU Alpha Innovation Campus in Glasnevin, Dublin, Ambisense designs and manufactures environmental monitoring equipment, which the company says helps in ‘data-driven decisions on pressing environmental issues’.
The company’s offerings have real-life impact
A team of 17, located in Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands, develops innovative and cost-effective technology to improve how atmospheric conditions and emissions are monitored.
Keogh points to AmbiAir, which monitors air quality, and its use in social housing, as an example of how the company’s offerings have real-life impact, as it allows issues such as damp air to be detected before becoming a health hazard.
‘Housing organisations are realising that if you invest in this monitoring equipment, you can have all the environmental data you need at your fingertips,’ Keogh says. ‘You can also share the data with the people living in these properties, so the technology helps build a sense of partnership.’
‘I’m a sucker for start-up and early-stage companies’
The pandemic years created a whole new challenge around monitoring air flow and saw the company’s equipment deployed in a range of public-facing businesses. And there are uses in places most of us won’t be visiting any time soon. The closure of landfill sites across Europe, for example, has created a legal requirement for ongoing monitoring that Ambisense’s devices and analytics are designed to meet.
Company enters air-quality market with AmbiAir
Ambisense wins €3m in investment funding
Global environmental monitoring market revenue estimated at US$15bn
‘We accountants can drive the sustainability agenda’
Passion for change
For Keogh, who joined the company in 2022, there was a double appeal to getting involved. ‘I’m a sucker for start-up and early-stage companies. Helping them to change, grow and become impactful is where my passion lies,’ she says. The company’s environmental credentials were another clear draw; sustainability has been a passion for Keogh throughout her career, reinvigorated by recently completing Trinity College’s Sustainable Development for Business course.
While she is sympathetic to those who find the sustainability challenge daunting – or, indeed, are jaundiced by greenwashing – she is also adamant that ‘we accountants can drive the sustainability agenda. For a long time we didn’t and we really need to focus now on how we can bring change to the organisations we work with. Sustainability also drives great value to a business; every euro you put in you’ll get out in multiples.’
Keogh will be familiar to many ACCA members from her time as ACCA Ireland president (as the role was then styled) in 2014. It was an experience that she recalls as transformative. ‘When I first started out in accounting I had an amazing mentor who once said to me: “Our biggest constraint as accountants is our ability to communicate.” The role of president really helped me to push those boundaries, develop my soft skills and open my mind to the scope of the profession.’
The set-up of an ACCA Ireland mentoring programme was a direct dividend from Keogh’s time in office, and she remains adamant about its value in career progression. ‘There are two types of people: those who will always be able to put themselves forward and those who tend to think twice. That’s where mentoring comes in. If you’re that individual who isn’t going to put your hand up immediately, you need to find a mentor who‘ll tell you when it’s time.’
‘Those of us in a position to share knowledge have to recognise our role as educators’
It’s a challenge that she feels has become even more urgent in the era of hybrid working. ‘My heart goes out to young people who are starting out on their career journey right now,’ she says. ‘Those of us in a position to share knowledge have to recognise our role as educators. People learn from people, not from screens.’
CFO, Ambisense, Dublin
CFO and COO, Pharmapod, Dublin
President, ACCA Ireland
Head of finance and operation, The Well Water, Dublin
‘Recognition is now really growing that the buildings we live and work in need to be healthy’
Make a difference
Ambisense’s focus both on innovation and measurability now looks ready to pay off as governments around the world rapidly increase their spend on environmental monitoring. Recent cases where damp and mould in sub-standard housing have been identified as a serious risk to health have prompted moves in the UK and Ireland to do much more to identify potential issues early on, and some estimates suggest global revenue from the environmental monitoring industry could reach US$18bn by 2026.
‘Ambisense was early in the curve in some respects,’ Keogh says. ‘But recognition is now really growing that the buildings we live and work in need to be healthy, and that the data can be provided using relatively inexpensive technology. That’s creating the opportunity for us to make a difference.’
Making a difference could also describe Keogh’s views on the changing role of finance. ‘CFOs used to be unpopular and the role of the accountant was once seen as to monitor spending,’ she says. ‘I’d like to think that’s changing as we show people that the actions we take can be positive.
‘When you talk about sustainability, I understand why people’s eyes sometimes roll. But we have the opportunity to show it’s not just talk; it’s about doing something positive and embedding change in our businesses.’