Leeds-based tech startup Hark specialises in preventing failures before they occur, reducing waste energy and increasing yield. The company – which operates in sectors including pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and smart buildings – connects to physical assets to create digital twins, using a software platform that streamlines operational processes on a global scale.
Hark, which has been growing its reputation and networks in Yorkshire and beyond since its inception in 2016, recently held a hackathon called Hark Hack that challenged teams from across the UK to develop a system to reduce energy and save businesses costs using sensors, devices and real-time data.
It saw participants hack a Dell Edge Gateway 3001 to communicate with lights, fans and temperature sensors in a bid to solve an environmental challenge. Its top prize? Two weeks of paid work experience with the company, which could prove invaluable in getting a person’s career off the ground.
We spoke to CEO Jordan Appleson about the hackathon, his company, and why it’s important for businesses to give something back to their tech communities.
What’s Hark’s story?
Jordan Appleson: We started in 2016 working in the life science sector monitoring temperature and CO2 data for drug development. We always knew the platform could do more and connect to other assets. When the opportunity came to change what we were doing, we took it and expanded our model.
We also manufactured our own hardware to start with but was too expensive. Now we work with companies to allow them to use the hardware they already have.
How does Hark’s platform work?
The Hark platform is a cloud-based monitoring system which works alongside existing infrastructure to monitor, store, and analyse business-critical sensor data from physical assets with easy-to-use cloud software from anywhere in the world.
By using machine learning, the platform is capable of detecting faults within systems before they happen, potentially saving clients valuable time and expenditure. There are now energy monitoring capabilities built into the platform that allows users to analyse power usage and understand where energy is used the most, reducing their carbon footprint and avoiding costly bills.
“In the energy market space, there’s a lot of disruption going on. Legacy companies haven’t done a bad job but fresh and innovative ideas come from companies like Hark. We need to look to tomorrow.”
– Mike Fay, business development manager for IoT solutions at Dell and Hark Hack Day judge
What inspired you to run a hack day?
I’ve taken part in hack days myself and they were really fun. It’s a brilliant opportunity to play with machinery and mess around with Industry 4.0 tech which is connected to physical assets; not a lot of people get the chance to have a play with this sort of thing for fun. We’ve created a platform for developers to mess about with industrial hardware and software.
There were six teams of two to five people on the day, and they came from all over the country – from London to Cambridge, Swindon and Leeds. Participants included university students, graduates, and people looking for a change in career – including a doctor! Dell and Intel also sent swag for those taking part.
What are your local tech ecosystem’s biggest challenges, and how can it overcome them?
The North is an exciting place to have founded the business. Leeds is already an established hub for marketing technology businesses and there’s much more on the horizon – from investment groups and education facilities to enterprises relocating to Leeds. Yorkshire has an industrial heritage and we’re excited to play our part in linking technology and industry.
However, there were a few things I didn’t think about when I set up the business. They included hiring talent, transport, and also how to go about getting the word out about the business and what we do. One thing I’d like to see is discounted buses; on big tech campuses, giants like Microsoft and Google can afford to put on free or subsidised transport. Discounted buses would be helpful for those tech businesses in Leeds which aren’t in the centre like us.
“At Hark , we expect to see around 20/30% of their time to go on mentoring the juniors and mid-range team members so that everyone feels like they’re progressing and developing.”
– Jordan Appleson, CEO, Hark
We know a lot of people which helps with hiring, and having a diverse team helps. We have found the right people because we’ve got a good culture in the business. Lucy came in from NorthCoders – we’ve had two hires come onboard through their programme. The quality of NorthCoders’ graduates is really high and I think it’s a real asset to the Leeds tech community.
Hiring senior staff can be a challenge. At Hark, we want to bring in people who want to teach those below them. We expect to see around 20 – 30% of their time to go on mentoring the juniors and mid-range team members so that everyone feels like they’re progressing and developing.
“This was my first hackathon so I went in pretty much blind in terms of what to expect. Right off the start we had some great introductions to the staff and what the day was about. It was fairly informal and very good fun. Staff walked around speaking to everyone during the competition which was great.
Because of that, I got all the proof I needed that coding is the direction I want to go into with my career. Most of all, I think the Hark Hack has inspired me to get even more involved in different hackathons, provided me and my teammate keep winning them!”
Daniel Cruikshanks, Hark Hack Day winner
What’s on the horizon for you and your company?
Hark has recently secured one of the big four supermarkets as a client for a 600-store roll-out of our technology. We’re currently monitoring and helping a variety of use cases: managing energy usage retail and logistics, and controlling lighting. We’re also looking at solar panels.
We have our sights set on enterprise customers in the short term and then plan to bring IoT and the value of our platform into more SMEs. We’re currently hiring for tech support roles if anyone is interested.
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