K Sharp, the Llanelli-based consultancy company which specialises in the relationships between humans and technology, wasn’t founded in Wales - but it has found an ideal home here.
The firm was launched in 2011 in Gloucester, and spent its formative years operating from the other side of the Severn. But when husband and wife co-directors Barry and Amanda Kirby took a camping trip to Pembrey two years ago, they saw the appeal of moving their personal and professional lives to Wales. “We ended up falling in love with the place,” says managing director Barry. “The bridge tolls were going, and we could see a lot of potential in Llanelli itself.”
Now well-established in the Carmarthenshire town, the majority of K Sharp’s business comes through its work with the Ministry of Defence. Kirby has worked for Smiths Aerospace and BAE Systems and brings his expertise and knowledge of how people and machines work together to the company. “What really rocks my boat is the interaction between humans and technology – everything from ergonomics to how we interact with systems,” says Kirby, who has also launched a podcast on the topic.
Since establishing K Sharp in 2011, the company has carried out a diverse array of work. Some notable projects include evaluating human aspects of culture and behaviour in viral social media campaigns and the use of propaganda, to working with the RAF on its use of flight simulators for pilot training. “When you use real jets, it uses a lot of fuel – we’ve been collating evidence that synthetic training is just as valuable,” he says. The company has also been working with BAE Systems, leading the Human Computer interface design, on the Trident nuclear replacement submarine, Dreadnought, in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.
As well as consulting on challenging MoD work, K Sharp is working on a local level too. It has launched a ‘Smart Llanelli’ project, looking at how technology can help K Sharp’s new home flourish. “A lot of cities are getting money to develop but sometimes our towns are overlooked. We want to see how we can use smart technology to see how we can improve things. We also want to generate more links with local universities and look at getting students to do placements here, “says Kirby.
K Sharp has already found its ESTnet membership useful. “I joined ESTnet to engage with other businesses in Wales with a view to developing more collaborations and meeting interesting companies with whom we could innovate. To date the membership has brought me lots of useful information about what is going on and as we grow, we aim to use the benefits of membership even more,” Kirby adds.
Over the coming years, K Sharp is looking to expand its small team, as well as develop its work in the civilian sector. The company will also look to build on its nomination for the Best Tech Workplace category at the 2019 Wales Technology Awards. “Being a finalist has been great to tell people about, and show that we have been recognised for the work we do,” he says. “It has also given us a drive to enter again next year with a view to achieving a better result.”