Trinity College Dublin

Published on November 1st, 2011 | by Padraic Coffey

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Authentik

This article was originally published on Trinity College’s Research and Innovation website in 2012.

  • Provides language-learning facilities for schools throughout the world.
  • Works in partnership with Agence France-Presse, the oldest international news agency in the world.
  • Won a European Language Label award in 2011.

Founded in 1978 by Sean Devitt, Authentik began as a research project within Trinity College Dublin. With the addition of David Little of the Centre for Language and Communication Studies (CLCS), the company was formally registered on 21st October 1986, being the second ever Campus Company established by Trinity. This move came following a decision by the Bursar that the company’s commercial aspects could not be supported within the university.

It provides language learners with a variety of materials – magazines, cassettes, CDs, books – featuring contemporary news stories presented in the native, colloquial style of their country of origin in order to capture the dialect as authentically as possible. Languages featured are French, German, Spanish and English. Its main market is Ireland and the United Kingdom, where for many years it was a mainstay of classroom teaching, prompting a teacher of Spanish in Ireland during the 1990s to say “I would question the competence of any language teacher in Ireland who attempted to deliver proper classes to their pupils without using Authentik”.

The company was run by Sean Devitt as Chairman, with David Little and Eoin O’Neill directors until 2006, when Dr O’Neill resigned. Prof Little retired shortly afterwards. Sean Devitt is still active in the company today, as is his daughter, Dr. Ann Devitt, who is also a lecturer in Trinity College’s Department of Education.

Business Model:

The key to Authentik’s markets was to run workshops for language teachers explaining how the product is used in the classroom. Each edition of the magazine contained exercises and guidance as to how these could be used to good effect in that context. Close liaison was maintained with language teachers in schools where superlative language teaching was a serious aspiration. In the UK, A level streams, a very high level of market penetration was obtained for many years. Revenues were badly affected by photocopying, which was rife in schools, thus diminishing the necessity to purchase multiple copies of a particular Authentik text.

Ann Devitt, daughter of founder Sean Devitt, became Director of Authentik in 2008. She is currently the Company Secretary, though her roots in the organisation date back to her childhood. Her lengthy experience with Authentik has seen her witness the obstacles which the company has faced in recent years, specifically the financial difficulties at around the time she became director.

Despite founding the company, Sean had not been Executive Director of Authentik, until 2007 when he stepped in the midst of grave economic strains. Its Board of Directors decided to liquidate the company in 2008, and as a result all existing staff members were made redundant. Days later this decision was reversed by Sean and his wife, as major shareholders. The entire company was then restructured.

Approximately 15 people work with Authentik today, though on contract and not under traditional PAYE circumstances. Many were tied to the company prior to its proposed liquidation, as editors and web designers for each respective language.

The various strata of the company communication via the web-based project-management tool Basecamp. When assembling the magazines which are produced four times per annum, editors upload their input which is then developed by web designers. Ann praises this technique, “it is very successful, and has worked very well for us”. In keeping with the familial aspects of the company, Ann’s sister Marie has been Operations Manager for this server since 2008.

Though developed over a decade ago, Authentik Interactive, a web-based product of the company, was restructured three years ago, and relaunched in partnership with Agence France-Presse, who provide video content. Much of the company’s energy is being channelled into Authentik Interactive, according to Ann. The product won European Language Label award in 2011.

As the company is ISO-credited, ISO audits are carried out by Ann as quality-manager. Sadly, turnover has reduced significantly in recent years. This drop can be partially explained by the climate in the aftermath of the company’s proposed liquidation, during which Authentik’s market were completely unsure of the future of the company. Though recovering in time, it took a significant financial hit.

Though it has not sought external investment in recent years, it may do so in the near future.

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About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.



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