On Tuesday, February, 17th, DICE started this second semester on the ground running with it’s first 2015 conference: Get Started, dealing with a widespread topic: Entrepreneurship.
We live in an era where people have more possibilities and liberties to build their own company, wrought at their image. On that point, it has been shown that Ireland is a great place to develop business, as Dublin is already home to important companies such as Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Ebay and many others. Willing to be the « Europe’s silicon valley », Ireland sees its number of investors increasing as the technological potential of the country keeps growing. Apple is one of them, planning to invest 850 million euros near Galway by 2017. Dublin has implemented many means in order to promote and attract entrepreneurship.
First of all, Dublin hosts three innovative universities, among them, DCU. Speakers from the DCU Innovation Panel introduced us to the different mediums set up.
Richard Stokes is the Director of Innovation DCU and CEO of DCU Invent, a company founded by AIB and Enterprise Ireland (which I will talk about later) aiming to work alongside the university’s researchers but also with external companies. Their aim is to encourage innovation and enterprise by helping start-ups, providing them professional advice and support services. The Invent Incubation Center also has flexible and purpose-built office space with high-speed networking. It has developed many programs such as Tech Venture, for DCU researchers, which had 35 spin out companies. The Invent Center has recently developed partnerships with Queen’s University and Dundalk Institute. Together, they created the « VITAL project » a cross-border project aiming to implement innovative ideas in Northern Ireland but also in the counties of Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Louth, Monaghan and Sligo. The Invent center offers to participate in the New Frontiers Program, an entrepreneur development program sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, recruiting persons who come up with an innovative idea for new companies.
DCU also has other facilities such as the Innovation Campus, open since May 2014, in the responsibility of Ronan Furlong. It allows entrepreneurs to accelerate their business by accessing research, facilities, talent and funding in the same place. It hosts companies from different countries: United States, Germany, France… and of different types: start-ups and multinationals such as Veolia or Siemens. The criteria to install on this campus are to be a « maker ». This emerging word includes technological companies producing hardware, wearables, sensors… What surprised me is that the Innovation Campus doesn’t have their own brand, HR, website or marketing. Everything is based on the fame of DCU!
Finally, Eoghan Stack presented DCU’s latest facility for innovation: the DCU Ryan Academy. This is a non-profit joint venture shared between DCU and the Ryan Family (Ryanair). It mixes academia and entrepreneurial techniques. In order to promote innovation and enterprise, they have encouraged programs such as Propeller Venture Accelerator, Female Propeller for High Fliers and UStart, a student accelerator. They provide mentorship to the selected teams, to help them develop their projects.
Nevertheless, when it comes to developing ideas on its own, funds can often be a problem.
Niamh Bushnell, who is part of the jury for the UStart competition, who is the CEO of her own start-up and also a Dublin Commissioner for start-ups, explained to us that the Irish Government has created an agency who’s aim is to help Irish businesses’s expansion. As a Dublin Commissioner, Niamh’s role is to promote Dublin as « a great start-up international », with the trend of massive innovation. She wants to tell and promote the amazing story of Dublin to the world so that when students like us go working internationally, we will be offered interesting opportunities because we come from Dublin, this innovative capital. Events like the Annual Web Summit, which will be held again in Dublin next November, already illustrates the growing influence of Ireland in the technological sector. Niamh also has the role to link memberships, governments collaborations, universities etc… across the board to inform people. « The more we are, the more potential. » Niamh Bushnell
Enterprise Ireland is the government organisation responsible for the growth of Irish enterprises. By providing funds and assistance to start-ups, expansion plans and Research & Development business plans, Enterprise Ireland helps Irish owned companies develop on global markets. Their aim is to support economic growth and employment security.
Here is a map created by Startup Ireland, summarizing all the facilities available for start-ups around Dublin.
I personally think it’s great that Ireland is able to offer such opportunities to start-ups. However, the Collison brothers’ success story is an example that there are still some faults in the way finance is distributed. If Enterprise Ireland had believed in the potential of the Collison’s project “Schuppa” and supported it, despite their young age and their lack of experience, Ireland would have benefited from their success. Instead it is the Sillicon Valley which today, takes all the credit and that is a pity!
Yet, building a company is not easy and not everyone can become the owner of a successful startup !
Java Republic is a good example of an Irish success story ! The founder and CEO of the company, David McKernan, explained to us what it takes to create your own business.
He started off his presentation with a little anecdote and a lesson for us all… « When starting the business, I wanted to call it “Java Republic“ and everybody said no because republic was a common word at that time. I went against people’s opinion and here I am today ! ». Java Republic now has 20% shares of the Irish market coffee. But it wasn’t done alone… David had to work for 18 months on the project before he was able to set up the business. « It is tough and you need to be brutal» he said. The first obstacle he met was funding, and due to the economic crisis of 2008, it hasn’t become easier. Indeed, Banks are reluctant to lend money so start-ups have to find new ways of raising money and attracting investors such as:
- crowd funding
- Angels investors
- venture capital
David has a preference for Angels investors as they only ask for a minority share in the company and are the less demanding investors. He had the chance to benefit from an Angel investor who gave him 100 000 euros which represented 20% of the company. The Angel investor did it because he believed David created a life-style company. This would probably not have happened if David hadn’t aimed to set up a very ethical coffee enterprise. Indeed, Java Republic has important core values such as conscientiousness. Most entrepreneurs today set up a start-up to make money but not only, they are also motivated by the will to make a better world. And that’s what more and more incubators promote, such as Y combinator in San Francisco.
Despite having a lot of money and fighting for a good cause, you could fail in setting up your business if you don’t have the profile of a leader. So what are the characteristic of a successful entrepreneur?
Here are examples of famous entrepreneurs today and the different personalities behind the brands.
According to David McKernan, a good entrepreneur needs to:
Be trustworthy and humble, have personality, be hardworking, learn to delegate, be a confident decision maker, look after himself and be brave. He also needs to have a fluent intelligence: have the ability to change direction, to learn from failure and to find solutions but also to be good during interviews: know about the business, have good story to tell, be motivated and not only by money.
« The key to a successful future is to keep innovating and stay relevant. » David McKernan
Be innovative, that’s what Kealan Lennon, CEO of Cleverbug, managed to do when launching an App’ creating and printing greeting cards from your phone. Contrary to David McKernan, his business was set up in 4 months ! The idea is to stop forgetting important events such as your family’s birthdays by collecting Facebook pictures and making cards from them. The concept is in tune with the success of social medias.
« There are many things that Amazon has, but it doesn’t have your birthday .» Kealan Lennon
According to Kealan, it’s all about the team! You have to surround yourself with the good persons when entering into such an adventure. You need to be competitive, ambitious and passionate but also have realistic objectives.
Seán Ahern is the creator of ThankFrank. He developed a way for people to express their opinion online by clicking on “thanks“ if they liked something. They are rewarded with shopping vouchers or money for instance. Despite its good will, I find the idea unusual and may have difficulties to succeed because it requires a lot of funds. Nevertheless Seán shared his experience with us and gave us important tips and tricks:
- You need to be able to explain your business simply and after it will be easier to explain it to potential investors and buyers. Learn how to say it simply in thirty seconds max. Don’t keep ideas to yourself because it’s worth nothing until it’s executed. Other people’s opinion will help you see if this idea will work or not.
- Lear from failure. It might screw up.
- You need a good team around you. Fill the gap, hire people with different abilities and skills. If you have a great team with great people then you will work together brilliantly and you will succeed.
Being an entrepreneur also has negatives sides:
- It’s tough to be in a start-up.
- Money is going to be a big problem. Expect to be broken. You will spend a lot.
- Think of your personal life, family, friends…. It will take more than 6 months, even though some succeed in a few months. Plan for 3 or 4 years.
- It will fill daily all your thoughts.
- Expect to have really bad times and to encounter some failure.
One of our speakers, Paul Kerley, investor and entrepreneur, launched his own company and faced some spectacular failures. He then understood that there was a big difference between an idea and a business. But he learned from his mistakes and tried not to repeat them. So to this list of bad sides, he would add:
- You will fire good people.
- You might have to go to court.
« Life is a series of choices. If you want to choose to go there, keep going. You might not arrive where you thought you would, but believe in yourself. » Seán Ahern.
All speakers, who were entrepreneurs, agreed on the fact that you need to want to do what you’re doing and be really passionate because it’s going to be hard! Although they all encouraged us to give life to our ideas, because in the best-case scenario, it will be an incredible experience; they also told us not to do it thoughtlessly but creating a start-up is something serious that will need a lot of resources, so it is a decision that needs much reflection.
I am presently working on a start-up project myself so I found this conference particularly inspiring and encouraging. All the speakers gave me a precise idea of the risks and benefits of being an entrepreneur and what kind of person you need to be. What I have retained from this presentation is that starting your own business may be tough but worth it in the end. Dublin is a great strategic place to develop innovative ideas and to launch a start-up as it offers many opportunities to the leaders of tomorrow to “get started”, wether is through its university courses, enterprise programs, funding or support services.