At a good-humoured and lively panel discussion in the MBA Association of Ireland’s Beauchamp’s Speaker Series, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists gave an upbeat assessment of Ireland’s current start-up climate.
Some cautionary notes were sounded, however, about industry’s apparent inability to fill 5,000 tech posts and on the quality of second-level education.
On the panel were: serial entrepreneur and angel investor, Paddy Holahan; Maurice Roche, Chair of Irish Venture Capital Association and Partner at Delta Partners; former spin-out guru, Dr Brian O’Neill, who is now with Enterprise Ireland (EI); and Annalisa O’Carroll, Head of Social Impact at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.
The talk was the first of 2012 and launched a series on innovation the MBAAI will be running. In March, NGOs will explain how they struggle to provide the same services on fewer resources, and in May, there will be a session on how MBA grads find themselves in second careers either through design or accident.
Asked to compare the start-up Ireland of 20 years ago to today, the panelists said there was no comparison. Indeed, Holohan said Ireland “the second best place in the world to start a business” after Silicon Valley. He is now General Manager of NewBay Software, which he founded in 2002 and sold to RIM last October for $100m.
Despite the late arrival of venture capitalists to the country, the entrepreneurial environment now includes angel investors, State support, and legal and commercial expertise in areas such as intellectual property. “The whole ecosystem is here,” Holohan said.
Roche, who moved home from New York in the early 1990s, joked about the reaction he got at the time when he told his family he was going to work for a VC firm in Dublin. “Is that legal?” they asked. Raising money for Delta’s fund at the time was also very different to today, he said. Not only were pension funds extremely reluctant to invest in entrepreneurs, “They were calling people with white coats to take you out,” he said.
Holohan and Roche said seed money is available for startups from various sources. Roche said the government’s bank recapitalization included a requirement than financing be available for start-ups. Delta is now managing one of those funds, he said.
Holohan noted that many successful entrepreneurs go on to become angel investors, and said that “things are an awful lot easier in the tech sector.”
On the other hand, said O’Carroll, “social entrepreneurs always work in a recession.” Although resources are constrained, money is not their prime motivator, and they are resourceful and deeply committed, she said. O’Carroll cited one example where a woman created an app to help autistic kids. Although there is a book-based system to help them communicate, it is not portable. The app is “an interesting idea borne out of mother’s frustration of not being able to communicate with her two children,” she said.
- Part II of this post can be found here.
- Some of my photos were printed in Business & Finance magazine and can be seen here.
Image of ship close-ish to Beauchamp’s office courtesy of Infomatique on Flickr.