This is Part II. Part I is here.
Another example, O’Carroll told of was a businessman with 40 years’ franchising experience who has developed a franchised early education model for kids in deprived areas.
Despite, or because of the recession, EI has seen a jump in the number of business proposals coming their way, O’Neill said. “These are not just me-too type companies, they are highly innovative,” he said.
Asked about the Irish stereotype of begrudgery, the panelists were quick to dismiss it. Holohan said it is “totally acceptable to succeed and totally acceptable to fail.” For those worried about the latter, he said, “The good thing about the recession is pretty much that everyone has failed to some degree.”
Roche said people like to back experience and be associated with success stories. VCs doing their due diligence “try to get behind why did it succeed or why did it fail,” he said. O’Neill said EI will look at the entrepreneur’s background and the market. An accountant looking to manufacture world-class stents is unlikely to pass muster, he noted. For State support, evidence of jobs and export potential is also a key driver.
In addition to voicing concern about jobs, the panelists had some thoughts about education. They were asked initially if the system supported entrepreneurs. Roche said he thought it was unnecessary in schools. Kids rarely say they want to grow up to become an entrepreneur, but it is something they grow in to. Unemployment or dissatisfaction with an employer who refuses to develop a new product can lead to a decision to go out on one’s own, he said.
Holohan said we “probably have too many [entrepreneurs] in Ireland.” Speaking of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and others, he said, “Look at all the great tech companies, they were founded by geeks.” More important are maths and science education to “let them be geeks,” he said. Once qualified, they will be hired or go on to become self-employed.
O’Neill agreed and said Ireland risks losing companies to locations that can supply job-ready workers. He said Mathematics and analytical thinking are essential. Those should be emphasized over the provision of more PhD graduates, he said.
“Maths underpins everything,” Roche agreed, adding, “It’s somewhat self-serving because my industry depends on them.” Problems include the points system and the lack of qualified teachers, he said.
O’Carroll agreed but then pointed to one bright spot, Coder Dojo. This is a free programming club founded by James Whelton and Bill Liao. It started in Cork but has spread nationwide and is now going international. It has become very popular and had to turn kids away from its most recent gathering at the Science Gallery.
Asked for advice, O’Carroll said, “The boring stuff is really, really important.” Entrepreneurs have to pay attention to business basics, she said. Recalling a trip she took to the U.S. during the dot-com bubble, O’Carroll said one start-up, that had still to reach profitability, was taking employees on a cross-country treasure hunt.
“That’s where all the VC money went,” Roche quipped.
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.