Our latest conference here at the Helix was Get Started. A line up of entrepreneurs explained some of the aspects and their own personal experience of starting up a new business inspiring many including myself to hopefully do the same one day.
Niamh Bushell – Dublin Commissioner for Start Ups
Niamh spoke about her experience starting her own company in the United States and her work as the first Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups. Niamh cofounded her first company Pan Research in 1996 with her brother in Dublin. She later became a mentor to entrepreneurs with Enterprise Ireland where she consulted and advised entrepreneurs on their businesses. Some of the key tips she gave us was to focus on the mission statement of the business, that scale and the ability to sell were key and to stop solely focusing on the functionality of your product. However, this is easier said than done as Niamh admitted herself, there was a big difference when the tables were turned and she became an entrepreneur herself and found herself making these very same mistakes.
Having spent 16 years in New York, Niamh then left her own startup in New York for the job as Dublin Comissioner to startups. Many would take New York over Dublin any day but Niamh explained that Dublin is actually a great city to be a start-up in and wishes to get this message across to the international community. She hopes that one day we will be on the same par as major cities such a Berlin but on a smaller much denser scale. Despite having a large pool of talent and many startups coming out of Dublin it is not known internationally that these are Irish companies. Dublin is also challenged in its structure, the startup community is not well connected and doesn’t often colobrate with each other. Niamh hopes to develop a formalised approach with a common message or mission statement as she believes that the Dublin community is small enough to present itself as one .
She also aims to establish the number of startups in Dublin as the figure is currently unkown through the Dublin Data initiative. Companies don’t internationalise early enough to help with this problem her accelator program will send five start-ups to New York for peer learning.
David McKernan – Java Republic
David emerged from the cocoon of Bewley’s having worked for them for 12 years to establish Java Republic in 1998 in Celbridge Dublin. Java Republic took 18 months to set up and is now the second largest wholesale coffee company in Ireland just behind Bewleys. Not only that but Java Republic is now one of Ireland’s most successful brands, and one of Europe’s leading coffee companies. His top piece of advise was to trust yourself and to never stop believing in yourself, a trait which he displayed by going against the grain by using “republic” in the name which many advised him not to as it may alienate customers who may associate it with the situation in Northern Ireland.
Java Republic is noted for it’s distinctive vision: “Premium, fresh handroasted coffee – with a conscience.” David’s aim was to challenge low ethical standards in the coffee business. The coffee industry has one of the worst supply chains in terms of equality with the farmers who grow the beans getting very little of the profit and being the one most affected by price fluctuations and continuing to live in poverty.David explained that setting up your own company is a ruthless and sometimes brutal business, especially in an industry as unjust as the coffee industry.
David then spoke about funding a startup. he advised to invest in legals and be very cautious when choosing an investor whether it be an angel investor or crowd funding and he warned to stay away from venture capilaial completely as they always want double! Research is also extremely important, David spent the year from 1998 -1999 doing his research before he established the business.
In 2008 when the finiacial crisis hit he reengineered the brand with new packaging and relaunched it in Janurary of 2015. He is currently trying to target the gulf states as prospective customers .
We then received a talk which consisted a panel of speakers; Richard Stokes, Ronan Furlong and Eoin Stack, who spoke about DCU’s role in business start-ups, innovation and enterprise. The talk highlighted how enterprising DCU is as a university and how many opportunities it provides for students and graduates like myself to start our own business. It is certainly comforting to know that there is a good support structure in place if I ever wish to pursue this path.
Richard Strokes- Invent
Invent is DCU’s Innovation and Enterprise Centre based on the main DCU campus. They work with both external companies and DCU’s researchers to promote DCU innovations predominately through start-up companies. The team at Invent provide a critical link between the university and businesses.
Invent also provides business incubation facilities, entrepreneurship training programmes as part of a wide range of supports for start-up technology businesses.
Invent has enjoyed much success with 11 of their 35 spin-out companies still running. Stokes highlighted that the biggest challenge regarding these start ups is that they are hight risk in that in many cases their products do not yet exist. This makes it extremely difficult to raise money as there is a lack of incentive for investors. Invent gives Angel investors 8-12 months to make a decision whether to invest in a company or not. Only 100 high potential startups a year emerge in the republic as opposed to double that in Northern Ireland. Invent is a vital project to hep boost these numbers and incubate startups.
Ronan Furlong – DCU Innovation Campus
The DCU Innovation Campus has been open since May 2014. The Innovation Campus is a national centre for innovation in the Cleantech sector, which is one of the fastest growing areas of economic activity and worth more than €5 trillion globally.
The Cleantech sector develops innovative products and services to address major environmental and sustainability issues concerning water, waste, energy and emissions. The Innovation Campus’s unique selling point is its engagement with the university and its community vibe. It houses and provides a test bed for many hardware technology companies. Hosting 27 companies in total with 300 staff working in the three core research areas of health, energy and ICT. It operates on a node structure with a large company being “orbited” by several smaller companies, helping the company succeed. With very little PR the Campus relies mainly on the reputation of DCU as an enterprising university.
Eoghan Stack – Ryan Academy
The academy is a partnership between Dublin City University and the Ryan Family (founders of Ryanair) The academy is a leading supporter of entrepreneurs in Ireland – helping innovative ideas become a reality – and is connected to other major startup ecosystems across Europe. Their aim is to promote the entrepreneurial mind-set and for it to be a driving force behind Irish businesses. They provide a ‘Propeller’ programmes one of which is exclusively to help female entrepreneurs called the Female High Flyers programme. These propeller programmes are ‘angel’ backed and there are 24 companies involved. They also run the ‘U-Start’ program which allows undergraduate applicants to run their own business for a summer, they also receive, €5000 to help with the business and campus accommodation.
How are entrepreneurs directed in DCU?
Many entrepreneurs often come in the very early stages of their business. They are helped by setting up a community where they help them help themselves. Validation and support is provided along with an understanding of challenges and potential problems for the business. Some of the biggest problems the businesses face is noise and hype, they are advised to knuckle down and show rather than tell what the business is going to be.
It was stated these support systems may be Dublin’s best kept secret and entrepreneurs from outside DCU wondered how they could get involved and what mechanisms were in place for them.
In answer to this they were directed to the Ryan Academy which is undergoing work on it integration with the wider community and will direct entrepreneurs to the next port of call.
Overall I found this talk to be enlightening as to the opportunities available to entrepreneurs and start-ups in DCU. My only criticism would be as previously stated though much work needs to be done in terms of integrating it better with the wider business community outside of DCU.
Kelan Lennon – Cleverbug
Cleverbug has created a platform for customers to create personalized, one-of-a-kind greeting cards and calendars for their family and friends.They have integrated mobile technology, social content and a worldwide printing network to create a greeting card app that allows customers to send meaningful cards to anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes.
It works by connecting to your Facebook account and figures out your relationship with the person be they your brother or your aunt etc. and then picks a selection of appropriate greeting cards and photo’s which you can edit to your liking. Clevercards now has over 75 printing facilities which took them 2 years to establish and are now bigger than Hallmark, huge in a physical greeting card industry which is worth over $27 billion.
Sean Ahern – Thank Frank
Seans vision is to establish a meaningful social currency that incentivises and rewards people for doing good things for others, measured solely by the number of people saying thanks. it took him 3-4 years to plan, an important stage of any startup as previously illustrated by David with Java Republic.
ThankFrank is an app that allows you to take part in their “Thanks Economy”. It allows you to quickly acknowledge any webpage with a “Thanks!” button. For every person that clicks “Thanks!” you get one credit. The goal is to collect as many “Thanks!” as possible each month. You can spend the credit on shopping vouchers for yourself or give it away to your choice of charity, or both, although charity would be more ideal considering the aim and ethos of the business.
Paul Kerley- Keynote Speaker
Paul Kerley is a serial entrepreneur and investor. He currently serves on the boards of a number of technology companies including being Chairman of Fenergo. He works closely with the senior management team of each company he is involved with, assisting them by helping them develop a strategy and offering leadership, support and advice based on his previous experience in building and internationalising software companies.
Prior to this, Paul served as the CEO of Norkom Technologies, a global financial crime and compliance solutions provider, from its inception in 1998.
Despite leaving school at just 16 Paul later went on to study computer science in DCU. His first company ‘Maxinell Solutions’ taught him a lot about the personal sacrifices one makes when having their own company. He said in hard times letting people go is the hardest thing he had to do. Like previous entrepreneurs who spoke, he also discussed the failures that must be overcome in order to succeed and how entrepreneurs must be ready to take on any challenges that face them. He stated that no matter how good a company is you must have the money to back it up and defend it against macro shocks.
To conclude, I thought the Get Started conference was hugely beneficial to us as business students as setting up our own business is something I feel many of us would like to achieve in the future. It was a great opportunity to hear the truth about what it’s like for many start-ups (even if its not all glitz and glam) , what it takes and how they overcame the challenges they faced which ultimately made them successful. I think its fair to say that we were all inspired by the conference and that we left in the hope that we have what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur.