Monday 23 October 2017

Enthusiasm the common theme at showcase for Irish startups

Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke
Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor. Photo: Tom Burke

Sean Duffy

Some of Ireland's brightest up-and-coming companies gathered in Dublin yesterday to mark Enterprise Ireland's (EI)2017 startup showcase.

The EI class of 2016 arrived in Dublin Castle eager to swap stories and share experiences about how their business were developing.

The showcase brought together entrepreneurs from across the country, representatives from the State agency and members of the investment community.

At the event Jobs Minister Mary Mitchell O' Connor announced that EI would partner with two venture capital firms - Shard Capital and ACT Venture Capital -to provide €29m of funding to startups in Ireland.

EI provided funding to 229 startups last year, with over 120 "competitive startups" receiving funding of up to €50,000 to develop early-stage ideas. EI also backs "high-potential startups", that can immediately address a particular gap in the market.

One such company is Nova Leah. A spin out from Dundalk IT, the company addresses the increasing digitisation of medical devices. Founder Anita Finnegan realised early on that device manufacturers had not taken into account regulatory oversight.

"As it stands devices are seen as the weak link and so a network-wide malware attack could take a whole hospital down," Ms Finnegan told the Irish Independent.

"So now manufacturers have to demonstrate to the FDA that the devices are secure prior to market approval. We developed expert risk-analysis systems that guide manufacturers through the processes of implementing cyber security," she said.

The company has received €300,000 from EI, but Ms Finnegan insisted the assistance on the commercial side was invaluable.

Other entrepreneurs in attendance were also keen to stress the importance of the support on offer.

One of those was Aidan Duff, of Fiftyone Bikes, whose company makes custom bicycles from scratch for cycling aficionados.

"EI helped to provide a very tangible and clear view of what the business model and the business proposition was. They help to get you into a position where you are investor ready," he said.

For budding entrepreneurs, some words of warning came from Joe McGrath, whose Envirotec Composites make leak-free showers. Mr McGrath's business model had to be altered after he realised he was targeting the wrong audience in the UK.

"In Ireland our success had been through the merchant trade. We did the same in the UK and we discovered that they expect us to bring the business to them," he said.

"I said 'Hey, why am I giving away all this margin?' So now we have done a pivot and we are targeting developers and ends users."

Mr McGrath said that the about-turn cost his business a year in breaking into what was its real target market. He said that while his business was thriving, having adjusted to the initial error, fledgling startups should try to avoid taking the same missteps in the early days.

Niamh Sterling, whose Recipe Guru provides digital recipes for publishing firms, said it was worth taking the plunge. "It takes a lot of steely determination and focus, but ultimately it is so rewarding to be able to build something impactful and valuable."

Irish Independent

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