Tuesday 25 April 2017

Start-up nation: Rewarding Ireland's entrepreneurs

Enterprise Ireland's new figures around the 229 start-ups it has funded throw up some positive trends as well as some concerning ones. Our technology editor goes through the statistics and picks out some of the best emerging Irish tech companies to keep an eye on

Victoria MacArthur and Nick Grey of Idle Birch
Victoria MacArthur and Nick Grey of Idle Birch
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The latest batch of State-funded start-ups from Enterprise Ireland shows variety and depth in what young tech companies are aiming for.

From drones and gaming systems to medical devices and global online booking engines, there appears to be no shortage of industry among the country's new tech entrepreneurs.

So are the 229 hopeful firms worth the €32m the State spent on them last year?

Is "jobs created" the central metric of importance? Or should it be a cash return for the State on the investments themselves? How relevant are societal factors in investment criteria, such as the promotion of female entrepreneurs?

On these pages today, we take a look at this year's crop of subsidised start-ups to see which ones might have the best chance of breaking through.

We also look at some deeper issues around how our stimulus programmes are performing for wider ends.

There is some progress being made. Enterprise Ireland claims that more than 19,000 new jobs (or 9,000 "net jobs") have been created over the last 12 months because of programmes such as its High Potential Start-ups (HPSU) and Competitive Start-up Fund (CSF) initiatives.

It also claims that companies financially assisted by Enterprise Ireland now employ more than 200,000 people.

This year's figures also show some other interesting trends.

Of 229 funded companies, 63 (or 28pc) were female-led. While this is a significant increase in volume over the percentage of female-led funded firms five years ago (when it was just 8pc), it likely overstates the amount of money female-led firms received relative to their male-led counterparts.

Because, while 28pc of the individual firms were female-led, only about 20pc of the State funding went to those firms.

The €32m fund breaks down into a few different tranches. The vast majority (€22.2m) goes to 101 individual HPSUs. Only 19 of the 101 firms that got this lion's share of the cash were female-led.

Then there is €6.8m for CSF applicants. Female-led firms comprised 40pc of applications for this fund, which usually results in a €50,000 subsidy in exchange for a 10pc equity share.

But women only made up 34pc (44) of the successful candidates for that funding mechanism. What's more, a third of those applicants were through a female-only round of CSF pitches.

On its own, that share of the pot is pretty respectable. But set against the overall pot, it looks like female-led firms took around €6.5m of a €32m allocation for start-ups.

That's still a damn site better than would have been the case some years ago.

And it's far, far better than the imbalance that still exists in private venture circles, where as little as 3pc of available funding goes to female-led firms in Ireland.

But there is still some distance to run - likely for all of us - when it comes to creating an environment where female entrepreneurs are getting on to the same degree of success as their male counterparts.

There were some other interesting figures to come out of this year's Enterprise Ireland funding statistics.

Start-ups have a 13pc chance of successfully getting through the application process, with 128 firms being funded out of the 975 who applied to the €50,000-for-10pc-equity CSF.

The State occasionally strikes it rich, too, with the stakes it takes in the start-ups funded.

Enterprise Ireland's most recent accounts show that a €25,000 investment in Dublin-based Logentries resulted in a 50-times return of €1.25m when the company was sold on for $68m in 2015.

Just under half of the funded companies in today's list are from Dublin, which compares dramatically with figures from the private sector showing a much greater bias towards start-ups from the capital for venture funding.

One interesting facet of successful applicants for funding is the rising number that come from overseas.

Enterprise Ireland says that 17 of the 229 funder firms have come from abroad to win a funded spot in Ireland and to build their export-oriented companies here (this includes a handful of the companies we have picked out as ones to watch, below). There are also more firms with at least one founder who has come to Ireland in recent years.

This message - that Ireland is becoming a country for firms to build companies and make their fortune - is hardly an unwelcome one.

There is also plenty of activity emerging form third-level sectors, too.

Fifteen of the subsidised Enterprise Ireland companies are spinout start-ups from third-level research.

And 17 are start-ups specialising in financial technology.

We will look again at HPSU firms, which comprise almost half the funded companies. But, for now, here is the cream of the CSF crop.

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