Entrepreneurs feel the heat as they vie for €50,000 investment from Selr8r
It's a strange experience being in the Dragon's Den hot-seat. Flanked by four other business journalists I am in the familiar setting of the RTE television franchise in the Taylors Three Rock venue in Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
The lights are made doubly hot by the heat-wave outside as seven start-ups pitch their wares.
With only two to three minutes each to outline their ideas, it's fast-paced sales patter before the journalists kick in with questions on everything from product margins to intellectual property rights.
In the shadows watching on is Sean O'Sullivan, the serial technology entrepreneur and real-life Dragon, who has organised the exercise as part of the Selr8r programme to teach burgeoning entrepreneurs how to sell.
It is fascinating hearing business ideas from Aonghus McGinn of Surestep, who plans to sell Irish-made ladder safety stabilisers, to Rose Magers of Birbl, a new community-based travel website.
Retiring after an hour of pitches and questioning, the journalists agree to recommend Sensipass, which plans to kill the need for passwords, and EnergyWatch IT, which slashes firms' energy bills by over €60 a year per personal computer by turning them off easily when not in use.
Our views will feed into the decision-making process for the ultimate winner of the Selr8r programme, who will receive a €50,000 investment from O'Sullivan's investment vehicle SOS Ventures, which has previously backed firms like Netflix and GuitarHero.
Afterwards O'Sullivan explains why he set up Selr8r, a joint venture with InterCall, a call centre business.
"All start-ups face the same issues when it comes to scaling: how to get their product sold and successful in the marketplace," O'Sullivan said.
Accelerator programmes try to help a company achieve "product/market fit", but companies at the end of their start-up or accelerator phase are generally in a "beta" place and time, rather than in "rapid expansion", where they can really scale the sales of their product.
"So a sales-focused accelerator is something that all start-ups need, but most companies can use some help and some structure when it comes to really selling their products," O'Sullivan added, "not just to three people that are friends of friends, but to the hundreds or thousands of prospects that growing companies need to develop into customers to really start to scale."
Selr8r is the world's first sales-only dedicated accelerator. Teaming up with InterCall ensures its participants have to perfect their sales pitch in real life by talking to 2,000 potential customers each.
"Our emphasis is on sales because a company without sales is not a company," O'Sullivan explains. "Our goal is to admit into the Selr8r programme companies with great products and services that are just missing great sales performance to make them viable marketplace leaders."
O'Sullivan said he ultimately picked Sensipass to invest in because of the strength of its ideas and scalability.
"Sensipass won based on their performance during the Demo Day programme and by their potential to grow sales," O'Sullivan said.
"They provide a scalable product that is ready for international growth, and they are in a market space that has excellent potential. Having said this, all the companies on this Selr8r programme have huge potential and have really impressed me."
Co-founder Michael Hill said Sensipass learnt a huge amount mixing with established entrepreneurs advising the programme as well as other participants.
"Mostly though, we successfully identified our key target markets that we found we have more traction with and therefore we can now more efficiently target those markets," he said.
Sensipass, he said, plans to use the new investment to improve its products and advance its plans to achieve its first sales.
Start-ups interested in participating in the next programme can find out more at: www.selr8r.com