Monday 22 January 2018

One good idea: Let's recognise, reward and encourage the entrepreneurs

Let's shine a light on people with entrepreneurial talents and nurture the start-up ethos in our education system

MAKE THE CULTURAL SHIFT: Liam Halpin of Dell Ireland
MAKE THE CULTURAL SHIFT: Liam Halpin of Dell Ireland

Liam Halpin

Ireland's economy is recovering. After a sustained recessionary period economic data suggests that growth is exceeding forecasts and unemployment is, while still way too high, sitting at around 10pc.

An air of optimism has returned and people are daring to dream about a more positive future.

So far, so good.

In my view, we can't just wait to see where this recovery takes us. We need to ensure that the economic recovery is sustainable and that the growth experienced is not just driven by and solely reliant on continued foreign direct investment, but instead the strength of the economy must lie with our indigenous community.

Some 99pc of Ireland's businesses are small or medium-sized companies - family owned or owner managed in the majority of cases.

The bulk of the companies are in traditional industries or sectors, with the digital technology sector contributing 4.4pc to Ireland's overall GDP. Only 2.2pc of Irish firms engage in export activity and multinationals account for three-quarters of Irish exports.

That balance has to shift meaningfully if we are to take control of our own economic future.

Ireland is recognised as a global innovation hub, and while Dublin is host to some of the biggest tech companies in the world and was recently ranked in eighth place among the world's leading tech cluster cities, data from the European Commission shows we only rank among the third tier of European cities in terms of the number of tech start-ups.

Europe in general lags behind the US in terms of the structures that support the sector. This fundamentally needs to change, to ensure an economic future with real potential, real success.

All the focus in recent weeks has been on the listing of the milk quotas. This historic event has opened up significant opportunities for dairy farmers and there is a massive focus on global markets.

Why can't we put a spotlight in the same way on our start-up and entrepreneurial businesses?

Or a focus on how we can create more businesses that are Irish-owned and Ireland based but who have global markets in their sights from day one.

With the advent of cloud computing, a start-up can export services from its first day in operation.

The challenge is that we don't encourage that to happen. Nor do we reward, recognise and encourage entrepreneurship in any meaningful way.

There is no reason why Ireland can't be home to numerous internationally trading companies - selling services, IP and utilising ecommerce technology to its full potential.

If this kind of high-potential entrepreneurship represents a mindset, it's one where looking outward is always preferred to being insular. Where risk-taking is welcomed, along with failure.

As a country, at this point of our economic recovery, if we could do just one thing I believe it should be instilling a culture of entrepreneurship in our younger generation.

There is a lot of focus on addressing the IT skills gap and mechanisms for getting more young people into the tech sector - particularly women. This work and effort is valid, however, there is no reason why we shouldn't take a similar approach to entrepreneurship.

While many will argue that you can't teach entrepreneurship, we certainly can teach people how to start their own business, how to develop an idea, how to understand that to try and to fail is better than not trying at all.

Building the tenets of entrepreneurship into the education system is necessary if we are to enable young people to create companies that can compete on a global stage. We must ensure that our schools and colleges equip students with the practical skills and knowledge they need to progress a business idea.

Many globally recognised entrepreneurs didn't study entrepreneurship - Michael Dell dropped out of pre-med during his first year - but there will always be people who lead and drive, who have the innovative instincts, the idea and the ability to get something up and running.

But there are others who are equally able but may not have been conditioned to know or understand that standing up and starting your own company is an option - and one that they can do just as easily as the next person.

Wouldn't it be great to have a whole generation of global entrepreneurs that credited the Irish education system for getting them started?

Around the country there are great organisations supporting the start-up community. Dell operates in Dublin, Limerick and Cork and through our 'Dell for Entrepreneurs' programme we've been able to see the work that many of them are doing. One thing which could easily be slotted into the school curriculum is regular visits to these places for students.

I know when I spent a day in the Digital Hub I left feeling inspired, a touch of this every so often could help to fuel this entrepreneurial spirit.

So if we do just one thing together I believe it should be to drive our start-up community so that we're recognised for it as much as for having the larger tech companies located here.

To get there we need a cultural shift in our education system and I'd like to see the introduction of an entrepreneurship module to our school and third level curriculums.

We need to begin generating a nation of people who think outside the box, are not afraid to fail and are brave enough to take the risk and ultimately be a globally successful entrepreneur.

Liam Halpin is general manager of Dell Ireland

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