Sunday 19 November 2017

Fifty startup hopefuls battle it out for €300,000 prize in Dragons' Den-style bootcamp

Aisling Kirwan from Cooking up Change
Aisling Kirwan from Cooking up Change
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Entrepreneurs with a vision for social change and an eye on €300,000 in funding flocked to the RDS on Thursday for a Dragon's Den style battle.

Of the 50 finalists pitching for a place on the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards Programme, some 16 successful projects will go through to the final stages of the selection process in June.

Following in the footsteps of success stories such as FoodCloud's Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien, the top eight entrepreneurs will receive an initial €300,000 in funding and support with potential for further investment and development opportunities.

"It’s a bit like Dragons’ Den for social entrepreneurs," said Darren Ryan, CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, speaking about the pitching process at the DCC-supported annual awards.

"It all starts with four words: ‘I have an idea…’ Over the past 12 years we have worked closely to support high potential social entrepreneurs from start-up to scale-up and we have seen what can be achieved when someone says those four powerful words and takes action."

Earlier this year, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) called for people with ideas and projects to solve social problems in Ireland with the motto: 'Don’t let a good idea go to waste'.

'The Grow Dome Project' pitch
'The Grow Dome Project' pitch
Aisling Kirwan from Cooking up Change
Darren Ryan, CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, with Dragons Alison Cowzer, Norah Casey and Eamonn Quinn at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Bootcamp 2017.
Aisling Kirwan
Project Hope's Richard Carson
Aisling Kirwan from Cooking up Change
'The Grow Dome Project' group
Darren Ryan, CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, with Dragons Alison Cowzer, Norah Casey and Eamonn Quinn at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Bootcamp 2017.
Darren Ryan, CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland, briefing the judges at the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Bootcamp 2017.

A record number of applications - some 364 - came flooding in from across the country.

The top 50 entrepreneurs pitching at Thursday's event have been selected through a rigorous review process with over 250 reviewers from across Irish society assessing their applications.

Each entrepreneur gave a presentation to a panel of judges,  which included some of the country’s leading ‘Dragons’ - Alison Cowzer, Eamonn Quinn, and Norah Casey.

A number of hopefuls looking to impress the panel spoke to independent.ie before going behind closed doors to deliver their pitch.

Cooking up Change's Aisling Kirwan has brought her 'Cook. Eat. Share' to the table, a nutritional programme that she delivers to schools and sports groups nationally.

"The idea behind it is bringing wholefoods and nutrition advice on a level for people who would normally not have access to that information," she said. 

"There's any number of people that could do that on a private basis but to reach people who somehow might think that eating healthier or using wholefoods is something exclusive. That's my main mission to break down those barriers, to make eating accessible to everyone - it's not a privilege it's a right."

Niall O'Brien co-founded 'The Grow Dome Project' which grows produce hydroponically "which is far superior than soil grown methods and what they use in NASA when they're flying astronauts out to Mars".

The first dome site is based in Rialto and the team are busy working on their second site which will be based in DCU.

"We taking all the lessons we learned with the first prototypes and taking all the benefits and putting them into the next one," said Niall.

"We hope to see a network of domes all around the country eventually."

The SEI judges also heard a pitch from Project Hope's Richard Carson which aims to address the problem of vulnerable migrants, their poor integration into Irish society and their poor health outcomes.

"The solution that we found is to work particularly and within faith communities. For many migrants, this community is not just a space for religious practise but actually their key community support in Ireland," he said.

"We work within that using an ecological model; top down, mentoring and providing support for leaders and bottom up, with one to one supports, particularly in the areas of sexual and mental health."

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