Ireland has a fine reputation for producing ambitious entrepreneurs with innovative products and solutions that are highly sought after by countries around the world. Nurturing these start-ups and ensuring they have the supports they need to prosper has been an ongoing priority for Government; as a result, Ireland now boasts a robust and highly connected system of supports for early-stage start-up companies.
At the entry level, Ireland's network of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) is the ideal starting point for early stage entrepreneurs thinking of starting a business in Ireland.
There are 31 LEOs in Ireland, each of which offers a wide range of experience, skills and services. Typical supports offered by the LEOs include training and mentoring programmes, access to financial support and microfinance loans, general business advice and help with business planning.
Most importantly, the LEOs are the front door into other support services such as the local authorities, Enterprise Ireland and State agencies, including the Department of Social Protection, Skillnet Ireland, Education and Training Boards, Microfinance Ireland, Revenue and Fáilte Ireland.
For entrepreneurs with an innovative business idea that has export and employment potential, the New Frontiers programme is an excellent start. Delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland by the Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities in 16 locations around Ireland, New Frontiers is the perfect programme for ambitious entrepreneurs who can show evidence of a commercial market for their innovative idea or product. And Ireland is not short of ambitious entrepreneurs - since Enterprise Ireland began managing the programme in 2012, 4,700 individuals have participated in New Frontiers, with 1,430 going on to Phase 2 of the programme.
Many alumni have gone on to achieve great things within just a few short years. For instance, Immersive VR Education in Waterford, one of the 2016 participants, raised €6.75 million following a successful IPO in 2018. In 2020, Cork ed-tech company and New Frontiers graduate TeachKloud raised €750,000, with investment led by Frontline Ventures and ed-tech investor Sean Tai. And in terms of creating employment, 2017 participant Xerotech has established an R&D centre in Claregalway with space for 40 engineers.
Currently finalising its calendar for 2021, the New Frontiers programme is open to anyone over the age of 18 with business ideas across all sectors - no prior experience or qualifications are needed. Sectors often include food and consumer products, information and communication technology, engineering, medical devices, biotechnology, pharma, cleantech/renewable energy, and eligible internationally traded services.
The programme is offered in three phases, each designed to take participants through the early stages of developing an idea and starting a viable business. Phase 1 can be completed by entrepreneurs while continuing in their jobs. Currently offered online due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Phase I consists of weekend and evening workshops to research and test the market potential of the idea. By the end of this phase, participants should have a good idea as to whether their idea can become a viable business.
Entrepreneurs who have successfully completed Phase 1 can apply for Phase 2, which is a full-time intensive programme that focuses on developing and validating the business proposition. Participants are supported throughout this phase with workshops, mentoring, regular milestone reviews, a free co-working space and guidance from the programme team. In addition, a tax-free stipend of €15,000 is paid directly to the entrepreneur over a six-month period, along with web hosting and support worth $15,000 from Amazon. No equity is taken in your business in exchange for this support package.
Upon successful completion of Phase 2, participants can also apply for Phase 3, which focuses on bringing the product/service to market and preparing to raise further investment.
As all early-stage start-up support systems are interconnected, many New Frontiers alumni have progressed to Enterprise Ireland supports such as the Competitive Start Fund and the High Potential Start-Up Fund; communication between the New Frontiers, LEOs and Enterprise Ireland's High Potential Start-up Division means that promising ideas and businesses are quickly identified and transitioned at the right time to ensure that they are supported at all stages - and further cement Ireland's reputation as a hub for great start-ups.
Teri Smith is Manager - HPSU Operations Team at Enterprise Ireland's High Potential Start up Division. A provisional calendar for New Frontiers 2021 start dates at the 16 locations around the country is available on its website, newfrontiers.ie