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This could be the best place for startups - with the right political will

Peter Coppinger


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Hundreds of founders of highgrowth companies recently signed an open letter from Scale Ireland, which works to improve the startup environment, calling for the new government to significantly improve the ecosystem

Hundreds of founders of highgrowth companies recently signed an open letter from Scale Ireland, which works to improve the startup environment, calling for the new government to significantly improve the ecosystem

Hundreds of founders of highgrowth companies recently signed an open letter from Scale Ireland, which works to improve the startup environment, calling for the new government to significantly improve the ecosystem

As the Irish creators of software that helps teams in some of the world's biggest businesses to be more organised, efficient and happy, we at Teamwork believe that with a little more organisation, a little more efficiency and a lot more strategic thinking, Ireland could be the startup capital of Europe.

Teamwork is only 13 years old and we feel like we are only getting going, but since we started we have always tried to pass on our success to other Irish startups and Saas (software as a service) companies trying to make it big.

Every year we spend up to €100,000 on a no-catches incubator called Teamwork Catalyst which helps startups by providing free space, advice and support to technology-based companies looking to get their ideas off the ground. We have also helped establish Saas Network Ireland to facilitate Irish Saas companies trying to grow.

We do this because we believe in Ireland as a location for indigenous, high-growth, innovation-led enterprises, companies which, with just the right support, have every opportunity to take on the world. Unfortunately, Ireland's policy environment falls a long way short of what Irish startups need.

There is no reason why a country which has helped some of the largest multinationals in the world to thrive cannot do the same for Irish business. There is no reason, with some clever thinking and a focus on what can be achieved, that Ireland cannot be one of the startup capitals of the world.

This is not just a Teamwork view. Almost every other founder of an Irish high-growth company I know feels they achieved what they did in spite of Ireland's policy environment rather than because of it. Each of those founders believes Ireland can do much better. Hundreds of founders of high-growth companies recently signed an open letter from Scale Ireland, which works to improve the startup environment, calling for the new government to significantly improve the ecosystem.

As somebody who believes we can be the best in the world, I challenge anybody to explain to me why "better" is beyond us.

With the right policy environment for startups, the government could unlock the opportunity for further high-value economic activity across both urban and rural Ireland.

In order to realise that ambition all we need is for politicians to foster a coherent policy environment that would give our home-grown startups the best chance to succeed.

We need to work harder to produce the graduates business needs, especially engineers and sales and marketing executives. Teamwork has had to open offices in Argentina, Barcelona, Belfast, Boston and Amsterdam simply because we could not find the talent we need here.

Ireland competes with countries which make it easy for startup companies to give share options to employees. At Teamwork we have committed to giving 10pc of our company to our employees. We think it is the right thing to do and that it makes business sense, but in Ireland the tax regime makes this almost impossible to achieve.

Scale Ireland has pointed out Ireland is being passed by many European countries, including the UK, France and Portugal, when it comes to implementing pro-startup policies.

I think we should look to Israel as a model. Israel is considered by many the startup nation. It invests more than 4.5pc of its GNP in research. That is considerably more than the 2.4pc OECD average and miles ahead of Ireland, where we struggle to invest just over 1pc of GDP in research.

Israel, with a population of 8.7 million, has a network of 24 incubators funded by the government. Ireland, with our population of 4.8m, has only one. The Israeli incubators take no equity. We take 8pc. The Israel programme's goal is to help a company raise money or to operate on its own. The Irish model does not encourage the latter.

I believe we need more incubators throughout the country that take no equity, provide long-term support and have minimum red tape. We want to create an environment where entrepreneurs can develop their crazy ideas. Nobody knows where the next Airbnb or DropBox is going to come from and, without a network of publicly-run incubators, we may never find out.

We should re-examine the equity model Ireland applies to the support it gives to startup companies. That model has served us well but, in our experience, small companies that take on early-stage investors, be they public or private, find it hard to pivot in the face of evidence that their initial idea is not working out.

We are not saying Ireland has served startup companies badly. We are saying Ireland could serve startup companies so much better. Indeed, Ireland could quite easily be one of the best places in the world to start up an innovation-led company. The ambition already exists in the business community. All we need is a concerted effort at a political level and a range of straightforward policy initiatives to make Ireland as attractive an environment for startup Irish companies as it is for multinationals.

Our little country is in the perfect location and Irish people are smart, hard-working and likeable. With a little shake-up of our thinking, we could be one of the best startup nations in the world. Let's make some changes, not for us but for future generations.

Peter Coppinger is CEO, co-founder and lead developer at Teamwork.com and the 2018 EY Entrepreneur of the Year. Scale Ireland is an independent non-profit providing a voice for innovation-driven startups in Ireland.

Sunday Indo Business