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Founders Flourish In The Entrepreneurial Landscape Of Ireland’s Northwest

Enterprise Ireland’s New Frontiers programme is delivered at 18 locations around the country. Geraldine Beirne is our Programme Manager in the beautiful and vibrant northwest of Ireland, where she runs a dual location programme. We talked to Geraldine about what applicants can expect from New Frontiers in Letterkenny and Sligo.

Geraldine Beirne New Frontiers Programme Manager Sligo

New Frontiers Programme Manager, Geraldine Beirne

Hello, Geraldine. Can you share a bit about your background and what drew you to your current role?

Of course. I started my career in export sales, working at the Magee clothing factory in Donegal, selling into European markets such as France and Germany. Later, I worked at Boston Scientific in Galway, where I gained valuable insights into multinational operations and regulatory affairs. Following a stint in product development in London, I was drawn back to the northwest, where I pursued opportunities in marketing and digital media. My diverse background and understanding of both business operations and academic environments led me to my current role, where I leverage my experiences to support aspiring entrepreneurs in the region.

That’s quite a journey! Tell us more about the New Frontiers programme in the northwest and what sets it apart?

The New Frontiers programme in the northwest is a joint initiative between the incubators at two campuses of Atlantic Technological University (ATU) – CoLab in Letterkenny and the Innovation Centre in Sligo. We cover a large catchment area spanning six counties, from Malin Head to Inishowen into Roscommon, Leitrim, and Mayo. This opens up unique opportunities for engagement with the university campuses for student placements and projects, as there is a vibrant ecosystem for student entrepreneurship at ATU. We also collaborate closely with our local Technology Gateways, PEM in Sligo and WiSAR in Letterkenny.

ATU is the widest-spread university in Ireland, geographically speaking. Each campus has unique focus areas and resources. Our campuses include ATU Donegal Killybegs (specialising in culinary arts, hospitality management, and tourism), ATU St Angela’s (specialising in nursing, health sciences and disability studies, home economics, and education), ATU Connemara (the National Centre for Excellence in Furniture Design and Technology), ATU Mountbellew (specialising in rural enterprise, agribusiness, agriculture, and environmental management).

Inter-campus connections are strong. We work hard to facilitate seamless collaboration and knowledge exchange, which further enriches the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the northwest. Collaboration is at the heart of our efforts. I work closely with Tony O’Kelly, who is Programme Manager for New Frontiers in Galway and Mayo, also ATU campuses. We host joint sessions and facilitate cross-campus networking opportunities, fostering a sense of community and connectivity.

The northwest region appeals to founders thanks to factors like lifestyle and access to natural resources. Can you elaborate on how these elements contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region?

The northwest boasts stunning natural landscapes and a vibrant community spirit, making it an attractive destination for those seeking a high quality of life. For example, Bundoran offers some of the best surfing in Europe. This lifestyle appeal, coupled with the abundance of natural resources like seafood and agricultural produce, presents unique opportunities for entrepreneurs. Whether it’s crafting artisanal products or developing sustainable business models, entrepreneurs in the area are harnessing these regional resources to create innovative ventures that resonate with consumers locally and globally. For example, one of our founders is developing a pickled oyster product and another is producing fresh pasta from local ingredients including seaweed.

Since the pandemic, we’re seeing people moving back to the northwest from abroad or from Dublin. The agencies here are working hard to make the northwest the best place to do business, as well as a great place to live. The Northwest Regional Enterprise Plan is helping us to all pull in the right direction (assisted by agencies like the Local Enterprise Offices, Enterprise Ireland, Western Development Commission (WDC), IDA Ireland, and Údarás na Gaeltachta). Part of this regional focus is supporting business to move away from traditional sectors. Remote working is a great driver of this, so we have lots of co-working hubs in the region.

There’s a rising number of female founders in the northwest and initiatives like Empower and Ambition supporting their entrepreneurial journey. Can you share more about the impact of these initiatives?

Empower and Ambition play a crucial role in fostering a supportive ecosystem for female founders in the northwest. By providing tailored support, networking opportunities, and access to resources, these initiatives empower women to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions with confidence. Gender diversity is not only a matter of equity but also a driver of innovation and economic growth.

By amplifying the voices and perspectives of women founders, we can unlock new opportunities, drive sustainable development, and build a more inclusive entrepreneurial landscape in the northwest and beyond. Our partnerships with local agencies like the Local Enterprise Offices and initiatives like SheGenerate and Acorns propel our commitment to empowering women founders and fostering a diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. I’m proud that some of our recent cohorts have, in fact, had a higher representation of women compared to men.

You mentioned some innovative new startups drawing on the unique characteristics of the northwest. Who are some notable alumni from the programme and what is the future of entrepreneurship in the northwest?

We’ve had some remarkable success stories, with alumni like David Gildea of CloudRanger, who sold his startup to Druva Inc (for an undisclosed sum). Linda Hegarty of Slick+ is making significant strides in her field. Other notable alumni include Kieran Supple of Reap Interactive, Catherine Devine of PumpSkynz, and Maria Hall of Hub Planning. These individuals exemplify the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that you can expect from the northwest.

Like I said before, our programme has two locations. CoLab, in Letterkenny, is the larger of the two incubation centres but you can choose which one you want to be based in (being on Phase 2 and 3 or New Frontiers means free co-working space). Our group learning events happen in both centres, which means participants have lots of opportunities to interact with the whole cohort and not just those based in the same building. There are of course social areas in both centres, and we hold networking events that our alumni also come to.

The alumni network is very important, and we now hold an annual alumni event to keep us all connected. I truly believe in the network effect, and I am always looking to promote and amplify collaboration opportunities or synergies amongst participants. I often say that I feel like a part-time employee in all these businesses! I love that this role is so hands-on, and I learn as much from the participants as they learn from the programme. I make sure to keep paying it forward to the next cohort.

If you have a business idea that you want to get off the ground, New Frontiers will equip you with the right connections, the right skills, and the right route to capital to build a successful and sustainable startup business. Learn more about New Frontiers in Sligo and Letterkenny and read more about Geraldine’s background. Feel like this is the right time? Register your interest in New Frontiers today!

About the author

scarlet-merrillScarlet Bierman

Scarlet Bierman is a content consultant, commissioned by Enterprise Ireland to fulfil the role of Editor of the New Frontiers website. She is an expert in designing and executing ethical marketing strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence.