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Start Up In The Midlands! Learn Why With Programme Manager Nick Allen

The New Frontiers programme is delivered at 18 locations nationwide. In the Midlands, it is delivered jointly by Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) – Athlone Campus and Maynooth University. The Programme Manager is Nick Allen, a veteran consultant and trainer who has been in the role since 2015. We talked to Nick to learn more about his approach and what founders can expect from the programme in Athlone and Maynooth.

Programme Manager Name: Nick Allen

Nick Allen, Programme Manager in Athlone and Maynooth

Nick’s journey into entrepreneurship began at University College Dublin (UCD), where he developed a passion for innovation and enterprise. Over the years, his academic pursuits intertwined seamlessly with his practical experiences as he moved from training development to management consulting to entrepreneurship. It’s no surprise that one of Nick’s main strengths lies in leveraging strategy and process to solve complex business problems. Working as a visiting lecturer with UCD Innovation Academy introduced him to the startup ecosystem and ultimately led the way to New Frontiers.

“My experience and skills to date seemed to come together in the New Frontiers model, which is unique. There are two ways this impacts what I do. The first is how I use my background in management consulting to help individuals solve problems in a corporate setting. The second is context – by which I mean asking questions such as what is the business problem, customer problem, or client problem that needs solving.”

A pragmatic and holistic approach to entrepreneurship

What makes Nick’s approach so valuable is that in the early stages of startup he doesn’t differentiate between the person and the business. Through his work in career and personal development, Nick has come to consider that the personal development of the individual is as much a factor of success as the mechanics of the business model. He develops close working relationships with founders in order to support this transformation.

Nick emphasises the symbiotic relationship between personal and professional evolution, where belief in oneself is a vital ingredient for success. He references the quote often attributed to Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”  This philosophy underpins his interactions with programme participants, where empathy and understanding form the cornerstone of his mentorship.

“The New Frontiers programme isn’t a panacea, and it’s not an oracle. In any early-stage startup, the founder is the driver of success. Her attitude and mindset are the main reasons it will succeed. I’ve seen this play out countless times. We’ve had very strong ideas with the right business model that have not taken off – sometimes because the founder decides that entrepreneurship isn’t for them and sometimes because they just don’t have the belief that they will succeed.”

Nick takes the view that if a founder has made it through the rigorous selection process of New Frontiers Phase 2, the onus is on him to believe in them and help them as much as he can. As long as they keep believing in themselves. He still gives honest and thoughtful feedback but says there’s nothing to be gained from his advice being prescriptive or directive.

“I’d say we’re always fair. If founders do decide it’s not for them, that’s a personal choice and not something I would ask them. I’m guiding them on the path to making good decisions, whatever they may be. That’s my platform or philosophy for the programme. Push everyone forward as much as you can.”

What can you expect from New Frontiers in Athlone?

Cohorts in the midlands are fairly large, with 12 to 14 founders on any Phase 2 programme. Nick favours high-impact group sessions and keeps them to around one and a half days per week. It’s in these settings that you will experience learning opportunities such as workshops, brainstorming, pitching practice, or business model working. It’s then up to you to implement these skills and ideas in your startup.

“In these early stages of the business, I encourage founders to place a lot of emphasis on customer validation and market validation. If you’re going out and making huge assumptions about your customers while you develop your product or service (and spending a lot of money doing so), we’ll let you know because you should be careful about bringing something to market without validation. We encourage people to bootstrap their way through development, because too often I see people spending money before they are ready, especially when it comes to tech development.”

Nick’s relationship with New Frontiers participants will often start well before Phase 1. He sometimes has several meetings with a founder before they are ready to apply, putting a lot of emphasis on his special brand of ‘on the spot consulting’ where he openly shares his experience. This also gives him a good sense of the applicant’s strengths, as well as their readiness and ambition for startup.

“Some people are still playing around with the idea and aren’t ready to dive into a structured programme. Other people are so focused on the future stages of the business that they haven’t acknowledged the huge amount of work required to get there. Startup is a series of mini steps, what I call ‘learning loops’. If you can go out and make multiple, tiny mistakes with just a fraction of your market segment, you’ll gather fantastic information at very low cost. You learn from these and feed them back into the business in a continuous cycle.”

What are the practical benefits of the Athlone-Maynooth programme?

Athlone delivers the New Frontiers programme in partnership is with Maynooth University. You can choose to be based at the Midlands Innovation and Research Centre (MIRC) on the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) Athlone Campus or opt for the MaynoothWorks incubation space in Maynooth, located in the state-of-the-art Eolas Technology Building. Most of the group sessions will take place in Athlone, where Nick is based.

Because this is a joint programme, founders can access the facilities at either university. For example, you could avail of Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers to collaborate with an expert, third-level researcher while developing an idea or product or solving a business or technical challenge. Vouchers are a low-cost way to work with the nationwide Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateway Network.

In Athlone, one of the gateways is COMAND, which specialises in interactive media technologies (cross-platform applications, mobile media cloud, 3D sensing, and IoT interoperability). Nick also mentions the fantastic video suite at MaynoothWorks, which is professionally rigged out with multiple cameras, screens, and backdrops and available for founders to use.

One of the universal benefits of New Frontiers is the access to mentors from the Enterprise Ireland panel. Beyond this, though, Nick draws on his huge professional network to make introductions or ignite collaborations wherever he can. He also actively maintains relationships with past participants and continues to support them after the programme, including keeping an eye on possible funding opportunities.

“Here in the Midlands, the startup and business communities are really important. I’ve built strong connections with members of the ecosystem, particularly our Local Enterprise Offices. We work together to make sure every founder is getting the right support at the right time. At the end of the day, the founder is the most important person in all this, and we want them to succeed. Whether it’s New Frontiers, the Local Enterprise Office, or somewhere else, our doors are always open.”

If you have a business idea that you want to get off the ground, this could be the right time to start. 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 Athlone, read more about Nick’s background, or register your interest in the programme.

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.