The formation of Munster Technological University has brought changes for our locations in Tralee and Cork. We interviewed Emily Reen, who became a New Frontiers Programme Manager in January 2021, about the programme in Kerry.
Emily, tell us a bit more about yourself and your role.
I work for Munster Technological University (MTU) as the New Frontiers Programme Manager for the Kerry Campus. I am also part of the wider enterprise team at MTU, which ensures I am connected with all of the university’s entrepreneurial activities.
We were formerly the Institute of Technology Tralee. In January 2021, we amalgamated with the Institute of Technology Cork to form Munster Technological University. So, within MTU, there are now two incubation centres – the Tom Crean Business Centre (where I am based) and the Rubicon Centre in Cork.
I am also part of the leadership teams that deliver the Student Inc Summer Programme, where we work with student entrepreneurs from our MTU – Kerry Campus. An additional programme run from Tom Crean Business Centre, Goalmine, works with over 180 Transition Year students annually as they develop a business idea, in a group setting, based on one of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Tom Crean Business Centre is also Chair of the Kerry Hubs Network and we link in with entrepreneurial activity across the county. We are also connected to the National Hubs Network and the National Incubation Centre Network.
That sounds very exciting. Tell us a bit more about what’s on offer for participants at Tom Crean Business Centre.
We offer workspaces and office units as an incubation centre for entrepreneurs and startups. From the centre, we run our New Frontiers programme and have supported over 925 startups over the last 20 years. We are always looking at future development opportunities for the centre and work with close partners such as the Kerry Angel Network (which is part of the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN)) and the various research centres and facilities at MTU.
Our centre offers a unique area of deep expertise and facilities that can be tapped into by local businesses, including:
- ShannonABC, applied biotechnology centre (we’ve seen their expertise in projects involving seaweed, cosmetics, circular economy, etc.).
- iMar, intelligent mechatronics electronics and RFID centre (we’ve seen their expertise in projects involving software, prototypes, etc).
- AgriTech Centre of Excellence (ACE) – they also offer a virtual, augmented, and mixed reality suite.
- We also have the AgriTech Ireland Cluster, Circular Bio-Economy Cluster South West, and KerrySciTech based at the centre.
We also connect businesses with research expertise on our Cork campuses. With over 2,000 staff and six research centres of excellence, MTU is well-positioned to provide R&D solutions to new and emerging businesses.
Between external partners, facilitators and trainers, and centre staff we offer a wide range of expert mentors available to entrepreneurs. We hold monthly themed events and showcases such as Tech Tuesday, which give participants an opportunity to network as well as learn about new technologies, services, and supports.
We know networking is an important element of New Frontiers. How do you encourage that at Tom Crean Business Centre?
The businesses based at Tom Crean Business Centre will largely have come through New Frontiers or a similar programme. They offer help and support to the current cohort, guiding and mentoring each other. It’s not unusual for more established companies to team up with a participant entrepreneur and this “buddy system” is very beneficial to both sides.
Even if alumni have moved their physical offices to a new location, we stay in contact with them and they may come back for events or we may contact them about funding opportunities or other points of common interest. The New Frontiers journey is never really over in that sense.
Covid changed things for sure as we delivered everything online. But, even so, I’m impressed by the amount of peer-to-peer learning that happens, even when it’s virtually. Although the businesses can be in widely varying sectors, founders still face common issues and challenges that need solving. The entrepreneurs between them have such a variety of experience, and also develop transferable skills from one sector to another.
I like to think of these skills as their toolbox. What is a natural skill for one promoter may not be for another. This is where the group environment can really help participants develop their skillsets. Entrepreneurship at its core is about problem-solving. During my one-to-one sessions with participants, we’ll take big problems they have and break them down into bitesize chunks so that they are more manageable. There’s a problem-solver in all of us and that’s a skill I really enjoy bringing out in people!
We focus on building long-lasting relationships with our alumni. There’s no expiry date on our support. But for those occasions in the future when they are facing an issue on their own, we hope we have helped them build a firm base of resilience and skills. I see participants who have come through Phase 2 being able to draw on these skills that they may not have thought were relevant at the beginning of their journey.
What would you say to someone thinking of starting their new business in Kerry?
Before Covid, I feel there was already a move away from urban centres, especially on the east coast. As businesses began exploring the opportunity to relocate to Kerry, there was certainly, in some cases, an openness for remote or flexible working. The last 18 months seem to have moved that process along much faster. I’ve noticed this year that, even among applicants already based in Kerry, there is a much wider geographical spread, which is encouraging to see for the future.
The quality of life is excellent here, and the cost of living is lower than in larger urban settings. I think that Covid allowed people to pause from their normal routines and some of them decided to pick up ideas they had had on the back burner for a few years. In that way, Covid has really fostered the entrepreneurial mindset and that’s an exciting thing for now and for the future. I look forward to seeing the growth of these ideas over the next five years!
If starting up in Kerry is in your future, check out their location page, visit their website, and check in regularly to see their upcoming deadlines for applications to Phase 1 or Phase 2. The Phase 2 at MTU – Kerry Campus now has 12 places, so don’t miss your spot!
About the author
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.