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Founding a startup in the Midwest? New Frontiers at TUS - Limerick Campus may be for you

Thinking of founding a startup in the Midwest? Discover what you can expect from the New Frontiers programme at Limerick. I spoke to Mary Casey, New Frontiers Programme Manager at the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre at the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS) – Limerick Campus, and Gillian Barry, TUS Head of Innovation & Enterprise, to learn more.

Mary Casey

Mary Casey, Programme Manager at TUS – Limerick Campus

Innovation and enterprise in the Midwest

One thing is clear from our conversation; Ireland’s Midwest is a dynamic, collaborative, and supportive environment for startups and established companies alike. Business agencies, local networks, investors, and third-level institutions all work hard to support innovators and entrepreneurs in a proactive way. There’s a real sense that people here want to make things happen for founders.

The Limerick area boasts various co-working spaces; enterprise centres; incubators and accelerators; development agency offices; innovation, research and development facilities; technology gateways; and even a dedicated innovation development agency called Innovate Limerick. Limerick has the fastest-growing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country after Dublin and has seen significant job growth in the past decade. 50% of the population in the region is under 35 and there are around 34,000 students in the city’s third-level institutions.

Limerick, a European City of the Future, sits just 25 minutes from Shannon International Airport (gateway to the USA, UK, and European destinations), 40 minutes from Foynes (Ireland’s largest bulk port), and is just two hours from Dublin. It’s hardly surprising that many global brands are based in the Midwest region – around 120 of the world’s leading ICT, life sciences, and financial services companies, including Uber, Dell, Northern Trust, Johnson & Johnson, Analog, Cook Medical, General Motors, Jaguar Landrover, Regeneron, and Viagogo call it home. Limerick is as close to the Americas as it is to 26 European Union countries.

The New Frontiers programme at TUS – Limerick Campus

If you are based in – or thinking of moving to – Limerick, Clare, or Tipperary, the programme in Limerick is an excellent option. For Mary, capacity building is essential in enabling a founder to take their business forward. She focuses on showing participants how to take a pragmatic approach to startup. There are lots of disciplines within business and they may not all be your strength, but you still need to know enough about them to make key decisions. You will be exploring business theory, doing your research, but also making sure to develop your network. The peers you will interact with daily, be it your New Frontiers cohort, the experienced entrepreneurs and advisors who facilitate sessions, or the team that delivers the programme, can be the difference between success and failure.

One of the goals of the programme is developing the individual, helping them to become the leader they need to be to succeed. Having developed your vision for the business, what do you need to do to bring it to life? Mary and Gillian have no doubt that New Frontiers alumni are building stronger businesses because of the programme. Founders benefit from peer-to-peer accountability, working with mentors, and constructive feedback from experts who have already walked the path. In addition, being a graduate gives you a lot of credibility, as founders discover once they start knocking on doors – whether they are looking for funding, trying to attract collaborators, building their network, or talking to potential customers.

Phase 1 of New Frontiers at Limerick

If you have a business idea but don’t know if entrepreneurship is your path, Phase 1 is for you. It would also suit people who feel they are experienced/have a strong idea but want to see what the team and the location are like, so they can decide whether to apply to Phase 2. The focus is on teasing out the idea, understanding the customer, and the value to the customer. 80% of startup ideas fail at this early stage, so Mary is giving participants a toolkit that will help them explore the idea and see if there is a business there. If there is, you’ll look at how you can make this early stage of the development possible and get yourself to Phase 2.

Phase 2 of New Frontiers at Limerick

New Frontiers combines a variety of benefits – financial support, workshops and other learning opportunities, networking, guidance and advice, access to R&D, co-working space, and more (see more about the programme on our About page).

Punctuating the stages of Phase 2 will be meetings with the review panel, at the start, second, fourth, and sixth month of Phase 2 (and at the end of Phase 3 for those who get through). You’ll receive comprehensive guidance and feedback from a panel composed of experienced advisors and entrepreneurs, including people from agencies such as Enterprise Ireland.

Phase 2 at Limerick covers three distinct areas: the business, the financials, and the investment journey.

The business: in the first two months, you’ll lay the foundations of a successful business through the lens of what are you trying to do and where you want to get. The review panel is looking for an executable project plan – they want to see you have done your research and understand where you’re going and how.

The financials: during the next two months, you’ll learn how to ensure you’re building a sustainable business. This includes looking at ways to extend your runway through grants, investments, or generating revenue.

The investment journey: for the last two months of Phase 2, you’ll be preparing to pitch to investors and get out there and implement your business idea. A small group of alumni will move into Phase 3 after this, with an additional financial support to help with this.

Phase 2 culminates with a showcase and awards event. At Limerick, sponsorship from local agencies, networks, and businesses means that the three award-winners also receive a cash prize as well as mentoring and consultancy support.

The team’s approach and programme methodology

In addition to building your skills and capabilities, you’ll learn how to build your resilience. You can’t build a successful startup if you’re falling apart, so participants are encouraged to manage their wellbeing and be mindful of the stress that can build up.

As Gillian points out, New Frontiers is intensive. You’ll be in the stretch zone for six months, but you will come out with a strong business idea and a founder toolkit that will elevate your value professionally. Whether your next step is developing the business, starting a completely new venture, or seizing a corporate opportunity, New Frontiers gives you the skills, knowledge, and confidence to take that leap.

Although it’s hard work, you will get a lot of support throughout. Mary thinks there are three key ingredients for a successful experience on the programme:

  1. be curious (ask questions so you can find out what you don’t know)
  2. find your resilience (it’s not a smooth ride, how you dust yourself off and carry on matters)
  3. build your network (embrace it, because the connections you make could be your future advisors, collaborators, or even investors)

Limerick-born Mary is an experienced Programme Manager, having joined the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre in 2015. She is serious about making sure founders progress and build momentum, giving them honest, open, and constructive feedback. As she points out, New Frontiers may help you develop a plan, but how do you survive long enough to implement that plan? Knowing which supports to go after at which time is a vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and she makes sure participants are fully informed on that score. See more about Mary’s background and experience in our Meet the team section.

Other features of New Frontiers at Limerick

Access to experienced entrepreneurs and innovators is a huge benefit of the programme. The Hartnett Centre is one of five innovation centres across TUS with entrepreneurs in residence: Dick Meaney, former Senior VP at Analog Devices; John MacNamara CEO & founder of BCM Limited; Tom Brennan, co-founder of EirGen Pharma and Trivium Vet; Pat McGrath, formerly CEO of PM Group and highly experience board director and chairperson; and John Hartnett, eponymous patron of the centre and founder of SVG Ventures, Thrive, and ITLG Group. These entrepreneurs provide one-to-one mentoring or master classes but are also available if a founder needs specific guidance. With their vast experience and global contacts, they are an incredible asset to the programme.

The connection between the New Frontiers team and its alumni is an enduring one. Even after completing the programme, alumni maintain contact with the team and actively participate in events such as lunch and learns or workshops. Some alumni even step into the role of facilitators, generously sharing their invaluable insights in small, intimate settings. While some sessions are open to all, the programme also hosts closed-door gatherings, creating an environment where honest and fresh perspectives on a wide range of topics are shared. There’s an emphasis on providing learning opportunities around general business topics as well as any specific gaps or needs of that year’s cohort.

One of the unique benefits of New Frontiers is that participants have access to the university’s extensive R&D capabilities. As a founder develops their business, they will be connected to any relevant expertise available within the university or at another third-level institution depending on the discipline. TUS is a partner of the Forge Design Factory, part of a network of 38 global design factories and the first of its kind in Ireland. A partnership between local councils, universities, and business organisations, this initiative employs design methodology to foster collaboration with industry, promoting innovation and creativity.

TUS houses three Enterprise Ireland Technology Gateways – Shannon ABC (applied biotech), APT (polymer technologies), and Command (connected media) – offering innovation support and assistance to companies of every size and sector. There are also two industry clusters, Advanced Technologies in Manufacturing (ATiM) Cluster in Athlone and Irish Digital Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Cluster (IDEAM) in Limerick, further expanding the support available to entrepreneurs in the region. Also based in the area are the Aviation Skillnet and the European Space Agency BIC Ireland.

TUS leads a European University alliance called RUN-EU, comprising nine universities whose goal is to strengthen the quality of education, research, and innovation among its member universities. It also supports regional development by via three innovation hubs offering opportunities for entrepreneurs to engage across a strong European network.

Interested? Talk to Mary to learn more.

If you are interested in the programme at TUS – Limerick Campus, get in touch with Mary to discuss your background and business idea. Remember, New Frontiers is about helping you become a stronger founder, so your business idea can be from any sector (subject to our eligibility criteria). Limerick alumni include Paul Gough of Nualtra, Charlie Glynn of Glynn Technical Diamonds, Mark Cochrane of Trackplan, Hannah Wrixon of Get the Shifts (now WrkWrk), Shane Ryan of Fiid, Leonie Lynch of Juspy, Eoin Keaney of Tornoc Studios, Nicholas Ryan of Thomond Gate Whiskey, and Paul Byrne of Mavarick.

Limerick offers a fantastic quality of life and is bursting with historical, cultural, and artistic treasures and events. It’s also a city of sport, from Munster Rugby at Thomond Park to hurling and Gaelic football at TUS Gaelic Grounds, from racing at Limerick Racecourse to golf at championship courses such as Adare Manor. Water sports are a big feature here too, and there are world-class surf beaches within an hour’s drive of the city. For those seeking a more cultural experience, Limerick, the first National City of Culture, boasts thriving art galleries, vibrant music scenes, and captivating theatre communities. It’s safe to say you’ll find a way to unwind once your working day is done!

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.