Tag: entrepreneurship

Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

Gavin Duffy on the changing face of business success

Gavin Duffy - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

If you’re anything like me, you’ll find Dragons’ Den on RTÉ compulsive viewing. It’s amazing to see the varied and imaginative solutions people have come up with – often to problems you didn’t even know existed. Listening to the Dragon’s questions gives a lot of insight into the thought process and approach of experienced entrepreneurs. I always take notes that I apply to my own business, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So, it was with great excitement that I learnt an interview had been set up with Gavin Duffy – the only Dragon to guard the Den since the show started in 2009. Gavin was already a successful businessman by the age of 17, and has gone on to conquer numerous sectors since then. He also has a keen interest in training, so I knew he would have some valuable insights for our New Frontiers community.

During our chat, we visited some well-worn topics, such as ‘what makes an entrepreneur?’ and ‘do the Irish lack global ambition?’ But we also dug into issues such as education, which I found out is a subject very close to Gavin’s heart.

Is there a particular mindset or personality that makes an entrepreneur?

Of course, not everyone starts a business in their teens as I did. For me, it was a natural progression of what I was doing at the time. Those with the best chance of success aren’t necessarily rushing headlong into it at 17 and making a go of it by some fluke! Typically, the businesses that can really succeed – generate significant revenues and sustainable employment – are those with a founder who has a track record in their sector.

That said, founding a business is a real challenge if you’re older. You might be at the stage where you’ve started a family and have a good job… but you still have that yearning to do your own thing. Deciding to set up a business at that point (jumping the wall, as it were), is a risk and that can be hard on everyone involved.

So, what should those that do decide to jump do first?

There is a fantastic network of support out there these days. You have agencies like Enterprise Ireland or the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) where people can get the help and advice to appraise their startup idea.

True entrepreneurs have a vision of doing things in a better way – whether that’s making, delivering, or producing something. My advice at that early stage is to make use of those available channels and get your idea validated. There is assistance and funding out there to help you with this, so make use of it!

As an investor, are you seeing a higher calibre of entrepreneur seeking capital?

I think in the venture capital (VC) world, we see more informed business decisions being made, certainly. Entrepreneurs are framing their pitches more coherently, they understand the ins and outs of investment, and we hear them use the word ‘exit’ when they describe their strategy.

For me, as someone in the investment community, it’s always good to see someone with a track record in their industry bringing a startup idea to the table. Their proximity and familiarity with the area have allowed them to spot a potential solution or market, which they have then tested thoroughly with the supports available.

What about on Dragons’ Den? Has the standard of those opportunities changed over the years?

You have to remember that Dragons’ Den is a TV show, so things are a little different there. The producers are on the lookout for ideas that are either truly brilliant or completely wacky, because good solid businesses don’t usually make the most entertaining TV.

But in terms of the business plans and investment opportunities presented, I would say there has been a marked improvement over the years. I’m impressed by the business knowledge that goes into the pitches; people are generally very well prepared.

How do you feel about the health of the business ecosystem in Ireland today?

The offering of the entire business community has improved in Ireland; whether that’s business advisors, professional services, even entities such as small accountancy firms that are advising young startups and helping them with business plans and financial strategies. Ireland is definitely an enterprising country.

I take part in the Enterprise Towns expos, which are organised by Bank of Ireland. Most people judge the economy by looking at their local high street and the number of vacant retail units can lead to them lamenting the loss of family businesses and assuming that the economy is struggling. But that’s only because retail as we knew it has changed dramatically in the past 10 years, so much of it has moved online and now high streets are mostly about food and coffee!

However, turn up to an Enterprise Town event and you’ll see as many as 150 amazing local businesses. They may be run from a garden shed, or a shared office somewhere, but they are providing employment and are part of the backbone of the country. During the downturn, some people had no choice but to set something up for themselves, and they’ve proved very successful at it. Industries evolve, we have to learn to recognise the changing face of success.

We’re great at small business, then. But some people talk about a lack of ‘global ambition’ in Ireland. Where do you stand in that debate?

I hear that criticism frequently. “Irish entrepreneurs are happy with ‘lifestyle businesses’ and don’t tend to go further. Or they sell up.” I think this complaint overlooks one thing, which is that in the tech world there are different classes of business. Companies such as Stripe are platform businesses – they are a global play from the very start, and the reality is that such businesses will always be in the minority.

If a business involves a branded product – say, a food product – you can achieve success and go on to enter other markets, but there will always be much bigger players in those markets that you have to either compete with or who will potentially make you an offer you can’t refuse.

I don’t believe that somehow Irish entrepreneurs are less ambitious than anyone else. It simply depends on what part of a market you’re in. If you look at the handful of major, global entrepreneurs, Ireland is very well represented. For instance, you have the Collisons (co-founders of Stripe), or Liam Casey (founder of PCH). Go back a generation and you have examples such as Smurfit Kappa, Independent News and Media, or Glanbia.

Given its size, is conquering the Irish market enough?

Ireland is a pretty small market, which means that businesses must think about other markets. It’s tricky being an island market, too. If you’re in mainland Europe and need to meet people or attend an event, you can get to eight capital cities within an easy train ride. That’s not the case here, but luckily technology is changing the way we conduct business and geography is becoming less and less of an issue.

That said, I recognise that the Irish can get quite fixated on their home market. A few years ago, one of my investments, TanOrganic (founded by Noelle O’Connor), was doing very well in the Australian market. Marissa Carter then launched Cocoa Brown in the Irish market, where she completely surpassed us. It shouldn’t have been an issue for us, as we were taking such strides in Australia, but somehow it felt like a failure not be Number 1 back at home.

What’s needed to ensure the next generations can compete in the global marketplace?

I see a key role for education systems, but they are slow to adapt. Primary education is still chalk-and-talk; at junior or leaving cert level the curriculum is still a reflection of where we were 15 or 20 years’ ago – because that’s how long it takes to effect change in the education system.

Both primary and secondary schooling needs to change utterly. No one graduating from university at this point is going to get a job in a company, work for 40 years and then retire with a nice watch. There isn’t a single industry or sector that operates in that way now. Younger generations need to learn a different range of skills.

It’s not the sole responsibility of schools to make this change. Change is required in society generally, that includes parents, and of course business. In a generation’s time, the ‘professions’ as we know them won’t be employing people at the same level or in the same way. It’s a big challenge that we haven’t addressed yet

So if we add Computer Science lessons to the curriculum, everything will be OK?

Technical skills are crucial, of course, but I don’t mean we need an entire generation of coders, either. Creativity and innovation may be ‘softer’ skills, but they matter just as much. Being able to sell yourself, create a product or deliver a service needs to be engendered in the education system, and reinforced at third level.

It’s great to see some of the Transition Year projects around the country, were pupils set up a business and get some real-life experience of what might be involved. For some, that’s their first ever understanding of business. I was lucky, because business was the family pastime. That’s not the case for a lot of kids.

I’m Chairman of an organisation called BizWorld Ireland. We run two-day enterprise workshops for children aged 10 – 13 and there’s one thing that always surprises me. The children in primary school have these truly global ideas – creative, world-changing initiatives. By the time they get to TY, the ideas are a lot less ambitious.

You’ll have come across Sir Ken Robinson’s assertion that education hinders the creativity of students the longer they are exposed to it. I’ve seen direct evidence of that. So, while we’re teaching children the right blend of skills they’ll need for tomorrow’s workplace, we should also be working hard to stop putting up barriers for them. The ambition younger children have is phenomenal, if we can nurture that we’ll be securing a sound footing for the future of business.

Check out Gavin’s recent article What’s your Business Strategy for 2018? – 5 Easy Wins for the New Year for more business insights

[Featured image courtesy of Ruth Medjber – Ruthless Imagery. Gavin Duffy on the set of Dragons’ Den (RTÉ)]

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

Featured startup: Dublin Design Studio (Scriba)

scriba - dublin design studio/david craig new frontiers alumnus

David Craig is the founder of Dublin Design Studio and inventor of Scriba, a new generation of stylus for mobile devices. David wrote an article for New Frontiers over two years ago, recalling his journey through the early-stage development of Scriba, up to its highly successful Kickstarter campaign in August 2015.

We thought it would be a good idea to catch up with David, as he prepares to send out the first batch of Scribas to his Kickstarter backers. It’s been a longer production period than expected, but the product has undergone a few significant improvements, which David hopes will make it worth the wait.

Let’s get back to summer 2015. The team had already experienced the trials and tribulations of hardware development and had fully working prototypes. The discussion moved on to materials, manufacturing, logistics, and the other elements involved in delivering a quality, shop-ready product. David was clear he wanted to manufacture in Ireland, instead of going the somewhat obvious route of finding a plant in China.

David was introduced to the business development manager from Hasbro – the famous toy manufacturer – who was able to offer a partnership with Cartamundi, their Waterford-based manufacturing arm. With a strong manufacturing support, this meant the team could move into the design for manufacturability (DFM) phase. A whole new language had to be learnt at this point, as David worked with engineers and the Hasbro/Cartamundi team to perfect the design, assembly and materials. There were plenty of challenges and even the bespoke packaging that suspended the product to show off its unusual form was a complex design challenge that needed to be solved.

(click to enlarge the images)

Through an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher, Dublin Design Studio worked closely with Athlone Institute of Technology’s CISD to develop the design of the 3D model that would be used to create the very expensive tool required by injection moulding. Getting the geometry correct from both a manufacturability perspective, in addition to the look and feel of the product, required many iterations; even though the electronics of the product were well-established, the form and feel of the product would have a huge impact on the user experience.

By Christmas that year, David assumed they were ready to go into production. However, a suggestion of an alternative tool design that would yield noticeably better quality results and an associated quote from the tool makers that was double the anticipated cost meant David had to make a difficult commercial decision.

“I felt strongly that anything that might let down the perceived quality of the overall product must be sorted out, and with competition from the likes of Wacom, Adonit and even Apple, it was important that Scriba was as perfect as humanly possible.”

With support from volunteers and numerous interns – David thinks his team may have involved a total of 50 people – all contributing their own expertise and insights to the product, Scriba has evolved into more than just a stylus. David has grown a network of mentors, advisors and friends who have also been instrumental to the realisation of this product. With such a complex project, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details or be consumed by the technical difficulties, so his strategy has been to celebrate the small wins whenever they happen.

“What I probably didn’t appreciate as much at the outset is that as a startup, developing hardware encompassed so many other fields. For instance, we’ve not only developed a hardware product, we’ve also created an ecommerce site, developed an SDK for software developers and produced six apps to go with it!”

The manufacture process itself threw up a number of technical hurdles, each one seemingly insurmountable. David credits the openness of the wider network he had at that point with his ability to overcome each one… companies went above and beyond what would have been commercially expected, and generously gave any insights and expertise they had. In addition to Cartamundi, of particular note were IPC Polymers in Kilbeggan who opened their doors to David to develop and test composite plastics to meet the product’s particular technical requirements. Scriba really is a testament to the Irish business ecosystem.

In parallel with the hardware and materials, the team moved onto software – developing apps and adding functionality (for instance, Scriba can trigger your iPhone camera and you can use it to control presentation slides or annotate PDFs).

“I wanted to change people’s perception of what a stylus could be. Every day I would ask myself: what value can we add for our end users? Sure, people will use the stylus for sketching and drawing; but that’s not all they do during the day so how can we fit into their lifestyle even more?”

A selection of artwork created with Scriba

(click to enlarge the images)

David, an architect by training, says he doesn’t get to spend long days ideating and being immersed in design. As a startup founder, his time is mostly taken up with other, more pressing issues: marketing, logistics, HR, management, finance and business development.

To keep the lights on during the development of Scriba, Dublin Design Studio has taken on a variety of architectural projects, and collected a few awards for these over the past couple of years, including Best Housing in last year’s RIAI Awards. Scriba itself has won a shelfful of accolades – the Irish Times Innovation Awards, UK Design Week Awards, Bank of Ireland Startup Awards and the IDI Awards to name just a few.

Fast forward to October 2017, and the very first batch of Scriba styluses has been manufactured, packaged, and is currently heading out to those first Kickstarter investors, who pledged over two years ago. David has been careful to keep these backers up to date along the way and has sent them regular updates and progress reports.

“I’m pretty hands on and to understand the process, I spent the day at the plant in Waterford working with the operators on the assembly line. That incredible moment of having the very first one, boxed, in my hands, was just amazing. It’s been such a long road and thanks to everyone’s perseverance and hard work it’s now a reality.”

General sales of Scriba are about to go live, initially via their own website – getscriba.com – and also on Amazon. Scriba has been accepted onto the Amazon Launchpad programme, which showcases innovative new products from startups. This will be crucial to the firm’s success, as they have identified Amazon as the key channel for their target market.

David is keen to point out that Scriba is only the first product the studio plans on creating. The collective knowledge the team has acquired since David’s very first prototype will be no doubt be channelled into other exciting projects. It certainly sounds like David is itching to get back to design, so I don’t think we’ll have a long wait!

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

WKI Developing your Market Attack Plan - in four steps New Frontiers

Developing your market attack plan in four steps

WKI Developing your Market Attack Plan - in four steps New Frontiers

So you’ve completed your market research and analysis. You’ve found a great opportunity to exploit. The solution you have will give you an edge over other approaches and will offer real value to the client. You’ve spent the last couple of months building out the team of advisors and have some friends who’ve agreed to help you with branding, marketing, helping to write a business plan or to get the financials together…

Everything looks great – you’ll definitely need 10 people on board within the next few years to support the €1 million turnover you’ve set as your year three target, especially as you’ll enter foreign markets towards the end of year two. Sound familiar?

But have you created your market attack plan? Have you set out credible steps along the journey that you will need to take to achieve your goals? Over the past few years I’ve coached some of our Phase 2 participants to develop this plan. I use a commercialisation tool developed by WKI to structure the sessions.

WKI Commercialisation methodology

Step 1

We begin by reviewing the participant’s proposed target segments. We also look at the customer profile for each segment (who will use it, who will buy it, how they will use it, what the buy decision is, what motivates the user and what motivates the buyer, etc.). These have been identified by market research conducted to date and have been ranked into an ordered list of segments to target.

Step 2

We then discuss lead customers; these are early adopters who should be willing and eager to try a new idea even if it is in development. You are looking for someone who will collaborate with you to test, suggest, and mould your early stage idea into a customer-ready product for later stage customers.

A question to ask: are the lead customers from our identified target segments? If not, why not? If we can’t get someone from our target segment who will try our solution then has our market research been correct to date? Have we really identified the correct market? It may seem obvious but it does happen that the promoter has profiled a market opportunity in great detail yet introduces clients from different segments without clear reasoning. This can lead to a loss of credibility in the proposal, i.e. does the promoter really know who the customer is?

Step 3

So, having identified the lead customer we next set out what initiatives will be undertaken to advance the idea down the path to market. Each initiative should reflect the stage of development of the solution as well as the commercial roll out. That is why I usually have one or two lead-in steps such as demonstrator stage, prototype stage, before introducing the second and third target segments and beyond moving towards category leadership. Especially when working with start-ups. I also find that the first session specs out the first couple of development steps only. The promoters tend to need a break at this point as for further stages it becomes too vague or harder to define concrete initiatives and measures of success.

Step 4

Profile the risks. All plans have an element of risk associated with them, it is both natural and expected. Stakeholders will want to know that you are aware of potential risks and have prepared a plan to mitigate them should they occur. For early-stage businesses risks associated with technical, market, financial and people should be considered with each stage of the company’s proposed development.  These should also be summarised on the market attack plan.

Market Attack PlanSo what? Who cares? Why you?

Let’s work through an example of what a market attack plan may look like:

Stage – Demonstrator Timing: Month 1 & 2

Major initiative:

  • Update promoter’s LinkedIn profile and purchase premium package for 2 months
  • Build mock-up demonstrator using MarvelApp, CAD, Animation, etc.
  • Get 4 – 5 meetings with potential lead customers to review

Measure of success:

  • 2 customers agree to pilot a prototype

Risks:

  • Unable to secure demonstration meetings

Resources:

  • In-house resources, travel costs and LinkedIn Premium only

Funded bBy:

  • Promoter’s funds

Stage – Prototype Timing: Months 3 to 6

Major initiative:

  • Agree framework for prototype stage with lead customers
  • Develop working prototype – to agreed limited features/command set
  • Company formation

Measure of success:

  • 1 – 2 customers agree to purchase
  • 2 – 3 new customers agree to pilot

Risks:

  • Unable to secure sufficient funding

Resources:

  • In-house resources and travel costs
  • Outsourced tech development – €20- 30K

Funded by:

  • LEO Feasibility Funding / New Frontiers stipend
  • Innovation voucher – for algorithm generation
  • Promoter’s funds & friends/angels

Stage – Market Entry Timing: Months 6 to 18

Major initiative:

  • Secure incubation tenancy
  • Hire CTO and first in-house developer
  • Sales and Marketing hires x 2
  • On-board the first 2 customers
  • Invest in CRM package
  • Complete technical development
  • Attend 1 – 3 national exhibitions and secure speaking slots
  • Start Next Round funding process

Measure of success:

  • Customer income secured – €200k
  • 2 – 3 new customers signed each quarter
  • First segment 2 customers acquired
  • CE Marking, Safety and Compliance certifications secured

Risks:

  • Delays on-boarding key hires
  • Development overruns
  • Delays securing sufficient funding
  • New entrants

Resources:

  • €400K funding requirement (18 months runway)

Funded by:

  • EI Competitive Start Funding
  • EI HPSU Funding
  • Irish VC Funding Delta/Kernel, etc.

Why is this approach important?

There are a number of reasons to use this approach:

  1. For the promoter, it helps break down into manageable steps the road to market entry. It also helps non-financial founders align the sales and marketing, operations and financial requirements of the business for stage of development – which is great when producing three year cash flow projections.
  2. For team members, it provides them with clarity as to what the outcome from each stage of development is. It can also help them see where the business is headed.
  3. For the business plan reader, it summarises what resources are required at each stage and what the output will be in terms of headcount (support agency focus) or monetary gains (investor focus).

So give it a go. You’ll be surprised how easy it can be and what a difference this simple tool can make to developing your company’s market entry strategy.

About the author

Garrett-Duffy-New-FrontiersGarrett Duffy

Garrett is the New Frontiers Programme Manager at Dundalk Institute of Technology, and a WKI Certified Coach. He has a background in engineering and has lectured in information systems, computer applications and new venture creation. He has been the Enterprise Development Manager at DkIT’s Regional Development Centre since 2007… [Read Garrett’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

Starting up: how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

Starting up how to beat entrepreneurial isolation

My business was set up to help those who might be suffering from social isolation, and yet that is exactly what happened to me in the first 12 months of my startup. Since identifying it and talking to others, I have found that this is an issue that can and does affect a lot of business owners, especially those in the startup stage.

I want to share with you how it happened to me, but more importantly how I identified it and managed to overcome it, just before I threw in the towel.

The unsuccessful success

Like most startups, money was limited when I began planning my business venture. Therefore, working from home was the perfect and only solution. I was well aware that running a business was going to be tough. I’d heard all the cautionary advice – getting my business off the ground would take longer than I planned, all the while costing me more money; and I would be working longer hours than ever before, with no holidays and little or no pay initially!

I went ahead anyway, taking over the children’s playroom and had a fantastic afternoon in Ikea buying all the must-haves for my home office. It was what I had always dreamt of doing when I used to commute to Dublin every day for my previous job – what could be better than working from home! With the home office looking like something off Pinterest, I was good to go and got stuck into putting together my business plan and getting ready to launch my business.

Soon launch day arrived and my business – Count Her In – was officially up and running. I worked tirelessly from the minute the children left for school until they came home in the afternoon. I rarely left the office, trying to fit as much as possible into my working days, and then starting again once the children were asleep. It worked and soon we got great traction, with membership steadily rising and fantastic feedback from members and the local media.

But something wasn’t right, I just wasn’t feeling the buzz I thought I would. I didn’t see anything as being a success and habitually focused on all the things I hadn’t managed to get done that day. With no one to run anything past, I mulled ideas and decisions over constantly in my head, even after making them – what if I had just made a big mistake, what if, what if…

The Mill Enterprise Hub

The weeks rolled into months. The business was thriving and yet, I was struggling to the point that I really didn’t know if I could continue. I couldn’t understand why. Christmas was fast approaching, so I decided to take a week off and think about things. I closed the door to the office and I didn’t set foot in it again! Over the Christmas period I had family and friends over, the house was bustling, and I suddenly realised why I was feeling so down about my business – I was alone and I had been for 12 months.

Every day, all day I was at home in my office, working hard, talking to people on the phone and via email, but not face to face. I had gone from working in a building with over 1,000 employees and managing a large team to being on my own. I now realised if something didn’t change then I would give up. I could not face going back to the office, and I didn’t. A friend had previously told me about The Mill Enterprise Hub in Drogheda, a great facility for startup companies where you could rent affordable office space or even just a hot desk, which was more suitable for me being on my own.

As soon as Christmas was over, I went and paid them a visit and knew, straight after walking in, that I needed to be there. There was such a buzz and energy about the place, exactly what had been missing in my home office. I managed to persuade The Mill to let me move in the very next morning, and I have been there ever since. Starting off with a hot desk in a shared office, and – now that we have grown and there are 3 of us – moving into our own office space a few weeks ago. Moving out of my home office gave both my business and me a HUGE boost.

Making simple changes

Moving into a facility like The Mill is not possible for all, but I believe the most important thing for anyone in the early stages of a business, or for someone who runs a business single-handedly, is to not allow themselves to become so engrossed in working hard that they become isolated to the point at which it begins impacting them and the performance of their business.

In January, I also made some other changes which again have really helped:

Networking events

I have made the most of all local events and some further afield, most recently making my way to Clare and Waterford. But even simply popping into something for half an hour during the day that gives you a break from the desk can be invaluable. You never know who you will meet and what impact they could have on your business or you on theirs.

Business inspiration

I have become great friends with a fantastic local businesswoman, and we try to meet on a regular basis to chat about our respective businesses. This has really proved invaluable. It is important to be able to share the more detailed aspects of your business with someone you trust. It is fantastic when you are struggling with something and need to talk it through, especially when it is with someone who understands what it is like to run a business. We happen to be at very different stages – my business is still very new whereas her business is much more established – but we have learnt that we still have the same types of issues, the same doubts and insecurities.

Coffee shops!

I love coffee. It’s my treat to myself when I get a nice coffee and now they are popping up everywhere. There is so much choice and most have free Wi-Fi, so even though I am now based in an office with a couple of others, sometimes I still head out the door with my laptop and go to a local coffee shop to work for an hour. Again, the buzz about the place just gives me an extra boost. I also realise how lucky I am to have a job that allows me that freedom, so that in itself gives me a reason to work that bit harder to ensure I can continue doing it.

The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone from what I have learnt is to listen to your own advice. What do you tell those around you? Probably something like look after yourself, ask for help, you need a little break. Next time you give out some advice just actually think about the last time you took your own advice.

About the author

Georgina McKennaGeorgina McKenna New Frontiers

Georgina McKenna is a New Frontiers participant and the founder of startup Count Her In, a free online and offline social community for women. With an interest in mental health, Count Her In is a response to the difficulties of true communication in modern society… [Read Georgina’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers -Enterprise Ireland - Competitive Start Fund CSF

Calling New Frontiers alumni! Competitive Start Fund now open

New Frontiers -Enterprise Ireland - Competitive Start Fund CSF

If you’re a New Frontiers startup in manufacturing or internationally traded services including internet, games, apps, mobile, SaaS, cloud computing, enterprise software, lifesciences, food, cleantech and industrial products, then the latest call for Competitive Start Fund applications could be the funding opportunity you were looking for!

What is on offer?

A total of €1.5 million in startup funding will be available from Enterprise Ireland when two Competitive Start Funds (CSF) open for applications on Wednesday 21 June 2017.

Up to 30 successful applicants will receive high-level business development support and an investment of up to €50,000 each through the Regional Entrepreneurship and Fintech CSFs.

Startups located outside of County Dublin are invited to apply to the €1m Regional Entrepreneurship CSF – this fund is also open to participants of the New Frontiers Phase 2 programme nationwide. Applications to the €500k Fintech CSF will be accepted from early-stage companies offering a Financial Technology (Fintech) product or service.

What can CSF do for you?

Enterprise Ireland’s CSF is designed to accelerate the growth of startups and enable companies to reach key commercial and technical milestones. The goal of CSF is to provide support for companies that have the capability to become High Potential StartUps (HPSUs). What defines an HPSU? The potential to develop an innovative product or service for sale on international markets and the potential to create 10 jobs and €1 million in sales within 3 to 4 years of starting up.

At the time of the call’s launch, the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, said:

“The launch of Enterprise Ireland’s Regional Entrepreneurship and Fintech CSFs, amounting to a total of €1.5 million in funding, will provide valuable financial and business support to early-stage companies who have global ambition for their businesses. Companies based outside of Dublin who successfully apply for the Regional Entrepreneurship CSF will avail of critical early-stage funding and support for their businesses, while the Fintech CSF aims to stimulate start-up activity in the Fintech sector as part of the IFS2020 Strategy.”

The funds are open to companies active in manufacturing and internationally traded services including internet, games, apps, mobile, SaaS, cloud computing, enterprise software, lifesciences, food, cleantech and industrial products.

Joe Healy, Divisional Manager – High Potential Start-Ups, Enterprise Ireland said:

“Ireland is a hub for Fintech innovation and a key focus of Enterprise Ireland is to encourage and support more entrepreneurs through the Fintech CSF in the areas of Payments, Banking, RegTech, Security, and InsurTech as well as Fintech solutions that leverage Blockchain, IoT, AI and Data Intelligence technologies. Up to 10 companies will receive up to €50k each through this fund and we are also delighted to announce that this year’s Fintech CSF will be accompanied by a programme of tailored business development supports and incubation space in partnership with Bank of Ireland’s innovation team.”

What is new this time around?

Good news for applicants outside of County Dublin

Joe Healy continued,  “For the first time, up to 20 companies outside of County Dublin may be approved up to €50k each through Enterprise Ireland’s largest ever Regional Entrepreneurship CSF, valued at up to €1 million. It’s also the first time that we are specifically targeting participants of the New Frontiers Phase 2 programme.”

This call is open to anyone who has participated in Phase 2 of the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme at some point in the past 3 years.

Access to a new incubation startlab at Bank of Ireland

David Tighe, Head of Innovation at Bank of Ireland says:

“Bank of Ireland are delighted to provide incubation space to this year’s Enterprise Ireland Fintech CSF, our new startlab based in Camden Street will incubate these high potential startups and alongside desk space also provide access to a full range of tailored business supports including mentorship and support from our dedicated Innovation and Enterprise team. We look forward to welcoming the Fintech CSF companies to Camden Street as we continue to support the innovative and thriving fintech and start-up community today in Ireland.”

How to apply

Applications open on Wednesday 21 June 2017. In addition to written online applications, companies will be asked to prepare an online video pitch. Companies must meet certain eligibility criteria and applicants may apply for either the Regional Entrepreneurship or Fintech CSF, but not both.

Both competitions will close at 3pm on Wednesday 5 July 2017. If you’re interested in applying, take a look at our previous article, Making a successful Competitive Start Fund (CSF) application, which explains the marking system and has a variety of additional tips and resources.

The Enterprise Ireland website also has some great CSF case studies and videos with entrepreneurs who have previously received funding.

About the author


Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Participant Aisling Byrne Think outside the box to stay inside the circle New Frontiers

Economy: think outside the box to stay inside the circle

Participant Aisling Byrne Think outside the box to stay inside the circle New Frontiers

As the global economy continues to expand, the challenge of meeting the increasing demand for products and services means that most businesses have adopted growth strategies that are not sustainable long-term. But there is an alternative to the traditional open-ended economy, and many startups are adopting these business models to build profitable companies with a lower environmental impact.

The circular economy

Over the past number of years, the circular economy has grown in popularity. In some cases this is out of necessity, in others it stems from the realisation that as a society we have created unsustainable practices – and within this problem lie significant business opportunities for those who wish to provide sustainable solutions to ensure the stability of business in the future. In the natural world, there is no landfill. Plants and animals are born, they grow, eat each other, die and their nutrients return to the soil where the cycle begins again. Nature, being the most complex system known to man, operates using a seamless cycle, with each element integrating itself into a synergised system devoid of waste. It is a purely circular ecosystem.

The linear system

In contrast, for the past 250 years, humans have been favouring the alternative linear system – take, make, and dispose – fueled by the availability of plentiful and inexpensive natural resources. To date, this system has been attractive and successful for both business owners and consumers reaping the short-term rewards. When environmental and social impact is not a concern, businesses can take any necessary means to become more efficient, reach more customers, and sell more of their product. However, we are rapidly reaching the point of no return and the global economy is increasingly using finite resources at a rate which the planet is unable to replenish the raw materials.

Over the last century, we have watched prices decline as consumers demand cheaper and cheaper goods, yet we have never been in a situation where the price of resources has been so volatile. Renewable resources such as trees are being cut down faster than they can grow, clean water is being polluted and non-renewables, such as metals and fossil fuels, are fast depleting in an effort to keep up with global demand. The danger is that if we continue to operate using liner systems that the planet cannot sustain, our businesses, much like our finite resources, will cease to exist. After all – when all the trees have been cut down and all the rivers have dried up, we cannot eat money. Where will your business be then?

The future of business

Prof. William McDonough at Stanford remarked to the World Economic Forum:

“The ‘problem’ we find ourselves in is also the largest business opportunity ever seen by our species. The leaders of the economic future will be those that understand that by design we can create perpetual assets and optimise them to create businesses that thrive and are enjoyed by people everywhere, all the time, forever. Why would we want to miss that?”

Every traditional industry using a linear system has all the hallmarks of an industry ready to be disrupted. The long-term problem is unworkable, unavoidable, urgent, and underserved. This is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur, as here lies the opportunity to be part of global business solutions that fundamentally reinvent our economic model and build businesses that will shape the future of our planet.

So, what is the alternative? The circular economy! The circular economy is not reliant on the use of scarce resources to achieve economic growth, instead it uses disruptive technology and business models to profit from product longevity, renewability, reuse, repair, upgrade, refurbishment, capacity sharing, and dematerialization. Circular models do not focus on driving volume and squeezing lower costs through ‘efficiency’ measures in their supply chain. Instead, they design products to be ‘future-proof’, to fit within the limitations of our planet’s resources. There are five circular business models:

  • circular supplies
  • resource recovery
  • product life extension
  • sharing platforms
  • product as a service

Case study: The Nu Wardrobe

I will delve into a circular solution through the lens of my own company, Nu. Our startup has developed a platform that lets you bring your wardrobe online so you can share and swap your clothes with friends and other Nu. members. Our solution combines the thriving fashion industry and the rapidly growing sharing economy. The fashion industry is the world’s second most polluting industry, after oil. 25% of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production and the industry contributes 10% of the world’s global carbon emissions. The textile industry uses more water than any other industry, apart from agriculture. The rate at which apparel is created and consumed is unsustainable and the fashion industry is becoming ever more scrutinised for its lack of progress towards sustainable practices.

After conducting market validation, we found that although the fashion industry’s supply chain is highly efficient, this model is completely inefficient for the consumer. People invest in outfits that they may never wear or rarely wear. In cases like this, it would be far more efficient for people to borrow or rent clothes, rather than buy. This ties into the product life extension model, and sharing platforms which are part of the circular economy. In short, people have a lot of clothes and have made a huge investment in their wardrobe.

People want a constantly changing wardrobe, but the current model insists that consumers must make a purchase each time they want something different to wear. By providing a sharing platform, people can leverage the value already in their wardrobe to borrow clothes from other members. This cuts down on textile waste and extends the life-cycle of products already in circulation. Nu. profits by providing a service that connects users with people they can share or swap clothes with.

Changes like this can be seen disrupting industries the world over – prime examples being Airbnb, Lyft, and Guest to Guest. The sharing economy is set to boom over the next decade, estimated to be worth upwards of $335 billion by 2025. It is actually profitable, when setting out on a new business venture, to consider the future and how the business will thrive with it.

About the author


Aisling ByrneAisling Byrne Nu New Frontiers

Aisling is a New Frontiers participant and the co-founder founder of Nu. – a platform which lets individuals take their wardrobe online so they can share and swap clothes with friends and other Nu. members with a circular economy ethos… [Read Aisling’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Gavin Duffy, Eleanor McEvoy, Alison Cowzer, Chanelle McCoy and Barry O’Sullivan - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

New Frontiers alumni find success in the Dragons’ Den

Gavin Duffy, Eleanor McEvoy, Alison Cowzer, Chanelle McCoy and Barry O’Sullivan - RTE Dragon's Den promotional imagery by Ruth Medjber www.ruthlessimagery.com

Some fantastic New Frontiers startups have appeared on RTE One’s Dragons’ Den. The programme is addictive viewing for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, investment and business, with founders from every industry squaring up to face the Dragons’ tough questions.

We decided to catch up with two alumni who secured investment during the latest season of Dragons’ Den. What made them step into the Den? What’s it like to pitch to such a formidable panel? What, if anything, would they do differently?

Art McArdle – Heat Hero

Art McArdle Dragons Den New FrontiersArt and Adrienne McArdle founded Heat Hero in 2015. Their product is an innovative solution to improve the efficiency of solid fuel heating systems. The manifold can be retro-fitted onto any system, and because it doesn’t have any electrics or moving parts it requires no future maintenance.

Art is the technical know-how behind Heat Hero, while Adrienne runs the day-to-day of the business. They had originally applied to Dragons’ Den in 2016, but as it was quite early in their startup journey, they didn’t get through the application process.

They joined the New Frontiers programme at Dundalk Institute of Technology, and used an Innovation Voucher from Enterprise Ireland to carry out further research into the product. They were teamed up with a mentor to help them develop the business, and Heat Hero went on to win a Best Innovative Product Award at the SEAI’s Energy Show 2016.

The next step was to get their product tested and approved. This testing was carried out by independent UK experts, Kiwa Gastech, and Heat Hero was awarded its safety certificate. The solid fuel body, HETAS, now lists Heat Hero as an approved product (in both the UK and Ireland). Art and Adrienne took all the critical steps needed to corroborate the effect of the Heat Hero on a solid fuel system – it has now been proven to improve the efficiency of a solid fuel heating system by up to 30%.

With this validation in place, Art and Adrienne reapplied to Dragons’ Den. With their product now stocked in 100 stores around the country, they had the sales and feedback they needed to prove the viability of their business. There are 300,000 solid fuel stoves in Ireland alone. With the backing of a Dragon – the investment they bring, but also their experience and networks – the market potential is huge.

“The Dragons’ Den team are very hands-on, they really help you prepare and they get you ready for the pitch in every way. They talk you through your messaging, the approach you’ll take once you’re out there, how you will demonstrate your product. They also have a pitch coach to help you get word-perfect.”

As Art was going to be the one to pitch, Adrienne coached him relentlessly on the minutiae of the company’s financials, popping random questions at him out of the blue so that he was ready for anything.

“We practiced the pitch in different venues, with different audiences, and with a camera too. I told people to ask me anything, and not to hold their punches. Then two days before shooting, I stopped practicing completely and let myself relax about the pitch, so that I didn’t arrive too stressed out.”

What viewers may not realise is that interviews with the Dragons can sometimes go on for an hour and a half, far longer than the short scenes we see in the final programme. Every aspect of the business is covered; the Dragons ask all kinds of questions before coming to their decision of whether or not to invest.

“By the time you walk out in front of the Dragons, you’re so outside of what a normal day feels like that you almost get what I would call a second wind. You’re really nervous, but you’ve come so far that you know you can’t let the nerves get the better of you. I knew I only had one shot, and that was it!
The Dragons started firing their questions at me, but once I was through the initial pitch I felt a lot more relaxed about answering them. I’d learnt my financials by heart, and wasn’t worried about answering any technical questions. I was a bit thrown when Gavin asked me specifically about sales numbers from February, and I had to dig deep to remember what the figure was!”

The Dragons were very impressed with Art’s pitch, with Gavin Duffy saying, “The potential is limitless.”

Art was one of those lucky entrepreneurs who gets competing bids for investment: an offer of €60,000 for 32% from Eleanor McEvoy and €60,000 for 30% from Gavin. He asked the Dragons if they would consider investing together, but that idea didn’t appeal to Eleanor… after some consideration, Art chose to accept Eleanor’s offer, even though she wanted a slightly higher percentage.

“Gavin and Eleanor were the two Dragons I had in mind when I went in. I would have been very happy with Gavin and I know that he would have been 100% behind the product. But at the same time Eleanor had all the contacts in the energy sector. You couldn’t ignore that.”

What came across during Art’s pitch was the simplicity of his solution and the pains he had taken to prove its effectiveness. It was obvious that his open and friendly manner had endeared him to the whole panel, as summed up at the end by Alison Cowzer after he had left the room, “What a promoter! What an honest, authentic guy. You’ve got a really good business partner there, Eleanor.”

Participants can’t publicise their appearance until two weeks before the programme airs, but once the embargo is lifted, a canny entrepreneur can maximise the publicity generated by an appearance on a prime weekend TV slot. During those two weeks, Art and Adrienne spoke to as many contacts and prospects as they could, and got in touch with local newspapers and radio stations.

“The media coverage and the feedback we’ve had has been fantastic. Dragons’ Den has been an amazing platform for our business; the phone and email haven’t stopped! I know of lots of people who threw their stove out because it just wasn’t performing the way they expected it to. Now that so many more people know about Heat Hero, that won’t happen anymore.”

The next steps for Art and Adrienne will be to look at working directly with County Councils to install the Heat Hero at the same time as the heating system goes in, as well as extending their retail network in Ireland and pushing into the UK market. They also have a new product coming out that will make wood systems work better, which is an important development because so many people would prefer to use a sustainable fuel like wood instead of fuels such as coal.

“I just can’t believe the response we’ve had, I’m so happy we went on the programme. Heat Hero is the future for all boiler stoves… it’s out there now and this was just the stepping stone we needed!”

Olive O’Connor – MediStori

Olive O’Connor MediStori - New FrontiersThe MediStori is an organiser that allows patients or their carers to keep all their health information in one place. It’s a paper-based system that takes the stress out of managing an illness or health condition – you can keep hospital correspondence, notes, prescriptions, appointments, medical cards, and health records in an easy-to-reference booklet that never needs recharging!

Olive’s three children suffered from acute illnesses when they were young, and Olive herself has an ongoing health condition. It was as a result of having to manage multiple health and medication regimes within the family that she developed a notebook system that eventually became the MediStori health organiser.

With help from New Frontiers, HSE backing, and extensive research with patients, carers and health professionals, Olive designed a family health manager suitable for monitoring all types of chronic illness, or even just keeping track of a new-born’s development. In January this year, Olive decided it was time to take her business to the next level. She had signed a big supply contract and cash flow was going to be an important part of making sure her business was sustainable.

Olive researched a few investment options and decided to send an application to Dragons’ Den. She met with the producers, who took her through the financials of the business and the other elements required. She was accepted to go forward to the show, and went through the second application phase. However, no part of the process is shared with the Dragons, they know nothing about the business until they meet the entrepreneur in front of the cameras.

Appearing on the show involves a long day at the studio. It’s not just your pitch you have to worry about – there are pre interviews and post interviews too, plus the obligatory trip to hair and makeup! Pitch coach, Catherine Moonan, is on hand to help the promoters refine their pitch and prepare for the Dragons’ questions.

“Overall, it’s a really lovely and worthwhile experience. Everyone does their best to put you at ease and address any concerns you have. They also set up your product demonstration for you, so you don’t have the added stress of having to do that.”

Olive prepared for the Den with two mentors, Attracta Burke and Donncha Hughes, and met with an entrepreneur who had successfully been through the Den experience. She rehearsed her pitch with friends, but also told them to ask her all the tough questions they could think of to prepare her for any curveballs that might come her way.

“I’ve done lots of public speaking, so I’m used to being on a stage. The difference this time was that I didn’t have my usual PowerPoint to guide me, which made it harder to get my timing right and remember what I wanted to say. I practiced a lot in the two weeks leading up to filming, always focusing on answering the key questions: problem & solution, market competitors, costing & future growth.”

An important part of Olive’s pitch was the story behind her startup. For some people it might be their education, or their experience in a market, whereas the reason behind Olive’s startup was a deeply personal one.

“I wasn’t trying to win the Dragons over because of sympathy for my personal situation. The important thing for me was to show that I knew my product inside out because I had lived through the experience of having children who were unwell. They say that investors make their decision based 80% on the promoter and 20% on the business, so it’s very important that you don’t forget to include yourself when telling your story.”

There was a moment during Olive’s pitch where confusion arose about the figures she gave for her monthly outgoings. Chanelle McCoy declared herself out based on the company’s running costs being too high, but the figure Olive had given was actually for projected costs based on future growth.

“My one regret was not listening to the question properly. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t know my financials, but that I had answered a different question. I knew immediately I had made an error and luckily Barry picked up on it and I had the chance to put it right at that point. But it did mean I lost a potential investor. Thankfully, Chanelle, true to her word, has been a great support since the show.”

Going into the Den, Olive had already identified Barry O’Sullivan and Chanelle McCoy as her ideal investors, although she would have been delighted to work with any of them. Barry offered her the full €80,000 investment, with a small royalty payable on each product until his investment is recouped. Just how hard did Olive have to think before accepting?

“The Dragons can bring you so much more than investment. They also bring their personality and values, and I knew Barry had similar ones to mine. Relationships are everything, and if you don’t get on with your investor it’s going to be a hard road.”

The future is looking very busy for Olive. She has signed a contract with United Drug Consumer, and sales of the product soared after the show aired. MediStori will be in another 80 pharmacies by the end of the month, which is twice as many as Olive’s target. She is opening up both B2B and B2C opportunities for the business, and has been careful to ensure her PR and marketing strategy is positioned to benefit from the amazing exposure that TV and radio appearances bring (she was also on the Ryan Tubridy show the following day, and then the Today Show with Maura and Dáithí later that week).

One unexpected result of appearing in the Den was the huge volume of traffic that the MediStori website got. There were 10,000 visitors in the 24 hours after the show aired, with another 15,000 checking the site during that week. The website couldn’t cope with the traffic and went down, which meant Olive had to very quickly connect with anyone and everyone who might be trying to get in touch or purchase a product. She sent out personal emails to all her contacts, and kept everyone in the loop on social media with regular updates.

“It’s so important to not be afraid to say that something’s gone wrong. As long as you explain why it’s happened, people won’t worry. We didn’t get any negative feedback at all, even though the site was offline for a good while.”

Another smart thing Olive did was get lots of momentum going in the lead-up to the programme, reaching out to all her contacts to let them know she would be on Dragons’ Den and sharing the relevant Twitter hashtags. She got a lot of response on social media, with 22% of the company’s sales that weekend coming from Twitter.

“It was interesting to see the kind of connectivity we got. I’ve noticed in the past that some people who appear on Dragons’ Den don’t really interact with what people are saying to them on platforms like Twitter. I personally responded to everybody, whether they had positive or negative feedback, and thanked people for their comments. People buy from people, if you get an opportunity like Dragons’ Den, you have to use it. Don’t underestimate the power of social media!”

Are you thinking of stepping into the Den?

Quite a few New Frontiers participants have appeared on Dragons’ Den over the years, and a number of them have been successful in raising investment. This year saw Sarah Kiely, founder of Sadie’s Kitchen, win over Alison Cowzer in Episode 2, for an investment of €50,000. Evan and Gerard Talty appeared in Episode 7, and secured investment from Alison for their startup, Wild Irish Seaweed. Noreen Doyle, of the Irish Biltong Company, was also offered investment earlier in the season, but chose not to accept the Dragon’s offer.

If you’re thinking of stepping into the Den, the consensus is definitely: GO FOR IT! Even if you don’t win the investment you were hoping for, it’s an invaluable experience and will prepare you for future pitching opportunities. The process of going through your financials and business proposition is very useful, too; it will help you to firm up your business plan and get feedback from experienced business people which could lead to a pivot or new opportunities you had never even considered. And, of course, there’s no such thing as bad publicity… simply appearing on the show will get you the kind of exposure that other startups can only dream of!

[Dragons’ Den is made by Screentime ShinAwil for RTÉ. Featured image courtesy of Ruth Medjber – Ruthless Imagery]

About the author

scarlet-merrill

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage Content Marketing. She is an expert in designing and executing content strategies and passionate about helping businesses to develop a quality online presence… [Read Scarlet’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

The key traits of successful entrepreneurs New Frontiers

The key traits of successful entrepreneurs

The key traits of successful entrepreneurs New Frontiers

While there are various traits that can help to equip a startup founder, there is no magic formula or template. I’ve met lots and lots of founders over the years, including people of all personalities, backgrounds, shapes, sizes, ages, etc. There have been lots of great people whose ventures haven’t worked out; and a few dark horses along the way who have entirely flipped any initially negative impressions.

I have worked closely with startups since 2000, most recently as Enterprise Manager at IADT, where I managed the New Frontiers programme and the Media Cube Incubation Centre. Previous roles spanned stints of employment and self-employment, working with organisations like InterTradeIreland, Local Enterprise Offices, County Partnerships, DIT, Enterprise Northern Ireland and various consultancy practices.

The common theme throughout my career has been a high degree of involvement with entrepreneurs taking the step to launch their own venture. I believe there is no better place to work than among a bunch of people who are motivated enough to take that courageous step! So, from my 16 years’ experience working with startups, these are the key characteristics of successful start-up founders that I have identified:

N.B. This is an entirely unscientific glance at a few traits that, for me, have shone through!

Surfing the waves of uncertainty

The only thing that is certain in the early stages of a start-up is that nothing is certain. The reality is that there is an endless range of unknowns for any founder launching their own venture. As Dave McClure, Founder of 500 Start-Ups, says:

A start-up is a company that is confused about (1) what its product is, (2) who its customers are, and (3) how to make money.

In my experience, it’s a minimum requirement for any founder to be able to live with the high degree of flux that marks the early days, months and years (yes, years!) of any start-up; otherwise, there’s likely to be a few too many sleepless nights. In fact, the best entrepreneurs seem to surf the waves of uncertainty.

Deliberate learners

Those who have ‘been there, done that’ (be it successfully or not so successfully) will often say that launching a start-up was the greatest learning experience of their lives. Some of the best founders I have worked with aren’t just happy to embrace the uncertainty referred to earlier, they either have or very quickly develop a very sharp sense of what they know and what they don’t know (but need to know). They then proactively set out to figure out some of the unknowns, reflect on the outcome and adapt their next steps accordingly. Deliberately learning every step of the way.

Glass half-full

All sorts of academic studies over the years have identified optimism as a key trait of successful entrepreneurs and there’s no doubt that it helps hugely to have a ‘glass half-full’ outlook on things. Indeed, the expression fits perfectly here, as it suggests an outlook which is on the positive side of neutral, without veering towards unbridled optimism or delusional confidence. I’m often struck by how a lot of founders will find silver linings in circumstances which might see others running for the hills. I’ve admired founders ‘positivise’ their way out of messes like lawsuits for patent infringement, the loss of a key customer or bust-ups with co-founders or investors.

Lone rangers?

Are they bold pioneers, happy to strut off into the unknown and tackle whatever obstacles arise? I’ll happily fudge the answer to this one. Yes, a lot of the successful entrepreneurs I’ve encountered are very capable people who believe in their own capacity to figure things out and often achieve remarkable amounts in the early stages. That said, anyone with their eye on genuine scale knows that they need good people around them – both as co-founders/key hires and within a wider network of ‘brains they can pick’. Finding the right people as co-founders/key hires or simply as ‘good people to know’ demands some degree of networking skill and effort. That’s quite different from rocking up at every start-up gig in town; it’s more about proactively and discerningly building a web of people who might be able to help you. Needless to say (I hope), that involves returning the favour!

Charmers?

Closely linked to the previous point, are all the guys and girls bursting with charisma? No, most certainly not. I have often observed how some participants on start-up programmes will determinedly slog away on their own for years, while others manage to develop whole teams of people who seem happy to come on board and work for free. Similarly, strong founders can keep customers and investors on their side, even when products aren’t working and timescales are slipping. It’s not unbridled charisma that makes the difference; in fact, being too ‘salesy’ is often unhelpful. Instead, having a passion for the project, communicating that effectively and being great to work with are all much more important.

Clever clogs?

Most definitely – but not at all in the sense of academic achievement or brilliance. While being a ‘genius’ is undoubtedly helpful when working on projects based on hi-tech or deep science, being ‘savvy’, ‘sharp’ and ‘on the ball’ will carry you much further along the start-up road than being highly intelligent in the conventional sense of the term.

When talking recently to a bunch of founders who have successfully scaled their start-ups, they all agreed that its people (staff, investors, customers) rather than technology or markets that consume the bulk of their effort and time. In that context, emotional intelligence is possibly the most valuable form of intelligence!

Marathon runners?

Yes, a start-up will take 150% of your energy and commitment, most likely over a distance more akin to a marathon than a sprint. I’ve often been struck by how some of the strongest founders have ‘something else’ which helps keep things in balance, be it sporting endeavours, a passion or past-time entirely unrelated to their business activity, and/or a good helping of time with their family. These will all help you find some clarity amid the sometimes ‘foggy’ and extraordinarily busy journey that is being a start-up entrepreneur. Bear in mind that nothing merits more investment than your well-being and that of your nearest and dearest!

About the author


New Frontiers Dominic MullanDominic Mullan

Dominic is the Innovation, Commercialisation & Development Manager at IADT – Institute of Art, Design & Technology in Dún Laoghaire – and the New Frontiers Programme Manager at the Media Cube. Dominic has worked closely with startups since 2000, and his expertise spans both the public and private sectors… [Read Dominic’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Technology-enabled innovation pathways to success - New Frontiers

Technology-enabled innovation: pathways to success

Technology-enabled innovation pathways to success - New Frontiers

Any new technologies can face a certain degree of hype. Gartner, a US-based IT research firm, developed the hype cycle – a graphical representation of the maturity, adoption and application of specific technologies. Such hype cycles can drive both venture capital and media attention towards the great potential, or lack thereof, of new technologies. Attention is also given to ‘experts’ predicting that a given technology is the future, or the contrary.

In actual fact, it takes many years of testing technologies and evaluating them for different use cases before they’re ready for mainstream use. Standards must also be proposed or adopted in real time, before technology can achieve mainstream adoption to enterprise or consumer level.

Driverless cars and a mushroom analogy

Consider the shape of a mushroom. The stalk represents growth of a technology for two to six to ten years, followed by an explosion of adoption of that technology into different use cases. The technology then resonates with users to the extent that customers can’t imagine what life was like before said explosion (i.e. the iPhone is only ten years old, Hailo only five). Basically, we see apprehension first, a growing buzz about a technology and, at the right time, mainstream adoption follows.

An example of this behaviour is evident in the case of the future technology in driverless cars.  Initially, people will be very cautious; we will hear cases of fatal traffic accidents and instances when the car couldn’t differentiate a bike lane from a car lane, 3.5 million truck drivers in the US being laid off, and so on.

However, it’s clear that some consider driverless cars to be the latest ‘mushroom explosion’ in the making, as 2016 saw the online transportation network, Uber, purchasing a driverless truck company for approximately $680 million. Warren Buffet is quoted as saying the biggest risk to banking and insurance conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway is driverless cars, because their widespread use will mean fewer car accidents, and therefore less need for car insurance.

When the cars are ready for mass consumer adoption, infrastructure providers will catch up, and dedicated lanes, electronic signage and municipal vehicles will all play their role in facilitating this emergent technology. Exact timing can’t be predicted, but eventual productivity gains will ensure that technology will facilitate for driverless cars and societal acceptance will follow.

Other emergent technologies

Using this mushroom imagery to explore the stage of development of other new technologies, we would see emergent technologies on the ‘stalk’ as being:

  • Augmented/virtual reality technologies
  • The mainstreaming of data mining and data analytics at consumer level, as platforms such as Facebook and Google fully monetise their data
  • Enterprise-level data analytics insights from equivalent platforms such as Microsoft and SAP

The key issue around innovation, and especially some of the technology-enabled innovation today, is the time it takes to get to the stage of mainstream adoption and how that timeline applies to you or your company. Are you going to invest early and lead, while facing an uncertain length of time along the stalk, or are you going to trail early leaders and join the mushrooming market, but as a follower? The length of the testing phase is hard to predict (ask Blackberry or Nokia), but the outcomes are immense (ask Google or Uber).

I wonder if this mushroom-shape of adoption can be also applied to commentary outside of technology innovation; a long phase of emergent thinking before action – Brexit or Trump anyone?

About the author

Alan Costello New FrontiersAlan Costello

Alan is a business development consultant, and a mentor and trainer for Enterprise Ireland and the New Frontiers programme. Alan’s company, Ruby Consulting, specialises in services such as strategy & innovation, marketing & key sales support, investment finance, social enterprise and community development… [Read Alan’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

How personal experience shaped my startup vision

New Frontiers programme How personal experience shapes my startup vision

According to Sir Richard Branson, “The ideas for the best businesses tend to come from personal experience. There are many great ideas that have arisen by other means… but when you are generating ideas for a business, first-hand experience is essential.” This certainly resonates with me and reflects the inspiration behind my company, Itchy Little Monkeys.

My startup offers solutions for kids with eczema. Our products are designed to remove the stress eczema can cause both children and their parents, which is something that I have experienced first hand. Let’s examine why Richard Branson feels personal experience is important and what that means for my business.

1. “Personal connection equals commitment”

My daughter Sienna is the inspiration behind setting up the business. She has suffered badly from eczema since she was a baby. I came up with the idea when searching for solutions that could help her and through the frustration of not being able to find products that worked for us. With 1 in 5 kids having eczema, I knew there must be many parents out there that were going through what we went through with our daughter; i.e. the sleepless nights due to unrelenting itching, not knowing what condition her skin was going to be in the following morning, and the ongoing risk of infection from the scratching. Eczema can be very distressing for both parent and child and there is no cure for it – it can only be managed and it’s all about maintenance.

Having a deep personal knowledge of the problem keeps you focused on finding a solution, and means you have the passion to persevere through the tough times.

2. “Building a business is like riding a roller coaster”

There are inevitable ups and downs when starting a business. Experience of the industry from the customer’s perspective will give you an edge.

We currently offer 2 products, with plans underway to extend the product range.

Our Shruggi is a form of scratch mitten that protects the child’s skin from the damage of scratching. It goes on like a cardigan/shrug over the child’s shoulders, making it easy for parents to put on but difficult for the child to remove. We found that traditional scratch mittens just wouldn’t stay on our daughter, so our Shruggi does just that. It is made from organic cotton and silk and comes in bright, colourful, child-friendly designs.

Our fun storybooks feature the characters of the Itchy Little Monkeys (Max and Mimi). These are characters that children relate to. The stories are fun for kids while also providing top tips and advice for parents to help them manage their child’s eczema, which complement standard clinical treatments their child may be receiving.

3. “You’ll have a competitive advantage”

Having experienced what other parents with kids that have eczema have, we know what our customers are looking for so that gives us a competitive advantage.

I AM the customer I’m targeting, so I know what other parents are going through and what it is they are searching for. I have parents regularly contacting me looking for advice on how they can best manage their little one’s eczema.

4. “You know your customer base”

With 1 in 5 kids globally suffering from eczema (more in some countries), we know there is a market for what we are selling. And since we’re able to relate to our customers, we should be positioned to make better decisions that meet their specific needs and wants.

There is no cure for eczema, it can only be managed.

The Shruggi breaks the itch-scratch cycle of eczema. When kids are itchy, they scratch. The more they scratch, the itchier their skin becomes. Scratching damages skin, with the increased risk of causing infection. Our product prevents the damage caused by scratching, therefore reducing the risk of infection and allowing skin to heal quicker, meaning less stress for child and parent.

I know from experience that looking after a child with eczema can be very stressful. When developing our brand, we aimed to remove the stress or eczema by making it as fun as possible for the child.

5. “You will keep refining your ideas”

Because our daughter lives with eczema daily, we are constantly aware of it and are always looking for better ways to help her and therefore our customers too.

As well as our Shruggi and storybooks, plans are underway to extend the product range. We are constantly thinking of the next way we can help make life easier for kids suffering from eczema.

Because our stories are based on personal experiences of dealing with a child with eczema, I haven’t run out of ideas for writing yet – there is so much we have learnt along the way that we can share with other children and parents.

So, although I have a business background and have previous experience of running a business day-to-day, it is the deep personal knowledge I have of this subject matter that makes me passionate about this business in my quest to help other kids (and their parents!) manage their eczema.

About the author

Nicola McDonnell New FrontiersNicola McDonnell

Nicola is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Itchy Little Monkeys. The startup provides solutions for young children with eczema; its product range currently consists of the Shruggi – an innovative form of scratch mitten – and a range of fun storybooks… [Read Nicola’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Sign up for our newsletter!
Get the latest from the blog and updates from the New Frontiers community.
We will never share your information or spam you.
Open

Enterprise Ireland's national entrepreneur development programme Register your interest