Tag: entrepreneurship

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!


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]

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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]

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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]

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Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy: why it matters and how to do it

Business strategy why it matters and how to do it

Years ago, when the internet was in its infancy, I was part of a study group that developed a business plan for Intergift, an online shop that would sell books, CDs and other ‘gifts’, complete with reminders for birthdays, anniversaries. Sounds familiar? A year later, Jeff Bezos would start a company called Amazon in his garage.

The point is that loads of people have a great idea. It’s the people who make a decision to prioritise and act on the idea – and then stay with it – who reap the rewards. We did actually set up a company and made some attempts to get something off the ground. However, looking back, what prevented us delivering on a great idea was not dedicating enough time to it and not setting ourselves any goals or action plan, which all resulting in us just not doing it.

Why strategy?

The starting point for a lot of organisations is that people are too busy working away at an operational level making day-to-day things happen. Sometimes, people think they have a common understanding of where the organisation is going, but often – with some probing – it becomes clear that they don’t. Often, ideas about what the organisation might do to support growth are floating around and are either not acted upon at all, or are acted on in an ad hoc way, depending on the forcefulness of the originator of the idea. The development of a proper strategy has the effect of facilitating a common understanding of where the organisation is going, how it’s going to get there and what goals and action are required to make that happen. A lovely analogy I’ve seen is that of a magnet lining all the iron filings up to point in the same direction.

There are various schools of thought on how important goal-setting is in achieving results. Some argue that if you have a strong vision, everything else will fall into place; others, to varying degrees, argue for the necessity of setting goals and developing action plans to deliver those goals. While I’ve no doubt that people have achieved amazing things through vision alone, setting goals and developing action plans generally provides focus and yields better and faster results.

What do you want?

Consider how you would answer the following questions:

  • What’s your organisation’s VISION?
    That is, what change do you want to see in the world?
  • What’s your MISSION?
    In other words, what is your role in that change?
  • What’s your TOP LEVEL GOAL?
    What is your more specific, measurable, time-bound goal?
  • What STRATEGY are you going to pursue to deliver on that mission?
    What strategic objectives will you set to support that overall strategy? What actions are necessary and when? Who else needs to be involved? How will you measure success?

What’s important to you?

But before embarking on any of this, it’s important to ensure that what you’re setting out to do is in harmony with your values.

Values are principles, standards or qualities we hold to be important. Those cited frequently include integrity, innovation, and family… however, there are a whole host of possibilities, for example: money, success, freedom and loyalty. There is no point in pursuing a mission or goal that conflicts with your organisational values as, eventually, something will give, so it is very important to spend some time identifying values upfront. For example, if conservation or environmental protection is a priority for your organisation, then pursuing goals that conflict with these will not sit well and is unlikely to be successful.

How to build a strategy – the process

Once you’ve defined your values, you can work your way through the process shown, determining your vision and your mission, as defined above. For example, your vision may be that the expected standard of coffee in Ireland would be the same as that in New Zealand and your mission may be to be recognised as the best local cafe(s) in Ireland. Then, it helps to step back and do some analysis, both of the context and of your organisation. What’s the environment like? What forces are at play? What are the key success factors for the industry? How well do you perform versus your competitors? A gap analysis will highlight the knowledge, skills and resources that will help you get from A to B, but also the constraints within which you may have to operate.

There are some great tools to help analysis and understanding of your organisation, for example, a simple SWOT analysis, Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, and the ‘Prevailing Logic’ tool.

Next, step back again and take some time to generate some ideas for possible goals and actions that will help you achieve your mission. Again, there are lots of possible approaches, but good old-fashioned brainstorming with a pen and some post-its is still very effective.

It’s now time to define your top level goal – what’s a time-bound, measurable goal you can set yourself in pursuit of your mission? For example, you may decide that you will open your first cafe in Dublin in one year’s time, or that you will have X cafes with a specific profit in 3 years’ time. What’s your strategy to get there – i.e. how are you going to get there? Set yourself five or six smaller strategic objectives – they might be concerned with finance, sourcing of premises, hiring good staff, barista training, roasting training, sourcing of equipment, sourcing of beans – the key is that they, together, will deliver your top level goal and that they are measurable and time-bound.

This is also the time to agree on what you’re NOT going to do. There may well be fantastic ideas generated at the brainstorming phase that have to be parked – the team will have to prioritise and agree what is feasible within agreed resource constraints; what needs to be increased, reduced and eliminated in order to create. No organisation has infinite resources and in order to effectively pursue agreed strategic objectives, it is essential that resources do not get pulled six months down the line to work on someone’s latest hobby horse. Unless, of course, there is an agreed change in strategy.

Action plan

Referring back to the ideas generated during your brainstorming, define the actions necessary to deliver on each of your 5-6 Strategic Objectives.  You can download a template to help you organise the action items under each strategic objective from my website. What’s important is that you have the resources to pursue the actions and that you set yourself targets and milestones. It’s also advisable to decide on a small number of KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that measure how well you’re doing on a month-by-month basis. The downloadable template can be used as a live document to track progress and KPIs.

It’s worth spending a bit of time at this stage considering the risks to your plan and working out some contingency plans.


As many have said before me, “…the only sure thing is change,” so there’s nothing surer than the fact that your plan will require adapting at some stage. In fact, being flexible and being able to respond to changing circumstances is a strength, so periodic review of your plan is important, not just to ensure that you are on track but to ensure that what you’re pursuing and what you’re doing are still relevant.

New Frontiers -Business strategy process - Mary Carroll

Maintaining action

The biggest challenge many organisations face is implementation. All too often, they get sucked back into spending all their time on day-to-day operational issues. Dedicating the required resources, accountability and periodic review of the strategic action plan is absolutely critical – otherwise the strategy document will just gather dust on a shelf.

One of the big advantages of determining your mission, setting strategic objectives and detailing an action plan is that all actions should lead back to your mission. Having an action plan allows you to question whether what you’re doing right now is going to bring you closer to your mission. If not, why are you doing it?

About the author

Mary Carroll New Frontiers

Mary Carroll

Mary Carroll is a business strategist and coach with over 25 years’ experience in design engineering, management consulting and business development. She is also an Enterprise Ireland mentor… [Read Mary’s profile]

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Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

Case study: BriteBiz – business management solution

Eamon Crosby BriteBiz New Frontiers programme

BriteBiz is a Galway-based technology company that specialises in end-to-end business management software. The company’s CEO, Eamon Crosby, took part in the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

Since qualifying as a Chartered Accountant with PwC 12 years ago, Eamon Crosby has been involved in founding and managing a number of different companies, mainly in the service and events industry. “I had been involved first hand in managing and scaling various companies. We constantly came up against roadblocks with the amount of administration load involved and continually sought ways to streamline processes. Although we were always using modern management tools such as Salesforce and Quickbooks, there was no efficient way to integrate them and create a streamlined, end-to-end solution.” notes Eamon.

A lack of end-to-end solutions for SMEs

He points out that, “Over my years at PwC, I had worked with several large blue chip companies that used highly bespoke and integrated systems, such as SAP or Oracle, but this same streamlined process did not seem to be available for small and medium sized companies, particularly those that wanted a cloud solution.” After many failed attempts to find a better integrated cloud-based solution for SMEs, he decided to go it alone and set about developing the solution for himself – and so the adventure began.

“We developed the software in-house over a two-year period, and began to deploy it within a small number of beta customers. It really did have a hugely transformative effect, allowing companies to scale more rapidly and cut costs significantly through integrated systems,” says Eamon. “BriteBiz acts as an end-to-end solution from lead generation and capture on your website to product and service management, from quotes and e-contracts to booking management, from credit control to payment processing. BriteBiz also has many unique features not available in any other system currently on the market, such as client portals and worksheets for each individual deal, as well as resource allocation. Essentially, it takes the best parts of a CRM, project management system, payments platform and resource management and bundles them all together in a beautiful, easy to use cloud application. BriteBiz makes it easy for companies to do business, particularly companies in service industries.”

A solution that works across many sectors

After a successful deployment within the initial early adoption customers, Crosby and the rest of the team started to notice that other companies across different industries, and across the world, were suffering from the same problems and pain. The application has become a particularly good fit for the hospitality industry. “We work with several hotels and provide them with powerful tools for their sales and marketing teams to manage weddings and events,” notes Eamon.

“We knew that there was a huge potential market for BriteBiz, but there was a significant challenge in developing the correct sales and marketing strategy to achieve this. We became aware of the GMIT New Frontiers programme and decided to apply. The programme has been hugely beneficial in formulating a strategy and developing the best route to market for BriteBiz, we would highly recommend it to anyone starting off a new business, particularly in the tech sector,” says Eamon.

Britebiz is currently scaling from its Galway office and now has customers across Ireland, the UK and the US. “We are looking at bigger markets outside of Ireland, particularly the US. We are targeting the SaaS (Software as a Service) marketplace, which is estimated to reach $300 Billion by 2025. As BriteBiz also has a payment platform, we will also be targeting other high-value markets such as construction industries, the legal profession, IT and healthcare sectors. Our payment platform is currently being expanded to included digitised direct debit, and we will be working more on the payments part of our system over the years ahead, as Fintech technologies continue to develop.”

The company plans to grow its workforce within Ireland over the coming months and years. If you are a company looking for the perfect end to end business management solution, or you are looking for a role with an exciting tech company, take a look at the BriteBiz website. The New Frontiers programme at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology is delivered at Innovation Hubs in Castlebar and Galway.

[The image above shows Eamon Crosby from BriteBiz receiving the New Frontiers Best Emerging Business award from Conor O’Dowd, KPMG]

About the author

GMIT School of Business New FrontiersPhotograph by Aengus McMahonTony O’Kelly

Tony is the New Frontiers Programme Manager in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT). His main expertise lies in finance, manufacturing, sales and procurement across a wide range of business sectors. He has experience in automating business processes and managing projects from conception to delivery; skills he brings to the structure and delivery of New Frontiers in GMIT…  [Read Tony’s profile]

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Dr Chris Horn & Audience at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Valuable insights at the DIT/IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Dr Chris Horn & Audience at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Cast your mind into the future and imagine that your ‘start-up’ is employing more than 1,000 people in 22 offices around the globe, has clients such as Boeing and has just been acquired for more than $160m. Then imagine that the investment bank handling the sale goes belly-up, taking with it all the proceeds of the sale. That’s the doomsday scenario which Irish tech legend, Dr Chris Horn, avoided by a mere 48 hours in 2008.

48 hours from disaster

Dr Chris Horn at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Dr Chris Horn

Speaking at the recent 2016 Showcase of the DIT/IADT New Frontiers Programme, Chris recalled a Friday afternoon in September 2008 when he received a call from Lehman Bros to advise that the sale of Iona Technologies to Progress Software had completed and that all shareholders had been paid. Two days later, Lehman Bros – then the fourth largest investment bank in the US – filed for bankruptcy: an excruciatingly narrow escape for the founders and shareholders of one of the greatest Irish tech start-ups.
Dr Chris Horn

Reassuringly for the start-up founders listening to Chris, the early days of the Iona success story were marked by many of the same ups and downs as they too are experiencing along their start-up journey.

Minister MMOC at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD

In essence, the Trinity College graduates behind Iona were setting out to compete against global players like IBM and Oracle, so it’s not entirely surprising that early approaches to banks, seed investors and VCs yielded a resounding ‘No!’ In those barren financial days, the team did ‘anything semi-legal on the streets of Dublin: file-ups; consultancy… whatever brought in much needed money.’ Heading to their first trade show in the US, the team still weren’t entirely sure who their customer would be until such time as Sun Microsystems not only became interested in Iona’s products but also offered to invest in the company in 1993. Four years later, in 1997, Iona completed the 5th largest IPO in the history of the NASDAQ, before its subsequent sale to Progress Software in 2008.

When asked for a few words of advice for the founders present at the event, Chris underscored the importance of building capability AND aspiration among indigenous founders. Ask yourself if you want to be truly global in scale and, if you do, align yourself with a really strong mentor who brings deep experience – ‘someone who has seen the movie before’ – in the case of Iona’s non-Executive Chairman, Kevin Melia. Chris also noted how Brexit impacts on the logic of approaching the UK as a first export market.

Minister MMOC, Dr Chris Horn and Participants at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, Dr Chris Horn and participants of the Showcase

Reflections from the other end of the startup journey

Kindly hosted by William Fry Solicitors, the event saw a number recent programme participants join in a panel discussion to share their experiences of launching a startup. The key theme emerging from the Q&A session was the importance of figuring out who your target customers should be, both in terms of fit with your product or service, but also as regards the time it might take them to commit to purchasing your product or service.


Co-founder of fin-tech startup Cambrist, Jacob Clafin, admitted to being perhaps a little arrogant in the days before New Frontiers:

We felt we were all pretty experienced in the finance space and knew exactly what we were doing. Looking back now, we didn’t have a clue about actually getting anyone to buy the product!

Minister MMOC and Martin O'Connell founder Nasal Medical

Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD and Martin O’Connell, founder of Nasal Medical

Cambrist’s multi-currency processing platform enables card issuers and processors to optimise the FX rates and margins applied to their customers’ international payment transactions. In the early days, the team set out to sell their platform to major banks. Jacob now looks back humorously on his early interactions with banks.

I thought we nearly had the deal across the line just because these guys had agreed to have coffee with us. I now know that we hadn’t even registered on the sales cycle of the banks that we thought would be our first customers.

Minister MMOC, Dr Chris Horn and Erica Sheehan founder Homespun Foods

Erica Sheehan, founder of Homespun Foods, Dr Chris Horn, co-Founder, former CEO/Chairman of IONA Technologies and Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD

Demonstrating one of the key competencies of any startup team, Jacob and his co-founders took stock of the slowness of their progress and reassessed their target market, soon pivoting towards credit/debit card issuers and processors, who have proven to be much more receptive and faster to move.


Peter Devlin, founder of Local, echoed Jacob’s sentiment. Despite a long career as a member of Dublin music group the Devlins, Peter took a while to figure out the right audience for his startup. Peter initially pitched Local to a number of airlines as an app which would provide passengers with information on their destination city.

Peter Devlin - Local at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Peter Devlin, Local

He soon figured out that ‘the only things that move fast in the airline sector are the planes!’ Faced with that never-ending sales cycle, Peter reoriented his pitch towards hotel groups, offering a virtual concierge service, providing valuable opportunities to engage with guests and generate ancillary revenue for the hotel. Immediately, Peter found the decision-making process much faster and soon secured a range of hotels and chains as customers, while also securing investment from a key player in the tourism sector in Ireland.


Lucinda Kelly Popertee at the DIT IADT New Frontiers Showcase

Lucinda Kelly, Popertee

Lucinda Kelly of Popertee highlighted the importance of really understanding what it is that your customers are looking for. Popertee started out as an online marketplace to match owners of available space with businesses looking for venues for pop-up shops, promotions or events. Conscious of competition from similar players, Lucinda felt Popertee needed to strengthen its competitive differentiation. The answer lay in listening closely to what corporates were asking about, notably data like footfall and population density. Popertee is now marrying that sort of data with content on properties available for short-term lets, strongly reinforcing the company’s value proposition.

Success for our 2016 alumni

Orla Battersby, Head of the HPSU Division of Enterprise Ireland, congratulated the participants and noted how 11 of the 30 founders who completed the programme in 2016 have already secured investment through the Competitive Start Fund. Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, also applauded the participants’ courage and tenacity, and reassured them by quoting James Cash Penney, founder of JC Penney Stores: ‘It is always the start that requires the greatest effort.’

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]

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rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

My startup story: belief, support, action!

rachel hanna new frontiers startup journey

“All roads lead to Damascus.” Someone very close to me once said these words when I was having one of my mental blocks, and it has come to be a bit of a mantra I tend to use on this roller-coaster entrepreneurial journey.

Believe and Do!

The belief part of this equation is at times difficult, and we can all have periods of doubt, questioning and “what the hell am I doing?” moments, but it is the inaction that stifles any startup and I am convinced that it is the latter part of this equation that separates the winners and losers in business.

We can all read and buy into a lot of the self help books and entrepreneurial success stories out there and belief is a huge part of making something happen, but action – follow through and a relentless, endless pursuit of the end goal – is imperative if you are to realise your ideas.

My own entrepreneurial journey probably started when I fled the nest at 17 and headed to Dublin City University to study for a Communications degree. This was actually my second choice, having fallen short of the points for English and Drama in Trinity.

I was not too disappointed, though, as the Communications degree was also right up my alley – covering TV, radio, broadcasting and a host of other interesting topics such as linguistics and social and cultural perspectives. I also managed to satisfy my theatrical bent through part time employment at Andrew’s Lane Theatre and claiming the role of President of the Drama Society.

Following college, I spent a summer performing with Shannon Heritage, completed a course with the Gaiety School of Acting, and started an MA in Drama in UCD at the tender age of 21. I continued to work in the theatre industry and around this time I secured an agent and had some minor successes with a number of TV commercials, plays and my ’15 minutes of fame’ in Damien O’Donnell’s Inside I’m Dancing (including an on-screen kiss with JAMES MCAVOY – a movie moment that I will be able to show the grand-kids some day!).

When life changes course

Trying to make it as an actress and failing to make the elusive breakthrough into the big time proved to be a great foundation for what was to come next, and furnished me with some very important tools to bounce back.

I learned that ‘no’ is not necessarily a definitive “NO!” and that the word “NEXT” is just a step closer to the next part – not an indication that it’s time for you to exit stage left (or right)!!

As the story unfolded, I did actually exit… or at least sidestep slightly. Trying to keep a roof over your head while living hand to mouth goes hand in hand with this type of career, and in order to keep going I fell into a number of so-called ‘stop gap’ promotional jobs. I found that working in events, public relations and publishing was more suited to my skill set and I also liked the novelty of suddenly having a slight jingle in my pocket for a change.

With hindsight, I now realise that there is a close similarity between being a starving artist and a budding entrepreneur!

The move into publishing

Having worked in events for a number of years, I started working for a publishing company in my late twenties and spent several years working across a variety of titles and with a number of publishers before setting up on my own in 2010. I spent a few years working on contract publications, but was eager to launch my own title and in 2012 I identified a niche in the market for a lifestyle publication for secondary schools.

Acting quickly, I gave birth to Bell TIME Magazine in 2013, sending an inaugural copy to every secondary school in Ireland to test the market from both a consumer and commercial perspective. We had great feedback from advertisers and schools alike and with that Bell Media Ltd was established in 2014.

And so the story begins

Getting used to rejection at an early stage in life has, I believe, proved to be a great life lesson for me as a budding entrepreneur – something which gives me the resilience needed to continue in difficult moments.

I was lucky to have had some good people around me who supported me in the delicate and difficult startup period. I had energy, passion and good marketing skills and a vision for where BellTime could go, but there were a host of other gifts I needed which were not in my own repertoire. Graphic design, customer care, distribution, sophisticated IT skills were some of the more obvious deficits that needed attention, but there was also the need for what might be called the ‘softer’ support systems such as encouragement, prudence, patience and wisdom.

This is where having a support network is imperative to survival. My family, my partner and a few close friends were my ‘go to’ people, who nourished and protected me in fraught moments when I thought I had taken on too much and that I was in over my head. They also kept me balanced and helped me take time out to avoid becoming totally absorbed by my work; this helped to recharge my batteries and to keep me sane when life had become all too hectic and work all too engrossing.

The next step in this process is to get busy living – I relate this to the now immortalised line in one of my favourite films, The Shawshank Redemption:

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

My Phase 1: BELIEF

Being a one-woman band back in 2014 – and not having the first idea how to even play a musical instrument – I quickly tapped into a number of resources that were available to start ups.  Through the help of our Local Enterprise Office, The New Frontiers programme, InterTrade Ireland, Plato, The Regional Development Centre, and DKIT Dundalk, as well as support from Enterprise Ireland, we have been able to reach our third year in business and launch phase three of our business plan.

Making the right decisions in employing the right people is imperative if you are to realise your dreams. Having key staff members, a support network and people you can trust who will tell you what you don’t want to hear is crucial. Being surrounded by “Yes Men” is a sure key to failure.

My Phase 2: SUPPORT

Having valuable experience across a number of industry sectors relevant to your business startup are essential ingredients for the success of your company; if you excel in a certain aspect of the business, apply the majority of your efforts to this area.

Employ other people to do the jobs you can’t. People who are better and more talented than you! Life has a funny way of leading you down many meandering country lanes, allowing you to experience different career paths. You can get very competent passing through these routes and even feel like an accomplished driver before you finally reach the motorway and suddenly…

Oh my God!  you’re in the fast lane for the first time now and you have to overtake competitors, only you have never done this before or driven this fast!

This is where what you have learned thus far – your successes and failures to date, the preparation, blood, sweat and tears you have put in to your startup – kicks in. With a bit of tunnel vision and some, albeit, blind ambition, it’s time to accelerate.

My Phase 3: ACTION

We are about to climb a summit – hope to see some of you guys on the other side!

Some of my tips for startups


For those mental block moments, I use the following:

“The blank page is the place to begin. Open your mind and fill the page in.”

About the author

rachel hanna bell media new frontiersRachel Hanna

Rachel Hanna is a New Frontiers alumna and the founder of Bell Media. With a magazine, website, digital channels and events, the startup is on a mission to foster a culture of innovation in school communities and inspire young people internationally… [Read Rachel’s profile]

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startups stand for something New Frontiers advice

Success in business: stand for something

startups stand for something New Frontiers advice

John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa stood for human rights and better life and living. So too have Padraig Pearse, Michael Collins, John Redmond, as well as thousands of other people who will never be acknowledged or achieve fame.

It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, what religion you are or if you are of no religion, what political party you support, what football club you follow, what pop star you worship, what music you like, what clothes you wear or what beer you drink. However, it does matter that, as an adult, you stand for something.

When you become an adult, you acquire extra legal responsibilities and social responsibilities. Everybody has moral responsibility. Governments and society also impose legal responsibilities on you. If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.

What would you do if you had no worries?

Any fool can complain or condemn, and most fools do.

Blame looks back, responsibility looks forward.

How does this apply to an entrepreneur? Entrepreneurs perform in a very fluid but competitive trading environment. If they don’t have some critical anchors, then they are vulnerable to those who have. From my experiences out there in the business world, I believe that ‘clarity of purpose’ is the critical anchor one has to have in order to be commercially successful.

Form your own moral and social responsibilities from your values and your moral code derived from your family background, culture, philosophy, religion or school.

I assume that, imperfect though they may be, you respect the laws of the land and that you try to live by the cultural and ethical codes and practices that control civilised society. I assume that you would behave peacefully in the company of others. I assume that you stand for, and will campaign for, improvement in the quality of life and living for your family members, your friends and for members of the community around you. I assume that you will help someone who needs help and that you will defend someone who is being attacked. I assume you stand for something.

Think about how you can embed this in the team culture you are. You’ll need to to ‘win the debate in your own head’ first, and only then can you  start to communicate and over time influence these critical values within the team. Culture is a difficult concept to understand, but it manifests itself in what the business consistently celebrates and reprimands.

What are you going to do differently? How are you going to do it? When will you have it completed? What evidence can you give to show that you have made the sustainable change?

“We would be happier with what we have if we weren’t so unhappy about what we don’t have.”

Frank A Clark

If you think you are average, you will achieve average results. Stretch yourself, but for the sake of your health and happiness, not beyond breaking point.

I work with a number of CEOs who really understand this critical anchorage. They keep telling stories to emphasise the point, and they use it as the backdrop when they are making difficult decisions. Having declared transparent VALUES facilitates the team to better understand and appreciate ‘how things are done around here’. This facilitates them to optimise their contribution, since they don’t have to waste energy second guessing.

About the author

Blaise BrosnanBlaise Brosnan New Frontiers mentor

Blaise is a business trainer, consultant and author, and a New Frontiers mentor. He is the Managing Director of the Management Resource Institute Wexford and recently published his third book: I Dare you – win the debate in your own head... [Read Blaise’s profile]

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John Teeling on entrepreneurship and the future of business

john teeling

We thought we would speak to one of Ireland’s leading businessmen to see what tips and insights he has for Irish startup entrepreneurs in 2015. Teeling is known for his straightforward approach and boundless energy. Despite a punishing schedule, he found the time to speak to me from his offices in Clontarf, giving me a hint of the openness and positivity he so clearly brings to everything he does.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few decades, John Teeling is the intellectual, globe-trotting founder of Cooley Whiskey and the man who has had more companies listed on the London Stock Exchange than anyone else from Ireland. With current interests predominantly in energy and mining, he’s been a force of nature in the business world since he left academia at the age of 41, after a lengthy teaching stint at UCD.

The serial entrepreneur

Although many people describe him as one, Teeling doesn’t really approve of the term “serial entrepreneur”. He is, he explains to me, a “portfolio entrepreneur”.

The first time you do something it’s incredibly difficult, but once it’s done you realise just how easy it was. And if you’re entrepreneurial already, you tend to see more than one opportunity.

And, having spent a lifetime as an entrepreneur, Telling says he has more opportunities now than ever.

Anatomy of an entrepreneur

Everyone has their own theory as to what “makes” an entrepreneur (there are 100 Million hits for that question on Google, if you’re ever at a lose end). For John Teeling, it’s a simple mix of four things:

Having an idea

An entrepreneur has absolute faith in their idea, and isn’t swayed by the opinions of banks, accountants or other interested parties. They have a visceral belief in their vision. And the real superstar entrepreneurs – the Steve Jobs of this world – see quantum leaps ahead of everyone else. Self-belief is the key.

The ability to gather resources

The ability to recognise and pull together resources is the key to succeeding in business. That’s not just about funding, it’s also about people and technology. You don’t always need to have the money in place to try your idea – you can lease or rent technology, and if there are gaps in your knowledge you can hire someone with the skills you lack.

You won’t find Teeling on LinkedIn or Facebook, but he’s no technophobe and embraces technology where it can bring benefits to his businesses. The Dundalk distilleries, for example, are 98% computer controlled and he’s happy to explore any solution that can improve efficiency and processes.

The ability to handle uncertainty

Uncertainty is “not knowing what you don’t know”. Whereas risk is measurable, there are also things that can happen which you could never have anticipated. Be prepared and expect something to go wrong!

Energy and determination

Follow it through to the end and don’t ever give up.

Building the team

Teeling is responsible for the creation of a staggering number of companies and sits on the board of many. He describes his job of Chairman as one of “acting in times of crisis”. Once he has set a company up, and laid out its roadmap, he likes to take a very hands-off approach to managing the day to day.

But he’s only able to do this if the right team is in place.

I trust the people I hire unless they give me a reason not to. The right people are out there, you just have to go and find them. But expect to make mistakes. And if you’ve made a mistake, fix it as soon as you can.

Teeling is a tough recruiter. As a former academic, he likes to see good academic achievement and technical ability. He believes that entrepreneurs are born, not made, and that education brings that out in them – that they “self-select” by getting the technical qualifications they need.

A lot of entrepreneurs have Type A personalities and are very hard to work with. So finding someone who can work with you is an issue. Choosing the right person is really about having an educated gut instinct.

The future

Teeling sees a few key areas with huge potential for growth in Ireland.

Food and drink

Identifying ways to add value is a big opportunity in the food and drink sector. Whiskey, for example, is sold for nine times the value of its raw ingredient, grain. Teeling sees a wealth of opportunities in the dairy sector, such as whey-based products (protein drinks, sodium lactate and even plastics). Another under-exploited resource is in the meat industry. Because of low domestic demand for offal, most of it is currently disposed of, but Teeling believes that in the future, nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals will evolve in this area.


Tidal energy will be a big opportunity for Ireland, as will energy storage.


Special Interest Tourism offers huge growth potential in Ireland. Organised, themed trips are becoming increasingly popular with affluent tourists, who’ll spend a few days totally immersing themselves in a particular area. The example he gave me was of a special interest tour in Mexico, accommodating groups of up to 10 people, who have paid an eye-watering amount of money to spend three days at a tequila distillery. Here in Ireland, such tours could focus on our outstanding food production sectors, music and languages.

John Teeling’s advice to young entrepreneurs

Never look back. If you make mistakes, just move on. You can’t change the past.

Creating a startup is an adventure. Enjoy it, enjoy even the bad times. You’ll look back on them with an enormous sense of achievement. Of course you’ll make mistakes, but if you really feel you have the urge and don’t go for it, you will regret it.


About the author

Scarlet Merrill

Scarlet Merrill is Editor of the New Frontiers website and founder of her own startup, Engage. 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]

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Being opportunistic made me a better entrepreneur

opportunistic business new frontiers

A major part of success in business is being opportunistic: recognising a window of opportunity and being bold enough to go after it with both hands. I’ve embarked on several opportunistic endeavours in my business life. This is the story of how they came about.

Be open to opportunities

The first one came while I was working as a roofer at my uncle’s company, GFM Systems, which was the second largest in Ireland at the time and employed 70 people. I was 21, and looking around me during those Celtic Tiger years, I saw people build up immense amounts of wealth from property.

I sought out advice from someone I was fortunate enough to know who owned over 100 properties. I asked how I could do it too. I devised a simple buy-to-let strategy and within a few years I owned seven houses, worth a total of €1.4 million.

This never would have happened had I not been opportunistic and made it my business to find out how I could build up a portfolio. Nothing in business ever just happens. You need to make things happen; you need dogged determination and self-belief.

Use your contacts to get introductions

Around this time, I came across another opportunity – heard about through a friend. CityWest Hotel was looking for a valeting service, and using my network I managed to get a meeting with the owners. Within six months, this new venture was turning over €100K with two employees.

Having several properties to maintain, I found that I was doing a lot of maintenance work on the houses and it made sense to start offering this service to other landlords and property owners, so I started RSM Facility Services. Unfortunately, in 2008 the biggest crash since 1930 arrived and business dried up overnight.

Don’t be afraid to try something new

Not one to stay down, I looked for the next wave of opportunity. My lightbulb moment came one evening in 2011, when I was watching RTÉ’s The Business. It featured a company that had increased its turnover from €1 Million to €3 Million using Google AdWords. I instantly realised that this was the future and focused all my attention on digital marketing – spending up to 16 hours a day learning all I could about PPC & SEO and completing a course at the Digital Marketing Institute.

I started FirstPage.ie, running PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns, and a chance meeting led to another opportunity to work for a company called Centric Health, who run the Vhi SwiftCare clinics and have the largest GP network in Ireland.

I spent two years with that company, perfecting my skills and starting a MSc in Digital Marketing in Michael Smurfit UCD.

Learn from the masters

After two years, I left Centric Health and returned to FirstPage.ie. I used my connections again to secure a meeting with Michael O’ Leary, legendary CEO of Ryanair. Sensing an opportunity to work with and learn from one of Ireland’s greatest business men, I put myself forward for a full time role.

I landed the role of Head of Digital Marketing for Ryanair, reporting directly to Michael. I was essentially creating a brand new department, and it was an immensely challenging but rewarding time. We implemented dramatic improvements at the airline which resulted in passenger and share price reaching an all-time high. I really appreciated being able to work directly with Michael and learn from him. He has amazing energy and has created a great work culture at Ryanair, which keeps an agile, startup mentality despite its size.

I left Ryanair last year and now run my own agency called DMAD – Digital Marketing Agency Dublin.

What I’ve learned

My advice to budding entrepreneurs is: if you have an idea, just go for it. Even if it doesn’t work out, what you learned in the process will be invaluable going forward in your business life. My experiences in business have taught me that successful business men are no different from anyone else; it’s simply that they spotted an opportunity and took it.

Before you start your entrepreneurial journey, have enough capital to last you twelve months – enough to pay all your bills and business costs even if you don’t get one paying customer. Use the internet to market your business. Go niche, go big or go home!

About the author

Reuben MayReubenMay-New Frontiers

Reuben May is the founder and Managing Director of DMAD (Digital Marketing Agency Dublin) and an Enterprise Ireland mentor. He has started several companies of his own and was also the man behind Ryanair’s recent digital transformation… [Read Reuben’s profile]

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