Tag: funding & support

High Potential Startups: a guide to supports and funding

hpsu startup funding support ireland

Enterprise Ireland offers a range of blended supports to assist companies of various sizes through the different stages of their development. For early-stage startups, such supports would include the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme, Competitive Feasibility Grants and Innovations Vouchers – but it isn’t necessary to be an Enterprise Ireland ‘client’ to be eligible for such assistance.

For startups that have moved past early-stage and become Enterprise Ireland client companies, special HPSU supports are available. HPSU (High Potential Startup) companies are young businesses with the potential to develop an innovative product or service that will be traded in international markets and have the potential to create >10 jobs and €1 million in sales within four years. Generally speaking, HPSUs are viewed as being at feasibility stage, investor-ready stage or growth stage.

Qualifying as an HPSU

Enterprise Ireland defines an HPSU as a startup venture that is:

  • Introducing a new or innovative product or service to international markets
  • Involved in manufacturing or internationally traded services
  • Capable of creating 10 jobs in Ireland and generating €1 million in sales within three to four years of starting up
  • Led by an experienced management team
  • Headquartered and controlled in Ireland
  • Less than five years old from the date of the company’s registration

The HPSU supports can be categorised as follows:

HPSU Start

At this pre-seed stage, client companies will receive up to 18 months of support and engagement to take them to seed.

HPSU Accelerate

This is a post-seed two-year programme that will get the client company to €1 million in sales.

Essentially, the HPSU team is looking for scalable businesses that have proven their idea through market research and competitor analysis, have strong endorsements, and are gaining traction with paying customers.

Becoming a High Potential Start Up

If you believe that your business qualifies as an HPSU, you should contact your nearest Enterprise Ireland office. You can discuss your proposition, establish if your business is eligible for HPSU support and get advice on moving your business forward from a dedicated start-up advisor. There are also dedicated teams facilitating enquiries in specific areas such as startups led by women, food startups and overseas entrepreneurs.

Enterprise Ireland will need a written outline in order to put your company forward for consideration. You should either prepare a business plan (download a Business Plan template), or if a plan has not yet been completed, an Outline Business Proposition that gives an overview of your business, the background and experience of the main promoters, the steps that need to be taken to move the project forward and your funding requirements.

Exploring your potential

Once your business plan or proposition has been reviewed, a member of the startup team will get in touch for an informal discussion. This will cover the origins of the business, your plans and your development needs – but this is just a conversation with an advisor, you aren’t expected to ‘pitch’ and you won’t be given a definitive decision at this point. This is the time to clarify any uncertainties you might have, and answer any questions or provide explanation on any areas of your proposition in order to establish if the business is eligible (or ready) for Enterprise Ireland assistance.

Following this initial discussion, if appropriate, you will be offered a further meeting to discuss your business proposal in greater detail. After this meeting, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. If your proposal seems to have HPSU potential but requires some development (e.g. market research, value proposition, funding proposition) the startup team will offer you advice and refer you to any relevant programme to help you develop your proposition and get to investor-ready stage.
  2. If the proposal has HPSU potential and is close to being investor-ready, an Enterprise Ireland advisor with experience of your sector will be assigned to work with you and discuss the relevant funding and supports you can access.
  3. If the proposal is not eligible for Enterprise Ireland support, the startup team will explain the reasons for this and – where appropriate – suggest alternative supports from other agencies and organisations.

HPSU funding

The Innovative HPSU Fund supports the preliminary and development costs of High Potential Startup companies. Eligible companies are able to apply for funding of up to €500,000 if matched with the same amount from an external investor (this is similar to a venture capital approach).

Eligible companies must fulfil one or more of the qualifying criteria:

  • Where there is no trading record at the time of application: at least 15% of the total operating costs must relate to R&D expenses in the current fiscal year
  • Where there is a trading record at the time of application: at least 15% of the total operating costs must relate to R&D expenses, in at least one of the three years preceding the application
  • There must be an innovative business plan for the development of products, services or processes which are technologically new or substantially improved compared to state of the art industry equivalents in the European Community.

When HPSU is not an option

If your business is not eligible for Enterprise Ireland HPSU support, you may qualify for funding and supports from your LEO (Local Enterprise Office). With 31 dedicated teams across the Local Authority network in Ireland, Local Enterprise Offices are the first port of call for entrepreneurs and small businesses with fewer than 10 employees. LEOs provide advice, mentoring and funding to eligible startups.

The Supporting SMEs Online Tool is a cross-governmental guide to help small businesses to identify which government supports might fit their business.

Next steps

If you’d like to explore the possibility of becoming an Enterprise Ireland HPSU, contact your nearest Enterprise Ireland office.

About the author

declan-lyons

Declan Lyons

Declan is Technology Infrastructure Programmes Manager at Enterprise Ireland and oversees the delivery of the New Frontiers programme. He has a background in Engineering… [Read Declan’s profile]

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Being an entrepreneur is increasingly where we want to be

being an entrepreneur startup support new frontiers barry egan

A question we often ask ourselves is: Where do we want to be in five years time? What sort of life do we want to lead? As we only have one spin on this merry-go-round of life, it’s critical that we do what’s important to us individually. There really is no point looking back in five years time and regretting that we didn’t choose the path we wanted to pursue.

Being an entrepreneur is increasingly a path Irish people want to take, and this is a significant shift.

The rise of entrepreneurship in Ireland

According to business information specialist, Vision-net, 14,757 new companies were formed in Ireland in 2011. By the end of last year this figure has jumped 32% to 19,472. Locally there was a healthy 10% growth in the number of new firms formed in Galway last year compared to 2014. Interestingly this is double the growth rate of 5% for Dublin.

Enterprise Ireland focuses on High Potential Startup (HPSU) businesses – those with both an innovative idea and export potential, that will employ more than 10 people and generate €1m in sales within 3 to 4 years of starting up. In mid-February, Enterprise Ireland announced it had invested €31m in startups in 2015. An important element of this investment was the announcement of 105 HPSU companies planning to create 1,550 jobs over the next three years throughout every region in Ireland.

So, you want to be an entrepreneur?

So, you have an innovative idea or have been thinking about starting your own company, but haven’t taken the plunge yet. Or maybe you are in the early stages of starting and want to grow. Yes, it is hard work. And yes, you are going to face many challenges. But the good news is that you are not alone. Many people have gone down this road ahead of you – and they are willing to share their experiences and learnings, and help you to de-risk your venture. And it is easy to get their advice and insights. Just ask – either directly or via someone in the start up community.

Help and support for innovative startups

In addition, I’m proud to say that Ireland has one of the best eco-systems in the world for supporting startups. There are always ways in which we can improve – but the range of supports available in Ireland is impressive… from incubation space, mentoring, access to specialist advice, Start Your Own Business & other valuable training courses delivered by the Local Enterprise Offices, entrepreneur development programmes funded by Enterprise Ireland (in the West these include the New Frontiers Programme delivered by GMIT in Castlebar & Galway; the BioInnovate programme delivered by NUI Galway; the Food Works Programme delivered by An Bord Bia, Teagasc and Enterprise Ireland; StartLab delivered by Bank of Ireland). In addition, Enterprise Ireland is currenly seeking applications from organisations to partner with us in delivering Accelerator Programmes outside of Dublin.

Enterprise Ireland also supports WestBIC and the Halo Business Angel Network to provide access for early-stage startups to investment from individual Business Angels and also to syndicates of Business Angels. In addition, Enterprise Ireland is also very active in nurturing the creation of Seed and Venture Capital Funds, which provide equity investment to the Irish startup community. Also, the Local Enterprise Offices, Údarás na Gaeltachta & Enterprise Ireland have a suite of financial supports which provide much-needed fuel to fire up innovative startups locally. Terms and conditions do apply, but if you are going to develop a venture which will create jobs through selling a product or a service internationally, then please do reach out. Many of these supports and more are listed in our handy start up guide for the West region.

So, the question is where do you want to be in five years time? If you are tempted or already committed to starting an innovative start up, do check out the option of applying to participate on the New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme. It may be one of the best decisions you ever made.

About the author


Barry EganBarry-Egan-Enterprise-Ireland-New Frontiers

Barry Egan is Regional Director for the West Region with Enterprise Ireland, based in Galway. He works closely with the local New Frontiers team, as well as the entrepreneurs on the programme; chairing the evaluations panel and ensuring support and access wherever it is required… [Read Barry’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Innovation Showcase: supports to grow your business

Innovation Showcase

Those who attended last year’s inaugural Innovation Showcase will be pleased to know that it’s back again this year and looks set to be even better than last time! It’s organised by Enterprise Ireland, in cooperation with IDA Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) on behalf of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. The Innovation Showcase is on 8th December at the Convention Centre Dublin. Registration required

What is the Innovation Showcase?

The Innovation Showcase is the place to find all the innovation supports available to businesses under one roof. The aim of the event is to achieve significant economic impacts through increased engagement between the public research system and industry. If you want to know how you can access the innovation supports to grow your business, this is the place to find out.

Having spoken to the organisers, I expect that this year’s event will be even more relevant and impactful for industry. Keynote industry speakers will deliver engaging presentations, describing how their use of supports for research and innovation has improved their business. There’s also ample opportunity to network with other delegates.

Discover the supports to grow your business

The support organisations represented on the day fall into the following categories:

  • Technology Gateway Network
  • KTI – Knowledge Transfer Ireland
  • Commercialisation of Research
  • Innovation Supports for Industry
  • International Funding
  • ICT
  • Sustainable Food
  • Health and Medical Technologies
  • Manufacturing and Materials
  • Innovation in Services and Business Processes
  • Energy

Innovation Showcase floorplan

Big Ideas

Running in parallel to the networking event is the Big Ideas – investor ready start-ups event. Investors looking for new start-up companies emerging from state-funded research are invited to set up meetings with the promoters behind these new start-ups. The 12 spin-out companies will take centre stage and give a two minute pitch presenting their Big Ideas – demonstrating the high-quality of research happening in Ireland’s Higher Education Institutions. Speakers will include:

  • Rory Mooney – Class Medical
  • Deirdre Lee – Derilinx
  • Ray Alcorn – Exceedence
  • Chris Nelson – Kite Medical
  • Anita Finnegan – Nova Leah
  • Peter Richardson – NovoGrid
  • Kieran Normoyle – Ocean Survivor
  • Conor Harkin – ProVerum Medical
  • John Lynch – Selfsense Technologies
  • Eoin Banbury – Signum Surgical
  • Ron Donovan – Sive Medical
  • Patricia Scanlon – Soapbox Labs

Get networking

The Innovation Showcase is pleased to be adopting the fuseami networking app on the day, to encourage business networking at the event.

Fuseami intelligently searches for areas of relevance across profiles and enables people to discover and connect with one another in areas that are most relevant to their business. Simply download, login with your LinkedIn account, choose the Innovation Showcase event and start networking with other delegates immediately.

Irish Design

The Innovation Showcase will also be featuring an exhibit specially created by the NCAD using the Innovation Showcase logo. This interactive installation will be adding a bit of fun on the day, so drop by and take a look. Part of the year of Irish Design ID2015, it aims to demonstrate how the use of design is a great way to enhance your business.

So, if you are in industry and want to know how innovation can further support your business, then get over to the Innovation Showcase! I’ll be there again this year, as will members of the New Frontiers team. Come and say hello!

Innovation Showcase

8th December 2015, 8.30am to 2pm

Convention Centre Dublin, Spencer Dock, Dublin 1

innovationshowcase.ie

About the author

scarlet-merrill

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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New tricks: my journey from administrator to entrepreneur

new-tricks-andy-homden-new-frontiers

It had always been at the back of my mind to start a business. A group of us had been a lifetime in education, working in international schools. We knew what we were doing. Teaching and learning was at the centre of what we did – and now we were going to practise what we preached at school and try something new as lifelong learners.

For me personally – at the end of another six year contract and after more than 30 years in international education – it was a good time to stop and use my knowledge in a different way.

An industry we knew

The new business we set up was to serve an industry we knew well. It wasn’t quite clear at first in what areas I would notice the differences between life as a salaried school leader and that of an entrepreneur. Some of the skills from my previous life were useful, which is just as well, as the necessary change from the administrative to the entrepreneurial mind-set does not happen overnight: I knew how to plan, budget, structure, communicate, and write – all skills that were useful in setting up the company.

New learning: Part 1

The first major difference was, however, that as a self-employed company director and shareholder, you are your own support team. No PA. No IT manager. No in-house accountant. No website manager.

Learning the auxiliary skills takes time, and you can’t just ask someone to: run those numbers for me, please, or write a short report: what if we did this, instead? You go through a phase of feeling uncomfortably out of control over things that you used to take for granted. The accounts. The invoices. The receipts. The reports and web updates.

But then it gets better. Until you realise that mastering these skills will not, of themselves, pay the bills.

New learning: Part 2

It is very easy to stay busy just keeping things in order, but it is vital to move on quickly. Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to create an entrepreneur out of rough administrative clay – but sooner or later this must happen. You have to sell. You have to market. Perfecting administrative systems is a hard habit to break.

But fine tuning a great product that people do not know about or might not want to buy is time wasted. Develop the concept, try it out on a few (only a few will respond), get the feedback and then get it in the marketplace. We went too quickly with certain ideas, wasting time and money. We had to be patient with others, and all the time instead of just perfecting something, you are pitching and selling a new product that your research tells you people might buy.

A new support team

Like my former students, and as a new learner, I looked for support and affirmation. Our shareholders provided a good deal of this – but they were also looking to me as we got the business going. I found the direct support I needed in three ways:

  • From the Local Enterprise Office in Donegal
  • At CoLab – a superb business incubator attached to the Letterkenny Institute of Technology
  • Through the New Frontiers programme and with the help of Enterprise Ireland

The great thing is that you do not have to attempt this kind of transformation on your own. The Donegal LEO was in some ways a hard taskmaster, but we learned a lot very quickly as we applied for and then received a Business Priming Grant. We heard about CoLab from our graphic designer – and in a month or so we had been allocated a hot desk. You cannot begin to estimate the positive effect of the environment that this provides – the stories, the experience and the inspiration of people all of whom had ideas and were ‘going for it’. The younger ones knew things we needed to learn, and we had one or two things that our fellow risk-takers might find useful in return.

The training and discipline that New Frontiers Phase 1 and the application for Phase 2 provided accelerated the whole process. As we entered Phase 2 of the training, the company was using both the skills and knowledge brought from the world of education, and applying the new mind-set from the world of business, first to generate and then convert new leads.

The transformation of the old dogs is by no means complete, but we feel privileged to be working in this environment and to have the opportunity to learn the new tricks that will transform our lives while enabling us, we hope, to shape the world of international education in rather a different way than we did before as teachers and administrators.

About the author


Andy Homden
Andy Homden New Frontiers

Andy trained as a teacher in the UK and Australia, and has worked in international education for most of his career. As a teacher and school leader he specialised in curriculum design and school start-ups. He is now CEO of Consilium Education, an educational consulting company… [Read Andy’s profile]

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Pitching: avoiding the pitfalls and answering the right questions

pitching new frontiers

I’ve been watching a lot of pitches recently – at Wayra, Ryan Academy, NDRC and the Web Summit, to name a few. I’ve also pitched plenty of times myself. I’ve pitched at UCD’s Innovation Academy and the Digital Skills Academy, I’ve pitched to all kinds of decision makers in business as well as to public stakeholders (ministers, TDs, local politicians, residents, planners) when I was launching and promoting GAP.

I’ve worn the various hats when it comes to the elevator pitch: journalist, entrepreneur, judge… Many were good, others less so. Some common mistakes, though they seem obvious, keep popping up. The basic rules are the same, no matter what you’re pitching. So, here are some tips that will enhance your chances of success:

What problem are you solving?

Tell us early and clearly.

Who are you and what is your company name?

I saw someone the other day who seemed interesting, had already sold a previous company for seven figures, and yet still mumbled his name and didn’t clearly say the name of his company.

What do you want?

Clearly tell us what you are looking for, and what sort of help you need – financial, technical or other.

History. Briefly, please!

Your back story is slightly interesting, but should never dominate the pitch or take up too much time. Tell us enough, but not so much that we are wondering what you are here for today.

Don’t be surprised by the content of your slides

This might sound obvious, but again and again people get tripped up by  the wrong slides loading, or seeing images they didn’t expect. What were they expecting?

Don’t have ugly, text-heavy slides

Slides should just be a visual prompt. You can read, we can read, we don’t need you to read off the content of your slides. One word, or only a few, is plenty. Less is so much more!

Don’t read your presentation from hand-held notes

It looks bad and it means you’re not looking at your audience. You don’t need to follow an exact script, rather use the slides as a visual path to take you through a series of concepts. Yes, this will mean you need to learn your content, but that’s part of pitching.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. And know how long your pitch takes

Yes, we all hate practising our pitch, but just accept that it’s part of what you need to do. Also, the second and third time, it gets better. You’ll work out where you are stumbling, and what you need to articulate more clearly. It’s well worth the time you put into it.

No TLAs (three letter acronyms)

One team once went to the US and said: Hi, we’re an EI backed HPSU… Speak in plain English. You gain nothing by over complicating your delivery. It’s far smarter to be able to explain your concept simply: We do x, which solves y.

Find a devil’s advocate

Think about the weak points in your project, then think through good answers to these challenges. You don’t need to have a complete answer to everything, but you should demonstrate that you are aware of this risks and have considered possible strategies to deal with them.

Be happy and relaxed. This is not the worst thing you could be doing!

It’s true that many people hate public speaking. If you’re one of these people, then start finding opportunities to do so. It’s not going away. If you want to succeed in business, you’ll need to be able to explain to others why they should give you their money and/or expertise.

Do all of this and you will already be scoring above a large number of your competitors! Best of luck with it, I look forward to hearing more about your successes! If you want to get some inspiration from the masters, you could check out some videos of people like Guy Kawasaki or Elon Musk.

About the author


Simon CockingSimon Cocking New Frontiers

Simon is a founder, mentor and currently Deputy Editor of Irish Tech News. He has been writing on topics as diverse as sport, art, environmental issues, community development and, of course, tech for the past 15 years and and regularly contributes to Tweak Your Biz, Tech versus Nature, Geektime and journal.ie…. [Read Simon’s profile]

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Innovation Vouchers: helping SMEs to develop creative solutions

innovation-enterprise-ireland-new-frontiers

Innovation Vouchers are an excellent way for companies to tap into leading research expertise in order to develop a solution or product at the pre-commercial stage. The scheme allows businesses to improve their innovation capability and builds links between Ireland’s public sector knowledge providers and the SME community.

Innovation Vouchers were launched by Enterprise Ireland seven years ago and have proved phenomenally successful. Some 1,400 applications are received every year, around 70% of which are successful.

Innovation Vouchers offer Irish SMEs the chance to connect with knowledge providers around the country in order to develop a solution or product. Vouchers are worth €5,000, valid for 12 months and can be redeemed at one of the 38 registered centres that provide leading academic expertise (ROI and NI).

As the name suggests, vouchers can be used for any kind of product or application that is truly innovative, such as:

  • new product/process development
  • new business model development
  • new service delivery and customer interface
  • new service development
  • tailored training in innovation management
  • innovation/technology audit

Innovation Vouchers are the only Enterprise Ireland funding you can cumulate with the New Frontiers grant of €15,000. A company can apply for up to three vouchers, if one of those is a co-funded voucher (see below). Vouchers are only redeemable against the net cost of the services provided, so the company will have to cover the VAT cost of the voucher – which will be billed by the knowledge provider in question.

How does it work?

There are currently two main types of voucher:

Standard Voucher (€5,000)

A standard voucher is valid for 12 months and can be used with any of the registered knowledge providers. You must apply for a standard voucher during one of Enterprise Ireland’s open calls. There are usually three calls a year, in Q1, Q2 and Q3. Dates are published on the Innovation Voucher page of the Enterprise Ireland website. N.B. The latest call has just opened and closes on Wednesday, 20th May at 3pm.

Co-funded Fast Track Voucher (€5,000)

This option is suitable for companies that have already been awarded two Standard Vouchers and are not eligible for more; OR where timing is short and the company cannot wait for the next call for a Standard Voucher.

The co-funded voucher is for projects costing up to €10,000, paid for on a 50/50 basis by the Innovation Voucher and the company. For these projects, the company and the chosen knowledge provider must jointly agree on the programme of work before submitting the application. Applications can be submitted at any time, and a decision can usually be given within three weeks.

The rules

To apply for an Innovation Voucher, the company must be:

  • An SME (fewer than 250 employees and a turnover below €50 Million/balance sheet below €43 Million)
  • A registered Irish company, in any sector other than the agricultural sector (specific supports are available to this sector from the relevant agencies)
  • A for-profit privately held company (non-profits, charities, semi-states, trade associations, sports clubs, company representation bodies and non-commercial organisations are not eligible for Innovation Vouchers)

Other points to remember:

  • Applications can only be made online via the Enterprise Ireland Online Application system.
  • You don’t have to be an Enterprise Ireland client or have an Enterprise Ireland Development Advisor to apply for an Innovation Voucher.
  • Vouchers may only be used for work with one of the registered knowledge providers – they are publicly funded organisations such as Universities, Institutes of Technology and research centres.
  • Companies can only have one “active” voucher at any time. A voucher must be redeemed by the knowledge provider, and the VAT costs paid in full by the company, before another voucher can be applied for.
  • The intellectual property developed during the project is owned by the company, unless agreed otherwise.

Innovation vouchers have been used in areas as diverse as retail, business services, forestry, telecoms & software, engineering, life sciences, electronics and food.

Maximise your chances of a successful application

Applying for an Innovation Voucher is very straightforward, but as always a little preparation can save you wasting your time on an application that has no chance of success:

  • Read the comprehensive FAQs on the Enterprise Ireland website (PDF), it explains all the criteria and procedures involved.
  • Make sure that you are eligible. You must be a registered company (not a sole trader) and meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Make sure that your project is eligible. The vouchers are available for a wide variety of solutions, but activities such as software/web development and marketing/advertising are excluded.
  • Make sure you complete the application form fully. You need to demonstrate the highly innovative nature of the solution you intend to develop, and the benefit that this will bring to your company.

Examples of companies that have benefited from Innovation Vouchers

Monford Ag Systems – GrassOmeter

Steven Lock is an award-winning TV producer and director. It was in 2010, while filming the series Farmers – A year on the land, that Steven first saw what an issue grass measurement is for farmers. Most use a plate meter – as the name suggests, it is essentially a large disc that moves up and down a pole, allowing an average height reading to be taken – which is cumbersome, slow and not very accurate.

A chance conversation with Dr John Whelan, from Trinity College, led Steven to look into the Innovation Vouchers scheme. He applied, and the voucher allowed him to have the resources of a researcher for a month to look at developing a different way to measure grass. A second voucher was obtained, allowing a mechanical engineer to look at replacing the plate with sensor technology so that the product works as effectively on slopes as it does on the flat.

The GrassOmeter, as the product is known, is currently in the last stages of testing. Steven has secured €1.4 Million in funding, registered two patents and brought on board legendary Apple designer, Jerry Manock, as Head of Design. Steven’s team is now working hard on the final touches that will bring the GrassOmeter to market

It’s a wonderful scheme, because it really does encourage innovation. It’s what prompted me to wonder if there was a better solution to grass measurement. If the vouchers didn’t exist, then neither would the GrassOmeter.

Equiniche Sciences – Harmony Feeder

Dr Michelle O’Connor is a Veterinary Physiotherapist. She had a concept for a hay feeder that would enable stabled horses to eat at ground level and throughout the day – solving the physiological and behavioural problems associated with intermittent feeding and eating in an unnatural position.

Having successfully applied for an initial voucher, Michelle worked with Athlone Institute of Technology’s Centre for Industrial Services and Design to develop and prototype the main polymer body of the feeder. The following year, 2012, a second voucher was used to develop the rubber mesh system which controls access to the hay (both the material and the configuration of the mesh were researched).

The Harmony feeder can be secured at ground level in the stable and holds enough hay for a day, which the horse pulls out from the bottom –  mimicking the natural grazing position. The product has received three patents – in the US, the EU and New Zealand. It was launched in the Irish market at the Equus Live Exhibition, Punchestown, in November 2013 and won the inaugural Innovation Award.

As we had limited funds, the scheme gave us the impetus to get started. Without access to the expertise provided, we would not have been able to visualise our product and bring it through development.

About the author


scarlet-merrill
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]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

What I learned from the New Frontiers programme

learn-new-frontiers

I founded my visual effects startup, Glue, in 2013 and was looking for a dedicated startup programme that would complement my industry experience with the business knowledge and structure I required. In 2014, I participated in Phase 1 of New Frontiers, and subsequently went on to Phase 2 later in the year.

I learned a huge amount on the programme and Glue is gaining momentum; we’ve been able to grow our team and develop custom systems to improve our processes. Looking back, I’ve identified seven areas that were key to my startup journey.

Building on an idea

New Frontiers was my first major step in starting up the business. Personally, I found it extremely helpful and challenging in so many ways. First of all, it challenges you to dismantle your idea and test to see if it’s a viable business model. This happens with group discussions, one-to-one meetings, review stages and presentations. Secondly, it helps you to build your idea from the ground up, while putting proven business theory into practice.

Creating processes

Establishing business processes was the most important aspect to benefit Glue. We have now developed processes and backend structures that allow us to keep track of projects and to clearly show both staff and clients how each project is progressing at the various stages. Not only this, but putting solid terms and conditions in place for new customers helps avoid confusion down the road. For us, it’s a simple ten-line document which lets both parties know where they stand before work commences. The help given by New Frontiers in streamlining this process alone has been invaluable.

Core team and culture

I also believe that culture is incredibly important, even at early-stage. I think every startup should make clear decisions about how their company will behave and ensure that all staff enjoy what they do and are happy with the work they’re producing.

So much of these thought processes have benefited from specific  personality tests given during the programme to identify how an individual ticks and to develop symbiotic relationships between staff, based on their particular strengths and insights.

Knowing how you think and what type of person you are will allow you to understand how others perceive you. I have applied some of the lessons learned from the personality tests given throughout the programme to my whole team – with great results. This allows you to plan more efficiently and allows staff to identify qualities in each other that are necessary for delivering the best product.

Pitches and sales

There is a lot of great advice given regarding presentation skills, something I was quite poor at in the beginning but which I quickly improved upon through pitches to the class and at review stages. Basic things, such as having your pitch video recorded so you and your colleagues can dissect it and give constructive feedback, or being supplied with templates and pacing advice all come together to help you pitch better.

One very important factor in running a business is, of course, sales. How to successfully sell is paramount to the success of your business. There were many great tutors on the programme, such as Andrew McNeille and Dermot McKonkey, who both opened my eyes regarding sales and negotiating. I would happily purchase training videos from the tutors on this programme, simply because the information given is so in-depth; I still find myself looking over class notes from time to time.

Learn

A lot comes down to the individual entrepreneur, but if you are driven to make your business a success you’ll find that there’s a huge amount of information available to you on the programme. From the basics of structuring everything you do to clearly defining goals and milestones, you will learn many elements to help you set up and run your business.

Mentoring was a great help, as were the one-to-one sit downs with experienced professionals – which allow you to review each stage you have reached and gain great insight and knowledge.

Focus

The €15,000 grant paid over the course of Phase 2 (six months) gives you the space to concentrate on your business idea and give it the time and focus it needs to develop.

Network

For a digital video creation company like mine, the networking aspect has been especially helpful. Not only to share experiences and advice with like-minded entrepreneurs, but also as a test bed for us to sell our services.

New Frontiers gives you information on many business events throughout the course. Managing your time effectively is certainly one of the most difficult aspects, but ultimately the most rewarding as you learn and develop under their structured guidance.

Anyone can learn how to start up a business, but having the right mentors and structure around you will make the process easier and help it to happen sooner. Even if you know that you have a viable product or service, it requires a certain mindset to take the leap – especially if you have been working for someone else for years. It can be daunting at first, but my advice is to jump!

About the author

Ray-Mongey-New-FrontiersRay Mongey

Ray was a New Frontiers participant at DIT and is founder and Managing Director of Glue, a visual effects company. Glue specialises in creating videos that present services or products using a mix of 3D graphics and video footage and they have clients in the UK, Ireland and UAE…. [Read Ray’s profile]

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Getting your fundraising strategy right

fundraising-startup-new-frontiers

Raising capital is never easy, but it’s also essential for growing a successful startup. The hunt for investment is highly competitive and there is no guarantee of success, so knowing how and where to solicit funds is crucial. As always in business, preparation is the key!

To start with, it’s important to understand that in fundraising you are effectively “selling” yourself and your business opportunity. It takes a lot of work, and a little bit of luck, to find an investor who’s the right fit for your company.

In simple terms, you need a plan so that you can:

  • assess the financing options available;
  • decide on the correct course of action;
  • agree a timeline; and
  • ensure the internal resources, commitment and expertise are in place to properly execute the plan and meet any due diligence requirements.

Once the strategy is clarified, focus on the key priorities that will get you there!

Match the right investors to your opportunity

Fundraising is a time-consuming and lengthy process, so focusing on too many investors is a costly mistake. Start by identifying the type of investors that are interested in your sector and companies at your stage of development. Put together a list of potential parties, based on strategic fit and financial strength. Ideally, you want a backer who brings industry know-how and contacts, as well as money (including follow-on money) – so choose wisely.

Tell a compelling story

Investors want to see a scaleable business with a huge addressable market in which you can have a defendable market position. However, this is of no value unless the funders believe there is also a strong management team in place that can deliver on the opportunity.

Make sure that the business proposition and management strength is clearly communicated in your business plan and presentation. This, along with a realistic valuation and plausible exit strategy, is a winning formula for all financiers.

How much?

Simplify, simplify, simplify! Streamline the business plan by splitting it up into easily understood milestones. Quantify the resources and monies that need to be raised for each milestone. Remember that at early-stage funding you give away more equity to investors, so it makes sense to match your subsequent funding rounds to key milestones so that later money can be raised at a higher valuation.

Focus on building relationships with potential investors

It’s good to start the process early – i.e. before your funding needs become urgent – so that you can determine if a particular funder is a good fit for your company, and vice versa. Aim to get introductions to your target investors through your network and work on building trust through every interaction.

Follow-up regularly with interested parties, letting them know that you have achieved certain milestones. However, for many successful companies, a change in strategy may be required along the way and don’t be afraid to communicate this – after all, agility and the ability to “pivot” the business illustrates a capable management team.

Keep it going…

Never think of raising money in isolation – always have your eye on the next round. Use PR to promote the business, new products and customer wins to create the “sizzle” factor that will ensure potential investors are always watching your space!

About the author

jackie-quinn-new-frontiersJackie Quinn

Jackie is an Enterprise Ireland mentor and Director of QCF Corporate Finance, an independent corporate advisory firm. She helps entrepreneurs raise the funds they need to grow their business and advises them on the best ways to scale their business opportunities…. [Read Jackie’s profile]

Other articles from the New Frontiers blog

Making a successful Competitive Start Fund (CSF) application

competitive-start-fund-new-frontiers

Competitive Start Fund (CSF) is an Enterprise Ireland support aimed at accelerating the growth of High Potential Startups (HPSUs). It offers €50,000 (matched with €5,000 from the company or other private investor) for a 10% ordinary equity stake in the company.

CSF investment enables successful applicants to reach key milestones in their business, eg:

  • Researching the viability of export opportunities
  • Securing a reference customer that will lend credibility to the product
  • Building product prototypes
  • Securing partnerships or key strategic alliances
  • Identifying channels to international markets
  • Securing third-party investment (VCs, angels, etc.)

There are regular calls to the CSF throughout the year (there were six calls in 2014), which are open to all sectors or for specific business types such as female or graduate entrepreneurs, manufacturing & agriculture and businesses outside of Dublin.

Competitive Start Fund cannot be cumulated with other Enterprise Ireland grants. This means that entrepreneurs in receipt of the New Frontiers grant must decline further stipend payments, and companies in receipt of a Feasibility Grant must draw down/forego the balance before starting the CSF.

Businesses eligible for CSF

In order to apply to CSF, you or your business must be an existing or potential Enterprise Ireland client and fulfil criteria such as:

  • Be a manufacturing or internationally-traded service company
  • Not be in receipt of more than €100,000 in equity funding
  • Not be exceeding €60,000 annual turnover
  • Fewer than five years since registration
  • Be capable of creating 10 Irish jobs and having a turnover of 1M within three years
  • Applicants must be eligible to live and work in Ireland (and the majority management must be based in Ireland)
  • Gaming, adult entertainment, tobacco and military sectors are excluded from the CSF

The business doesn’t have to be already founded, however if your application to CSF is successful, you will have to form a limited company within two months of approval.

What makes an ideal applicant?

CSF applications are judged on a competitive basis and the percentage of approvals is around 10%.

This fund is for businesses that have progressed a lot further than the idea stage… typically, applicants are at prototype stage and ready to start customer validation. There is usually a team already in place, ready to start the next phase of business development.

Generally speaking, a business is ready to apply for CSF 18 months after starting up. It is the ideal next step for promoters who have completed Phase 2 of New Frontiers and are ready to scale their business. 30% of the successful applicants to CSF are New Frontiers participants and a further 30% have participated in some other type of programme/accelerator.

On average, it takes successful applicants 18 months to get from CSF approval to their first seed round.

Tips for applicants

The application process involves the submission of a written proposal and a video pitch. After a selection process, shortlistees are invited to a brief panel interview.

Throughout the application process, bear the following in mind:

  • Don’t make assumptions in your application. Back up your statements with facts and evidence and be specific.
  • Provide access to further information: if you have a website, include the link. Make documentation such as product specifications, business plans, etc. available to the judges.
  • Make sure you explain your business model.
  • Get a successful business person involved, either in an advisory capacity or as part of your team.
  • Start preparing as soon as you can. Register when the call opens; if you discover at the last minute that your logins don’t work or that you can’t record the video, you may miss the deadline.
  • Study the marking scheme and make sure that you have responded to each area sufficiently.
  • Look professional in all aspects of your application and pitch.

The marking scheme explained

Video pitch: 25% of the overall score

The video pitch is a new feature of CSF applications. It allows you to outline your business proposition and should be structured as follows:

    1. The Product or Service – What are you going to sell? (1 minute)
    2. The Customer – Who are you going to sell it to? (1 minute)
    3. The USP – Why are they going to buy it from you (1 minute)
    4. Route to Market – How are you going to sell it to them? (1 minute)
    5. The Business Model – How are you going to make money? (1 minute)
    6. Any other information you’d like to add (2 minutes)

As with everything, you need to prepare for the video pitch as much as possible. You can do as many test runs as you like, but the final pitch is non-repeatable so practice, practice, practice!

Make sure your video is interesting and professional. You should avoid reading from a script, as it has a tendency to make your voice monotonous; look at the camera, smile and imagine you are speaking to real investors.

And finally, if you have a product demo, show it off!

Promoter profile: 25% of the overall score

This section is all about the applicant’s track record and domain knowledge. We’re also interested about the advisors/influencers that you have on board and the expertise that they can bring you.

Market Opportunity: 25% of the overall score

What problem are you solving and how big is the potential market? What research you have conducted to validate your idea? Who are your competitors, etc.?

Product/Service Innovation: 15% of the overall score

We want to know what it is that makes your product unique. It’s also important to tell us if you have licences or patents for it, etc.

Key Commercial and Technical milestones: 10% of the overall score

Outline the key commercial and technical milestones that this funding will allow you to achieve over the duration of the business plan outlined in your application (eg. 12 months).

The panel interview

The top-rated applications will be invited to a short investment evaluation in front of a panel of industry experts and representatives of Enterprise Ireland. It comprises a four minute pitch and four minutes of Q&A.

The three main questions you need to cover are:

  1. Why would someone be compelled to purchase?
  2. Is your team capable of executing this business plan?
  3. What will be the impact of €50,000 on delivery of this business plan?

As always, practice your pitch until you get it right. Ideally, get advice from someone who has previously pitched for investment.

As with the video pitch, you can bring your team members with you, but make sure to introduce them and let them say something meaningful.

You will be told who is sitting on the panel, so do some research about them and find out what their expertise is and what they might be interested to hear.

Next steps

If you’re interested in applying to the CSF, you may be interested in the following resources:

About the author

declan-lyonsDeclan Lyons

Declan is Technology Infrastructure Programmes Manager at Enterprise Ireland. He has a background in Engineering… [Read Declan’s profile]

Networking and support are keys to startup success

networking-mentoring-business-success

I had only ever worked in the hedge fund industry before launching my technology startup. The programme management solution I built, Gecko, was designed to help me run my consultancy firm by enabling me to manage dozens of client projects from a single user dashboard. I hadn’t planned for it to be a business in its own right, so I was fairly clueless about what running a tech firm was all about!

How the journey started

It was a chance encounter with the head of the DKIT Regional Development Centre, at the Digital Dundalk startup forum last February, that gave me the confidence to apply for a place on Phase 1 of the New Frontiers programme.

It’s hard to believe that was less than a year ago.

New Frontiers gave me the confidence to grow the business and filled the gaps in my startup knowledge. The quality of the programme and its tutors, as well as the guidance from our excellent course mentor, enabled me to access a huge number of opportunities for expansion and build up an extensive network of contacts in the software industry.

Meeting industry peers

This encouraged us to apply for a place at the Dublin Web Summit, where we met dozens of interesting companies among the 20,000 delegates, culminating in a great interview with Pat Kenny on his morning show, live from the RDS!

New Frontiers also allowed us to find out about other, key start up programmes available in Ireland. We applied for a place on Enterprise Ireland’s Access Silicon Valley programme for high potential start-ups and were thrilled to win a place on the November 2014 programme!

Getting a global perspective

We flew out to San Francisco the very morning after the Web Summit, and over an amazing three weeks met 18 companies in Silicon Valley – potential clients, investors and partners (including Google). The programme really opened our eyes to the opportunities that exist for Irish companies globally and what can be achieved in a short space of time. Access Silicon Valley gave us the opportunity to put in place a whole network in California, which we can plug into when we are ready to scale the company.

Since returning from the US, we have also started to work with other great local support programmes, such as the Dell Centre for Entrepreneurs, and we recently found out that we have qualified for a place on Phase 3 of New Frontiers.

Next steps

We have now launched Gecko in Ireland and have two live clients currently piloting the software. Their reactions have been really enthusiastic, so in the next few months we will be on-boarding two more. We then have another half a dozen clients in Europe and the US waiting to pilot. We are hopeful that this will transform the company and provide the springboard we need to expand the company globally.

We have also opened an office in the US and brought a new business advisor on board (a former Enterprise Ireland manager).

The development of Gecko has been a rapid and exciting journey, none of which would have been possible without participation on the New Frontiers programme.

About the author

Shane-Brett-New-FrontiersShane Brett

Shane Brett worked in the hedge fund industry for nearly 20 years before becoming a “reluctant” technology entrepreneur. It was while running his consultancy firm that Shane created a solution to help him manage his client projects. His programme management software, Gecko, is now live in Ireland and will soon be piloted by some key clients in Europe and the US… [Read Shane’s profile]

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