Interview with Lorcan O’Sullivan (Enterprise Ireland): for a better environment for startups

At How to Web, we’re always trying to learn how to optimize the entrepreneurial ecosystem, how to improve it with changes and solutions that can deliver results in the long run. Other countries or groups have had great results with their work in Europe and abroad, so that’s why we always reach out to them to find out more. Meet Lorcan O’Sullivan from Enterprise Ireland, a man who has seen his country evolve to a welcoming environment for entrepreneurs and business. His work with attracting entrepreneurs to Ireland and offering them all sorts of programs and opportunities to grow and enter global markets is motivating and can be a valuable lesson to learn. Here the facts, directly from Lorcan:

1. First of all, tell us a little bit about Enterprise Ireland and what it’s doing for the startup scene.

Enterprise Ireland works in partnership with Irish companies and entrepreneurs to help them start, grow, innovate and win export sales on global markets. We are funded by the government, but have a very business friendly approach. The majority of our board members come from the private sector and most of our staff have spent the majority of their careers investing in startups or otherwise helping startups and larger companies. One of our roles is to provide assistance on a one-to-one basis to selected startups. We give them money, mentoring, development programs and hands-on help in international markets. Another role is to help build the startup ecosystem in Ireland. For example: we invest in seed funds alongside private companies; we pay brokers who help startups find business angels. We pay for, and arrange best practice advice for, startup accelerators.

2. What are the characteristics of a thriving environment for startups, in terms of location, legislation and funding opportunities?

The ideal startup environment offers excellent access to funding, customers and talent. By talent I mean staff, mentors, professional advisers, subcontractors, smart investors and fellow entrepreneurs who understand tech and startups. This type of talent is found where there is a long standing tech and startup scene combined with a location where talented people want to live and ideally excellent universities. It is also good to have: low costs; a supportive attitude towards startups by the state and private sectors; minimal bureaucracy and taxes, but excellent public facilities such as transport and legal protection and a location which potential customers, investors or acquirers like doing business with.

So what about entrepreneurs in locations where this is not the case? It is possible to improve locations but it takes time, a lot of hard work and ideally people working together. It is also possible for you to move to a better location. However, if you want to do this, remember that no location offers all the above benefits. Study the different possible destinations and then carefully think through which of the benefits are most important to you and which you can live without.

3. How did Ireland become such a tech friendly place? What brought on this transformation and what are the plans for the future?

Ireland has created a very strong tech and startup environment. As a result we have moved from being a poor country depending almost exclusively on agriculture, to having one of Europe’s higher living standards. Our living standards are not as high as before the financial problems but they are still much, much higher than when I was young. Despite having a population of only 4.6m we have attracted almost all the world’s leading tech companies to establish large sophisticated operations targeting European or world markets. We have 3 of Europe’s top 8 accelerators, which is a great result for a country with less than 1% of Europe’s population and we have a tech startup scene that is not only very vibrant and welcoming, but is larger than in many much bigger countries.

What brought on this transformation? It was born of necessity: as a small island nation we realized many years ago that the only effective way to raise living standards and to provide enough jobs is to attract and build companies that can compete effectively on world markets. So how did we do it? Over 40 years ago we adopted new policies that, at that time, were radical and innovative. We have put a lot of effort and resources behind those same policies ever since. While the details of the policies have evolved as the environment changed, the broad approach still rests on three main pillars: creating a business friendly environment for all businesses, but especially for businesses in sectors such as tech and life sciences; working very actively to attract the leading global companies in these sectors and working actively to develop our supports for own local startups and for the start up ecosystem. More recently we have started to work to attract incoming startups.

We’re glad to have Enterprise Ireland as partner at Startup Spotlight this year! Just 3 days left until we announce the finalists.

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