Great ideas are in the Irish DNA, but turning these ideas into viable businesses takes time, ambition, hard work and support.
To help entrepreneurs turn their ideas into promising businesses, Ireland has built up a solid network of supports for early stage start-ups, with a high level of connectivity to ensure that businesses can access the right support at the right time.
Many entrepreneurs begin their business journey at the Local Enterprise Office (LEO), which offers a wide range of experience, skills and services.
Typical supports offered by the LEOs include training and mentoring programmes, access to financial support and microfinance loans, general business advice and help with business planning. and with 31 LEOs nationwide, entrepreneurs don’t have to travel far to find business support.
The LEOs are also the front door into other support services such as the local authorities, Enterprise Ireland and State agencies, including the Department of Social Protection, Skillnets, Education and Training Boards, Microfinance Ireland, Revenue and Fáilte Ireland.
“The beauty of the structure is that it’s inter-connected,” explains Teri Smith, manager at Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) division.
“At the HPSU, we would communicate with the LEOs and other starter programmes like New Frontiers, so a suitable business can very readily come onto our radar if they’re going through those channels, which allows us to transition them at the right time.”
“From an Enterprise Ireland point of view, a lot of entrepreneurs would have started out with LEO supports or New Frontiers; when they have their business plan, their prototype and their market opportunities mapped out, and ready to raise seed investment, that’s generally when they transition to Enterprise Ireland.”
The highly regarded New Frontiers programme is a popular starting point for many entrepreneurs. Like the LEO supports, New Frontiers is available nationwide and is delivered on behalf of Enterprise Ireland by Institutes of Technology and Technological Universities in 16 locations around Ireland. Since Enterprise Ireland began managing the programme in 2012, 4,700 individuals have participated in New Frontiers, with 1,430 going on to the immersive Phase 2 of the programme.
“New Frontiers is a good starting point,” says Teri. “Phase 1 can be done while you’re still in your day job, so you don’t have to go ‘all in’ to progress your idea and see if it has the potential to turn into a business.”
The programme is aimed at early-stage entrepreneurs with business ideas from across all sectors including food & consumer products; information & communication technology; engineering & electronics; medical devices; biotechnology; pharma, digital media; cleantech/renewable energy;
They could also be developing new solutions that would have export potential, or an innovative alternative to what is mainstream in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs would have to have qualified that there is market potential for their product in order to be eligible for a place on the programme.
New Frontiers is delivered in three phases. Currently offered online due to the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Phase I consists of weekend and evening workshops to research and test the market potential of the idea. By the end of this phase, participants should have a good idea as to whether their idea can become a viable business – and be confident enough to leave their job or take a career break to immerse themselves in their fledgling business.
Entrepreneurs who have successfully completed Phase 1 can apply for Phase 2, which is a full-time intensive programme that focuses on developing and validating the business proposition. Participants are supported throughout this phase with workshops, mentoring, regular milestone reviews, a free co-working space and guidance from the programme team.
In addition, a tax-free stipend of €15,000 is paid directly to the entrepreneur over a six-month period, along with web hosting and support worth $15,000 from Amazon. No equity is taken in your business in exchange for this support package.
Upon successful completed of Phase 2, participants can also apply For Phase 3, which focuses on bringing the product/service to market and preparing to acquire further funding.
Many New Frontiers participants have progressed on to Enterprise Ireland supports such as the Competitive Start Fund and the High Potential Start-Up Fund; these include Wellola, Video Sherpa, Swyft Energy, Snapfix, Examfly, LiveCosts, Positive Carbon and Safecility. And from there, great things can be achieved.
For instance, Immersive VR Education in Waterford, one of the 2016 participants, raised €6.75 million following a successful IPO in 2018. In 2020, Cork ed-tech company and New Frontiers graduate TeachKloud raised €750,000, with investment led by Frontline Ventures and ed-tech investor Sean Tai. And in terms of creating employment, 2017 participants Xerotech has established an R&D centre in Claregalway with space for 40 engineers.
The highly connected nature of Ireland’s supports for early-stage entrepreneurs means that the sky really is the limit for ambitious innovators. Great ideas with huge potential are quickly identified and given the right support to bring them as far as possible, furthering our island’s reputation as a hotbed of promising start-ups.
For more information on New Frontiers, including a calendar of starting dates across the country, visit www.newfrontiers.ie