Tom McEnery: The Restructuring of Failure


Ghost estate, Oranmore, Galway.

As I read and listened to the recent comments by Frank Daly the NAMA (ref: link to talk given to Society of Chartered Surveyors, 12 April 2011) the first thing that jumped into my mind was that it seems incredible and startling that what Ireland seems to be doing is restructuring failure instead of nurturing success.

The second thing was, if you are talking to a group of auctioneers and chartered surveyors — the very people that were intimately involved during the bubble in turning the Celtic Tiger into a sick kitten — and say to them, ‘We should have been more vigilant,’ that seems like an attempt at black humor instead of being a legitimate criticism to make as you move forward.

I was aghast just looking at it.

I read in the Irish Times the other day about the 100 or so ‘ghost’ golf courses. Some are owned by the government. They are indicative of what happened during the wild splurge to just lend anybody anything for any kind of chimerical concept.

However, to have government interfering with the private market by keeping some of these ghost golf courses and other commercial buildings and businesses such as hotels in business seems to me to be exactly the wrong thing to do.

What’s the key to the future of Ireland? As always — it is investing in its people.

But that seems to be a measure that is being discussed far more than it is being implemented. The other thing that popped into my mind is that famous line of Patrick Kavanagh’s poem, Memory of Brother Michael — “We sailed in puddles of the past.”

Certainly the latest chapter of world history is filled with mistakes of every kind. Many of them committed by the United States. The important thing is to learn from these mistakes. As I read the latest pronouncements from the Irish government I think in many cases they are saying the right thing. But the key is implementation. That’s what Craig Barrett, the Chairman of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) and former Chairman of Intel says so often.

It is wonderful to have American companies come to Ireland and make investments and employ people. That is positive and a key ingredient. Good things have happened in Ireland in the last decade and a half. But what’s far more important is what groups like the ITLG and others are promoting and that is invest in the people of Ireland. Invest in young Irish entrepreneurs and hopefully have a parallel investment by the Irish government in education and infrastructure.

If you are trying to keep alive ghost properties and restructuring the horrible failures of the property boom then you are really missing an opportunity for the second time.

The opportunity we have before us is to look at what always has been the strength of Ireland — the people there and the people in this vast Irish diaspora which is now in place. Instead of talking about it and having Taoiseachs delivering bowls of shamrocks to the White House it has to be implemented in a significant way.

An analogy that comes to me because of my background in early 20th Century Irish history is that it is almost like after the Easter Rising in 1916 when Michael Collins and the other new leaders decided to look at things completely anew both in the structure of a revolutionary movement and economically. (This latter aspect is often overlooked in Collins’s case.) He realized that you couldn’t just do the things that had been unsuccessful in the past.

It is good that we have Googles and Intels investing in Ireland but the real success will be when we have those new Irish companies that may have had their founders and staff trained in Intel or Dell. When we have those young Irish entrepreneurs coming out of Trinity and UCD or the other Irish universities being able to get funding.

The funding obviously, largely has to come from the private sector but the government can play a role too.

That is the road to Ireland’s economic stability and success in the face of what has happened in this tremendous implosion of the Celtic Tiger.

It is not about waiting for Twitter and the like to come to Ireland. That is obviously positive. I think it is important to keep the corporate tax rate low but supporting education and funding entrepreneurship is the priority. This 21st Century, as we have seen through the advent of social networking, is going to be a century of innovation.

Ireland can either look to the past and sail in those puddles or it can, in a significant way, change its governmental structure. This has to be done to restore the Irish people’s confidence in their government but the agencies like NAMA, IDA and Enterprise Ireland have to think and act anew.

They have done good things in the past but that is not enough. They have to do more with the Irish diaspora then just say nice things about us. We don’t need that. Ireland doesn’t need that and the young graduates of the universities and the people looking for meaningful jobs that pay a decent wage don’t need this.

Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund: Hands on Program for Startups and Early Stage Companies

The Propeller Venture Accelerator Fund is an initiative of The Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship, a wholly owned subsidiary of Dublin City University. It has €1 milllion with which to fund up to twenty-four early stage companies over a two year period.

Gordon McConnell is Deputy-CEO and Director of Business Development for the DCU Ryan Academy is a strong supporter of the Lean Startup methodology, “It is really about getting the product out there. You can sit in a room for six months and develop a product that nobody wants or needs.”

Up until about a year ago the Ryan Academy was mostly concerned with training. But using funding and support models such as TechStars and Y Combinator the focus has shifted to a hands-on results focused incubation process for startups. Gordon says, “We would see ourselves as being ‘pracademic’ as opposed to being academic.”

“If you want to do a Masters or a degree please go to DCU business school. If you want to do a short course that is, ‘What can I do in the morning?’ oriented then you come to the Academy. That’s the sort of stuff we do.”

“The Law module is being taught by a senior partner at Arthur Cox who deals in startups. The Intellectual Property model is being taught by a senior partner in Tomkins which was the Irish IP firm of the year in 2010. The Venture Capital module is being taught by an ex-VC guy so it is very much, ‘I do this for a living as opposed to writing articles on it.’

“A lot of the companies did not realize how important the mentor-led bit would be. The key to having something like a TechStars or a Y Combinator is having a really good, high standard of mentorship in different areas. Some of the them are technologists while others have a sales background. Some of them have scaled companies before while others understand the finance and investment side. The mix of disciplines is key.”

The Ryan Academy is slightly different to most of the US accelerators which tend to be based around Web 2.0 or some other specific area of technology. Gordon explains, “We take a broader view than that. There is some interesting hardware coming out of Ireland, some interesting informatics and some interesting clean-tech. So we broadened our remit out to make it about the internet, software, hardware and other areas of interest.”

The application process for Propeller is quite simple and takes about twenty-five minutes. Unusually, there is no particular requirement to produce a business plan.

“It’s not that we don’t think that’s important.” Gordon explains, “but it’s about the team, their background, who they are. Have they accomplished something already with their limited resources? Because if they have accomplished something on their own then with our heavily mentored program and being able to throw them a few bob as well we can really move them along in three months.

“Everybody here had product demos, there were early products getting out there. They had accomplished something. A Silicon Valley catchphrase that we use is to ask, “Is this a team that can pivot?” So, if they are going after one market and after week three they discover that is not going to be a runner can they pivot into something else?

“In filling out the application you do need to show that you know the market for the product and all that kind of stuff. But if something goes wrong in the three months and you need to switch over then are you the right team?

“Some of the people here have been through startups before. We like that — because they’ve learned. It is great to see that we are starting to see a movement beyond the failure issue which we have obviously had in the past.”

At the end of the program the participants have to present themselves and their product at an especially convened Demo Day. Potential investors from Ireland, the UK, Europe and the United States are invited to attend and the aim is for the companies to get up and say, ‘This is who we are are. This is what we have accomplished in the last three months and now we want X to accomplish Y.’

Gordon explains, “They are going for an ask: ‘We need two hundred grand, three hundred grand, five hundred grand, whatever.’ That number is to achieve the next set of objectives.”

The Propeller Program is also very much focused on introducing its participants to a global market.

“Ireland is not a market. Ireland at the very best is a test bed. While some of them have an interest in Europe most of our teams are looking at the States. Europe is a fragmented market and it is hard to get a product into it so a presence in the States is necessary.”

With that in mind the Ryan Academy has established a relationship with Arizona State University who have a large incubator of their own in Phoenix. This will be the first stepping stone into the vast American market for many of the teams.

Banner image and main article image by Sarah777

Ryan Academy, Citywest (Sarah777) / CC BY-SA 2.0

iPhone: Tracking or Logging?


The recent travels of the author’s iPad as collated by iPhone Tracker

There has been much recent concern surrounding the discovery of a file on the iPhone and iPad that keeps a record of everywhere your device has been when operating. The file contains data on latitude and longitude along with a datestamp which denotes the time in seconds since January 1st 2001.

After doing work making data visualizations of radiation levels in Japan Pete Warden and Alisdair Allen turned their attention to mobile devices. This is when they discovered the positional logging file resident in the iPhone.

The existence of the file had been known for some time to various law enforcement investigators. However, Peter and Alisdair felt that the best way to bring the attention of the wider public to the existence of this data record would be by the writing and release of their open source app — iPhone Tracker.

Judging from the amount of discussion taking place on the internet over this matter they have been successful in their intentions.

Gary Delaney CEO of Loc8 Code has over thirty years of experience as a GPS and Electronic Positioning Consultant. The first misconception that he would like to clear up is that the presence of a data log does not mean that your phone is being used as a tracking device.

“From my own experience in the GPS and geo-positioning world tracking has a very specific meaning. It would be a device that would send information to another location, to a server or to a processor of some support which would then be available to a third party.”

For instance, when you switch on your satnav on in the morning to work effectively it needs to know where it is. To help make the process more rapid the device uses the last position and last time taken from a log it keeps.

“This is a track log (which is a different idea to tracking ) which maintains a log on your device of where you have been. That isn’t tracking because tracking implies that information would be sent off to somewhere else where someone else could see it. The information is on your device and it is up to you what you do with it.”

Although the Apple file moves from device to device when syncing and updating there is no evidence as yet that any information is being sent back to the company. Gary suggests that the existence of the file may stem from the initial problems Apple had with signal strength for their iPhones.

“Some developer may have put a file in there to monitor signal and position calculation to try and compare it to normal network coverage in a particular area and identify how much worse they were. That would be a rational perception.”

Also Gary suggests that there is probably no real concern for privacy issues as the data is recorded very inaccurately.

“The data is not GPS data but Cell-ID data and Cell-ID has all kinds of variances in terms of accuracy. It could be 50 metre or a 100 metre accuracy. Outside of urban areas the accuracy could be a kilometre or several kilometres.

“Basically when your phone is powered and operating is constantly sending out a message to the phone networks that says, ‘I’m here, is there anybody listening?’ This is true for any phone not just an iPhone. They are constantly polling. They are constantly saying, ‘I just want to double-check that there is a network available and if someone is looking for me that is here.

“The phone is constantly registering itself on the network and with Cell-ID they know which mast the phone is talking to. They don’t know, necessarily, how close the phone is to the mast. In an urban area it is possible to triangulate your position as masts are closer together.

“In non-urban areas your phone could only be talking to one mast and it becomes very difficult to know how far you are away from it. It is possible to measure by means of signal strength but that can still vary in accuracy from hundreds of metres to kilometres.”

We know that companies like Google would very much like to know as much as possible about our movements. However, you don’t need a specific file sitting on a device to do that.

As Gary points out that our location data is recorded by, “All the carriers. There are agreements as to how this data is handled. The police can access it and do access it. You don’t need a specific file on the iPhone to do this as this information is being recorded by third parties anyway.”

While the reason for the file being present on the file may be innocent one issue still exists in terms of the ease of access to the data. In normal circumstances fairly rigid legal procedures have to be complied with for third parties to access your data from the information that the network carriers have about you.

The existence and relative accessibility of this file means that all a third party really needs to do to obtain details of your travel history is be able to access your phone or other mobile device.

Of course, many people feel there is no issue with others knowing their whereabouts and having access to their location history. Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places wouldn’t exist without the willingness of a substantial number of people to share their geo-location.

However, people using these services also have the option not to share. All that maybe required in this instance to reduce concerns about privacy vulnerability is to have a share or not share option so the device user can have control over the information.

Rich Moran: “Excitement is in growth”

Richard A. Moran’s latest book is available from Amazon.com

Richard Moran is a San Francisco-based venture capitalist and best-selling author. His books include Nuts, Bolts, & Jolts: Fundamental Business And Life Lessons You Must Know and  Never confuse a memo with reality: a little book of business lessons.

Richard is a former partner at Accenture and serves on the boards of  Accretive Solutions, Mechanics Bank and Integreon. He is also a partner at Irish Technology Capital. He is drawn to the world of venture capitalism through a passion for enterprise that leads him to compare living in Silicon Valley to be like “like living in Florence during the renaissance.”

“Excitement is in growth,” says Richard of his love of entrepreneurialism. “I think that we’re in the middle of all kinds of crazy and interesting technologies that are emerging and I want to be a part of it, so that’s what started me looking at early-stage deals.”

“There’s a phrase in the venture world, ‘There’s an infinite demand for the unavailable.’ What I try to figure out is ‘would my kids use this? Would I use it?’ I’m not the guy who’s going to understand how the semiconductor works, but I’m the guy who will understand that when the semiconductor goes into a belt that will eliminate fat whether people will use it.”

For Richard, investing in a business is about more than just the expected return, it’s about belief in the idea, and trust in the thinker behind it.

“Making an investment is a lot like getting married because when you make an investment, typically you go on the board, and you’re going to be with that person for a long time.”

“I made a transition from Accenture, which was an incredibly large organisation, into the investment world which was mostly dealing with small organisations, and I liked that because I could have a real impact on some of these small companies.”

Although Richard agrees that Silicon Valley is the epicentre of the tech world, he believes that anyone in the world with a well thought through idea can make it work.

“There’s a global network. When you wake up in Ireland with a great idea, it’s the same as it is anywhere, you may have to deal with different time zones and those kinds of things but you start networking, testing the idea, understanding how large it might be and those kind of things.”

His advice to business is not just limited to his books or to his consultancy work with companies like Apple, News Corp, Hewlett Packard and Electronic Arts. He is one of many Silicon Valley business leaders who are glad to help entrepreneurs, including those from further afield, like Ireland.

“There is myself, John Hartnett, and a lot of other guys who would kick a tyre or two just to see if it’s something feasible. I cheer for the entrepreneurs, I want to see ideas, I want entrepreneurs to succeed.”

Education: A Market for Investment?

As venture capitalists look for the next growth sector in which to invest, there has been much talk of the mobile and education, or ed-tech, spaces being the ones to watch. The mobile market will continue to grow and is an obvious choice, but the education space is not one that has traditionally attracted much attention from venture capitalists or angel investors. In fact, the National Venture Capital Association does not as yet list education as one of the sixteen main categories in which its members invest.

Education, internationally, is a multi-billion dollar industry, so why does it attract such little investment and why, if at all, is this set to change?

Rafael Corrales is the co-founder and C.E.O. of LearnBoost, a San Francisco-based start up which aims to provide administrative software to schools and save them “an order of magnitude on their costs” in the process. The company was voted one of the top-ten start ups of 2010 by ReadWriteWeb.

LearnBoost has garnered funding from some of the investors who previously backed companies like Skype, Twitter and Linkedin, but Rafael insists that getting the funding was “not easy,” and investors are by no means rushing out to back ed-tech start ups.

“These guys see a thousand plans, a thousand teams and a thousand companies all the time. One of the hesitations about education in general is that it’s a lot slower moving than other spaces. Basically you still have to sell into schools. The hesitation is that it takes schools a long time to adopt innovative software, and so it isn’t easy by any means.”

Despite this, he admits that LearnBoost “received funding before we had the product, so I think that maybe people are getting a little more excited and they’re warming up to education. You know, everybody says they’re looking at education or that a lot of investors are.”

Bernard Goldbach is the senior creative multimedia lecturer at Tipperary Institute. He believes that the predicted growth can be accredited to “the rise of Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) on the heels of vibrant social networks.”

“There’s a serious evolution towards personal learning networks over an imposed virtual learning environment. Over the past two years, students and parents and professionals have decided to use all these new technologies, some of which are apps, to develop their own potential and skill base through personal learning networks. Those PLN’s have changed the face of what it means to be effective in the virtual learning environment.”

“Facebook and Twitter and every other social networking have increased the expectations of what the student would want to see in their own education network. So if they develop an interest in learning online, most of the time they spin it over to making sure that whatever they’re learning, trickles into their own personal networks and then it becomes a PLN.”

These heightened expectations of what students want from educational technology has led to a dearth of start ups in this field, according to Rafael Corrales. This lack of enterprise in this field could prevent the predicted growth from becoming a reality.

“One of the problems I hear from investors is they say that there aren’t enough people trying to tackle education, there’s a supply and demand problem, and so a lot of folks say they’re interested in education and then they see the few companies that are working in this space and it’s just not to the level that they’re expecting.”

“If investors keep signalling their interest in education then maybe more people will start education companies, and then this problem will fix itself. Until then, it’s one thing to say you’re interested in education, it’s another to actually invest in education companies, which very few investors have done consistently.”

LearnBoost aims to tackle the difficult education market through a bottom-up approach, offering the software free to teachers and students and then offering a “freemium” price to the schools.

“We’ve started with our first product which is a teacher-focused product. It’s a grade book, lesson-planner and a whole bunch more, integrated with Google Apps.”

“This bottom-up approach is very new, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to work for any business let alone my own, but in theory it makes a lot of sense. For us specifically, we give a free product to teachers, teachers start using it, they invite students and parents; a bunch of people start using it and effectively, schools convert.”

“It’s certainly a change from the past where people were trying to sell top-down and they just couldn’t make it work. So, in theory it makes a lot of sense but there aren’t a lot of winners that have gone bottom-up in education yet, so it’s kind of a new frontier, if you will. It’s one of those ‘we’ll see what happens’ approaches.”

If Rafael Corrales’ and LearnBoost’s approach is successful, then the educational technology market could indeed be one to watch in the near future.

Scrazzl: A Better Way of Sourcing Lab Supplies


 
Scrazzl is a service which aims to allow scientists better and more specific access to manufacturers of lab materials. The company was founded in 2009 by PhD students David Kavanagh and Desmond O’ Shea whose experience of research and lab work, an “experience that kind of cultivated what Scrazzl has become and helped us understand the pain we’re trying to solve,” says Waterford native David, Scrazzl’s CEO.

The “pain” David describes is the frustration of being unable to source lab materials from a consistent and reliable source.

“I’ll give you the best example I have. Everything in labs now is bought in. Be it plastic-ware, an antibody or a centrifuge, it’s all really bought from suppliers, you don’t really make anything anymore,” continues David.

“I had a number of experiences where I bought in an antibody, spent six weeks trying to optimize an experiment, and the antibody didn’t work. And it’s a lot of pain. You’ve had six weeks of just trying to get an experiment to work and it doesn’t work and it’s because the product was defective. And there’s no way to know, because what you rely on is the supplier telling you ‘Yes, this works’. There’s no independent place you can go that can fundamentally say, ‘Yes, this works.’ And that was the pain that started us on this journey.”

To solve this problem, Scrazzl will allow prospective buyers of lab materials to browse academic papers and see what material were used, and to purchase these materials safe in the knowledge that they have a reliable track-record.

“There are some good companies and some bad companies producing these tools, but there’s no way for the consumer, who’s the scientist, to make an objective decision about it.”

“We’ve built a tool for research scientists. As they read a research article online, a scholarly journal, they turn on our tool in the browser by just pressing a button on the page, and it semantically enables the content and it makes materials mentioned in the materials section clickable. So they can click on an antibody, and it supplements the term with the publication record of that product, so if it has been mentioned in eighty publications, they can see that straight away. The social element of Scrazzl means that they can see who within their collaborative network has used that product before.”

“Our customers are the people who make the products. We’re two-sided in that we provide a solution to a scientist’s pain when it comes to making a decision about those products, but we really are a marketing service for the people who make the products. A more intelligent way of marketing these products to the end-user.”

Although the idea for Scrazzl came from a desire to solve a particular problem, this was not the sole factor in driving David down the entrepreneurial path.

“I think fundamentally I always had a desire to be in business. I was never one for conventional jobs, I was always searching for something a bit more. Having a vision and executing it, that idea attracted me, and I thought that I was going to find that in my PhD but what I really encountered wasn’t quite that. I didn’t have that control that I wanted.”

Coming from a purely academic background was a struggle initially. David had to balance his academic research and his commitments to the company early on, ”double-jobbing” which he admits “has been quite difficult on a personal level”.

“It’s been incredibly rewarding, though. To come from a PhD to sitting in the offices of major publishers and talking about what you’re doing and have them respond to it and seeing it as something unique is a great thrill for me.”

That transition has been aided by both Enterprise Ireland’s Propel programme and the LaunchPad initiative from the National Digital Research Institute.

“They’ve helped. I think they’ve knocked the corners off me commercially. I would have come to this with a not-particularly commercial way of thinking, which is required. If you’re going to start any kind of business you’re going to have to have some sense of how to close deals, how to really understand the numbers and respond to the numbers.”

“I think a lot of tech companies get stuck on their technology. They fall in love with it, and they lose the point of what they’re doing, and the point of what any business is doing is to make money. Definitely, LaunchPad and Propel, in different ways, have added to that, and conveyed in a strong way that it was really important. It gave me a sense that you don’t compete just on the product, you compete on a commercial footing and in a commercial landscape, so that means winning customers. The product doesn’t have to be built to the nth degree to do that, to have that divergent commercial development on one side, and actual physical product development on the other.”

David is confident in his product and is clearly encouraged by the reception Scrazzl has received within the lab materials industry, but has a clear image of where the business needs to go and of the work ahead.

“We’ve a bit to go. We’ve gotten some great feedback from our customers. We’ve been in touch with major science manufacturers here in Silicon Valley who are global brands, are recognised in labs all across the globe, and they’re saying‘This is great. We’ve never seen anything like this, we will do business with you, once it’s running’. That’s where we’re at, I guess, we’ve got that validation that we need, we’ve a lot of development done but we’re not fully there. We’re kind of at that point where within three to four months we’ll be in good shape.”

Additional material and co-authorship credit to Conor Harrington..

Launchpad: Connecting University Startups with the Marketplace

LaunchPad is a twelve week accelerator programme, run by the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC), which aims to give tech start ups from third-level institutions an intensive grounding in the skills needed to take their idea from technology to marketplace. The programme, in its third cycle since its inception in 2009, caters for ten teams of no more than three members.

Gary Leyden, is an entrepreneur who is also the director of the LaunchPad programme. he says the approach of getting actual business people into the course is “representative of the NDRC as an organisation. It is bringing together commercial partners and research partners with the NDRC sitting in the middle. So we create very strong links with the colleges”.

“We believe that you don’t create an entrepreneur, you create the infrastructure or the ecosystem that supports entrepreneurialism, and that there are specific skills that you need to acquire in order to help you become an entrepreneur. And we’re trying to work in making sure that the researchers and post-doc’s acquire those more commercial skills that will help them on their path to becoming an entrepreneur.”

“We’re really focusing now on the lean startup methodology. You have agile software development, which is coding as you go along and iterating, but alongside that we’ve got a module which is around customer development, which is actually going out and talking to the market at a very early stage, and feeding that back into your software development constantly. So what you’re doing is you’re coding very much based on feedback from your potential marketplace. So it just means you can really get to market with a very strong product-market fit at a very early stage.”

Gary’s introduction to the NDRC came through his own company V Rising  who are now the commercial partners of an NDRC Catalyser project working with Trinity College to develop a 3-D learning platform.

It is these commercial partnerships which mark the LaunchPad programme and other NDRC initiatives out from other programmes out there, Gary believes.

“To be honest, although the money is important, it’s probably the minor thing. We offer a stipend of up to €5,000 per person on the team, to a maximum of three people per team, and then we also put in €5,000 worth of expenses that they can draw down as well, so a team of three can have up to €20,000 worth of support.”

What’s more important is “Just being able to put people in this co-working space, with nine other teams who are all focused on the same thing which is about building a business. It’s about linking them with other entrepreneurs, taking the mystique out of it, saying ‘I’ve made mistakes as well, don’t worry about that, this is what I learned’.”

Nonetheless, competition is stiff for the programme’s Lift-Off event at the end of the twelve weeks. This is an investor pitch, where the NDRC match the investment raised by the winners, resulting in a prize fund of “probably €50-60,000”.

“As regards value for money, the return on investment can be exponential on that. You’re not putting large amounts of money into a few big projects. You’re putting small amounts into a lot of small projects.”

The initial investment and any prize money awarded “is actually an investment in the company”, but Gary stresses that the NDRC does not claim any intellectual property rights from LaunchPad participants. “We just become a shareholder in their company. It’s a very clean, straightforward arrangement”.

The nine teams that do not win the prize fund are “not just cut loose into the wild at the end of twelve weeks”, Gary points out. “At the end of those twelve weeks, and after the lift-off event, we have a graduate programme where we bring them in and we start to focus much more around raising investment, and because they’ve gone through a very high degree of validation, they really understand where the opportunities are in the market. So the next phase for them is really to raise money to scale up”.

A number of the participants in the previous cycle are at that stage at the moment, Gary tells us, while two of the participants in the inaugural LaunchPad programme have recently received significant investment, including JLizard.

As an entrepreneur himself, Gary is acutely aware of the importance of sharing his experience with the participants in the programme as the take their first steps in the unknown, and he acknowledges that a sense of kinship amongst entrepreneurs contributes to the success of the programme.

“I think that as an organisation, we have a huge reach into the business community, not just locally but internationally as well. And we leverage that and pull in all the favours that we can. And in the main, most entrepreneurs are delighted to do that, because they always got a lift up when they were starting out, they’re only too happy to give someone else a lift up starting out as well. I haven’t met a single entrepreneur who wouldn’t want to do that, and they will always free up time from very busy schedules to make space.”

The excitement of starting a new business is something that Gary seeks to encourage and, through the LaunchPad programme, these entrepreneurs are being given the skills to bring these ideas to fruition.

“As an entrepreneur you’re at the fun end of it, the research has been done. it’s now about going out and talking to customers, and that’s where the really exciting stuff happens.”

Additional material and co-authorship credit to Conor Harrington..

Rich Moran: Implementation is Not a Four Letter Word

This is a story that may or may not be true but I have used it many times. It is a fable about execution, not about talking and it goes something like this…

The first time Chrysler was about to go belly up in the 1980’s, Lee Iacocca was brought in as the CEO to save the Company. It was a grim situation and negativity was plentiful The entire employee population was depressed and there was little hope for improvement in the short term. Without government action, the Company was sure to go down the drain. The words are some of the same ones I have heard people use to describe the current economic situation in Ireland.

Iacocca, who had an eye and instinct for success, believed that if Chrysler could introduce a line of convertibles based on the body of its existing line of cars, he could breathe life into the Company and jump onto the path of success. He knew the key was to introduce the new soft tops quickly to show visible signs of progress. (VSOP)

He gathered the engineers who said it would take two years to redesign the chassis and struts to work the new roof design.

He gathered the manufacturing experts who claimed it would take eighteen months to retool the plants for a new design. He gathered the designers who said it would take two years to coordinate the paint and colors for the cloth roof.

Iacocca listened and the next day gathered all the groups together for his response. The large group gathered in a room with one of Chryslers current models, a K car sedan, front and center. Iacocca wasted no time in his response: “Gentleman”, he roared, “I want you to cut the F#$#ing roof off the car.”

Chrysler introduced a line of convertibles shortly thereafter which sold very well and the Company was saved. What does this story have to do with Ireland and her economy? Ireland needs to cut the roof off its own car. The “car” in the case of Ireland is the innovation engine.

There have been a lot of meetings. There have been many calls for a sense of urgency. There has been what we might call in the Silicon Valley a “false sense of urgency.” That is, lots of activities but to what end? There are, no doubt, many initiatives under way to improve the economy, I am only suggesting here that we nudge one forward – that is to turn the innovation everyone talks about into companies. Start up companies that can be funded and built into bigger companies that can create an economy and more jobs.

Yes, we need to execute on the creation of companies based on the technologies that have been developed at all the colleges and think tanks and government agencies. We can build bridges between the Silicon Valley and all that has been pent up in Ireland for so long that might, just might get things rolling. Some say, “If there is no wind, row.” I say, never waste a crisis. The crisis in the current economy will allow us to take steps that will build an economy in Ireland for generations to come.

The Universities are willing to cooperate with each other and with venture capital firms for, maybe, the first time. Entrepreneurs in both the US and Ireland are willing to work together. And, not in the least, people in the Silicon Valley are ready to co-invest and create the relationships with the tech giants that builds companies. Now is the time.

A recent issue of Time magazine did a masterful job of describing the importance of higher education to the US economy. The same could be said of higher education in Ireland. “In a world where brainpower outstrips muscle power, where innovation trumps conformity, where the nimble and creative stand to inherit the earth, higher education is the key to the next American century. Forget the ivory tower: colleges and universities are the catalysts of economic development, stewards of public health, incubators of social policy and laboratories of discovery. Nearly every great national challenge – from the raising of our children to the quality of our food supply, from the hunt for clean energy to the struggle against insurgent enemies, from the quest for opportunity to the search for sustainable prosperity – depends for a solution on institutions of higher ed.”

Great higher education is the first step and Ireland has that. We need to take the second step which is cooperation and funding from the government which will allow the venture world to create companies.

Richard A. Moran is a Partner at Irish Tech Capital and a Silicon Valley veteran. His latest book is Nuts, Bolts and Jolts.