Rich Moran: Why Grilled Cheese Matters

Over the course of my career in venture capital I have made investments in tech companies of all kinds. To name just a few, there have been companies in video games, cloud computing, RFID, enterprise software, outsourcing, IT consulting and more. Some worked out well, some not so much. One of my most successful investments is in a rising star right now called PopChips.

PopChips is not a semiconductor company. Rather, it is a snack food company that has used technology to pop veggies, just like pop corn. The result is a healthier and less fat riddled snack. The market positioning and launch of PopChips has been brilliant. I don’t know if PopChips has made it to Ireland yet but they will.

Besides the oven technology and the marketing the key to the success of Popchips is the focus and persistence of the two founders of PopChips. Snack food companies are not typical investments for a VC but they convinced me (and others) that this investment was worthy and they were right. They have built a company that now employs hundreds and will deliver a handsome return on the initial investment.

Now I see that venture money is behind Jonathan Kaplan, creator of the Flip video camera, and his idea to create a grilled cheese empire. The investment is creating some buzz, some snickers and lots of interest. I am not one snickering; it could be a great idea and that is the lesson for entrepreneurs in Ireland.

Entrepreneurship is not confined to those who studied computer science, biotech and engineering. Just look around, there are opportunities everywhere. In fact, the current financial situation of Ireland should create more opportunities, not less. Most great companies were founded during a down cycle, not when the economy is booming. The companies everyone is talking about today like Zynga and Twitter were all founded a few years ago when the economy in the US was down and very little was getting funded.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs of the last 50 years is Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks. He didn’t wait for the government to do something or for the world to change. He had a big idea, some funding and real zeal. Ireland needs to capture more of the entrepreneurial DNA. It’s there, we just need to turbo charge it.

The true measure of the turnaround in the Irish economy and the creation of a true Irish economy will be the number of companies created each year…Is anyone counting?

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5 thoughts on “Rich Moran: Why Grilled Cheese Matters

  1. Hi Rich!  Your article is “spot on” and I would love to see every business lecturer take time out from their scheduled classes and set aside time to explore this topic in open forum with their students.  It would be even better if they broke the rules and deviated from the agreed teaching material and somehow integrated “entrepreneurship” into their programmes.  I also believe that tranistion year classes should take a similar initiative.  We need to encourage entrepreneurship … and whet the appetites of younger people from an early age. From my own time at UCD, I know of many ideas that were born from such debate … both formally in class and informally over coffee afterwards.  I know one very successful Irish entrepreneur who said “I’m an entrepreneur” the very first time I met him … and that was when he was in his 20s.  He’s now on his second serious venture having sold his first business for in excess of Euro50m.  Being an “entrepreneur” should be a badge worn with pride and absolute belief … but we need to encourage those who have ideas and to pair them with those who can mentor them.

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  2. Thankfully I think there is a slow recognition of the value of entrepreneurs emerging in Ireland. However what is lacking is a public campaign to get the moral support of all Ireland behind the entreprenuerial spirit. Its OK to be an entreprenuer! It should be accepted and encouraged in every house, shop, park in the country.  

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  3. One more thing here.  One of the hottest investment categories right now is education.  Yes, education.  Since Ireland has one of the best education systems in the world, how can we leverage that into a global solution and build companies around our education model?

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  4. Hi Rich, I would agree 99% with what you have said, that “Entrepreneurship is not confined to those who studied computer science, biotech and engineering.” However, when entrepreneurship becomes nothing more than making a quick buck, by selling on the idea, then one has to wonder how long this “bubble” is going to last before the tears start to flow once again. An entrepreneur is essentially a person or group of persons who establish a business – whether it is based on a new idea, or the expansion of an existing idea. Today the drive seems to be towards the sciences in developing new ideas, which in it self is excellent – but that alone is insufficient for economic stability, either personal or national. If all that “entrepreneurship” produces is a fast buck, then get out the tissues because it won’t last. There must be durability and security, both in concept and job security.

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