LEAP: The Business of Producing Businesses

“There’s a thought process that we’re a small country, we can’t really produce a Fortune 500 company, we won’t produce a Facebook, we won’t produce a Twitter. There’s a mentality that says we can’t do it, and I don’t know why. If you look at the heads at some of the biggest corporates around the world, they’re Irish. 39% of directors in the UK are first generation Irish. You have to turn around and say, “Why do we not have our own cluster of home grown Fortune 500 companies?””

These are the words of Graham Royce, Limerick Enterprise Acceleration Platform (LEAP) Programme Manager. He goes on to say, “We don’t have any indigenous Fortune 500 companies here, because a company gets to a certain size and traditionally, they’ve sold out.

“They’ve sold to America or Europe and so on and so forth. Because nobody has sat down and said, “Hang on a second. Instead of selling these companies out, if we’d have hung on to some of those, they’d have gone from the €14m companies to the €400m companies quite quickly and we had one recently, which came out of UL (University of Limierick) which was sold for €40m. Quite frankly had they not sold it and hung on to it, they could have turned it into a Fortune 500 company, whereas it got lost to America and is creating employment elsewhere.”

Graham’s remit is to find high potential startups which he defines as companies that have ideas that can grow from nothing to €1m by year three and potentially employ ten people. He has mentored over 200 companies since 1995 and since 2007 from his ground floor office at the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre at the Limerick Institute of Technology he has been putting between 20 and 30 startup companies through their paces as part of the LEAP programme.

The LEAP programme exists because, “Ireland Inc needs to create and develop new businesses to continue its economic growth.”

“It’s a year long programme so basically you get me for a year, and in that one year, if a business is not trading, we want it commercialized and training within the year, so it’s a really intense year.”

A basic quality that is deemed necessary for acceptance on the LEAP programme lies in the character of the candidate. “Does that individual have an ambition? Ambition — not passion. There’s a difference between ambition and passion. Ambition has been knocked out of people. It’s all very well educating somebody, but if you knock that ambition out of them, you can educate them as much as you like, but it isn’t going to work.”

Closely following on ambition is determination. According to Graham, “You have to be determined. You have to be clear about what you want to do in your mind. You have to be clear that there’s a market there. You have to go out and ask the question. “If I do this, will you buy this?” You have to go out and talk physically to the people. You have to get a really clear definition of what you’re doing, a really clear definition of the market.

Implied in the process of investigating the market for a product is having the necessary willingness to change and adapt as new information becomes available. Graham explains, “To me it’s the individuals, not the project. there are very few projects that come in here which are right first time. All of the projects that have come in here have changed at some time during the course of their journey within the LEAP programme.

“Money does not make a business work, this common mistake of thinking, “Give me the funding, I’ll make the business work,” is rubbish. You do need funds to get the business going. You need to fund yourself correctly at the right time. However, if you don’t have the other things in place, all the money in the world won’t make it work.

“Do we need the government to help us? Yes, and that’s not by giving us money. It’s by clearing some of the red tape that’s around the place in terms of getting things done.”

LEAP is not purely concerned with getting startups off the ground. There is a much bigger picture to take into consideration which concerns Ireland’s economic growth as a whole. “To my mind, I have the tools to take someone to 20, 30, 40 million, [but] we also need to put the tools in place that helps a company grow to 400m.

“There’s a whole different set of tools required for that level which we’re trying to put into place. We’re going for it. We want a Facebook, we want a Twitter, and we’ll find one. I am of a complete belief that before I finish my work we’ll have at least half a dozen Fortune 500 companies here in Ireland.”

If you are interested in enrolling on the LEAP programme you can visit the website for more information.

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3 thoughts on “LEAP: The Business of Producing Businesses

  1. I suspect that the people who are capable of building aFortune 500 company have capabilities and a personality that simply cannot dealwith the appalling treacle that passes for a business environment in Ireland,especially when peers who are capable of having the water cooler conversationhave already left to realise their ambitions elsewhere.Being smart and Irish is good, as long as you are not inIreland where cute hoorism rather than intelligence is the order of the day.Thankfully things are changing, but veryslowly………………

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  2. This is very a very good and relevant comment.A number of entrepreneurs I have known in the past have been what I would call “serial enterpreneurs”. That is, once they get the project up and running they start to look around for something elso or different to challenge the abilities. I feel that what is required at this stage is a goog second-in-command person who understands what is going on and is prepared to do the mundane work to grow the business into the future..When a “serial entrepreneure” gets a reasonable offer for his idea or business its really very difficult for them not to take the money and use it to move on to something new or more challenging. It’s the nature of the beast. Should say Entreprise Ireland be prepared to step in, pay off the entrepreneur and recruit a great manager to move the business onto the next level ?It it very hartening to know that peiple like Graham are out there and are looking at new businesses from the Ireland Inc perspective.JIMMY PHELAN…………. 

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  3. Hi Thanks for the comments. Ireland is not alone to use your words a treacle type environment. We have good people who know how to use this environment. To me its a confidence mentality that is stopping this from happening. Why are the menus in most of europes caffee and resturants in pictures so we can see what we are actually having with out having to speak the language. Is that not cute.We have the expertese we have the willing workforce lets put it to good use.CheersGraham

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