“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.