Perspective: Graham Royce & Irish Tech

True-colour image of Ireland on an extremely rare, cloudless day.

Out of a population of 4.59 million there exists in Ireland a potential workforce of just over 2 million people. (Currently, the unemployed account for a sickeningly large 14.3% of that number.) However, by virtue of education and temperament only a very small subset of those available to work are either willing or able to involve themselves in the challenges of entrepreneurship in the tech sector.

For the budding or experienced technology-based entrepreneur who feels compelled to make manifest an inner vision to create a great product or those who may simply fancy their chances, then there is no shortage of facilities and help. Enterprise Ireland contributes funding to 33 incubation centres. There are also a number of enterprise centres situated around the country.

For those moving from academia into the commercial world there are 10 Technology Transfer Offices. Each of them based in a third-level insitution.

Then there are programmes like Launchpad and Catalyser at the NDRC in Dublin and Endeavour in Tralee. These courses are designed to give a real-world shape to an entrepreneur’s vision within a compact time frame.

Of course funding is an issue but if (a big if) a project fits the right profile and is able to tick the right boxes then monies are available.

In 2010 (most recent figures) Enterprise Ireland (EI) was involved in the allocation of €463.6 million of government funds, “For the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets.”

EI contributes a portion of that money to a number of seed and venture capital funds. In combination with these other funding organisations over €500 million was available to Irish entrepreneurs of which just over €80 milion was disributed over the period 2007-2010.

Contrast with the US where in the last business quarter of 2011, $1.8 billion was invested in 238 software companies. Although, it is not fair to make a direct comparison due to the different sizes of the Irish and US economies, population and so forth. But in the global economy of tech innovation and enterprise these figures give a good indication of the size of the game being played and where Ireland really stands.

Graham Royce, Mentor at the Hartnett Centre, Limerick Institute of Technology, and Manager of the New Frontiers Programme which is run in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland.

At the moment he is currently assessing the potential of over 80 possible participants for the next Enterprise Start programme.

An essential issue with Irish tech entrepreneurs, he claims, is not one of brains or ability but of attitude, “To me the big thing is not so much about the money being there or not being there. It’s about get off your arse and do it. Those guys in the tech world who have an inkling of an idea of what it is all about and know where to go and what to do have literally got off their arses and done something. I don’t know what it takes to switch people on.

“If you talk to people in Silicon Valley it’s not a case of, “We’ll see.” It’s about how do we do this? Who do we need to talk to? We need to talk to that person there or this person here. Get that person on the phone.

“The attitude in America is completely different. They’ll give me a whole list of names of people I can talk to. It opens up the doors and sets things going. Whereas if I talk to someone here…It’s like the old-fashioned can of treacle, where you open the lid and stick the spoon inside to prise anything out.”

Despite the consequences of the economic boom having turned out to be so dire, Graham claims that not everything everything needs to be tainted by the fallout.

“The Celtic Tiger wasn’t all bad. There is this impression that all of the Celtic Tiger was absolutely horrendous and it wasn’t. Some phenomenal companies were produced in that time. Towards the end of the Celtic Tiger in 2007 and 2008 there were some really big hits. Also, it is the companies that started in 2008, 2009, 2010 that are coming to fruition.”

Despite the reluctance of many Irish entrepreneurs to step down from the stands and whole-heartedly engage with the game of business Graham emphasizes that raw talent is not the issue.

“Each month I go through the 25 top startups from Silicon Valley. Last month, eight of the companies had received between $5.5 and $8.3 million dollars. None of those eight companies would match what’s being done in this building, in Galway or in Cork but look at the money they have been given.

“Silicon Valley is awash with money but it is not necessarily awash with good projects.”

With that in mind, Graham says that we should focus on the creators and innovators, the people who have ideas and are able to implement them.

“We can put sales people on top but we cannot build techies. For techies to be in the position to start up companies it takes years upon years of work. What we want to do is understand the technical person, understand his idea and turn it into something people outside can see.”

The Opening and Naming of the Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre

The Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre was named and opened yesterday at the Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT). John Hartnett, the President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group and whom the building was named after was present at the event to receive this honour from his alma mater.

Following below are excerpts from the speech he gave to a gathering of some 300 people including the Minister of Finance Michael Noonan, the outgoing Mayoress of Limerick Marie Byrne and Dr. Maria Hinfelaar President of the LIT amongst others.

After opening remarks where Minister Michael Noonan, other dignitaries and the audience were thanked for taking the time and trouble to attend John Hartnett made the following comments;

“I came to LIT in the early eighties and access to education has been the most critical thing that has created not just my success but in starting my career off in a big way. It took a number of decades to get there but the really big start was from the LIT.

I hope the partnership that we are creating today, from my Silicon Valley perspective, will create another rung on the ladder for Irish Entrepreneurs.

I want to give you some key stats about Silicon Valley where I live today. It is about 45 miles north/south and about 10 miles east/west…It is very much the epicentre of technology.

The top technology companies in the world are headquartered there and that is not lightly said. Companies like; Apple, Intel, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter. All the big companies that you know and heard of are all there.

The combined market capitalization of Silicon Valley companies is 2 trillion dollars. For a small little location it has completely outshone every other location in the world. There are more than 700 VCs that operate in Silicon Valley.

It is the number one destination in the world for capital for young entrepreneurs. 40% of all investment in the United States has gone into Silicon Valley. That was 8 billion dollars last year and that was considered a bad year.

There are countries that have done a tremendous job of cracking the code and really accessing Silicon Valley. I would point to Israel as what Israel has done is focused very heavily on innovation, focused very heavily on access to capital in Silicon and the movement of investment from Silicon Valley into Israel.

Today the measurement of success is a public company on NASDAQ. Israel has 130 companies that there today which is a tremendous achievement. That is more than the entire continent of Europe. Ireland has about 3 or 4.

The big challenge for us…is that success isn’t being sold for 20, 30 or 40 million dollars. Success is going public. Success is about being multi-billion dollar company. Success is creating thousands of jobs that are going to stay here for a long, long time…

I have been in touch with over 400 Irish companies over the last couple of years. I have been very close to many universities both north and south of the border. I have experienced quality in terms of technology, in terms of the entrepreneurship here in Ireland. There is no question Minister, that Ireland can change the game. We just need to point in the right direction and stop looking back. Stop feeling bad about the past because we can’t do anything about it.

It’s all about the future.

In my view the future will be about innovation. In my view the future for our children will be what we did today about going after innovation. If Silicon Valley can do it why can’t we do it.

The secret ingredient is no secret.

  • The secret is that it has the number one university in the world for innovation — Stanford University.
  • It is the number one destination for customers. Those companies, the Apples, the Intels, are all there. That is where you are going to trade. It is a massive market place.
  • Probably the biggest one, which doesn’t recognised, is venture capital. Access to money is so important for young companies and right now in Ireland today access to capital is tough.

    Our relationship will hopefully create a gateway to that capital. Not just to our fund but to the syndication of our funds in Silicon Valley and help drive that investment into Irish companies.

  • The fourth ingredient is about attitude. It’s about vision. It’s about reaching big and it’s about going for it.

It’s about not criticizing failure. Many companies are going to fail. We shouldn’t get upset about the fact that Irish companies are going to fail at some point along the way. But we shouldn’t shoot down failure. Failure is what drives success.

It’s not good enough to be a small company. It is only good enough to be billion dollar company.

The leading nations are investing to drive this forward. We are probably underinvesting in innovation today compared to Scandinavian countries and countries like Israel. Israel invests between 4 and 5% of its GDP — We probably invest between 1.5 to 2%

We have a very well recognised education system…But we can’t be complacent. We are not in the top 5 or top 10 in Europe from an education perspective. We need our universities to be in the top 5 and that has to be our goal.

The investment here today in these facilities paves the way for these young people but that is the start of the journey. We need to make sure that both from a government and a private perspective that we are focused creating those multi-billion dollar companies.

We should be measuring the number of NASDAQ quoted companies that are produced from Ireland…

All we need is one $300Bn company and we will be well on the road but it takes some time do that. But I have every confidence that we can do that from an Ireland perspective.

We have the talent and I think with this initiative today, in terms what LIT are doing, is really taking leadership in terms of education, in driving entrepreneurship and really driving forward to our future which will be about innovation and technology.”