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.
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.”
“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.”