Interview with Owen O’Doherty, business, development & design enthusiast. UCC Entrepreneur of the Year 2015. Curious of mind and driven of disposition.
Congratulations on winning UCC Entrepreneur of the Year. Tell us a bit about it.
Thanks. The level of commitment and innovation from the teams entering was remarkable so I was delighted to come away with it. The Entrepreneurial & Social Society at UCC do a great job organising it. It was sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, the Cork Enterprise Boards, and the guys over at Teamwork. This year about 25 teams from all backgrounds and disciplines entered with 10 selected to pitch and do a Q&A with an external panel of judges. I am working on an innovative Care management system designed to help Carers and break down a good many of the barriers that exist for Carers and their families. I headed in to it really for the purpose of getting feedback on the validity of the product concept and strategy to market and getting some pitch practice. To win it was a real honour.
Your background, how did you get into what you do now?
Well, I worked for a few years in financial services heading up a good many business and technochange projects and marketing efforts, generally turning my hand to anything where I could apply a creative touch, re-engineering antiquated systems, designing ads, web work, marketing solutions, and the like. I was fortunate in the sense that the place I worked gave me a good deal of leeway in that regard as well as time off to go globetrotting. I had broader ambitions though and consider myself a creative tech product guy at heart. When I was a kid I was always messing with things, trying to figure out they worked and create something fresh. My folks used to say I would be an engineer. It turned out they were right I guess, but in a different discipline to what they imagined.
It has been my ambition for some time to become an entrepreneur, and 4 years ago I went back to UCC to round off on some areas I was felt I was lacking in. I completed a degree in Business Information Systems in May. It has been a great experience, and I’ve met a bunch of talented inspiring people along the way.
How has the last 12 months been for you?
Pretty hectic and enjoyable. I returned from the US this time 12 months ago after spending 6 months on placement doing software development with some great developers at a company in Boston as part of the UCC BIS placement program. I worked for them remotely in Ireland during the year while finishing out the degree course, and set out on my own in May to carve my own niche and pursue this opportunity. The summer has been immersed in user research, validating the market, product design and development. I have been spending a good deal of time meeting groups of wonderful people around the country.
What areas do you feel it is most important to focus on at the moment?
User and Product. Obviously, there are many variables to consider and an undertaking that isn’t well backed, marketed and shepherded smartly with the right model will flounder. Entrepreneurial history is littered with failed products often good in concept and conception, but executed poorly on the business side. It is also littered with products executed well on the business side, but that never had the quality inherent in its continued design, craft and usefulness to get a foot hold and stay at the races. I’m a product guy first, that’s where I am at the moment.
— Owen O'Doherty (@owen_odoherty) September 6, 2015
What are you excited about at the moment?
I’m excited about what I am doing, and in a general sense I am excited about the growth in confidence in Ireland and the willingness to tackle global problems from our little island on the edge of Europe. There is a noticeable sea-shift in recent years to a greater mindset of innovation and creativity, and that can only lead to good things. The level of foreign direct investment has been tremendous for the country but I get excited when I see home grown talent establishing themselves on the international stage with products crafted here.
Where do you see as areas of growth in tech?
I think the graduation towards a more sophisticated Internet of Things society is going to be really interesting and will change the landscape of the world. From a purely commercial consumerism perspective, there is going to be a lot of opportunity there. I am bit of a nerd when it comes to studying the universe and am also intrigued by what is going on with AI and the potential there in terms of the human evolutionary journey, and ultimately exploring beyond our own solar system.
What tech do you wish was already invented and available to make life a little easier?
Actually working on it at the minute!
Life/Work Online/Offline..what are your strategies for managing it?
I have struggled with this but am striving to get a better balance. There comes a point where you hit a wall with regards to quality of work or productivity, particularly over time. Taking time for life and exercise is important. In terms of managing it, I sit down every Sunday eve and do out a schedule for the week ahead, and update every evening for the following day ahead. Structuring your time clarifies your thoughts and puts the mind to ease, which leads to less stress and more restful sleep, which all contributes to a positive momentum and higher impact during hours of work. One thing I have started doing recently is leaving the phone downstairs at night. It removes temptation to toggle continuously through the ‘noise’. I’d advise everyone to do it.
How do you create time for you to be a dreamer or thinker?
I guess for me it comes through a few different avenues. I tend to obsess over problems and often the answer to a frustratingly intractable issue surfaces to the consciousness once I’ve walk away and let it percolate for a while, or it will pop into the head in the morning after swimming around in the sub conscious during the night. The outdoors is great catalyst for encouraging a broader perspective with regards to vision, as is writing which I enjoy. I find changing up my work space every now and then helps to encourage fresh thinking also.
— Owen O'Doherty (@owen_odoherty) August 29, 2015
You are from Cork, how is start-up scene there?
Cork has a vibrant start-up scene and one that is growing all the time. There are great companies that have established themselves here and are making their mark upon the world. The economics are favourable. From my perspective, I have been really impressed by the generosity of established Cork entrepreneurs in giving advice and encouragement, when they can scarcely afford the time. The fact of the matter is that Cork is an academic and creative hotbed. There is still a huge as of yet not fully tapped reservoir of potential. It is hard not to spot opportunity around every corner. Initiatives such as Smart Gateway which [email protected] is undertaking with local authorities are great steps in that direction and further collaborative efforts, development and vision could propel the city to greater heights and create a start-up ecosystem to match anything that is happening globally.
Where you do hope to be in the next 1 to 3 years ?
Establish a global SaaS company from these shores with smart creative committed people with a continuing mission to craft a product that helps and inspires people.