By @SimonCocking

Interview with Breda Kenny@bredaks  Head of CIT’s Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence @HincksCentre Ireland’s first Centre of Entrepreneurship Excellence.

Hincks Centre for Entrepreneurship Excellence what is it? How does it work?

The Hincks Centre was established in 2013 and conducts research, training and education activities in all aspects of enterprise and entrepreneurship development. Its scope covers a variety of contexts: start-ups, micro, small and large businesses, not for profits, corporate and family businesses, educators, enterprise support agencies, students and the public sector. The Centre has secured a number of EU, industry and postgraduate funding projects in the following research areas; entrepreneurship education; gender and entrepreneurship; innovation and technological entrepreneurship, and firm growth and competitiveness.

What aspects of entrepreneurship can be trained?

Many people naturally have an entrepreneurial spirit, and many of them have great ideas, but what they don’t have are the technical and business skills.  Entrepreneurship refers to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation and risk taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives.  These specific skills can be trained. So it’s both about training individuals to build new ventures but also training them to think and act entrepreneurially. Entrepreneurship education and training is continuously evolving and improving– there’s a method and it can be applied not just to building new ventures but to all walks of life.   We can train you to be a ‘classic’ entrepreneur or to be entrepreneurial in whatever you decide to do.

Your background, how did you end up doing what do you now?

I have 20 years lecturing and research experience in entrepreneurship, international business and management. I obtained a PhD from the University of Limerick on the research topic of networking capability and the international performance of High Tech SMEs, specifically in the Telecommunications Industry in Ireland. The choice of a sectoral study was made easy due to the fact that 10 years ago, my husband and I founded a telecommunications engineering company – Surecom NS Ltd.  Some of the research I have been involved in over the years has been published in international peer reviewed journals such as R & D Management, International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research, Industry & Higher Education, and The Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development. At a European level, I am a member of the board of the European Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ECSB). In Ireland, I am a founding board member of the Campus Enterprise & Entrepreneurship Network (CEEN) Initiative.

What I bring to my current role as head of the Hincks Centre is a background and track record in academia, research and a very realistic view of what it takes to start and grow a business in the high tech services space.

What are some of the success stories coming out of the Hincks Centre?

I am very proud of the achievements of the Hincks Centre team over the last two years.

The biggest success to date in terms of project management is the Cool Route Project under the  Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme with a budget of  €1.26 million. The aim of the project is to develop a new maritime tourism route between Cork and Arctic Circle areas of Norway.

We have also secured two other EU projects in 2014.  The first is the NEW START project funded under the EU Daphne Programme and is built around the development and delivery of life coaching and mentoring sessions on employability and entrepreneurial skills to victims of gender based violence. The second is the MYBUSINESS project funded under Erasmus Plus and aims to create and test a customised training programme tailored to older unemployed people (over 50 years old) who are interested in becoming self-employed or entrepreneurs.

We have secured two postgraduate scholarships, one a masters postgraduate study sponsored by the Irish American Partnership scholarship programme. This study examines and assesses the origins of the electronics industry in Ireland and describes its key influencers and drivers. The second is a Phd funded under the CIT Risam scholarship scheme on female role models and entrepreneurship education. We have recently recruited a third postgraduate student under an internal scholarship for a study on the impact of entrepreneurship education.

Tips to entrepreneurs to get the most out of their engagement with the Hincks Centre?

We can engage with entrepreneurs and SMEs where they have an interest or a need in the following areas:

  • Research in entrepreneurship, business development or case study development
  • Interest in Marine tourism development in terms of our Cool Route Project
  • Older unemployed interested in self-employment/entrepreneurship in terms of the MyBusiness project
  • Female survivors of domestic abuse interested in employment and/or entrepreneurship in terms of our New Start project.
  • Potential partnering on EU or national research project applications with an entrepreneurial focus
  • Interest in telling your entrepreneurial story – we can facilitate in terms of entrepreneurship education, guest lectures and case writing

Tips for startups pitching to investors?

  • Be realistic in your sales, growth and turnover predictions
  • Be honest in answering questions, don’t bluff your way through as this will be obvious to astute investors and may throw doubt on other aspects of your pitch
  • There are always competitors in your space. If you haven’t identified them, then you haven’t done your research. It is always better that you identify them before your investor has to enlighten you.
  • Be aware and open about your strengths and weaknesses and outline how you plan to address your shortcomings from the start up or business perspective.
  • The investor needs to know that you respect their money and that you will be prudent in how it is spent for the business
  • Know your product/service, know your business and know your industry inside out.

How was last 12 months, what went well?

While we have a number of projects on going on a two and three year time frame, we have successfully completed a number of shorter term projects, for example, a study of the Determinants of SME Growth in Ireland funded by the Certified Public Accountants (CPA).  This research studied incubator and non-incubator firms to provide a comprehensive understanding of the key characteristics of growing SMEs. The study provided insight into the specific issues that are constraining growth and the specific supports that are required to overcome these barriers.

Another example is the Engaged Student Project. In partnership with CEEN(Campus Entrepreneurship Enterprise Network) and funded by the National Forum for Enhancement of Teaching and Learning,  the Hincks Centre took lead on this project is to support the introduction, growth and sustainability of Enterprise societies across higher Education in Ireland.

A big highlight of the year was the news that CIT was selected to host a top International Conference on Entrepreneurship Education in 2017. We were successful in our bid to host the 2017 3E Conference – ECSB Entrepreneurship Education Conference in May that year. Hosted by the Hincks Centre, the conference will attract researchers and educators from around the world. The event will offer an exclusive and engaging opportunity for participants to debate and exchange their experiences of the major challenges and advances in enterprise education.

Anything you’d do differently?

We are now into year three of the Centre, so we are beyond the start-up phase where we spent a lot of time and energy bidding for projects and creating awareness of the purpose, aims and objectives of the Centre. So it’s very hard to say what we would do differently, rather I see it as what we will continue to do and that is to focus on delivery of best practice in our outputs in the field of entrepreneurship education, training and research.

Plans for the future?

The plan is to build on the projects we have to date and also to secure funding for future projects, host a successful 3E entrepreneurship education conference in 2017 and at a high level to:

  • Compliment – not duplicate the work of all relevant stakeholders.
  • Provide source of best practice in Entrepreneurship education and training.
  • Work informed by current and robust research from a quantitative and qualitative perspective.
  • Positioned as the point of contact for entrepreneurship excellence in the region, nationally and internationally.

What social media if any do you use? 

We actively use LinkedIn for dissemination of information on projects and research outputs and also when seeking out potential collaborative partners. We use Twitter very actively around events run out of the Hincks Centre, for example the launch of the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Skills Passport as part of the Start Up Ireland Start Up Gathering event last week. Also,  I recently worked on establishing a research blog for the ECSB to inform, educate and enlighten readers with evidence of how current research in Entrepreneurship and Small business is having an impact. The blog went live earlier this month.

How do you manage life / work, and online / offline balance?

I am married to an entrepreneur and we have three children aged 10, 9 and 4.  When I am not working, I enjoy spending time with my children who are involved in camogie, Irish dancing, football and signing and that ensures ‘switch off’ time from work and from digital devices.

Blogging / thought leaders, who do you follow / read?

I have only written two blogs, one for the ECSB research blog mentioned above and the second was: http://www.smallbusinesscan.com/empowering-women-entrepreneurship-training/

It is a skill I would like to develop further  – when I get some spare time!

When I spend time on social media, I follow people like Sheryl Sandberg and Justin Ferrell Standford’s d School. We hosted a visit by Justin to CIT in December 2013.

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