By @SimonCocking

Interview with Gary Leyden @Gary_Leyden, Investor in early stage tech startups. As VP for Venture Acceleration at NDRC LaunchPad @NDRC_hq , he leads Ireland’s #1 tech accelerator. Founder – Computer Gym & Vrising.

Your elevator pitch – what you do, and the goal of NDRC

Our goal is simply to help create new high potential ventures. We do this by investing in scalable ideas and great teams. Our unique combination of capital and high touch support is working – having invested in over 120 companies in the last five years.

How was last 12 months, last 2 /3 incubations? Highlights?

We are now at a point where we don’t just talk about the companies we’ve accelerated in the last 12 months, but also those companies in the portfolio from 3-4 years ago that are really scaling internationally. Companies like Boxever, Drop, VideoElephant, Bizimply, Logentries and SilverCloud Health spring to mind.

Examples of companies that we invested in during the last 12 months that are starting to demonstrate traction are Xpresso, Bookie Wookie, Legalshine, Trialview and Mustard.

Which successes were you most pleased with?

The launch of our accelerator, NDRC VentureLab, which is focused on commercialising the science research coming out of third level institutions has been really exciting. We’ve invested in science ideas ranging from peptide discovery (Nuritas), to extending flash memory (NVMdurance), to creating unique holograms (Optrace).

Drastic pivots occur sometimes, how do you manage the process when the team realises it needs to refocus (do you grit your teeth and say oh no, not again, or relish the challenge?)

A pivot is not a negative thing. It is a result of the market letting you know that they’re not interested in your original idea, but through the process of customer development you have now identified a more realistic (and hopefully, bigger) opportunity. I don’t want any team wasting time on an idea that is not going to work, so if they find out that quickly and can identify a better opportunity, as an investor I’m fully supportive of that. It can be tough but it is  a sign of great entrepreneur that they can listen to the market and adapt.

Tell us a good story about a pitching company that didn’t get in, and came back with a stronger, successful offering 2nd / 3rd time around?

I endeavour to give everyone that pitches to me feedback on why we came to the decision we did, positive or not. At such an early stage in a company’s development, the team behind the idea is critically important to its’ chances of success. After taking constructive feedback from us on their original idea, you can see the teams that you want to back very quickly. And we’ve had a significant number of people who have had to pitch to us more than once. No names though! But that’s part of our strategy – find great people and work with them to identify a really scalable opportunity.

Your own background, what lead you into doing this?

I’m an entrepreneur myself, having founded two of my own companies. When I started my first company I got a great mentor through Enterprise Ireland, and I always said I’d try to do the same thing when I was in a position to. I was lucky enough to get involved in NDRC LaunchPad in its very early days and have worked with a great team to grow it to being Ireland’s #1 accelerator.

Good ideas still fail, what are the most common reasons that companies have failed to lift off after coming through the program with the NDRC?

Lack of customers. It’s that simple.

Your tips to people hoping to get onto the program?

First of all make sure we’re the right fit for you. We only are interested in ideas that can scale internationally, quickly. The team is really important – demonstrate to us why you are exceptional at execution and that you bring some unique domain knowledge (in terms of industry knowledge or a deep understanding of the problem). Excite us about the size of the opportunity and you’re ability to take a significant slice of that. Show us that there is something innovative about your approach to addressing the market problem – we’re not looking for ‘me-too’ ideas.

and then your tips for them to be successful when on it?

Listen. To your potential market and to all the various entrepreneurs and investors we connect you with. Absorb that feedback and then you make your informed decision as to how to proceed. Obsess about your customer – they are the most important factor in the likely success of your business. Focus on execution – getting the right things done quickly is critically important in the early days when you have limited resources in terms of time and money.

Your strategies for online / off line, work / life balance?

The reality for an entrepreneur is that they throw absolutely everything into the business, they eat, sleep and dream their business. And they have to, if they want it to succeed. I think it’s really important to have a strong co-founder who can help with the challenges. Supportive and understanding family members are very important (and you should be aware and thankful for them). Although it is all consuming, you need to be aware how you can control stress, to ensure you are performing at your optimum. Find out quickly what works for you – go for a run, stay with the 5- a side, swim each morning, whatever it takes for you.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked you?

Building a startup is seen as very ‘cool’ now. But don’t underestimate the commitment it takes to succeed. It is all consuming. Know what you’re getting into and build a great team around you from as early as possible.



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