By Brian Seidman from his FDI / Foreign Direct Ireland blog. Highly experienced, innovative and well-networked advisor, consultant and EaaS to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies coming to or in Ireland, as well as indigenous Irish early stage and growth companies; Strategist, CEO, senior executive, venture capitalist and mentor; Business success spanning 25 years throughout the US and Europe.
Entrepreneurship is considered important, perhaps vital, by many to Ireland’s present and future economy. Almost every week there are announcements of new (and sometimes grand) plans and projects related to fostering “innovation” and “start-ups,” such as Trinity College Dublin’s plans “…to build a technology-focused campus at Grand Canal Dock as part of €1 billion plans to develop the area as an ‘innovation district.’” And given the economic importance placed on entrepreneurship and the level of investment in it here in Ireland, both public and private, it is unsurprising that Irish entrepreneurship garners a great deal of media interest and coverage.[i]
The Irish Times last week ran a longer article, The Start-up Island, regarding what it calls “the new vibrancy and dynamism that has grown up around Ireland’s start-up scene,” that seeks to answer “….how and why it has come about.”
The article, however, misses the key factors that are and will be more important to successful entrepreneurship in Ireland than those cited: Ireland’s entrepreneurial culture and the importance of Foreign Direct Investment to developing and sustaining that culture if entrepreneurship is to be a successful component of the economy.
The Times article’s title is a play on Israel’s branding as “The Start-up Nation,” a result of its high-level of successful entrepreneurship, innovation and development of growth companies. Numerous factors are credited for Israel’s entrepreneurial successes, from excellent schools to required military service. But what is also credited as a key factor is that Israel
is an immigrant and multicultural nation, allowing for diversity and different viewpoints, as Google Israel Managing Director Meir Brand and other panelists pointed out. This allows for creativity and innovation, by encouraging the free flow of ideas and collaboration among individuals with very different perspectives. In many ways, Israel’s strong innovation culture runs parallel to America’s. Both countries share the unique view that entrepreneurial failure is an education rather than a badge of dishonor. They don’t punish risk-taking the way many other nations do.[ii]
What the cited article does not mention are other cultural factors of immigrant societies – that immigration and multiculturalism have also created nations where striving and upward mobility are important aspects of their cultures.
Unlike the US or Israel, Ireland is not historically a nation of immigrants. However, Ireland is a nation of emigrants, typically because of poor economic conditions and prospects, most recently due to the 2008 financial crash. And though not all its emigrants return, the numbers of returning emigrants are trending upwards because of Ireland’s strong economic recovery and labor market.[iii] These returning Irish emigrants bring back with them their experience and knowledge of working and living in more economically entrepreneurial, dynamic business cultures, and adding that experience and knowledge to the Irish entrepreneurial ecosystem, particularly those returning from the US, certainly has a positive influence on that ecosystem. And the more who return, the greater that positive impact will be.
But the most important influence in developing and sustaining successful entrepreneurship in Ireland is the significant presence of successful entrepreneurial FDI companies in Ireland, particularly technology companies, large and small and in between, from Google, Intel and Apple, to MMX.co, which brought me to Ireland. These companies, have and will continue to have an outsized influence on the development and sustainability of entrepreneurship in Ireland in several ways.
Culture. FDI companies have brought their entrepreneurial business cultures and practices to Ireland. Not only are their employees, of which there are tens of thousands, immersed in and influenced by these entrepreneurial cultures and business practices, from inspiration to practical entrepreneurial knowledge and skills to overcoming the native stigma of failure,[iv] but the entire Irish business ecosystem is influenced by the presence of these companies.
Talent. FDI companies recruit skilled workers from all over the world to Ireland, greatly adding to Ireland’s indigenous talent base, the talent base that is immersed in entrepreneurial business cultures, the talent base with innovative ideas, while also adding to the multi-culturalism that is an important part of successful entrepreneurship in the US and elsewhere.
Critical Mass. By their sheer numbers and thousands of employees in Ireland, FDI companies have created the critical mass necessary for entrepreneurship to succeed in Ireland. The starting point of any entrepreneurial venture is people willing to take a chance on an idea. But successful entrepreneurship requires more than just the right people with a decent idea. It requires an ecosystem of potential service providers, partners, employees, customers, investors – entrepreneurship cannot succeed in a vacuum. By their great presence and geographic concentration in Ireland, FDI companies have created the first 4 in Ireland at very high levels along with the ability of entrepreneurs to actually engage with them, which would not exist without the great presence of FDI companies and their influence on Ireland’s business and economic environments and business culture.
Without the significant presence of Foreign Direct Investment companies in Ireland, and their positive effect and impact on, and additions and enhancements to, Irish business culture and resources (of all types), entrepreneurship in Ireland would be unlikely to achieve meaningful, long term success.
[i] I’ve previously written on the fact that entrepreneurship is not the economic boon that many believe it is. I won’t rehash those thoughts here. And again, that doesn’t mean that entrepreneurship isn’t important, just that it is not the economic elixir that many believe.
[ii] What Are The Secrets Behind Israel’s Growing Innovative Edge?, Forbes.com, Nov 13, 2013.
[iii] Jobs Growth in Ireland Turns off Emigration Tap, Irish Times, Nov 23, 2016
[iv] In the country of Samuel Beckett, who wrote in Westward Ho, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better,” (my favorite quote for entrepreneurs) the stigma of failure as a cultural impediment to entrepreneurship in Ireland is one where the influence of FDI and foreign business cultures will hopefully have their most profound effect.