By @SimonCocking interview with Lesley Tully

Your background?

I started my entrepreneurial journey quite early, at the age of 7, in our 100-year old family retail business. It was incredible customer training, learning how and why people bought. It thoroughly developed my sales acumen (unbeknownst to my parents, I used to sell the plastic bags to the customers and pocket the money, 100% profit!)

However, art and creativity are very strong narratives in our family, so despite the business background, I chose to go to art school where I studied film and art. When I finished I knew I wanted a career that combined both worlds and that’s how I ended up working in the art industry, running large international art fairs in New York and Basel.

The art world is a very interesting place, filled with wildly creative people but ironically as an industry, it’s very slow to innovate and so after 10 years of it I decided to do something new.

I liked the ambiguous, creative nature of innovation and its steep learning curve, so I began studying it, setup a company, and consulted on a number of innovation projects (from healthcare to energy) that helped develop my passionate for it. A lot of my experiences in other industries are brought to bear on the job I do now.

How you did you find Web / Surf Summit?

Web Summit was a very valuable initiative for us. We had a super booth to promote StartLab, which is the first Bank powered incubator of its kind in Europe (launched in early October) so our presence at Web Summit gave us tremendous opportunity to access international and national talent, communicate our supports and encourage international and national startups to apply for the programme.  Additionally the collateral event we hosted in The Market Bar was attended by over 12% of all Web Summit attendees and afterwards we were inundated with applications for StartLab. Plus we got to show startups what a great place Dublin is to live, work and play!

As for SurfSummit, it’s a really clever idea and a brilliant antidote to the manic-ness that is the WebSummit. We also sponsored Sligo Design Week which coincided with SurfSummit and had over 200 people attend the Creative Entrepreneurship Talk held in Sligo IT, which backed up our intuition that there is growing community of new entrepreneurs in the South West.

What useful encounters came out of it? 

We met with an overwhelming amount of international startups, looking to make the move to Ireland and to understand what supports Bank of Ireland could give them and their businesses. Gaining insights into their specific business needs and pain points was hugely beneficial, and something we wouldn’t ordinarily have access to.

What startups were you excited by? 

I’m a huge fan of Deposify, their business model is clever, tackling both the social and economic issues present in the rental market, and creating a positive tool for people to use. Although they are no longer a startup, the folks over in Fund IT have a quality crowdfunding platform for creatives that I really love.

What is the goal of BOI Innovation Initiative?

At the heart of our innovation agenda is one key goal, and that is to authentically support and foster the Startup ecosystem here in Ireland. Within our own team, and the wider bank network, we are passionate about startups and empowering entrepreneurs. And everything stems from that.

What supports do you offer to startups?

In the last 12 months our approach has been to meet startups where they are at. That means listening to what they need and responding accordingly. So we looked at the space issue for startups and designed and delivered WorkBenches Dublin and Galway, created specifically for startups needing a flexible, safe and free (!) place to start, test and launch their latest ideas and business concepts. We also sponsor numerous events by and for startups including; Startup Weekends, Founders Friday, Open Hours (with VC’s Delta Partners and Kernal Capital), Hackathons, DataDives, meet-ups, mentoring sessions, host podcasts (from WorkBench Dublin) and most recently the Startup Gathering. And, on top of all of that, we help forge those all-important connections to VC’s, industry experts and business leaders, potential investor, customers, buyers and continually communicate the message, that Ireland’s startup community, is extremely talented. 

How was last 12 months? Anything you’d do differently?

Ha! What a question! In a word the last 12 months has been: energetic.

When I joined the team (this time last year) it was just Dave Tighe (Head of Innovation) and myself, so we functioned very much like a startup, driven by a strong ambition to disrupt the norm, and commitment to continually deliver innovations to the ecosystem (and the bank). Fueled of course by tons of coffee, not much sleep, endless travel and a hectic pace – which hasn’t really abated. Our team as a whole moves from idea to execution pretty fast, so there’s this terrific entrepreneurial energy to everything we do and what we have achieved in the past 12 months demonstrates that.

Working and studying full time probably isn’t the sanest idea. Sleep was the only thing I really went without this year, but it’s totally worth it for the journey this year has taken me on.

Tips for new startups?

As Bill Gates says “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten” and I think startups would do well to acknowledge the pacing needed in making a business succeed. Even though I respect Samuel Beckett, I’ve never bought the ‘fail fast, fail often’ mantra and recent research suggests that past failures just predicts future failures. Instead, I’d say to any startup entrepreneur, your goal should be to succeed over the long run.

Without naming names, what epic fails have you seen by startups?

I haven’t seen any singular epic fails per se. What I have seen though, both in Ireland and abroad, is a failure or rather a lack of awareness amongst startups in knowing what kind of entrepreneurs they really are. Knowing that you are stronger as the idea generator or innovator and not, say, the sales person or the builder is crucially important when trying to build a sustainable and scalable business.

Future trends you’re excited about?

I’m very interested to see how the EdTech industry cracks the issue with the super high attrition rates it’s currently experiencing and hopefully, deliver a compelling Edtech experience, because once that happens education will truly be democratic. Similarly, I’m excited about the trends emerging in digital health and the potential to enable healthcare in the home with the emergence of digital health records, mobile-app diagnostic tools and telemedicine.

What’s next for you?

In 2016 I’ll be focused on our work with the new cohorts joining StartLab Galway, the roll-out of more WorkBenches throughout Ireland and staying up to date with the latest innovations and getting lots of sleep over Christmas.

How do you manage life / work /online / offline?

I fail!! I’m truly terrible at balancing my work and home life, but I love what I do and that drives me but sometimes it also injures me, like now. (I just broke my toe on a work trip!!) My one and only trick for managing work and life is getting out for a run a few times a week.


If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or @SimonCocking

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