By @SimonCocking

We talk tech, social media, innovation, startups and Irish entrepreneurs with Gerald Nash TD Labour TD for Louth & East Meath. Minister for Business & Employment. Full time constituency office open weekdays 9.30am to 5pm. Tel 041-9810811

How have last 12 months been for Irish economy from your point of view?

Thankfully, we have seen significant growth in our economy over the past year.  This is building on the gradual recovery of recent times and it didn’t happen by accident.  This Government had to make some tough decisions and the Irish people made many sacrifices in order to fix the mess we were left with.  But, they have paid off.  We have fixed the banking system, renegotiated our debt and in the process saved tens of billions of euros, we have helped 125,000 people get back to work and restored Ireland’s international reputation which had been left in tatters as a result of the bust and bailout.  I am looking forward to a new Budget that will see more money going into people’s pockets and more investment in our public services as a result.

Are we out of the recession now finally?

Absolutely.  Our economic growth rate is predicted to be 6% this year – that exceeds China’s growth rate.  And most importantly, this growth is not based solely on property.  We now have a much more balanced approach, both in terms of industry and in terms of regional spread.

How much has the Irish Tech Industry helped to drive this recovery?

The Tech Sector has been a vital part of Ireland’s recovery.  Ten out of the top ten born on the internet companies have their EMEA headquarters here.  There are many countries across Europe who look enviously at Ireland’s track record in attracting these household names.  But, it’s not just about winning that business, it’s about keeping it in Ireland.  We have a vibrant indigenous tech sector too, from companies like Storyful to Mcor in my own constituency to those in the social enterprise sector winning much kudos and awards like Food Cloud.  They are also a really important part of the tech ecosystem here.

APJ podium GN Jan 15

Some organisations, such as HostInIreland have been making the case for why Ireland is a great place for overseas companies to locate their EMEA outlets. What key factors would you highlight when looking to encourage foreign companies to locate in Ireland?

I’m just back from a trade mission to Chicago and when I’m promoting Ireland abroad there are several elements that I point to, but the most important one is our people.  We have a young, highly qualified and skilled, adaptable workforce.  We are a creative bunch, and not just in terms of music, literature and poetry, we are creative in how we work and approach problem solving.  We speak English.  We are in the euro zone.  We have really good connectivity between our small island and the rest of the world.  We also have very good pro-enterprise policies and an attractive corporate tax rate.  But, also in keeping with my own portfolio, we value people and believe also that work must pay and workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace.

What future opportunities are you excited about for creating more jobs, innovation and enterprise within Ireland?

The Regional Action Plans for Jobs have the potential to ensure that as our economy continues to grow that the benefit is felt across every part of the country.  I acknowledge that some parts of rural Ireland in particular do not feel like they are seeing the benefits of the recovery and our really good growth figures.  So, following on from the success of the Action Plan for Jobs which has seen more than 125,000 people return to work since 2012, my Department is focused on rolling out 8 Regional Action Plans this year.  These plans bring together State Agencies, like IDA, Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Offices with local authorities and private sector representatives and focus on the strengths and the potential of each region in order to build on them.

For example, in my constituency of Louth/East Meath we are concentrating on building a National Payments hub along the M1 corridor.  We already have household names like eBay and Paypal headquartered here, with some very innovative mid-sized companies like Yapstone and Vesta also established.  Building on their strength and expertise we can focus on and attract other indigenous and multi-national companies to choose Drogheda and the greater M1 area as their base.

There are many government supported initiatives to encourage new businesses, do you have any standout examples you use to illustrate the success of these initiatives?

Entrepreneurs and those who are starting out in business are busy people and one of the refrains we used to hear a lot was “I don’t know where to go to access information on the Government supports that are available to me”.  For the past year, we have a really useful on-line tool available to business people or those thinking of starting a business, the Supporting SME on-line tool www.supportingsmes.ie.  There are more than 80 Government supports available and through answering a series of simple straightforward questions, you can find out exactly which ones apply to you.

How will the prompt payment code help small businesses?

Cashflow is the life-blood of business and without it too many businesses can fail or end up having to let staff go.  It is sometimes the difference between keeping the doors open and closing down the shutters for good.  In Ireland, we have seen that more than half of businesses say late payments could be a threat to their very survival and that 7% of companies’ yearly revenue has to be written off compared to the European average of 3.1%.  This is very worrying.

Businesses providing goods and services need cash flow certainty and are entitled to expect that their payments will be made on time. Certainty on payment inspires confidence across the supply chain.  This confidence stimulates both investment and growth and is good for both suppliers and customers.

The Prompt Payment Code is an initiative undertaken by my Department which is aimed at improving cash flow for businesses and, ultimately, driving a change in our payment culture.

The Prompt Payment Code has specifically been developed by business. By signing up to the Code through the online portal www.promptpayment.ie, businesses are sending out a real signal that they will stick to their payment terms.  For those with no pre-agreed payment terms, the Code works to combat this. For suppliers, this means they can build stronger relationships with their customers, confident that they will be paid on time.

For the Code be successful, however, we need businesses to sign up. I would, therefore, urge all business, big and small, to support this important initiative and log onto www.promotpayment.ie and sign up to the Code.

There are many startup weekends and incubators and accelerators around the country, with great ideas emerging. What tips would you give to would be founders hoping to launch a successful new business?

Do your research.  Use your contacts.  Find out what supports are available to you.  In the first instance a visit to your Local Enterprise Office should be a first stop (as well as the Supporting SME tool I mentioned earlier).  The network of 31 LEOs across the country are a great resource and helped create more than a thousand jobs last year.  Starting a business can often be a lonely affair so a network of peers or a mentor can be really important in order to share ideas or bounce concepts off  in a supportive environment – before you go to potential investors.

Events like the Startup Gathering, which I have championed from the start, running from the 5-10th October in five cities and other regions including the North-East, are a great way to learn more about the startup ecosystem in your area – and to meet people who, like you, have an entrepreneurial spirit and want to start, scale and succeed in Ireland.

From your perspective what impact and value does the Dublin Web Summit bring to Ireland and the wider business/ tech / startup ecosystem?

It’s disappointing that this year will be the last Dublin Web Summit as I think it shone a bright spot light on the capital as a tech and startup hub.  But, I’ve been really encouraged by the number of other events and pioneers in the startup sector who are only too willing to try to bridge the gap that will be left by the Summit moving to Portugal.  Let’s use the hopefully temporary departure of the Web Summit as an opportunity to grow other new and innovative ways to showcase our startup and tech scene.

What tech do you wish was invented to make your life easier?

A quality car based coffee machine.  I spend a lot of time in my ‘other office’, the car.

What is your view on using social media for your business?

It’s essential.  Obviously it depends on your exact target audience but anyone who isn’t online is missing a trick when it comes to their business.  We also have a really great Government backed Trading On-Line Voucher Scheme which offers small businesses a grant of up to €2,500 – subject to matching funding – as well as training, mentoring and networking to support them develop their online trading capability.

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

In terms of work/life balance, unfortunately like most people in my profession it is non-existent and I manage it badly!

In terms of online/offline balance, I don’t usually talk about personal stuff on social media.  You won’t see me tweeting or posting updates on nights out or at football matches.  But, I do like to keep up with what others are doing and saying.

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