Digital Dún Laoghaire kicked off the New Year by encouraging more people to start scalable tech businesses.

Entitled New Year – New Start – New Business, the aim of this breakfast meeting was to support the development of Dún Laoghaire as a digital hub. Three key elements were up for discussion:

1. How do you know if you have a commercial, scalable business idea?
2. What supports are available to help you take the first steps?
3. What are the pitfalls to watch out for in the early stage of your new start-up?

Guest speakers:

Dominic Mullan, IADT Dun Laoghaire, Innovation, Commercialisation & Development Manager
Michael Hayden, Business Advisor, Local Enterprise Office, Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown
Adrian Walsh, Entrepreneur, CEO, CheckVentory, a former participant of the New Frontiers Programme

The first question put to the guest speakers was:

How do you know if you have a commercial, scalable business idea?

Dominic Mullan replied:

Get out of the building and talk to customers.

He added that in order to fix a problem and to find the right solution entrepreneurs needed to understand the problem thoroughly. This can be done easily and cost effectively by testing and validating the solution using the Lean Start-Up Methodology.

He explained that this is a useful tool to manage and develop a business idea using a problem/solution approach. It enables entrepreneurs to gather valuable feedback from potential customers who may then recommend the solution to others with similar needs.

He added:

It’s about taking small steps to test and validate all assumptions.

Michael Hayden, encouraged entrepreneurs to:

Engage with the market at an early stage and
demonstrate that the market share exists.

He explained that part of the job of the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) is to be open-minded when hearing pitches about new businesses. LEOs have a range of financial and non-financial supports and services available to help entrepreneurs to get started. They will be asked realistic questions about their business ideas. He added that an important characteristic for an entrepreneur is an open mind. This helps to develop and scale their business. Michael has found entrepreneurs can be overly overprotective about their ideas which can limit growth.

Adrian Walsh, a former participant of the New Frontiers Programme said that getting validation was not an easy task. He initially kept his idea a secret. Learning from his experience, he now advises entrepreneurs to get validation early and from the right sources, e.g. LEO and the New Frontiers and DIT Hothouse Programmes. He reiterated that when engaging with these sources entrepreneurs will be asked questions that their family and friends won’t ask. He said that his opinion about looking for assistance during the early phase of his business changed when he realised that he needed a lot more external help. He added:

Coming to a forum like this is very beneficial.

The next question put to the panel was:

What supports are available to help you take the first steps?

Michael Hayden, repeated that LEOs provide many financial and non-financial supports and services for entrepreneurs.

He suggested that the first question an entrepreneur should ask is:

Is my business likely to be funded?

LEOs are quick to respond and even if the answer is No, he advised them not to be discouraged. There are many non-financial supports available that can open up opportunities.

He urged entrepreneurs to:

See their business idea in the round.

One of the non-financial supports available to entrepreneurs is LEO’s START Network event which takes place once a month. Early stage entrepreneurs have the opportunity to meet and hear advice from experienced business experts. It’s a place to share ideas. LEO’s collaborate with other networks to maximise the exchange of information and business leads.

The panel agreed that there are many funding opportunities for start-ups in Ireland, some examples of which were discussed:

Enterprise Ireland Innovation Vouchers worth €5,000
– Business Development Programmes: New Frontiers and DIT Hothouse

Innovation Vouchers:

Tech companies can utilise this funding to test their ideas, build prototypes and receive valuable feedback from potential customers before building their software solutions.

Elements financed are:

• UI/UX Design
• Building Wireframes
• Creating MockUps
• Visuals

The next call for the Standard Innovation Voucher Application is:

Opening Date: Wednesday 18th January, 2017

Closing Date: Wednesday 1st February, 2017 at 3pm

Further calls will be announced during 2017

Adrian Walsh, added:

Going through the Innovation Voucher application process can get entrepreneurs talking and engaging with investors. This helps with validation and building relationships.

Business Development Programmes:

The aim of these programmes is to support the establishment and growth of technology or knowledge intensive businesses that have the potential to trade internationally and create employment in Ireland.

DIT Hothouse
Dominic gave an example of Profitero a software company, based in Dún Laoghaire that successfully went through the DIT Hothouse Programme

He explained how this company used the programme and the Lean Start-up Methodology to successfully set-up and scale its business.

Before developing the software for a retail pricing analytics solution, Profitero created a short video demonstrating their concept and shared it with a LinkedIn group. Following feedback from this group, they created a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and then went on to develop their extremely successful customer-focused software.

New Frontiers Programme
This programme is delivered at local level by Institutes of Technology in Ireland and funded by Enterprise Ireland (EI).

Dominic identified some of the main requirements and characteristics that are looked for in entrepreneurs and their ventures when applying for this programme:

• Innovation
• Ambition
• Commitment
• Listening – implementing feedback

Businesses that have successfully completed these programmes have the potential of moving onto the next stage of development and funding and becoming clients of EI or LEOs. They are eligible to apply for EI’s Competitive Start Fund (CSF).

The purpose of the Competitive Start Fund (CSF) is to accelerate the growth of start-ups that have the capability to succeed in global markets.
It’s designed to enable them to reach key commercial and technical milestones.

The next call for applications opens on January 25th 2017.

As with any application(s) for start-up programmes or funding, there is a need to fill in the forms. However, the panel agreed that this process is quite simple.

During the meeting, the question of the availability of financial supports beyond the start-up phase was raised. The speakers agreed that that funding beyond this stage is problematic. However, there are other awards available but they need to be streamlined.

Michael Hayden suggested that entrepreneurs apply to LEOs for Business Expansion Grants. These grants are designed to assist businesses in their growth phase after the initial 18 month start-up period.

Eoin Costello commented:

The eco-system in Ireland is currently very much focused on start-ups at the birth stage.

Following the discussion on funding, the speakers were then asked to share their knowledge about the pitfalls of starting up a company.

“The Gotchas” What are the pitfalls to watch out for in the early stage of your new start-up?

Dominic Mullan listed some of the main pitfalls which he has identified that entrepreneurs should be aware of:

Opportunity: to fully understand what the opportunity is
Customers: to know your customer and get their feedback
Working alone: one person usually won’t have all the skills required to run the business. He advised to build a team, to have a co-founder and an advisory group network
Bureaucratic problems: more and more companies don’t have the in-house tech talent. Outsourcing work to other providers needs to be managed well.

From LEO’s perspective, Michael added the main pitfall he experienced is how entrepreneurs present their finances. He advised them to be realistic and not to over-reach their projections. Adrian Walsh agreed and also urged them to be cautious.

Looking back: Eoin Costello asked Adrian what advice he would give to entrepreneurs who are at the start-up stage.

Adrian replied:

Find Your Secret Sauce

He encouraged entrepreneurs to be realistic about the length of time it can take them to develop their businesses. He added that it took him longer than he thought.

He came to the realisation that community and networking opportunities are just as important as financial funding. He urged entrepreneurs to connect and engage with the start-up community. By doing so they can gain support and advice from others helping to reduce bringing business related stresses home to their partners.

After the meeting attendees were able to network, get more one-to-one advice and valuable insights from the guest speakers.

If you missed the first Digital Dún Laoghaire MeetUp don’t worry you can read key insights on How to Scale a Tech Company.

Date for your diary: Wednesday 8th February 2017

Time: 7.30am to 8.45am

Topic: Funding your growth through bank finance – Everything you need to know about getting debt funding

Location: Starbucks coffee shop, Marine Road, Dún Laoghaire

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 on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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