By @SimonCocking

An interesting interview with an Irish entrepreneur turned enabler for emerging startups at Maynooth University.

Are you a poacher turned gamekeeper?

Not really we are all on the same side of the fence! We get very involved in all aspects of our potential technologies from the germ of the idea to selecting the right management team, we definitely share the entrepreneurs journey.

You had a successful start-up, developed an idea, commercialised it.

Well I  brought a couple of products to the market leveraging my product design experience, some of it was very bootstrapped, providing great learnings which I try to pass on.

Excellent experience for your role helping others to do so at NUIM (now simplified to ‘Maynooth University)

Yes it thought me a lot about the critical elements of getting product to market.

How have things changed, with the development of recent online resources, the ease of making prototypes and everything else?

It’s a completely different world now. 3D printing is commoditised, product development cycles have become shorter coupled with an increase in the number of tools for rapid commercial validation for software and hardware. Not only that but in our world we find that companies are also more interested in sourcing external ideas (P&G coined the phrase “Proudly Found Elsewhere” when discussing the need to find solutions outside their organisation).  The process of getting to market has also become more democratic for physical products with the likes of and others. The amount of resources that are now available for product development have increased significantly producing a real “can do” shift in the mindsets of technology explorers. There are so many cases of teenagers developing successful products and Apps and even the likes of high school kid Jack Andraka developing cheap tests for pancreatic cancer.

Are the same core skills still needed, namely good people, smart, with hustle, creative, and able to grab opportunities?

The person/ product rule still holds true. In my role in MU we depend on good scientists to create the opportunities and good business people to take them to the market. The business part normally comes from outside MU. We are always looking to speak with potential partners!

You’re a busy person, how do you balance the work life balance?

For me it’s about being efficient and avoiding distractions in my work life so I can have as much time outside of that.

Do Irish startups tend to be more or less interested in certain things?

I don’t have high visibility on the overall Irish startup scene but Niamh Bushnell the new commissioner for start-ups has initiated a new initiative to find out how many start-ups are in the capital, what sectors they are in and how advanced they are so that will provide a good overview.

There is a big debate about whether Irish start-ups are scaling well enough to become global players? Is there anything you think they could be doing better / differently?

Enterprise Ireland have great programs for exporters and very strong management programs which deal with scaling. For earlier stage companies there are some great initiatives being presented by the likes of the Highway1 program from PCH that facilitate start-ups getting products to a global audience. Through my work with the European Innovation Academy I was struck by the scaling opportunities that were provided by plugging into a global network, I would like to see more Irish start-ups involved in these types of initiatives so they can reach their potential. For the most part though it is about ambition, I see lots of Irish start-ups not thinking big enough due to the fear that investors won’t believe them or perhaps due to a lack of self belief.

We’re starting to see some interesting tech businesses grow out of Dublin. Do they need to move to California, or can they continue to grow from Dublin?

There are plenty of examples of both working but there is definitely more investment to be found in the US. I think a dual model can work well with companies based in Ireland having a presence in the US to avail of the technologies. Accelerators such as US Market Access Center can help Irish companies in these efforts.

What are the fun parts of your role?

The people are great and there is great exposure to lots of different technologies. I also advise AIT which provides different exposures and learnings. Ultimately getting product to market provides the most satisfaction though!

Why do you think it’s a great place to study and work?

It’s scale allows it to be collegiate which is really important.

Dublin Web Summit, how was it for you, what good things came out of it for you?

I was struck by the fact that the Irish were definitely in the minority, it has become a truly international networking event. I know of a couple of start-ups that really benefited from being part of the Alpha program. Personally it’s great to hear from the likes of John Sculley! My overall impression though is that it’s a great showcase for Dublin and the benefits to the city will last well beyond the event.

Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and a lot of other people with successful ventures, also got involved with initiatives to help humanity. What’s your own particular philosophy on this?

I think the start-up community is great at giving back, I would definitely subscribe to that.

How much legacy should be left for the kids, to ensure they have healthy balanced lives, but not so much that it causes problems for them?

I believe we need to be very cautious about the impact of technology. It’s march doesn’t always allow for proper consideration of the health/ societal affects. With the introduction of so many innovations we are effectively living in a longitudinal experiment. Let’s see how we cope!


Sailing. You’re a top sailor. Sport can be a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs.  Any thoughts?

It does teach you about digging deep, team work and preparation which carries through to other areas.

Is there anything else I should have asked you?  

I’ll take the opportunity to plug the Maynooth University start-up launching a really exciting product (on android) on the 22nd of December. Additionally if there are any investors who understand the corporate training sector we have a high potential start-up featured at the Innovation Showcase which is looking to raise funds. They already have an impressive list of Beta clients including Facebook, EA, Paypal, Ericsson, State Street and EY.

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