Delighted to have a guest post by the multi-talented Jillian Godsil, journalist, broadcaster and former European Parliament candidate. She has gone viral several times. She has worked all over the world – UK, Australia, Singapore – and has written for business and technology publications globally. See more on her blog here.

There is a new breed of entrepreneur developing in the easing of our economic recession – a Sidepreneur. Based on a variety of reasons, these individuals have all the hallmarks of mainstream entrepreneurs except they get to keep their day job, mostly out of necessity. They say the best business is grown in a recession where labour, rents and expectations are cheap, but equally venture capital, support and credit is short. To straddle that gap comes the new Sidepreneur who has the idea and drive to create their own business – but is not quite ready to quit the day job, yet.

Eoin Costello, CEO of Startup Ireland has a burning passion to turn the island of Ireland into a Startup Hub – attracting entrepreneurs and venture capital in equal parts. His view is to create a global hub in Ireland, attracting the best ideas and providing the best supports. The first Startup Gathering in October 2015 attracted a huge groundswell of interest with 100s of events in the ‘5 Cities 5 Days’ island-wide convention. However, for every 100 entrepreneurs taking their first brave steps, Costello reckons there are at least 500 waiting to find the right time, the right money or the right opportunities to put their toe into the water.

‘There are three main impediments to people becoming full-on entrepreneurs,’ says Costello. ‘The first is the lack of incubation space or co-working areas. For every one mom-and-pop shop that broke out the garage, nine others did not. Working at home may be a safe bet in terms of rents but it means that startup entrepreneurs miss out on the gregarious nature of an incubator or shared facility. Ideas breed ideas, similar thinkers can inspire and the camaraderie of working in close proximity with other entrepreneurs can leap-frog ideas, buoy-up businesses and jump-start growth.

‘The second major impediment to allowing Sidepreneurs and wannabe full time entrepreneurs cross the divide is lack of knowledge about the resources that are available to them through regional bodies and organisations such as Enterprise Ireland and Local Enterprise Boards. Once Sidepreneurs are put in contact with such resources they often then have the confidence – and support – to take that next step.’

Finally, Costello reckons that we might also be overlooking an important resource in ‘breakout’ startups. This is where individuals working for large corporates have reached their optimum levels of success and are looking to branch out into entrepreneurism. Costello advocates that large corporates would benefit from encouraging their Sidepreneur-swayed staff out into full entrepreneurship, often becoming suppliers to their new fully fledged entrepreneurs. Costello quotes Patsy Carney, co-founder of EirGen Pharma in Waterford, who did just that ten years ago, forming his company following a career with IVAX pharmaceutical. Last year Carney sold it for €135million which surely beats a corporate paycheck.  Costello argues that corporates need to help Sidepreneurs leverage their corporate skills into startups.

The movement from Sidepreneur to Entrepreneur often happens at the point when second round investment arrives. David Willoughby is just on the cusp of making that move following eighteen months of Sidepreneurship which involved his extra time and his own money in creating a new networking product aimed at the Irish community here and abroad. He launched Irish Yapping at Web Summit and hopes to be able to transition into a full time CEO as soon as finance allows.

However, the past eighteen months have been frantic and only Willoughby’s background has kept him sane. A serial entrepreneur enjoying success he nevertheless became a cropper during the recession when his engineering firm collapsed. He witnessed creditors repossessing equipment and machinery and swore he would not be exposed again. He returned to education and then found project management work in Africa, in the Kalahari Desert, where he was stationed for weeks at a time without leave. Returning to Ireland he found work with a software company, servicing both Ireland and the UK as the business development officer.

‘Around that time I witnessed something working in my local community – the text based alert system,’ says Willoughby. ‘It proved helpful but I could see how it could be fixed, with different radial groupings and notifications. Then I watched a programme about young people emigrating who were very upset at being away from home, found parallels in my own life, and the idea for Irish Yapping grew from there.’

Irish Yapping is like Tinder for Gingers – only it’s not a dating site and it doesn’t discriminate against nationalities. Individuals sign up and put a pin in their home and nominate the radial distance, up to 50 miles, that they can connect with fellow Irish Yapping members.  There is a further option to put a second ‘current’ pin for when users are travelling or based abroad. It is free to use for individuals although in time a business programme will be offered allowing promotions and advertisements to fund the ongoing development.

As part of that commercial growth, a partnership agreement has been signed with FCR, the owners of the Golden Pages. The product is in pre-release and is fully functional. The next steps are to add new features and make it more sexy according to Willoughby. The product is geared at multiple diaspora groupings and has significant scope to scale globally.

‘We are also in extensive talks with a potential CFO in London,’ says Willoughby. ‘The international business plan is being developed and we are aiming for between two to three million’s worth of investment. It is at that stage that I can give up the day job and become a full time CEO.’ He is optimistic this will happen early next year if not before.

For breakout Sidepreneurs like Carey or Startup Sidepreneurs like Willoughby, there is light at the end of the tunnel. For other Sidepreneurs, the chances of migrating to full entrepreneurship is an unlikely conclusion without support. Legal secretary Valerie Coleman began a business in traditional crafts, creating bespoke knitted apparel. As soon as she finished one design, it was sold directly off Facebook. Her business ‘Other Mammies’ was formed and named for forgotten domestic craft skills. For the first year she became so busy she could not keep up and forged a partnership with another colleague and began looking at factory premises.

‘We looked long and hard at the figures,’ says Coleman. ‘But to take the leap from working my business outside my day job would have meant giving up the safety net of my salary – between the salary gap and the lack of supports it was just too risky. I could not afford to take the risk.’

To this day, Coleman produces bespoke clothes and personalised kitchen-wear and sells it piecemeal over the net and through local shops. Her dedication to creating unique quality products ensures she has a steady supply of customers but she will always remain a Sidepreneur. ‘I am resigned to doing this as a side business and I do like the sanity of my day job,’ she says, ‘but I will always wonder what might have happened if I had made the leap.’

While Coleman might be a frustrated Sidepreneur, there are other busy Sidepreneurs who are quite happy to run their business on the side. Kerry woman Ciara Keenan is employed by Kerry County Council and works in their housing section. It is a tough, demanding job which she really enjoys. About two years ago she became one of the first Airbnb hosts and opened her house to tourists.

She also encouraged a close friend and neighbour Adah MacEntee to do the same. Both women found their location proved very popular and the tourists started to arrive. Once they got up on their feet, Keenan discovered that her guests were also looking for Irish food.

‘They would ask me where they could get shepherds pie or cabbage and bacon,’ says Keenan. ‘Of course, when we go out, we don’t necessarily want to eat home cooking, we prefer other cuisines – French, Italian or Chinese. I tried to explain that most home cooking – Irish cooking – only really happened at home.’

It was this juncture that Keenan realised she had a demand. Both MacEntee and herself started offering to host dinners at home for their guests and found the uptake immediate.

‘If you think about it, the type of tourist using Airbnb rather than traditional hostelries is a slightly different type. Being invited to eat in someone’s house is much more attractive than eating in a restaurant. It is the holy grail of foodie tourists.’

Keenan checked out the possible health and safety aspects of becoming a host but since she and her family are also eating the same food, it does not come under the same restrictions as a hotel or restaurant.

‘We have set up a webpage and facebook page which we hope to launch properly before Christmas,’ says Keenan. The business is called Eat with the Irish and in time Keenan plans to provide a platform, in the same format at Airbnb, and have hosts offering home cooked dinners with the family to tourists. ‘I think this could be very big,’ says Keenan, ‘But I want to stay in my job and just run this on the side.’

Only time will tell.

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Jillian Godsil is a journalist, broadcaster and former European Parliament candidate. She has gone viral several times. After reading History and English in Trinity College she was hired by JP Morgan as a systems analyst where her date validation routines definitely failed the Y2K bug. She has worked all over the world – UK, Australia, Singapore – and has written for business and technology publications globally. She blogs at www.JillianGodsil.com and can be found tweeting @JillianGodsil. She changed Irish Law on April 16, 2014 and has not looked back since.


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