Engendering a traditional work ethic in next-gen tech start-ups

17 Sep 2009

With mentoring, hard work and tough love, Irish entrepreneurs can become world-beaters, says Jerry Kennelly, founder and former CEO of Stockbyte, and co-founder of the Endeavour programme.

Why are entrepreneurial programmes like Endeavour so important for start-ups?

The Endeavour programme, which is based in Kerry, is focused on entrepreneurs all over Ireland.

Right now, there are a lot of people either starting or looking to start a business and they face a wall straight away. Many will have worked for a multinational and are used to that environment. In other cases, you will have engineers or scientists who might not have the business skills to develop their idea because they wouldn’t have had as much exposure to finance, sales, marketing and so on.

The business mentors supporting the Endeavour programme are all genuine entrepreneurs who have successfully started their own companies and instinctively know what to do when faced with start-up challenges.

Is entrepreneurialism an instinct or an acquired skill?

People with ideas are one thing, but even more important than ideas are the skills and the ability to execute.

If people don’t have those skills to execute, they can learn them and ability comes in all shapes and forms. Creativity is one aspect, but the practical “can-do” element is very important and frankly that’s where a lot of Irish start-ups fail.

Doing what you say you’re going to do in the time frame you promise is probably the most important thing when you’re running a business and people are depending on you. That’s the kind of spirit and tenacity we’ll be looking out for in the Endeavour programme.

Will Endeavour be a boot camp for start-ups?

It will be a pretty tough regime compared to other programmes, but if a start-up cannot rise to the challenges then they’re probably the wrong people.

Is it not more difficult for start-ups to survive in 2009 than when you started Stockbyte in 1996?

The recession has provided opportunity in some ways: there was a lot of complacency around for the past decade or so, people didn’t bother to challenge costs and organisations became inefficient. People put up with a lot of bad service.

It will be a disruptor’s paradise and that’s where these start-ups will find better ways of doing things and creating value for money.

We will be looking for businesses with a sustainable lifespan, with some piece of technology or part of their business model that gives them a moat to protect. Business is not just a way of life, but also a means of wealth creation within an economy.

Not a lot of entrepreneurs see it like that, but one has to have been through the looking glass to see that it’s not just a way of making money for the entrepreneur but also about investing in others.

If you had the chance, would you do it all again?

I certainly wouldn’t start Stockbyte today in the same way that I did in 1996; it’s a completely different world. There are lots of radical concepts out there. If you look at developments such as crowdsourcing and Apple’s App Store, technology is a lot more accessible.

We have great access to technology here in Ireland, so it is important that we focus on the talent pool.

By Marie Boran

Photo: Jerry Kennelly, founder and former CEO of Stockbyte, and co-founder of the Endeavour programme.