Heat is on for tech-savvy start-ups

9 Jan 2009

The DIT Hothouse Venture programme is currently launching its recruitment drive for 2009, and is on the lookout for 16 bright and energetic tech entrepreneurs to apply for a place on its Hothouse 17 incubation programme.

Now in its ninth year under its current remit, and funded by DIT through the Department of Education and Science, Hothouse has proved very successful, nurturing vibrant entrepreneurs onto the tech and ICT scene such as Niall Harbison from iFoods.tv, who was also a former participant on Dragons’ Den; Gerry Shanahan, managing director (MD) of Boards.ie; Susan Dixon, a director of Savenet Solutions; and Michelle O’Keefe, founder of TravelAffiliate, to name just a few.

Other graduates from the programme who are now thriving in the commercial space include Dr Ivan Coulter, CEO of Sigmoid Biotechnologies; Ciaran Connell, MD, DecaWave; Philip Martin, MD, Cora Systems; and Sean Mitchell, CEO, Movidia, who recently raised US$14m investment from an international syndicate led by Celtic House Venture Partners and Capital-E.

If you think you’ve got an innovative idea that has real potential to be translated into a successful product or service, particularly in export markets, then Brendan Ring, programme manager, DIT Hothouse, has advised people to get their application forms in.

“We take in 16 entrepreneurs every six months, so we would have 32 people here at any one time,” he explained.

Each programme participant is given the opportunity to have free incubation space at the Docklands Innovation Park for one year. “The space is available if they want to take it. A fair percentage would take the space here.”

The available space is one of the most beneficial aspects of the programme, as it gives nascent entrepreneurs the opportunity to network with each other, plus it also gives a structure to their working day, as opposed to them developing a product from their bedroom, Ring said. The incubation space is also vital in that it allows participants to bounce ideas back and forth with each other.

One crucial stipulation of the programme is that participants must have left permanent employment and be focused on their business full time, committing themselves fully to the challenge of growing their own business.

“To qualify for the programme, there must be a market demand. You must be either a technology- or knowledge-based business. We’re trying to develop businesses from concept stage and create HPSUs (high-potential start-ups). We encourage people to submit a four- to five-page application. We also meet them as well,” Ring said.

By and large, the businesses chosen tend to be in the software, ICT, digital media and web applications spheres. “They are generally trying to develop their first product/service and sell it. We would help them make their first sale.

“We facilitate the workshops, which are run once a month by industry experts as opposed to academics. Mentors come through Enterprise Ireland, so we help them find the right mentor. Participants have 10 sessions with a mentor. We also run one-to-one clinics. All their business partners can come into those clinics. In addition, we hold showcase events, where we put participants out there in front of customers,” said Ring.

Programme participants may also qualify for a CORD (Commercialisation of Research and Development) grant from Enterprise Ireland if their business is deemed to have the potential to be a HPSU with strong export possibility, along with the propensity to have a €1m turnover and 10 employees within three years.

Prime Time is due to feature the Hothouse programme this coming Wednesday night (14 Jan) within a two-part programme on the recession, outlining the country’s response through growth, expansion, and highlighting how Ireland is going to have to become more export-orientated to survive the downturn.

For further information on the Hothouse programme, and how to apply for a place in the upcoming intake, visit www.hothouse.ie.

By Carmel Doyle

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic