The Friday Interview: Dervilla Mullan, Eircom

8 Feb 2008

With the launch of a web innovation fund of €100,000, Eircom is hoping to attract the tech world’s bright young things, perhaps cultivating an Irish Google or Facebook. Dervilla Mullan (pictured) is head of online at Eircom.

With the €100,000 fund, does Eircom plan to take a percentage stake in the successful companies which result?
We’re not going into it with a view to taking control of the companies. The fund is really there to support them but the bigger prize is the partnership with us. Their service, when introduced, will be made available through the portal or through our broadband network.

We created the fund with the objective of identifying and creating new services and we aim to do that on a shared commercial basis with developers and inventors.

Would you rule out the prospect that Eircom would eventually acquire a next-generation software or web company?
We wouldn’t rule anything out. This is about taking the company to the next stage in terms of products and services. But with this process we’re consciously steering clear of equity arrangements.

Another thing to point out is that young technology companies would be quite cynical when it comes to signing over intellectual property rights. Web 2.0 companies are anti-giving rights away.

We’re really more interested in helping to get a bunch of exciting new services up and running and getting users to access them.

Does the winning project have to be strictly a Web 2.0 company?
Not strictly. Ideally, we’re hoping to split the €100,000 between four companies. We’re open to any idea or technology that is based on targeting a user audience or need and giving it a service.

Facebook is a great model whereby the guys created a community and then went about building complementary services.

At the moment, Eircom is great at tapping into the family environment within the mass market.

But we don’t have a strong relationship with teenagers and we feel that younger companies might have a better understanding of that market. For example, merging music with personalisation technologies.

What have responses been like?
We discovered a lot of companies we weren’t aware of, as well as people with day jobs who have great ideas and need the support to focus on them.

We’re working with Enterprise Ireland to sift through the ideas to find businesses that have a good chance of success.

The deadline for entries is 15 February and the winners will be announced during March.

Why did Eircom go into this process?
We recognised that services which work well on the web are not created through traditional development cycles.

Eircom is good at building large-scale robust systems, but not so strong at tapping into entrepreneurial culture, the idea of risk and trying things out on the low-cost model.

At least this way, if it doesn’t work the first time, the risks aren’t so huge. Rather than reinvent the wheel overnight, we’re trying to reach out to where ideas come from.

By John Kennedy