John Coolican is the programme manager at Accenture’s Fintech Innovation Lab in Dublin. He tells Siliconrepublic.com how he got to this role and what a typical day in the office is like for him.
Can you tell us about your background? Education, work history etc.
I am a Dublin-born mechanical engineer who took a sharp right turn from setting up electronic circuit board manufacturing lines in an AT&T Telecom plant in the Gaeltacht in north-west Donegal into IBM and enterprise software implementation and statistical process control software.
I’ve always had a bit of a travel bug – after exploring the job market while on holiday in California, I ended up working for KPMG Consulting in Silicon Valley, initially in Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and latterly focused on finding new emerging companies to help nurture, and in so doing built new KPMG service lines including Ariba.
I then came home to Ireland after five years and a lot of travel, and then took a very sharp left turn into stockbroking, specifically looking at the valuation and assessment of technology companies as an equity analyst in Merrion Capital.
With the bursting of the tech bubble and the consequential share price deflation, tech companies started to fizzle out. Corporate finance and the M&A market beckoned next – I focused on trying to identify hidden value in public and private companies and managing the sale of those assets or divisions: trying to find out where they would command the highest prices, find the buyer and close the deal.
In terms of education, I undertook a Mechanical Engineering Diploma in DIT Bolton St; followed by a Materials Engineering Degree in University of Limerick and then an MBA in Trinity College.
What steps led you to this role?
Once Accenture made a decision locally to establish Accenture’s Fintech Innovation Lab in Dublin, there was a requirement for a local programme manager. Given that I have a background of working with and evaluating start-ups, both here in Dublin and in the US, as well as my personal passion for emerging technologies and start-ups, I was selected to manage the programme.
If there is such a thing, can you describe a typical day in the job?
Any one day can be a mix of meetings with the Fintech Innovation Lab team to plan and organise multiple initiatives around the programme; liaising with the financial institutions and technology companies that are the Lab’s mentors and collaborators and, most importantly, depending on the phase of the programme, the selection or mentoring of companies.
The application process for our next intake is now open, so we will soon be in selection mode, where the focus is on sweeping, filtering and meeting, where possible, as many of the potential start-up candidates for the Lab as I can. So, a lot of coffee being consumed in these few weeks!
What types of project do you work on?
The majority of my time is focused on the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab Dublin, which is a three-month mentoring programme for entrepreneurs who are developing leading-edge technologies for the financial services sector. The Fintech Innovation Lab helps entrepreneurs accelerate product development and gain exposure to leading financial industry executives, culminating in Investor Day pitches in Dublin and London.
This is the second year that the Fintech Innovation Lab is being run in Dublin. The programme has been run successfully by Accenture in the major global financial centres, New York, London and Hong Kong, for the last four years.
What skills do you use on a daily basis?
Presenting, negotiation, spreadsheet analysis, business case generation, selling new ideas internally and externally, and critical assessment of value propositions.
Do you have any productivity tips that help you through the working day?
Start early, have a good plan and stay focused. Allocate only specific time windows for email.
How has this role changed as the fintech sector has grown and evolved?
Given the modestly-sized island we operate on, most start-ups have at least one eye on markets beyond our shores from the start. With fintech, this is especially important, and we are lucky to have London, one of the top three global financial hubs, within an hour’s travel of Dublin. As fintech has evolved, the need to get plugged into, and establish relevance in, international markets has become more critical to success. We have adapted our approach to make sure the participating companies can leverage both the wider transnational community of internal experts we have and, in particular, gain access to the bigger international banks overseas.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
It’s probably a combination of the wide variety of genuinely interesting people you get to meet (and hopefully help) across the start-up ecosystem, and the exposure to really stimulating new thinking, some of which will likely become mainstream in the next few years as these companies become established and achieve commercial success.
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