‘Financial supports are a real game changer for companies at this point’

17 Aug 2020

Carol Gibbons. Image: Enterprise Ireland

Enterprise Ireland’s Carol Gibbons spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about how Covid-19 has affected companies and the supports that are available to them.

Covid-19 has put many businesses under intense financial strain in recent months, due to both a decline in customer demand and uncertainty within the markets.

However, Carol Gibbons, a divisional manager at Enterprise Ireland with responsibility for the ICT and international service sectors, told Siliconrepublic.com that due to its positive export results from 2019, many businesses started 2020 in a very good position.

“From 2018 to 2019 on the tech side, we’re seeing an 11pc increase with an annual business return of €2.41bn,” she said.

According to Enterprise Ireland, the main territories for digital technology exports in 2019 were the US and Canada at €1bn, the UK at €454m and the Eurozone at €417m. Gibbons noted the promising increase in the Eurozone exports, which were up 21pc on 2018 figures.

“In one sense, we finished out 2019 very strong and going in absolutely the right direction, showing that we’re helping companies over the last number of years to innovate their products and their services, working with company CEOs and management teams and looking at their ambition and their drive, so really started the year in a very good position,” she said.

‘Uncertainty in the markets’

While the increase in exports last year gave many companies a healthy position to start off the year, Covid-19 has caused the first half of 2020 to look very different, with companies facing uncertainty in relation to both markets and customers.

“The uncertainty in the markets have caused issues for companies,” said Gibbons. “Particularly in the travel-tech industry, that market particularly dried up over the last number of months and that uncertainty … as to when they might see a bounce back in that market is quite difficult.”

Gibbons added that other digital markets, such as cybersecurity, have remained stable, enabling companies within that space to drive forward. Meanwhile, other businesses have pivoted in terms of research and development to assist with the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘It’s about being agile’

Additionally, the mass move to remote working has changed how companies need to reach their international markets and Gibbons said Enterprise Ireland is working in that area at the moment.

“We’re also working with market experts and bringing clusters of companies together online to discuss how to access markets. So, the landscape is very different with respect to people really not being able to travel overseas and getting to buyers in the normal way.”

However, she noted that this could be seen as a positive aspect in terms of levelling the playing field for businesses. “But to do that correctly is important and we’ve given companies a lot of assistance in that regard through our overseas offices,” she said.

Gibbons added that the organisation is also hosting online webinars to help companies understand where their overseas markets are currently at, with experts speaking about particular sectors.

“We’ve had to change the way that we interact with companies as well … more of our discussions are now online and it’s about bringing companies together.”

Financial aid

While almost every company has had to come to terms with their own needs and challenges surrounding Covid-19, Gibbons said Enterprise Ireland had to look at its own strategies too. “In a very, very short time frame, we’ve turned those around from a funding package point of view,” she said.

“We have quickly got up to speed in terms of where our client companies are at in terms of their financing needs and we have put in financial supports and mechanisms to look at addressing company needs over the last number of months.

“It’s about being agile … we talk to our companies about their agility, their innovation capability and, in practice, we’ve put that to the test ourselves.”

Gibbons said the Government’s July stimulus package provided a number of supports, giving companies both financial loans and grant assistance. For example, through Enterprise Ireland’s Sustaining Enterprise Fund, 50pc of the funding provided is available on a non-repayable basis, up to a maximum of €200,000.

“We’re working with a number of companies at the moment in the tech space and that grant assistance along with other financial package supports is a real game changer for companies at this point,” said Gibbons.

“Our plans going forward with a number of companies is to absolutely look at their needs in terms of their business plans, their ability to pivot in some cases, and what can we do to support them in terms of markets or through our overseas offices.”

Gibbons added that any companies that are unsure about the supports on offer should contact Enterprise Ireland and it will “work hand in hand with them”. For more information on the Covid-19 supports available, click here.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic