Ireland needs educational focus on entrepreneurship from a young age

25 Apr 2019

Image: © Halfpoint/

A new white paper says entrepreneurship should be taught in schools and pitching should be a third-level subject.

If Ireland wants to have a best-in-class start-up ecosystem, then entrepreneurship will have to be taught in schools from a young age.

That’s one of the insights to emerge from a white paper produced by international aircraft leasing company Avolon. Entitled ‘Project I’, it assessed Ireland’s start-up ecosystem and compared it with the best in the world.

‘Ireland’s economic advantages are many, but what differentiates us is our ability to adapt and be nimble’

The focus of the white paper was to identify how Ireland can position itself at the forefront of global start-up innovation and sustain that position over the coming decades.

Essentials for success

The report outlines the five stages in the evolution of successful start-up businesses: education, early-stage funding, acceleration, venture funding, and growth and exit.

The report details each of these five ‘essentials for success’ and how Ireland currently performs relative to global best-in-class ecosystems. It includes recommendations for ensuring the best outcome for start-up innovators at each stage.

The report found that success at each stage is built on the availability of world-class talent, mentors who have experience scaling companies and ‘smart capital’. While Ireland has an abundance of talent, the mentor network is not developed and sufficiently effective and there is a significant deficiency of high-quality risk capital. Underlying each of the five stages is also a strong culture. Even where each stage is perfectly resourced, if the right culture is not in place, the system will not reach its potential.

The CEO of Avolon, Dómhnal Slattery, said that led by the Government, Ireland needs to communicate its ambition to succeed globally, build and sustain an ecosystem that is recognised for world-class start-up innovation, and foster an environment and understanding that failure is often a necessary step towards success.

“We are a small island nation but Ireland still plays a leading role in world commerce. We can all be proud of our impact and our influence, which is felt wherever global capital flows. Ireland’s economic advantages are many, but what differentiates us is our ability to adapt and be nimble.

“With a global reputation for business acumen, imagination and work ethic, we are uniquely placed to be a global start-up leader. Project I is our contribution to that goal, and our research demonstrates that achieving it and all of the societal benefits that travel with it requires the commitment of our educators, Government, business community and diaspora.

“The challenges are real, but the goal is absolutely attainable. We believe the benefits – keeping our best and brightest, attracting our diaspora home, driving employment, increasing Government revenue and energising our youth – are worth the effort.”

Honing a national entrepreneurial mindset

Responding to further questions from, a spokesperson for Avolon said that it is not only about creating the conditions for start-ups to emerge, but also for existing companies to scale up.

“We need an educational focus on entrepreneurship at a young age. Pitching should be also a third-level subject; we should teach it.

“Early-stage funding needs to be accessed easier and more quickly. Alas, because Enterprise Ireland is the dominant and often only player in this market, it is hugely restricted by the amounts of funding and support it can deliver. We need to make it easier for private funding to enter earlier, and that means incentives.”

They also called for an accelerator to bring start-ups from local to globally focused businesses. “A world-class accelerator is a cornerstone of all the global leaders in start-up innovation. Ireland needs that hub; a venue for the best and brightest to thrive and, most importantly, stay here in Ireland.”

The Avolon spokesperson also tackled the unresolved problems around capital gains tax and other incentives that require a systemic overhaul.

“Venture funding will only be attracted by favourable tax incentives and therefore suitable places for capital. Without this capital, far too often either Government is expected to fund the gap, or the start-ups move to where the money is. We must do more to attract venture capitalists to Ireland.

“Companies today will leave Ireland to scale up; the economic conditions simply do not exist to encourage them to do so in Ireland. We must change that. That requires a change in culture and funding models.

“Why can’t we build a Facebook or a Stripe right here in Ireland and keep them headquartered here? To do that we must look at providing the funding, mentoring and networking tools for companies that wish to scale. Ireland has got to become an attractive place to enter and exit businesses. When founders do look to exit, they must be rewarded for their bravery and risk-taking. We have to incentivise entrepreneurship.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years