Ireland could be a global start-up hub by 2020, says Start-up Ireland CEO (video)

11 Jun 2015

Start-up Ireland CEO Eoin Costello.

There has never been a better time to be a start-up in Ireland. Start-up Ireland CEO Eoin Costello believes this is precisely why we need to double-down on the financial, infrastructural and educational infrastructure to sustain this momentum.

Long before becoming CEO of Start-up Ireland, Eoin Costello was in the data-hosting business and would have been a familiar face among Ireland’s small but growing internet community. After selling Novara to Digiweb, Costello did the opposite to what most entrepreneurs would do. Instead of hitting the golf course, he went back to college, then he engaged in a career of advising start-ups on investments as well as incubating them at the DIT Hothouse.

As CEO of Start-up Ireland, he is applying this unstoppable energy to raising the needs of start-ups at a political and policy level. He is also the driving force behind  the Start-up Gathering, a series of 50 events promoting Irish start-ups to global investors, which will take place around Ireland this October.

The initiative, backed by the Irish Government and led by Start-up Ireland, will see Dublin, Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick hold events for five days to showcase the start-up scene “to up to 15,000 people”.

Building Ireland’s entrepreneurial community

The event is aimed at highlighting the current start-up environment to attract investors from abroad, as well as lure foreign start-ups to Ireland to set up a base in the country.

“We have a very simple objective: to make Ireland a global start-up hub by 2020. Ireland can be an international destination for start-ups to scale-up and take on the world,” says Costello.

Costello is also on a crusade to create a level playing field for people to engage in entrepreneurship in Ireland.

“We are seeing a lot of activity and a lot of noise but there is quite a bit of fragmentation.

“The goal of the Start-up Gathering is to bring a lot of the great events and spread them out across a really focused, five-day series of events in five cities.

“Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford have the strength and depth to create international clusters in each city in areas like ICT, agri-tech, biopharma, medical devices or business services.

“The theme will be start, scale and succeed from Ireland.”

Scaling our ambitions

While Costello believes Ireland is currently one of the best places to start a start-up, scaling is another matter.

“Access to funding is critical, accessing big customers in other markets is also critical. Having secured €2.5m in investment and having secured traction with big customers, scaling beyond that is a real challenge.

“Our goal in the gradual development of Ireland as a start-up hub is to see more people engage in entrepreneurship and, in terms of being able to access customers in Ireland, multinationals have a key role to play in that.

“We need to develop effective interfaces for start-ups so that they don’t have to travel to the States every time just to get the first serious traction. That in itself wold create a situation where a lot more risk money is available for Irish start-ups.”

Financial supports

In recent weeks the Irish Government stepped up to the plate in terms of the launch of the ‘Start-Up Refunds for Entrepreneurs’, or SURE initiative, which allows entrepreneurs to obtain a refund from the Government of up to 41pc of the capital they invest in starting up a business.

But Ireland, Costello points out, is still at a competitive disadvantage to the UK in terms of effective entrepreneur relief schemes, seed capital tax structures and more.

“The challenge we face at the moment in the Republic of Ireland is that some entrepreneurs are registered for tax in Northern Ireland and run businesses in the south. Attracting entrepreneurial talent to Ireland is going to be challenging as long as the fiscal environment in terms of things like capital gains tax rates and investment reliefs are not as favourable as the UK.”

Costello believes entrepreneurship also needs to be better fostered within the education system.

He met with careers guidance counsellors and discovered that entrepreneurship is still not considered a career choice, while law and accountancy still top the list.

“Our goal is to use the Start-up Gathering to change this mindset and make entrepreneurship a choice that a lot more students will consider viable.”

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