What makes Irish entrepreneurs tick? The NDRC finds out

5 Apr 2018

From left: Michael Lauhoff, Bank of Ireland; with Ben Hurley, NDRC. Image: Shane O’Neill/SON Photographic

NDRC research pegs Irish entrepreneurs as a bookish, bullish and resilient lot.

Irish start-ups are bullish about their growth potential and one in three are planning to expand to the UK despite the unfolding Brexit debacle.

But it is not all rosy in Dublin’s start-up land. NDRC research supported by Bank of Ireland finds that competing with tech giants such as Google and Facebook for talent is contributing to companies’ growing pains.

‘The findings show that a strong work ethic is a prerequisite when building a business from the ground up’

Nevertheless, international growth is the new mantra for NDRC companies, with plans afoot to expand to the UK and US, as well as countries such as Australia and New Zealand.

The US is the most potent market for Irish start-ups planning to significantly scale up.

Notably, few of the entrepreneurs see the unfolding Brexit drama as a cause for concern and one-third of entrepreneurs aim to locate operations in the UK within the next five years.

“Through our partnerships with businesses across Ireland, we have always found a resilient entrepreneurial spirit, so I’m not surprised to see the ambitious attitude of our start-ups despite developments such as Brexit,” commented Bank of Ireland’s director of business banking, Michael Lauhoff.

Entrepreneurship in its purest form

The lack of suitable pre-seed supports for globally scalable businesses was one of the reasons behind NDRC’s creation by the Department of Communications in 2007, in the aftermath of the closure of MIT’s MediaLab Europe.

Since then, NDRC has gone on to build and invest in more than 200 companies, which employ more than 800 people between them. Some of NDRC’s portfolio companies include: Logentries, FieldAware, Wia, Tandem HR Solutions and Nuritas, the latter of which recently announced a €16m funding round.

Over its history, around half of NDRC-backed ventures have secured follow-on funding, with the research finding that 88pc have taken two years to reach seed level and four years to reach Series A funding.

The research also found that 90pc founders have secured a college qualification of some description. However, almost one-third of entrepreneurs have no formal education in business or technology areas, with just 39pc having a background in computing.

In terms of motivation, half of the entrepreneurs cited working for themselves as a key reason to build a business. More than 70pc of the entrepreneurs were moved to start their business by having an idea they believed would sell, after they had identified a gap in market.

When it comes to funding, many relied on their own savings to fund their business ideas in the early stages, such was their conviction.

NDRC CEO Ben Hurley said that discovering what makes entrepreneurs tick is a valuable exercise.

“The findings show that a strong work ethic is a prerequisite when building a business from the ground up,” said Hurley.

“Meanwhile, Ireland’s education system helps, too, by providing a plethora of university graduates – something we’re seeing in the start-up space to great effect.”

Hurley continued: “Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the research is how two-in-five founders have a background in computing, a figure lower than perhaps many people expect.

“NDRC sees this at its purest form, with founding teams that enjoy a mixture of skills and backgrounds often proving the most robust. NDRC invests at a very early stage, which is a time when such a strong backbone to a business is of paramount importance.”

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