The need to embrace start-up culture

6 Oct 2011

James Whelton, 19-year-old entrepreneur

Ireland has the opportunity to build industries that could employ thousands of people who can work anywhere, but we need to be more supportive of entrepreneurs.

Speaking at the recent Net Visionary Awards where he was announced as the Overall Net Visionary Winner, founder of Stockbyte Jerry Kennelly, who is now the CEO of a new start-up called, said the beauty of the internet is that it meant he could start a global business without leaving Kerry. “One day soon I would like to see more Irish technology companies on NASDAQ.”

Irish people have been creating technology and content for centuries. Think of the mathematical precision of Newgrange, the intricacy of the artwork on the Book of Kells. Zoom forward to the 19th century and think of Sir Rowland Hamilton who engraved the formula for quaternions – the key to many of today’s state-of-the-art video games – on Brougham Bridge over the Grand Canal, or the Beaufort Scale’s invention by Irish-born Sir Francis Beafort.

Eight out of 10 of the world’s most powerful companies born on the web have chosen Ireland as a strategic hub for their businesses – they include Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Zynga, Amazon, PayPal and, most recently, Twitter.

While Ireland can bask in the glow of having these companies based here, we need to create our own technology success stories.

There are great examples of what’s possible. By the age of 26, Dylan Collins had sold his games software business Demonware to global video games giant Activision for under US$20m. Just a few years later Gamestop took a majority stake in his next venture Jolt Games.

Let’s not forget the Collison brothers from Limerick – John and Patrick who, at the ages of 17 and 19 respectively, sold their company Auctomatic for US$5m about three years ago. They are now in Silicon Valley working on their next big venture and have attracted investment from top US tech investor Peter Thiel.

There’s a vibrant new generation of young entrepreneurs who have embraced technology and software programming to build great new businesses. They include 19-year-old James Whelton from Cork who has deferred college for a year to focus on his business Disruptive Developments. Another person to keep an eye on is Westport teenager Aaron Joyce, whose e-commerce website is a success story. Joyce is sitting his Leaving Cert next year.

For Ireland to make it possible for people to build businesses and platforms, we need to be more embracing of start-up culture.

The country has been very lucky in the past year in terms of the tech giants locating here, but also the emergence of a powerful range of resources. These include three of Europe’s top 10 accelerators based here – the NDRC’s LaunchPad programme, the DCU Ryan Academy’s Propeller Fund and TechStars’ Startupbootcamp. And the good news is that Polars Ventures’ Dogpatch Labs has located an operation in Dublin with space for up to 70 entrepreneurs at a time.

We have the opportunity to build industries that could employ thousands of people who can work anywhere in Ireland.

But these are the things in my view that are getting in our way:

■ Our attitudes to failure – people have to be allowed to try and fail and try again

■ Our bankruptcy laws make it impossible for people to get back on that horse

■ We don’t have enough software developers – our education system isn’t sufficiently geared to create developers, and without armies of developers we cannot hope to be the Silicon Valley of Europe

There are creative steps the Government can take to fix many of these issues, from more comprehensive bankruptcy laws to tax breaks for software developers and a recognition of the creativity that is involved in creating the technologies of the future.

The opportunity is within our grasp, we just need to show a little imagination.

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