Entrepreneurs: Be brave, borderless and live on the edge

9 Mar 2020

Prof Andrew Burke. Image: Luke Maxwell/Siliconrepublic.com

The major themes at the Trinity Business & Technology Forum focused on borderless business and brave entrepreneurs.

“We have never been more interdependent as a race than we are at this moment,” said Trinity Business School dean Prof Andrew Burke in his opening address at the 2020 Trinity Business & Technology Forum.

The theme of the day was borderless business and, commenting on the most recent travails hampering international business, Burke quipped: “Viruses don’t stop at borders either.”

Later, he and Brendan McDonagh, the recently appointed chair of the Trinity Business School advisory board, discussed how the spread of coronavirus has highlighted the weaknesses of borderless business. McDonagh assured the audience, however, that oncoming transformations will put paid to those weaknesses.

“We can decentralise a corporation over a weekend these days,” he said, speaking to the increasing digitalisation of work and the workforce’s ability to keep going with remote access.

‘We can decentralise a corporation over a weekend these days’

In McDonagh’s estimation, 70 to 80pc of staff in some businesses can work remotely, provided there’s adequate broadband and other necessities available, but he keenly observed the limitations of the remote working revolution.

“You can’t really digitalise Toner’s pub,” he said of the familiar post-work haunt on Dublin’s Baggot St. This, he warned, is the downside of working from home: the loss of interaction.

He also raised the issue of how small businesses built around servicing workers in office blocks around the country would suffer.

Both McDonagh and Burke arrived at the conclusion that the remote, borderless workforce is inevitable, but that it should be both flexible and optional. “A blended approach,” offered Burke. “But no turning back,” concluded McDonagh.

Taking a leap into business

It’s this shifting and fluid business landscape that companies taking their first steps will help to shape. One such fledgling company getting ready to spin out from Trinity is led by Prof Parvaneh Mokarian.

Mokarian participated in Trinity Research & Innovation’s breakout workshop at the event, and was surprised at how the panel discussion became more about her personal journey as a researcher turned entrepreneur.

Noted as one to watch, Mokarian is a research associate professor at the AMBER research centre and Trinity’s School of Chemistry, and now co-founder and CEO of her own deep tech start-up. Her company is developing coatings based on bio-inspired nanotechnology, which could give us anti-glare screens and antimicrobial implants.

One of the themes of Mokarian’s panel was bravery, as it takes guts to make the move from researcher to entrepreneur and take on the added risks that come with the title. For Mokarian, though, she keeps her “double life” compartmentalised.

“The way that I see it is to separate the start-up from the person. Like let’s say if I do this start-up company and it doesn’t succeed, I won’t consider this as a failure. Maybe I can say the company failed but as a person I can say I grew a lot in this role,” she advised.

‘The edge is a place where entrepreneurs live. It is a place where entrepreneurs are comfortable’

Neil Gordon, Mokarian’s fellow panellist, was pleased that the workshop recognised how brave and exciting it is for researchers to try and commercialise their work.

“It’s not something they’re actually used to,” said the university’s start-up development manager. “It’s not something they’re familiar with. It’s not the life they’re from. But they have to realise that there are people and there are supports out there to help them go down that direction.”

Leonard Hobbs, director of Trinity Research & Innovation, had also paid tribute to the entrepreneurs in his opening speech. Defining an edge as the place furthest from the middle, exposed to both interaction and risk, he said: “The edge is a place where entrepreneurs live. It is a place where entrepreneurs are comfortable.”

But this edge, Hobbs added, is blurring as the relationship between business and technology itself becomes borderless. And it is the entrepreneurs, he believes, that will bring the two seamlessly together.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.