NDRC's Swequity scheme raises bar for start-ups
BUSINESSES MAY be built on ideas, but it takes a good team to take a concept and make it into a viable business. Many potential businesses never get off the ground because entrepreneurs don’t know where to turn for advice.
A new programme from the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) has been working to address this issue.
The “Swequity” Exchange brings together business development people, technical, marketing, and designers, all of whom are interested in the start-up zone, but haven’t got an idea themselves.
They are formed into teams, which are subsequently matched up with idea owners.
It’s a mutually beneficial situation. If the idea becomes a business, the team gets an equity stake.
For budding entrepreneurs, the progamme gives them advice and information they need from the very beginning.
This is the first year Swequity has been run, and it has attracted some interest. After the initial call went out earlier this year, a number of potential mentors and experts in business, technology and the creative industries came forward to take part. Mark Kearns, director of NDRC’s Inventorium, said the organisation was happy with the response to the programme.
Some of Swequity’s supporters include co-founder of Thousandseeds Mary Cronin, DMI’s Anthony Quigley, Softco’s Susan Spence and DFJ Esprit’s Brian Caulfield.
A number of events have already taken place where the idea owners have pitched ideas to the teams, and the teams, in turn, tried to sell their skill set to the different companies.
Over the past few weeks, the potential start-ups have used NDRC’s facilities to work and develop their idea, and the organisation has also run some workshops with experienced mentors on what the start-ups need to do to be successful.
The sessions cover everything from financial matters and the world of venture capital to marketing the value proposition.
From a total of 85 applications, 16 ideas were chosen. This was whittled down to eight for the final weeks of the programme.
The eight include Fab Lab Dublin, which is hoping to set up a workshop that offers digital fabrication services to the public – everything from 3D printing to laser cutting.
This idea came from MIT, and the Irish lab would concentrate on the digital and technological industry, with start-ups increasingly needing to create prototypes of their new products.
Then there’s Gotcha Ninjas, an educational social media and gaming platform that is designed to engage with both students and parents. Linking Learning, meanwhile, is touting an online curriculum planning service for primary school teachers.
Other potential businesses include ListenToItLater, an online platform that allows you to bookmark audio tracks and music; Distillr, an open government data management system; Rentable, which provides a social media platform that allows renters to discuss properties; retail reward card system Stamply; and emergency temp hiring service Tempity.
“Things like networking events give people an opportunity to talk to each other. But people really need something like this if they want to develop it through to a viable concept that has some prospect now of even getting that really early investment that we look at, never mind seed funding,” said Ben Hurley, chief executive of NDRC.
“That’s one of the things we believe strongly; that the experience of doing this stuff in the right environment helps people build better businesses.
“That is quite unique because you don’t get that from VC funding or programmatic funding. You get the money, which is really welcome and important, but you don’t get that experiential learning environment to the same degree.”
Tomorrow will see all eight businesses pitch to a panel and audience.
The panel will name the idea that it feels is the most promising. A second award will be given on the opinion of the audience.
There isn’t any prize at stake here; unlike other events run by NDRC, there is no funding to win. Instead, it is about raising the profile of the potential businesses, and possibly seeing them enter into an accelerator programme to push the business forward.
“It’s raising the bar for start-ups going into these programmes,” says Kearns.
Plans for a second round of Swequity are already in the works, he says.
And even those who haven’t made it to the final have got something out of the experience, widening their networks and contacts for possibly a second go at the scheme.
“It’s better to discover a idea doesn’t have legs after three weeks than after giving up your job,” says Kearns.