Investor says disruptive innovation is key to success

Start-up Academy event told of tough decisions at the helm of a company

Ransoms, relationships and kidnapping were just some of the topics that emerged at the second AIB Start-up Academy event, which took place in Cork this week.

Investor and former RTÉ dragon Sean O’Sullivan told the start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs present that heading up a company can lead to some very tough decisions.

The entrepreneur, who founded JumpStart International in Iraq in 2003 to help Iraqis rebuild homes and offices in the country, said he was once asked to pay the ransom of an employee who was kidnapped.

O’Sullivan said he had to make the extremely difficult decision not to do so, as he had more than 3,000 people working for JumpStart at the time.


He advised the audience to “search for clarity and the legacy you want to leave in life”, saying a near-death experience while flying a helicopter was the catalyst he needed to quit his job and set up his own business.

Falling like a rock from a thousand feet before an emergency engine restart right above a Boston highway, he managed to recover at the last moment and land safely.

Turning point
The next day he quit his job. At moments like these, he told the gathered entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, one determines what one really wants to do.

“If you don’t have constant pressure you won’t make tough choices. Only under threat from the EU and foreign influences did Ireland do hard things,” he added.

He advised the audience to look for places in the market that they can disrupt, saying disruption is key to how other entrepreneurs succeeded.

Kooky Dough co-founder Graham Clarke encouraged aspiring entrepreneurs to dive right in, and stop coming up with excuses for not turning their idea into a business.

“If you wait around for the perfect time, you’ll never get the ball rolling.”

He also advised entrepreneurs to learn from other people's mistakes saying "it's cheaper".

Three companies pitched on the night, to show aspiring entrepreneurs and early- stage start-ups how a pitch is done.

The three start-ups were drawn from different sectors, food, publishing and childcare, and online collaboration.

They were Writing for Tiny, and Organic Little One, which has just signed a deal with 86 SuperValu stores nationwide.

Gail Condon of Writing for Tiny, which makes personalised and helpful ebooks to help parents to talk to children, said the company was looking for an investment of €120,000 to employ people. founder Peter Coppinger, whose clients include Nasa, Walt Disney and Microsoft, told the audience it is not always right to look for investment from venture capitalists or private equity firms.

“The only reason you should take investment is if you want to be the first to market. Unless you are going to be the next Amazon, don’t take investment.”

Coppinger’s company recently shelled out $675,000 (€500,000) for the domain name – the most expensive domain name ever purchased by an Irish firm.

The next event takes place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Galway on May 14th.