Inspiration and optimism at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards

If we could harness the positivity in the air at Citywest, Ireland could really do the business

 EY Entrepreneur of the Year winner Brendan Mooney of Kainos  with his wife Eileen, daughter Katie and sons Ciaran and Odhran. Huge economic benefit would be realised if Ireland could produce another 100 Mooneys. Photograph: Alan Betson

EY Entrepreneur of the Year winner Brendan Mooney of Kainos with his wife Eileen, daughter Katie and sons Ciaran and Odhran. Huge economic benefit would be realised if Ireland could produce another 100 Mooneys. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Last Thursday, more than 1,400 people gathered in Citywest to acclaim the best of Irish entrepreneurship. The room was buzzing with optimism, the air was infectious with positivity and celebration.

These business leaders, many of them former finalists in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards programme, have formed a strong bond; a group with a history of shared experiences, facing common challenges. Thursday night was an opportunity to share stories of those current challenges and inspire each other with ideas of how they are attempting to overcome them.

This year’s 24 finalists have created extraordinary shareholder value, meeting customer needs better than their competitors, with combined annual sales of over half a billion euro and employing almost 3,000 people. Every one of them has an ambitious vision for their enterprise. They know how they want to get there; they have a belief that they will, somehow, be successful.

Out of that group, Brendan Mooney of Northern Ireland tech company Kainos emerged as the 2016 EY Entrepreneur of the Year. In the past few weeks, the judges’ final debates were intense, the competition more severe than in any recent year.

Many of the 24 finalists could justifiably have been selected as the winner; it was an exceptionally strong field. Mooney was selected because he has created a truly world-class business, with rapid growth in recent years and an even brighter future. Kainos has doubled the scale of the business in the past three years and is hugely ambitious, aiming to continue that rate of growth.

In 2015, it became just the third Northern Irish company to list on the main market of the London Stock Exchange, and has been recognised as one of the most successful IPOs of last year, with a current market capitalisation of £240 million.

Best places to work

Mooney spoke with great respect about his colleagues, during his TV profile on UTV last week. “When you’ve got 950 talented colleagues, there’s not much you can’t do,” he said. Mooney, and his colleagues, deserve the acclaim.

Huge economic benefit would be realised if Ireland could produce another 100 Mooneys; if each of them achieved the level of success achieved by Kainos, and if more entrepreneurs provided the sort of leadership that seems to be effortless to him. We need to do whatever is required to remove the barriers to the creation of more like him.

Positivity flowed throughout the night, overcoming the inevitable disappointment of those 21 finalists who were not selected as category winners. These entrepreneurs are accustomed to overcoming disappointments: resilience and self-belief seem to be common traits among this diverse group. These entrepreneurs are willing to take risks, determined to take advantage of a recovering economy and audacious enough to take on some of the largest competitors in the world.

When senior managers in businesses are asked what stops them starting their own business, they speak about a lack of a competitive source of funding, a perceived lack of skills, a shortage of good ideas, a fear of failure and how such failure is seen by Irish society, and an unwelcoming business and tax environment. Even the most optimistic entrepreneur can recognise these barriers, yet they go ahead and start a business anyway.

Barriers are reducing

The business environment is far from perfect and more needs to be done, but currently active entrepreneurs seem to believe that they have an endless list of opportunities, that talent can be attracted, funding can be secured, and suitable rewards are achievable when a new business is a success.

Enrobed in the positivity of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards event, it seems the only real barrier to more and bigger new businesses is the motivation, the attitude and risk appetite of potential new entrepreneurs. The acclaim for Mooney, and other successful entrepreneurs, might drive some more ambitious individuals over the edge into the life of an entrepreneur, fortified with the courage to confront the many start-up challenges.

Michael Carey is managing director of start-up biscuit business East Coast Bakehouse, chairman of Bord Bia and a judge on the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

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