Perfect pitch for would-be entrepreneurs

Competition strengthens participants’ understanding of how to successfully develop and pitch business plans to potential investors

From left: Kieran McLoughlin, president and CEO of the Worldwide Ireland Funds, Lukas Decker of Coindrum, Ireland Funds Business Plan competition winner 2012, and Bill McKiernan, chair of the judging panel and co-founder of CyberSource, at the Aviva Stadium

The Ireland Funds Business Plan competition will see six teams of young people pitching their business ideas to an expert judging panel tomorrow for a chance of winning €16,000 in cash prizes and in-kind supports from the DCU Ryan Academy, the Guinness Business Centre and Bank of Ireland.

The Ireland Funds launched its inaugural Business Plan last year to nurture creativity and hone entrepreneurial skills among early-stage entrepreneurs from the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Last year's winner, Lukas Decker, secured finance from Irelandia Investments for his company Coindrum, which allows airline travellers to exchange unwanted loose change for vouchers that can be spent in airport shops.

The main purpose of the competition is to strengthen participants’ understanding of how to successfully develop and pitch their business plans to potential investors by putting them in front of a judging panel of leading entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists who provide feedback in the business ideas themselves and the pitches.


Big opportunities
The Irish Times is proud media partner to the competition which will take place tomorrow from 1-6pm at the Guinness Enterprise Centre in Dublin. The Ireland Funds have assembled a panel of judges from the US and Ireland who will review the finalists' pitches and select a winner and two runners-up.

Chair of the judging panel and co-founder of US company Cybersource, Bill McKiernan, says "every job starts with an entrepreneur. If we can encourage entrepreneurship in Ireland then it can go some way to helping create jobs. By hosting a national business plan for young people and exposing them to people who have been successful entrepreneurs, we will try to give them some confidence in starting a business and assure them that it's okay to fail."

McKiernan says he has plans to invest in any idea that impresses him on the day.

“I look for ideas that are going after big opportunities and big markets, have a strong value proposition for the customer and a competitive advantage.

“I often ask myself would I use this product or service? I then try to gauge whether the person is a good entrepreneur and whether they have the intellectual capacity, confidence and work ethic to succeed.”

McKiernan says Ireland is a “hot bed” of entrepreneurial activity. “It’s got a well-educated work force and good work ethic. There’s an entrepreneurial spirit in Ireland that hasn’t been nurtured as much in Silicon Valley in the US.”

With grandparents from Leitrim, McKiernan says he feels an obligation to help find and produce entrepreneurs in Ireland.

“In the US it’s common for people to give back and help their schools or charities. So many of us have roots here and want to help or give back, so it’s great that the Ireland Funds can facilitate that,” he says.

Alan Foy, a member of the judging panel and chief executive of Irish IP telephony business Blueface, says he is looking forward to seeing the six teams in action tomorrow.

Foy outlines what he’s looking for from a good business pitch: “We want to see a team who can ascertain that there is a good opportunity for the ideas they’re pitching.

“I’m looking for a realistic plan for executing their idea – the more realistic the operational and financial plan, the better. I’ve seen lots of business plan pitches but you need to marry a great idea with a solid financial plan. You have to be able to show me the numbers, the results and your predicted forecasts.”

Foy says the team format of the competition is vital. “I’m always interested to see the team of people and the promoters involved because that’s what you always look at from an investment perspective. You alone can be great at X or Y, but if you have a complement of great people working with you who have different skills and capabilities, then that’s always a bonus.”

Business planning
Foy says he's always on the lookout for investment opportunities, but will be particularly interested in anything digital, media, communications or web-related because of his background in telephony.

“The winner gets money but also support and advice and incubation space. Each of the judges is available to provide mentorship to winners if they require it,” he says.

"It gives young people an opportunity to present their idea to a panel of judges and get constructive feedback. It's not an 'us and them' Dragons' Den situation, it's about getting a team up to the point where they're investor ready .

“The Business Plan competition is all about supporting the planning process and promoting confidence among the finalist teams. I think it will be a really interesting group and we look forward to supporting them, giving them feedback and a network to connect with on the entrepreneurial journey. Networks of advice are vital.”