Start-ups: Learning to walk before you run
There are a raft of agencies out there to help and advise before taking the plunge
Before the titans of the business world began to run, they had to learn to walk, and there are a raft of agencies out there that help Ireland’s budding entrepreneurs to do just that
Every cutting-edge multinational raking in millions of euro and employing thousands of people had to start somewhere. Before the titans of the business world began to run, they had to learn to walk, and there are a raft of agencies out there that help Ireland’s budding entrepreneurs to do just that.
Money is crucial for start-ups, of course, but sound and practical advice or mentoring are often as important.
The first port of call is your local enterprise office. There are 31 of these dotted around the State and they each provide advice, information and support to people who think they might have a good idea for a business.
Their remit is to provide support to local businesses that are starting up or in development, as well as promoting microenterprises, which are businesses with 10 or fewer employees.
They can provide advice on funding options, as well as offering training in starting and managing your business in the areas of marketing, sales, financial management, strategy and business planning.
And being local, they are well tuned in to the practical difficulties and opportunities in different parts of the State, as well as networks of local advisers.
Through mentors and “experienced experts”, they can advise you on local authority regulations, planning, accessibility, environment, procurement and other issues affecting your business.
The mentor programme tries to “match up” the knowledge and skills of experienced business practitioners with small business owners and managers who need practical and strategic one-on-one advice and guidance.
John O’Dea, manager of Enterprise Ireland’s high potential start-ups division, says another good place to seek help is his organisation’s Enterprise Start programme, which is essentially a workshop over two evenings with an experienced mentor.
“There is so much out there now that wasn’t out there 10 years ago, or even five years ago,” he says. “There are so many meet-ups and websites, and we run a number of programmes to help people.”
The workshops are designed to increase your understanding of your customers, your market, and your funding needs. Rather than sitting in a lecture hall, they endeavour to engage participants by being “practical, interactive and thought provoking”.
“People get comprehensive information to help them understand the business development process,” says O’Dea. “This includes key success factors as well as potential pitfalls.”
Enterprise Ireland also runs the New Frontiers programme. It is a three-phased scheme based in 14 centres across the State. Each year, it funds 150 companies but also helps entrepreneurs to understand whether their idea for a start-up will be feasible.
“It runs over about a month at weekends, during which time you get a proper assessment of the proposal,” says O’Dea. “We don’t fund you but you do it while you’re still in your job. At the end of that – if it looks like a decent enough proposition – we’ll fund you for six months.”
If you want good advice but don’t want to deplete precious resources on large consultancy fees, there are also more informal settings in which you can garner advice and direction from people who know what they’re talking about.
Dublin commissioner for start-ups Niamh Bushnell runs a “brekkie” event, where a “free and light breakfast buffet” is served while people in the start-ups industry are given the opportunity to network with each other.
Start-ups of all shapes and sizes get to meet Bushnell and talk about ideas. The event is held in her office in the Dublin Docklands Development Authority Building on Custom House Quay between 8am and 10am on the first Friday of every month.
“People – and particularly international entrepreneurs – often go to those sessions,” says Bushnell. “You can meet an awful lot of people at them. There are good service providers there who offer free or discounted set-up and accountancy, and services like that. It’s a good place to meet those people.”
The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME) is also on hand to advise and give guidance. “If you’re starting your own business, we can help you,” says chief executive Mark Fielding.
Taking the leap
Many of the larger chambers of commerce – although not all – provide similar services. In Cork, which will host the Start-Up Nations Summit 2016 in November, chief executive Conor Healy says it operates a “collaborative approach” with key players to support the sector.
“We all work in a shared environment where we’ve brought all the stakeholders together under an umbrella called Cork Innovates,” he says. “So everyone who has a role in start-ups works closely to ensure we have the best possible environment to support them.
“We have a particular focus on developing a thriving start-up sector. That involves having the appropriate incubation support centres and advisers in place.”
He adds that the chamber of commerce not only provides help and advice itself, but “acts a signpost” to other relevant agencies for start-ups.
“We’ve got the Enterprise Europe Network, which is based in our office,” he says. “Our role is to provide support where we can ourselves, but also to act as a signpost to the relevant private or public sector support that may be there.
“Through our own services, a key part of our activity is in helping businesses to grow and develop. We provide a range of services largely focused around business development, networking, training, and export supports.”