“Our ambition is for Enterprise Ireland to be the world’s best enterprise development agency,” says Enterprise Ireland CEO Leo Clancy.
“We are committed to delivering a world class service to our clients and increasing our impact on the Irish economy.
“We would normally have held some of this week’s events at different times of the year but holding them at the same time has allowed us to bring our entire team together from here in Ireland and around the world along with the Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs) and other key stakeholders.
“We have been able to look back over the past 25 years and forward to what the next 25 might hold.”
The organisation has a very solid base to build on. “Enterprise Ireland client companies employ over 218,000 people in communities across the country, 68 per cent of them outside of Dublin,” Clancy says.
“Every town in the country is supported by them in one way or another. We often forget about sectors like family farms, but there are 135,000 family farms in Ireland which are supported by the food processing industry which is selling their produce into export markets.”
Hearteningly, businesses that can be classified as green and sustainable have been growing very strongly in recent years. “We saw 13 per cent employment growth in those enterprises last year,” Clancy says.
“One very interesting business in that space is Action Zero which is working with Glanbia on its decarbonisation efforts. Irish construction companies are working on onshore and offshore wind projects. And then there is Inclusio which is providing diversity and inclusion solutions for client companies. There is a huge range of activities involved.”
Agritech is another burgeoning sector. “Everyone knows about the McHales and the Keenans but there are lots of new innovative new start-ups in the area,” Clancy explains.
“For example, Pearson Milking Technology won an award at the Enterprise Arena at the Ploughing for its AI enabled system for assessing cows. Irish agritech companies can make a major contribution to solving global nutrition challenges in the years ahead.”
The common thread linking these companies is innovation. “To be competitive on global markets, Irish companies need to be operationally excellent, digitally enabled, and have innovative products,” Clancy says.
“In 2021, the investment in innovation by Enterprise Ireland supported companies increased to €1.3 billion from €1.1 billion the previous year. We are seeing significant growth in this critically important area as companies invest in their innovation capability.”
He believes a greater focus on sustainability is required, however. “I do worry that not enough firms are sustainability ready.
“Every company needs to have a sustainability plan in place. If they don’t, they might not be in business in three to seven years’ time.
“Sustainability is a passport to doing business now and in the future. That will be an increasing area of focus for Enterprise Ireland in the coming years.
“We want to help Irish companies to scale sustainably while meeting Ireland’s decarbonisation targets for 2030.”
Looking ahead to the longer term, Clancy believes Irish enterprise has much more to offer the Irish economy. “There is much talk about Ireland being over dependent on FDI (foreign direct investment) but that is the wrong conversation to have,” he says.
“Irish enterprise has a much more significant impact over time. We see Irish enterprise accounting for a much more significant portion of the economy in 25 years’ time.
“We need FDI as well of course, and Ireland is uniquely well placed for collaboration between multinationals and domestic firms across the ecosystem.
“We should never underestimate the potential of that uniquely connected ecosystem.”
A key aim for Enterprise Ireland is to support more large Irish companies to achieve global scale while remaining Irish. “We are having conversations now with ambitious Irish businesses who want to remain Irish,” Clancy says.
“We are asking if they have the ambition and ability to grow to €1 billion in scale over time. And we are seeing businesses which have raised private equity funding to compensate original founders but are staying Irish.”
Of course, the funding environment has got tougher over the past 18 months. “We are addressing this by working with the Irish Strategic Investment Fund and the European Investment Fund and we are at the early stage of selecting companies for the €90 million Irish Innovation Seed Fund,” Clancy explains.
“Even in the current funding environment we will ensure there is capital available to support innovative Irish firms.”
He believes the conditions exist for Irish enterprise to continue on its strong growth trajectory. “Enterprise Ireland was formed out of a merger of two State enterprise support agencies 25 years ago. That came out of a deep understanding of the critically important role enterprise plays in the economy,” Clancy says.
“We are often at risk of taking that understanding for granted, but I am pleased to say that societal, political, and institutional support for enterprise is as strong now as it has ever been.”