Finding the next generation of innovator
Enterprise keeps changing and Accenture scheme evolves with different start-ups
Alastair Blair of Accenture: “The vibrant start-up scene in Dublin is very much reflected in the applications we have been getting over the past two or three years.” Photograph: Shane O’Neill .
The Accenture Leaders of Tomorrow Award offers students and newly qualified graduates from third-level institutions throughout the country the opportunity to avail of top-quality business mentoring and a chance to have their business idea nurtured and developed on one of Ireland’s most highly rated start-up launch programmes. In its ninth year,the programme aims to identify, foster and recognise leadership potential and innovative thinking among aspiring entrepreneurs.
The award is structured as a competition of three rounds which begins with entrants submitting a business idea or concept which will be developed through the competition into a viable business plan. During subsequent rounds, they get the opportunity to explore the central topics of leadership, entrepreneurship and digital innovation as well as network with like-minded participants.
Structured development days which include guest speakers and one-to-one mentoring organised by Accenture allow participants to identify and develop attributes. At the end of the process they get to present their developed idea to a panel of Irish business leaders
The overall winner will visit one of Accenture’s Global Innovation Centres as part of the Leadership and Innovation Tour prize. Previous winners have been to France, India and New York. Winners will also secure a space on the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) Launchpad programme, a three-month accelerator for digital start-ups. They will receive expert mentorship, weekly workshops and advice to help turn their idea into a business reality. The winner also has the option of a six-month internship with Accenture following completion of the launchpad.
Previous winners have included Groopeze (groopeze.com), an online group travel and activity booking platform developed by UCD Innovation Academy graduate Darragh Kirby; Nubi Kay and Alex Keaney of the UCD Smurfit School for a new smartphone app that will streamline text and messaging services on a phone into one unified feed; and Cents for Change which offers online banking customers a convenient way to donate to charity, developed by DCU ecommerce masters students James Barry and Callum Bashford.
Past finalists which have gone on to develop as businesses include Carster.co, an on-line marketplace that matches car servicing and repairs needs with qualified service professionals that offer collection and delivery , and effy is an online rostering network that aims to take the stress out of rosters for both managers and employees.
That focus has evened out . “The vibrant start-up scene in Dublin is very much reflected in the applications we have been getting over the past two or three years”, Blair notes. “In fact, in many cases we have been getting pretty much as near as you can get to fully fledged businesses entering the competition. The applicants are coming to us with innovative business ideas, the commercial nous to turn them into reality, and the courage to go out there and make the businesses work.”
That has led to a change in emphasis by Accenture. “We kept very close to last year’s winners to see how they are getting on and our intention is to work very closely with the third-level institutions and all the applicants to help them take their ideas to market,” he adds. “The idea might not be fully thought-out yet or the business could even be up and running, we want to help them at whatever stage by helping them get on to programmes like Kickstart or into university-based incubators. Start-ups are really important to the economy and society and we are anxious to play our part in helping them succeed.”
He believes it is vital to encourage female entrepreneurship. “We are concerned about the relatively low number of female entrepreneurs involved in business generally and we are anxious to engage them while they are still in college,” says Blair. “We are holding a special event for female applicants here in our Dublin office on Thursday [November 26th] with the aim of encouraging more female undergraduates to become involved.”
He believes there is a mindset to be changed and attitudes towards Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (Stem) subjects are an indicator of this.
“We carried out research into why young women are not pursuing careers in Stem,” he explains. “It showed that 80 per cent of girls believe that studying Stem subjects leads to better career opportunities and 57 per cent of them associate high salaries with the sector. On the other hand, 49 per cent of girls believe Stem subjects match male career jobs, 29 per cent believe they are more suited to boys’ brains, and even more worryingly, 78 per cent of teachers think nursing and hairdressing appeal exclusively to girls and that engineering appeals exclusively to boys. We need to change those attitudes and perceptions and we can start by helping create more female role models for girls to follow. Eighty per cent of the girls surveyed said the science and technology sector is lacking in female role models.”
The coverage of the programme has widened. “We are now looking for applications from graduates across the third level spectrum – the universities and the institutes of technology around the country. There are brilliant people with brilliant ideas coming out of all of them and we want to hear from them.”
Alumni for networking
Applications to participate in the 2016 Leaders of Tomorrow programme should be submitted by December 6th , the finalists will be chosen on January 29th and the winner announced on March 2nd. Applications should be made to email@example.com and Blair points to an important difference this year. “For the first time we are allowing people submit applications on video. Lots of people can express themselves better on video than in a written presentation or a PowerPoint slide deck. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to get their ideas across.”