Shortlist for Accenture’s Leaders of Tomorrow
This year 18 budding entrepreneurs will go into the semi-final of the competition
Accenture’s Eithne Harley: “In the past we selected 12 entries to go forward to the semi-final stage; we’ve had to expand that to 18 this year as a result of the amazing quality and the huge increase in applications.”
This year’s Leaders of Tomorrow Competition has more entries than ever, more women and more social enterprises, according to Accenture’s Eithne Harley. “The quality of the applications has been incredible,” she says. “So much so that we’ve had to change our own rules. “In the past we selected 12 entries to go forward to the semi-final stage; we’ve had to expand that to 18 this year as a result of the amazing quality and the huge increase in applications.”
Applications were up 60 per cent to 143 this year, the ninth year of the competition which aims to identify, foster and recognise leadership potential and innovative thinking among aspiring entrepreneurs in third-level institutions in Ireland. The competition is open to students and newly-qualified graduates and offers the winners the opportunity to avail of top quality business mentoring and a chance to have their business ideas nurtured and developed on the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) Launchpad programme, one of Ireland’s most highly-rated start-up launch schemes.
Harley is business sponsor for the Leaders of Tomorrow Award and says the increased interest in the competition reflects a change in attitude towards entrepreneurship. “Students are now seeing start-ups as a career path,” she says. “The start-up space has matured here now and there are a lot of supports and programmes out there for it. Google, the LEOs, Leaders of Tomorrow and other programmes are there supporting budding entrepreneurs.We are on our way to becoming a start-up island and there is a lot of interaction between the multinationals and the start-ups.”
This year 15 per cent of the applicants to the Leaders of Tomorrow Award had entered other start-up competitions. “If we think back to when the award was established less than a decade ago we couldn’t have imagined the extent to which start-ups have taken centre stage. We are also finding that the lecturers in thehigher education institutes are alsotuning into the whole start-up and entrepreneurship agenda and this is another significant factor.”
“I am very passionate about this area. We took a conscious decision to encourage more women applicants this year and this has clearly worked. We organised an event on female entrepreneurship, for example. We had people like past finalist Norma O’Mahony there and that was great. The lack of visibility of female role models for young women entrepreneurs is a difficulty and we are trying to change that.”
The number of teams involved is another welcome aspect. “Overall, 72 per cent of our semi-finalists are in teams and the quality is excellent. This is quite important for their future prospects, as venture capitalists and other investors look at the ability of entrepreneurs to attract co-founders to their businesses.”
The type of businesses being developed by the applicants is interesting. “Twenty per cent are looking at services that match job candidates with suitable roles. That’s an indication of the change in the jobs market. Another 35 per cent involve apps that focus on mobile first [which] is very welcome as it shows that students are very much in tune with the market.”
Perhaps most interesting is the number of social enterprises. “Social enterprise is now highly respected and seen as a viable business model,” says Harley. “This year, 28 per cent of the applications were in the social enterprise space. We have one which is an app for connecting refugees with the different services they require; another called Connect The Dots which matches vacant spaces with developers and other stakeholders to meet housing needs; and then there is KeepAppy, a mental health application that generates positive messages to the user in relation to their own lives based on a journal that they keep.”
The competition is also attracting repeat entrants who are back with different ideas. “Peter Nagle was a finalist last year with his Air Bazaar app for selling unused airline tickets. He’s back with Bitcove, Ireland’s only online marketplace for crypto-currencies. Mark Kirwan entered last year with an app to assist the second-hand car trade. He’s flipped it this year to turn it into a marketplace for individuals buying and selling second-hand cars.”
Harley also points out the true value of entering. “Just taking part is of great value. Entrants get to work on a business idea and semi-finalists get the opportunity to pitch to senior executives in Accenture who give them advice and assistance with their ideas. They have the opportunity to explore the central topics of leadership, entrepreneurship and digital innovation as well as network with like-minded participants. They participate in structured development days which involve guest speakers and one-to-one mentoring.”
At the end of that process the six finalists present their developed idea to a panel of Irish business leaders which this year includes Fiona Tierney of the Public Appointments Service, Kerry McConnell of RSA Insurance, Gary Leyden of the NDRC, Liam Kavanagh of The Irish Times, and Aisling Cahill of Airbnb.
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The final takes place on March 2nd and Harley is looking forward to following the progress of this year’s crop of start-ups. “It really has evolved into a start-up competition”, she says. “We will remain in contact with the applicants and support them in any we can. One of the great things about the competition is the community of young entrepreneurs that it has created and we are establishing a Leaders of Tomorrow alumni group to help them stay in touch with each other. There are lots of exciting start-ups involved this year and it will be very interesting to see how they grow and develop in future.”