Ireland has always had a pro-business attitude characterised by low taxes, investment in growth through innovation and the hub of tech and life science behemoths such as Dell, Johnson & Johnson, Google, IBM and Cisco reflects that. But now Enterprise Ireland (EI), the Irish government body responsible for supporting the development and growth of Irish enterprises, is pulling that into a sharper focus with help for UK start-ups willing to come and join us.
If you’ve read the papers recently, you’d be forgiven for thinking that global interest in Ireland has been tempered and the Celtic Tiger roar is more of meow these days. In fact, the recession plus the fall in the Euro has made Ireland a very cost-competitive base for internationally focussed start-ups with low-cost rents and access to a lower cost but highly skilled workforce.
That’s exactly why the Irish government set up EI’s Overseas Entrepreneurship team. We have a remit to attract what we call High Potential Start-Up (HPSU) companies from the IT, financial services and life sciences sectors to relocate to Ireland. One of our big focuses is the start-up fund, which offers up to €500,000 of funding from a pot of €10million for existing start-ups who relocate.
We don’t provide all the funding to get your business off the ground and would want you to invest a significant proportion yourself or raise funds from commercial sources. But we can help with advice and introductions to other investors in Ireland. And unlike many other investors we do not normally take a Board seat or take more than 10% of the ordinary equity so you retain control.
We also know it’s about more than money and we’ve found direct assistance works well. The Irish government provides direct long-term strategic support for entrepreneurial start-ups that come to Ireland to grow. Our goal is to actively support start-ups with advice and access to a network of contacts, mentoring, training and our universities to aid research and development. Schemes such as our Internet Growth Acceleration programme (iGAP) - where companies can apply for a six-month intensive management development programme aimed exclusively at high potential internet/games companies – have flourished.
One UK company that has used EI start-up support is the now VC-backed Digit Game Studios. Its co-founders, Richard Barnwell and Martin Frain, have a rich heritage in triple-A games and are working on a new IP for hard-core social games, developed for cross-platform support. Crucially, the appeal for Digit wasn’t just our support, it was Ireland’s ecosystem. Digit found that it could employ locally because most people had transferable tech skill that were perfect for the gaming industry and Ireland’s intertwined IT community helped them to get noticed. The Digit co-founders are already thinking about expansion, using the influence of the big US tech giants in Ireland as leverage for growth, particularly as we are one of the two Eurozone countries that speak English and the closest to the North American market.
It’s this commitment to start-ups and next-generation technologies – even during the global recession – which we believe will help UK entrepreneurial and dynamic start-ups and give them the support network to thrive.