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Standing up for Enterprise Ireland

I’ve known Shane Ross since I was in Trinity College (in fact I’m pretty sure I voted for him as senator). He’s a very smart guy who certainly knows what it takes to start a business. But he’s missing an important point in his takedown of Enterprise Ireland

EI is obviously far from perfect. Like a lot of large organisations (whether it’s semi-state or not) it has plenty of inefficiencies. But for all its problems, it’s a critical part of Ireland’s technology startup ecosystem. Who is the co-investor in most tech startups launched in Ireland? Indeed, who do you think is the cornerstone investor in every single Irish venture capital fund which invests in those same startups? Although there have been definite exceptions (and realistically probably always will be), Enterprise Ireland has been involved in virtually every startup success to come out of this country. You’ll rarely read about the work that Tom CusackRay WalshSimone Boswell and several others do (it’s why I’m proud to be one of their Startup Ambassadors). There’s a lot of company founders who owe them a favour or six.

Starting companies is a messy, ugly, bloody business. The media does a good job at glorifying it but the reality is that most of the time you’re fighting for survival, breaking rules and grinding. I’ve talked about this before, the statistical outcome of most startups is death. Which means that a lot of EI investment (in its various forms) will end up in companies which don’t succeed (hence job losses). This is normal. This is how it plays out. This is the necessary failure which is part of any technology startup strategy.

EI has lots of room for improvement. By all means call that out. But criticising them for unsuccessful companies and job losses is spectacularly missing the point.

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  • Couldn’t agree with you more Dylan.

    Beyond the financial contributions made by EI, I think many other investors rely on EI in terms of a very valuable stamp of approval on a startups future prospects; a vote of confidence by EI will be a tremendous benefit for any new business in their dealings with investors, suppliers and just in general as they go about their daily business.

    LIke you said, every organisation has its heros and its villains but more often than not I’ve always found one great thing about EI, if they don’t know the answer to a question, they’ll go off and find someone within the organisation who does, or they’ll like you up with someone in their network who can help.

    Room for improvement? of course, nothing in Ireland works properly but go overseas and talk to some entrepreneurs about their relationships with govt and you’ll be so so thankful for EI and their positive attitude towards entrepreneurship.

    Like the poor French entrepreneur I spoke to at this years Dublin web summit who told me “You’d rather go home to your old mother and admit you were gay than admit you were an entrepreneur.” Imagine what setting up a company in a company like that is like! 🙂

    • dylancollins

      +1

  • I have to say that Shane Ross has been right more times than wrong, but on this one I think he may be off the point. It reminds me of conversations about the NHS: once you move away from the UK you realise what an absolute star it is.

    • dylancollins

      Yep, pretty much what I think too.

  • No organisation, least not a public one the scale of EI, is without warts.

    But the blunt reality is that there would be little to no startup scene in Ireland without their support. The terms of the paper are fair, and requirements reasonable.

    They are a proxy for an absent angel ecosystem. An angel with the ability to follow should you be successful, with added support (ref the excellent iGAP) along the way. We certainly would not be where we are, where it not for EI.

  • Kehlan Kirwan

    On our radio show, the Small Business Show, we interviewed an engineering company who were looking to export – but were told they don’t fit the EI criteria. She said that really they should make the criteria fit businesses, rather than businesses having to fit criteria.

    • dylancollins

      Nobody’s saying they’re perfect. And there’s certainly (deliberately) a pretty major bias towards tech startups as opposed to other sectors.

  • Hear, hear

  • Callso

    and if entrepreneurs like Sean Ellis of Dropbox stand up in a room of entrepreneurs and state they see nothing like the support EI gives anywhere else in the world, they are obviously doing something right. Missing the point Mr Ross!

  • Henry

    how many jobs would not exist in Irish indigneous industry without EI? how many jobs did Shane Ross ever create?

  • Good to see the consensus is a positive attitude towards EI, its easy to knock these days. Overall a certain amount of startups are going to fail, and a certain amount will succeed. So there is risk involved, EI understand that and do what they can to increase the odds a bit. However Barry is right, Irish startups would be few and far without EI. Shane give the kudos where its due!

  • Agreed – Was a very poor article that really missed the point. Enterprise Ireland is a world leader and has great people who are making a real difference.