The Time Has Come to Accelerate!

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I attended two accelerator demo days in London last week. EF’s on Thursday, TechStars on Friday. Both were impressive for the same reasons even though as “accelerators” they are very different animals. EFers are typically computer science graduates (or dropouts) who’ve jumped from college directly to EF, connected with cofounders there and over a 6 month period built an early stage product and company. TechStars grads are more seasoned folk; some are serial entrepreneurs, others are on their first startup after a chunk of years in industry.

I was wowed by the depth of technical expertise and business talent I saw at both events. I was also wowed by the fanfare and the hordes of mentors, customers and investors in attendance. It reminded me of New York but with possibly even more calibre and prestige oozing from every corner.

Demo Days in Dublin don’t measure up to those of London or New York and a big part of the reason why is scale.

Dublin is a small city of one million people and by any reckoning, Ireland is a tiny domestic market. So, while our lights shine as bright and as early as others, we have a much more limited pool of mentors, investors and early stage customers to help accelerate our companies to success.

So if scale is a barrier, should we continue to invest in accelerating companies out of Dublin or should we push our high potential startups into deeper markets like London, New York or San Fran trusting they’ll come home again as winners?

My instinct is that we should do both: encourage our companies to apply to the great accelerators, and more than encourage, we should prep them for a successful application. We also have the opportunity to enhance the accelerator experience right here in Dublin by recognizing our strengths and putting them to work for our companies.

The more I travel in Europe, the more I realise how incredibly unique Dublin is as the global HQ for innovative multinationals. We do “international” so well here and yet our accelerators and funding organizations have few to no international board members. US multinationals abound in Dublin and yet we lack international mentor pools and connections into corporate accelerators just across the water. And what about our powerful international diaspora networks? A short conversation with Karl Duffy of LIBS in London and the mind just boggles with the possibilities for high value connections.

Great companies can accelerate from Dublin. Our accelerators can even become magnets for foreign startups looking for global reach early. It won’t be easy or fast to accomplish but if we figure out how to engage that dynamic mosaic of expertise, experience and talent within our reach we can make it happen, and sooner rather than later.

 

 

Women, Tech and Hell

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I presented last week to the government’s Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on Women in Tech and my role as Dublin Commissioner for Startups. I told them (and George Hook later that evening (starting @9.23min)) that the statistics around female entrepreneurs in Ireland are headed in the right direction: Since Enterprise Ireland started offering female specific programmes in 2012, funding for women led businesses has jumped from 7% to 23% (HPSU and CSF) in three years.  This is impressive by any standard and well above European and US averages.

Clearly, the end goal here is a time when female specific programs are no longer needed, but that level playing field is still a long way off.

While women led private technology companies achieve 35% higher return on investment new research in the US and UK shows that men are still 40% more likely than women to get approved for a bank loan. I’m guessing the picture in Ireland is no different in our banking or VC sector. We’ve only 5 female venture capitalists in the whole country, which is a concern in itself.

Women entrepreneurs are also known for being more deliberate, risk averse and conservative than their male counterparts as I found out for myself a couple of years back: I asked a mentor of mine at MIT for feedback on my investor deck. When she said I needed to increase my revenue projections by some serious multiples I got defensive and explained that these were the projections I was comfortable with. Her response was blunt and uncompromising: “Niamh, be like a man and pull the figures out of your ass!”.

There’s a wonderful new crop of female tech role models growing up in Ireland today. People like Leonora O’ Brien of PharmaPod, Emer O’ Daly of Love and Robots, Rhona Togher and Eimear O’ Carroll of Restored Hearing, Ciara Clancy of Beats Medical, Sonya Lennon of Frock Advisor,  Jayne Roynane and Helen Flynn of Konnect Again and so many more.

These ladies run some of the hottest startups in the country and while they’re building global markets overseas they’re breaking down barriers at home for themselves and for the generations of smart, sassy women that will follow in their footsteps.

So, whether Madeleine’s famous quote is right or not, I’m chuffed to be out there supporting and cheerleading for them!

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