Seriously Social

Last Monday morning an important new initiative was being celebrated in Tallaght, on the west side of Dublin.

FoodCloud, an online platform that connects leading retailers with surplus food to local charities, joined forces with Bia Food Initiative, the operator of food redistribution depots across Ireland. Bia’s new name is FoodCloud Hubs and together these organizations will tackle the issue of food poverty in Ireland and beyond, by offering "a solution for surplus food at every step of the supply chain".

I go to many entrepreneur focused events in Dublin and the topics up for discussion are usually some version of “how to’s” around funding and talent acquisition. Startup events rarely focus on social issues like environmental waste and food poverty, and they certainly never close out with a live performance from the renowned High Hopes choir, like the event did on Monday.

Businesses with a mission to create social change, called social enterprises, are becoming a large and important sector within the Dublin and Irish startup ecosystems. They’re experimenting with new approaches to old and intransigent problems and as such are important contributors to Ireland’s innovation coefficient. Still and all, we often don't consider these businesses as entrepreneur led or innovative, and we're slow to celebrate them alongside more traditional startup companies selling into, say, the financial, healthcare or education sectors.

We also mistakenly believe that these companies focus their activities exclusively on Ireland, when in fact, many of them like FoodCloud, CoderDojo, Pieta House, and ChangeX are scaling internationally, and have huge and global ambitions. Instead of growing larger and more profitable of themselves, the greatest social enterprises are aiming higher. They want to change “The System” and if they succeed they’ll impact the lives of not hundreds or thousands, but potentially millions of people each.

At the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland annual awards ceremony last week we were introduced to the newest cohort of social enterprises in Ireland, and on December 7th, Ireland’s Social Innovation Fund will announce the 2017 winners of their THINKTECH programme, Ireland’s first €1m Tech for Good fund.

Every city in the world has its own story of innovative enterprises. As it turns out, ours is hugely enhanced by the achievements - past, present and future - of Ireland's social entrepreneurs and their companies. By joining forces with them we can paint a deeper and richer picture of innovation from Ireland, for the benefit of one and all.  

Niamh Bushnell

Let them know you’re Irish

When my colleague Sarah asked the guy sharing our taxi in Berlin this Summer where he was from he responded:  “I was in Brazil, and before that in New York and before that I spent a couple of years in London”. He then turned back to the driver and directed him to our destination in fluent German, confirming our hopes that he was in fact a local, from Berlin, or somewhere else in Germany.

I got a kick out of this guy’s “I’m a global citizen” stance but it also got me thinking about one of the key goals of this office: to connect global Irish success stories back to their roots in Ireland, and to encourage Irish people to tell a story about the connective tissue between their companies, talent and Ireland as a country.  

Back in the early 2000’s when I was working for Enterprise Ireland in New York, we would always say to visiting Irish companies “don’t lead with the fact that you're Irish, it's just the icing on the cake, you’ve got to act global”.

A decade and a half later, "act global" is still an important mantra but there are so many great business and innovation stories coming out of Ireland’s tech sector these days that our companies would benefit from including them in their pitches to international customers, investors and partners.

Imagine if every Irish company, and every multinational executive based in Ireland, mentioned Ireland’s innovation credentials every time they attended a meeting or conference internationally. There are people in Ireland who already do this, but imagine if we as a nation of business people, entrepreneurs and techies all did it? The impact would be immediate and enormous.

One of the new TechIreland platform’s goals is to make it easy for any one to do exactly this - to tell the story of Irish innovation, company by company and sector by sector from IOT, Travel, and Telecoms to Fintech, Digital Health and beyond.

TechIreland may be “just a database” right now, but hundreds of gems of Irish success stories are packed into it already and when the platform fully launches early next year we'll start publishing sector briefings and offering content you can include in your decks and international PR communications. TechIreland will help to put your success story into context, a strong and impressive Irish context, giving it roots and a back story. Now, who doesn't love a good back story?

So, if you’re an innovative Irish or multinational company based in Ireland check out the TechIreland profile we’ve built for you here and if you don’t have one yet, shout* and we’ll add you.

Let the world know you’re Irish. You’ve a great story to tell and TechIreland can help make it an even better one.

NIamh Bushnell

* If you're a product (as opposed to service based) tech driven Irish company you should be featured on TechIreland. My colleague Cathal O' Sullivan will be happy to help:

Nothing’s Happened

Startups you're small, think small, stay small.

That was how the first measure of Budget 2017 resonated when I heard it.

I’m talking about the newly announced entrepreneur’s relief of 10% CGT capped at 1M euros.

A 1M euro cap won’t drive greater ambition in our startups, improve our competitiveness, or attract more Brexit bashed companies to our shores.

It's so low that one of my fellow panelists at the Irish Tax Institute briefing yesterday morning called it “farcical” and I agreed.

Welcome it or not though, this CGT relief does represent change so perhaps it's time to accept it and "build on the new" as Socrates would say.

I'm generally an optimist and a fighter but the announcement about share based remuneration toppled me and left me tragic.

It's being delayed until 2018, the Minister announced. And this after a summer of well rounded submissions and public consultations. The Department of Finance must have been inundated.

The startup and SME community collectively spent so much time and energy explaining the urgency for change to share options, and we thought we’d finished the job by serving up solutions to help our companies.

Yet after all of that, nothing's happened.

Nothing's happened because despite creating more than two thirds of the new jobs in the Irish economy according to Enterprise Ireland, our community lacks the deep and unified lobbying voice of well known vested interests like Irish farmers. A voice that for months before the budget goes door to door, TD by TD, across and up and down the country. That's what the IFA has done for decades and that's what secures priority.

On Twitter yesterday afternoon an entrepreneur wondered where to look for analysis of the budget. I was tempted to just tell them not to waste their precious time, to keep their heads down for now. There’s nothing here to harm or really help you I wanted to say, unless you need the extra 400 euros of earned income tax credit to service small debts, or to incorporate in the UK for SEIS seed investment.

The 2017 budget likely helps none of us very much, unless, as Brian Dobson quipped yesterday, you're a non smoking fisherman, buying a house and driving a Prius, who has just inherited a raised bog from your family. 

If that's you, your time has come my friend. For the rest of us, the real work continues on.

Niamh Bushnell

T & C Repeat After Me

Irish Startups, your time is almost up to speak out.

There's less than a week to go to Budget Day and many of your voices and asks of the government still need to be heard.

What do I want for Irish startups? Talent and Capital. When do I want it? Now.

Having access to great talent defines a business, and attracting that talent in Ireland means competing head to head with multinationals through share options and relief on capital gains taxes.

Seed capital drives value and expansion for early stage companies, but angel investors insist their risk taking be properly and promptly compensated. Again, a big influencer is government policy.

The Irish Government plays a significant role in helping startups, but being fed from the breast is at least as valid as from the bottle. Budget 2017 policies can help us better capitalize on the dynamics of the market.

An environment that propels the entrepreneurial talent in our universities and multinationals to join or found new startups.

An environment that creates buckets of innovation based funding from traditional flows into pensions, wind farms and bank deposits.

Talent and Capital. Talent and Capital.

Behind every great tech ecosystem in the world there’s a government driving pro entrepreneur, pro risk, pro innovation policies. Proven job creation policies, and now it’s Ireland's turn to clear a wider path for them.

Our policy documents - replete with supporting statistics and references - have already been submitted to Finance and are being considered.

It’s true, we failed in a similar effort before, but 12 months on that feels like a minor blip in the grand scale of our mission.

Talent and Capital, Talent and Capital.

Irish Startups, now it's your turn to say your piece. It will be worth it.

Niamh Bushnell

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