Startup Gathering: Building a Startup Ecosystem in Ireland

Startup fever was in full swing with Startup Ireland’s nationwide Startup Gathering at the beginning of October which hosted over 400 events. The week kicked off by welcoming over 350 key stakeholders in the Google Foundry Building in Dublin; policy makers, enterprise boards, large corporations and startups themselves.

With such an unprecedented number of events taking place Liam McLoughlin, Chief Executive of Retail at Bank of Ireland, described the Startup Gathering as one of the largest startup events worldwide. Liam put a question to the audience:

What do we need to do to make Ireland a place for startups to grow, scale and succeed?

All activities during the week were tasked with answering this question which deserves a national conversation.

Speaking at the Startup Island Forum in the Google Foundry Building on Monday morning of the Startup Gathering Minister Richard Bruton proclaimed that while the government supports the startup environment, leadership for the movement must be created locally. According to Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the startup events being hosted in 22 counties across Ireland were a testament to the ability that exists “It’s down to a community endeavour”.

Startup Island 2020: Building a Strong Startup Ecosystem in Ireland

CEO of Startup Ireland Eoin Costello described the journey so far for the Startup Gathering from an idea in 2013 to an event attended by 80 people in 2014 to hosting over 400 events in 2015.

Startups generate two thirds of all new jobs, with this in mind Eoin described the need for a startup revolution; a step-up change rather than a gradual one. In terms of international ranking Ireland aren’t competing for top positions and while rankings are often criticised for judging on specific points they do matter and are taken into consideration for choosing a startup location.

Real strength in achieving a top class startup ecosystem can be gained from a unified approach. Eoin put forward the idea of looking at the strengths of all regions and projecting these strengths in a unified way. For example, Galway is very strong in the area of medical devices, Dublin in tech and financial services making fin-tech startups a natural progression, and Cork is a hive for the pharma industry as well as IT. Pulling these strengths together in a coordinated cohesive manner is how Ireland will make the greatest strides.

A Perfect Example of Building from the Ground Up: IRFU

The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) was given as an example of how an organisation can rise from being practically non-existant, to becoming a global competitor. The IRFU is a truly wonderful example of how through careful planning, hard work and ambition an organisation can compete and be an equal on a world stage.

The IRFU focused on three areas; performance, ambition and international models. They benchmarked themselves against the best rugby system in the world: New Zealand. By watching and copying tried and tested methods of the All Blacks the IRFU were able to create an ecosystem that developed talent from the ground up, facilitated by world-class coaches from the rugby capitals of the world. In time this would develop home-grown world class coaches and leaders too.

Entrepreneurship as a Viable Career Choice

Currently in Ireland entrepreneurship is often seen as a highly risky path; why would top students turn down enviable positions in the world’s largest tech giants’ EMEA HQs to startup their own organisation? There’s tough competition and a mind-set shift needs to take place which is backed up by strong startup ecosystem. The phrase next generation of serial entrepreneurs was thrown around however there was a recognition that Ireland needs to put in a lot of groundwork for this to become a reality.

Ireland is getting a lot of Things Right

Philip Moynagh of Intel highlighted the success of Silicon Valley: a population of 7 million, the size of the distance between Dublin and Galway and an extraordinary innovation engine, Silicon Valley is the All Blacks of innovation hubs.

Here’s what Ireland is getting right:

Startup Gathering: Ireland are getting a lot of things right.
  • The Irish economy is set to grow 6.5% in 2015 – The Irish Times.
  • TCD, UCD & UCC remain in the top 3% of 16,000 Universities Worldwide despite budget cuts and increasing student staff ratios. DCU is in the top 100 universities under 50 years old. – Irish Examiner.
  • Ireland becomes the first country to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote. – The New York Times.
  • Organisations like: IDA Ireland, enterprise Ireland, Connect Ireland and Startup Ireland have a fundamental focus on growing Irish startups.

Necessary Adjustments for Ireland to become Startup Island 2020

  1. Focus on what needs to get fixed, not why you can’t fix it.
  2. When you get the particular right, you can apply and scale it for the generic.
  3. You have to try and fail fast.
  4. Ireland is 16th of 25 EU countries when it comes to entrepreneurship yet we are 2nd of 25 EU countries for intrapreneurship – we need to bridge the gap.

“You’ll never be great when you start, but you have to start to be great.” – Paul O’Connell.

The 4 F’s: Fail Fast & Fail Forward

Magnet’s Mark Kellett spoke at Galway’s Startup Island 2020 and his mission was clear: startups must face up to failing fast and failing forward, picking themselves up after a fall and learning from mistakes. Startups need to be the disrupter and maintain their disruption mode as they scale, it’s so important to stay nimble and flexible through the growth phase and simple things like never missing a business call is the difference between succeeding and just about surviving.

Startup Ecosystem where disruption is the norm.

Mark highlighted a problem in the mentality towards sales, in his eyes sales is often a profession that isn’t treated with the respect it deserves, which is incredible considering sales are often the most important figure on the bottom line.

Startup Ireland and Startup Gathering: embrace sales. Startup Gathering: Sales is the most critical word in your profit and loss.

Mark finished off by summarising; “companies need to spend less time worrying about your office furniture and more time on developing product and selling”.


To read more about the Startup Gathering click here or watch the video below about the Galway Startup Gathering.