Tell us about your background and how you came to be where you are today.
I live in Clare but I grew up in Limerick and went to college here, getting an honours degree in Business Computing from LIT in 1999 and continued to gain professional qualifications in the software space and as a certified project manager. I had the fortune to work with a number of startups early in my career as a software engineer and business analyst, before joining a fast growing technology and business consultancy firm based in London where I eventually headed up their CRM division. Working for a fast growing technology and business consultancy company meant I had the opportunity to work across many different industry sectors. We assisted our clients with the technical expertise and knowledge that is not always available in house. I was lucky to spend time with experienced founders, executives, leading consultants and people at the cutting edge of technology which helped me to develop valuable insights into how things are done by industry leaders. When I came back to Ireland, I had the opportunity to work with startups, so it was similar – I get to work on a wide variety of projects and continue to have a chance to learn, innovate, motivate and share my experience and hopefully add value to the start-ups we work with during those initial stages.
What does being Enterprise Development and Business Liaison Manager at LIT entail?
Supporting start-ups and the business community is a key pillar of the LIT Vision 2020 plan. We offer supports to new enterprise through the distinctive LIT Enterprise Ladder accommodating the full spectrum of low to high risk and reward profiles. LIT operates five core Enterprise Centres and works also with 2 community enterprise centres. We aim to roll out the LIT Enterprise Ladder across our campuses, involving numerous partnerships with relevant State agencies and authorities as well as private enterprise. We work with Enterprise Ireland on our programmes and also collaborate with UL Nexus. We supported 98 new start-up companies in 2015 and 57 on its incubation programmes like New Frontiers, LEAP and TESS across the centres.
Tell us about your involvement in Start-up Ireland as Start-up Gathering Coordinator…
I am a Director on the Board of Startup Ireland and the successful Startup Gathering. This was supported by the Action Plan for Jobs nationally and saw more than 18,000 people participate nationwide. We had more than 45 events in Limerick alone and a great event in LIT LSAD on Clare St with all the partners from the city – this was a real community driven event and if there is one great thing about Limerick City and County is that we partner and collaborate better than anyone. We are also delighted to have won the bid to host the Global Startup Nations Summit in Ireland also which takes place in Cork in November. This is the first time it will take place in Europe so we are delighted to have it in Ireland and in Munster.
In April this year I also ran the ITLG Young Innovators again in Shannon Airport, designed to help in the development of key skills needed to meet the requirements of a competitive, innovative and entrepreneurial economy. The students representing schools nationwide were set the tasks of imagining the world 50 years from now and coming up with new business ideas for then across six categories – how we Live, Work, Play, Shop, Learn and Travel in 2066. The event saw the students mentored by representatives from some of the world’s leading companies including Dell, Intel, Analog, Johnson and Johnson, BT Young Scientist as well as Coder Dojo and many more ahead of submitting their pitch.
Why is it important to have networks like Start-up Ireland supporting new businesses?
Networks are extremely important to startups. A huge chunk of my time is spent connecting people. We live in a global marketplace now that is all connected so therefore our network needs to be global and that is something we are continually developing. You need more than just LinkedIn and Twitter – you need to build relationships, support each other and connect people in your network together when the opportunity arises. Also, don’t underestimate picking up the phone or meeting for coffee instead of just sending an email.
What is the startup scene like in Limerick? What makes you so passionate about it?
It is inspirational. With a group of stakeholders who actively work together to support startups as well as the existing entrepreneurs and companies in the region. There is real passion there. I think it is the case that the community here want to help others – whether to see the light and fail fast and move on to the next thing or be it that they need the support to build, innovate or fundraise – there are helping hands here. We are lucky to have the expansive R&D capabilities at LIT and UL but also having Shannon international airport here, great infrastructure and a place where people want to live and grow their companies. Access to talent from UL, MIC, LIT and private colleges is critical. Groups like Limerick for IT and Limerick for Engineering are global best in class examples of how industry and academia can collaborate to help in the growth of key organisations and employers in the region. Our capability to collaborate as a stakeholder community to get the job done is second to none.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Stress test your business idea, come to programmes run by LIT, LEO, the Chamber and UL and also try a Startup Weekend and come to a Startup Grind – tap into the resources around you to help test your idea. It is also important to have mentors. On New Frontiers for example, LIT will provide free mentoring and Enterprise Ireland will also assign a Development Advisor to the participants. It is incredible really, the support for startups in Ireland is fantastic but it is also the willingness to help from the private sector too that makes all the difference.
Who are your biggest business inspirations?
I’m just finishing an Executive MBA at the moment so I’ve been exposed to so much and had my skull danced on (which was promised!) and I follow so many inspirational people – thank you internet! More than 15 years ago I read the 7 habits of highly effective people by Stephen Covey and it set me on a journey. Robert Kegan’s ‘Immunity to Change’ is another eye opener. John Chambers, formerly of Cisco has an incredible view on building dynamic capabilities in your company and enabling your employees to be their best which are important when trying to grow a company – I share some of his talks with friends and colleagues all the time too. What has really inspired me though is the entrepreneurs I work with – it’s incredible to see someone with just an idea build a company and aim for world domination.
LIT are hosting their annual New Frontiers Class of 2016 and LEAP class of 2016 Awards event on the 7th of June. Email NewFrontiers@LIT.ie if you wish to come and meet the founders. LIT will also host Enterprise Ireland (all-island) Student Entrepreneurship Awards in LIT that week.
Article by: Kayleigh Ziolo
Photography by: Paul Condron
Read more from The Limerick Magazine here.