Igniting new talent: IGNITE Graduate Business Innovation Programme

Business, Interviews | Wed 27 Sep | Author – Business & Finance eamon curtin ignite
Eamon Curtin, Director, IGNITE Graduate Business Innovation Programme at UCC (Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision)

The Director of UCC’s IGNITE speaks to Business & Finance about the success of the entrepreneurship programme, the IGNITE awards ceremony this Thursday and the success stories that have stemmed from the initiative.

The start-up sphere in Ireland sees a soaring scene of young and hungry entrepreneurs ready to kick-start their journeys into the business world. With our European tech hub, workforce and company incentives such as our low corporation tax, Ireland and its main cities are a hotbed for enterprise and potential.

One incentive in Cork is driving forward and inspiring young graduates to take on the mantle of the new business leaders of today. IGNITE Graduate Business Innovation Programme at University College Cork (UCC) aims to turn recent-graduates’ ideas into innovative products and services, investment time in potential new businesses and increase employment through start-up development.

Director of IGNITE Eamon Curtin says the programme supports graduates to cultivate projects and ideas that have lasting effect.

“IGNITE UCC is a 12-month incubation programme specifically designed to help recent graduate entrepreneurs to start a scalable business.

“Recent graduate entrepreneurs have the ambition, energy, passion and an understanding of technology or a market opportunity to start a successful business but they often lack the business knowledge, skills and contacts necessary to get started. IGNITE offers these.

“Since 2011 the programme has supported over 80 individual founders working on almost 70 start-up ideas.”

IGNITE’s 7th instalment has seen it grow from strength-to-strength. Some of the success stories have been names in digital media, community-engagement software and meeting-room applications.

“Recent winners of this award have included AnaBio Technologies Ltd., a provider of encapsulation expertise, IP generation, commercial manufacture and licensing for food, pharma and health-nutrition markets in 2013; Pundit Arena, a sports-media website in 2014; Bitcove, an online-digital currency exchange in 2015; and Allmin Resources Ireland Ltd., a chemical product-development company modifying inorganic magnesium-related products for specific applications in 2016.”

Fledgling business professionals can’t make it on their own and always need a helping hand to get their ideas off the ground. IGNITE’s unique selling point is nurturing numerous individuals and their dreams all at once through face-to-face and hands-on support.

“We have supported over 80 recent graduate entrepreneurs through the early stages of their start-up journey to date, and we have developed support structures tailored to their specific needs.

“There are many supports available for start-ups nowadays from Local Enterprise Offices and Enterprise Ireland, but none provide the range and depth of supports for the recent graduate entrepreneur.”

Eamon says specifying the unique needs of each aspiring individual has enabled the programme to be recognised among the finest in Europe for kick-starting enterprises.

“Last year we were awarded a European Enterprise Promotion Award at the EU SME Assembly in recognition of our success in this area.

“We focus on innovative business models to ensure competitiveness and scalability; validating the business model to ensure the business idea is robust enough to succeed; and soft personal skills needed to network, pitch, sell and survive in today’s competitive marketplace.”

This is achieved through numerous structures in place in the programme.

“We offer a combination of group workshops and seminars that are used to deliver core modules on sales, marketing, financial planning, law and raising finance, as well as personal-development modules on networking, presenting and pitching; one-to-one supports from our coaches and mentors allow for a personalised and tailored approach when it comes to business planning and implementation stage; quarterly reviews are held with a panel of industry experts to both assess progression, but also to advise and guide our founders as they progress through the programme.

“We provide access to a vast network of industry experts and contacts through our entrepreneurial guest speakers, our advisory board, the UCC Community-Academic Research and programme stakeholders to give IGNITE founders the best platform possible to launch their businesses.”

Eamon also went on to say that Ireland is very receptive and encouraging to entrepreneurs and start-ups. The most challenging aspect is where to start most of the time.

“Ireland offers a wide range of supports for entrepreneurs. Indeed, entrepreneurs in other countries envy the supports – financial and practical – that are available in Ireland, and many come to Ireland to launch their start-up. If anything, the biggest difficulty for the emerging entrepreneur can be establishing where to start and how to plot a path through the supports available.”

The numbers for enrollment in IGNITE show a steady stream of interested parties with help provided for the first 12 months from development of the business idea.

“The programme has selected 10 start-ups every year since the start. The plan is to take on a second cohort of 10 start-ups early in 2018 and move to a point where the programme supports 20 start-ups every year; 2 cohorts of 10 start-ups, 6 months apart.

“The early part of the programme focuses on establishing a robust business model with emphasis on five questions:

  1. Who is the customer?
  2. What is their problem?
  3. How does the product or service solve their problem?
  4. What is the solution worth to them?
  5. How many customers are there?

“The programme covers key areas – marketing, finance, sales, investor readiness and pitching.”

This Thursday, 28 September, IGNITE will host its annual IGNITE Awards & Showcase 2017 at UCC’s Aula Maxima. Dignitaries on the night will include the Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald; Cork County Mayor, Cllr Declan Hurley; and President of UCC, Professor Patrick G. O’Shea.

150 attendees are expected at the conferring ceremony with the IGNITE Business of the Year Award, sponsored by Bank of Ireland, taking centre stage.