The enterprising ambassador

Economy | Fri 4 Apr | Author – Business & Finance
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Enterprise Ireland’s support of indigenous Irish companies through funding, expertise and international market access, is crucial to the growth of innovative scalable businesses, writes John Holden.

Business is global. From the humble cottage industry to the multinational corporation, the focus of any entrepreneur or investor worth their weight in salt should be well beyond their own hometowns. For nearly three decades Ireland has been the location of choice to do business for a multitude of internationally minded companies.

Enterprise Ireland has been at the heart of Ireland’s success and status as a great place for start-ups. In recent times the organisation has begun a new drive to attract international start-ups to locate in Ireland. Focusing on the Irish diaspora abroad, as well as foreign start-ups looking to relocate, its international start-up initiative targets three key sectors: medical devices, the Irish diaspora working in any sector, and European IT companies.

“We’re specifically hoping to attract US medical device companies,” explains Lorcan O’Sullivan, manager of overseas entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland. “The regulatory system in the US is very unfavourable to certain classes of medical device, and it can take several years for approval. We can give US companies access to the EU market while they wait for approval stateside. Plus we have the best English speaking medical device cluster in the European regulatory area.”

Irish ambassador

Enterprise Ireland is also trying to encourage the millions of Irish abroad to return home and set up business here. “We can support a wide range of innovative sectors. We’ve been working with our embassies, our voluntary ‘start-up ambassadors’ and other contacts with Irish overseas communities to raise awareness,” says O’Sullivan.

The third and final group being targeted are IT start-ups, particularly those from Southern and Eastern Europe. “This is a relatively new part of the initiative where promotion is concentrated in countries where the environment for IT start-ups is not as good as here,” he says. “Many European IT start-ups move to places like London. We want to redirect them to Ireland.”

The criteria for eligibility are the same as with any indigenous company. Foreign start-ups, however, will be given extra help with introductions and advice upon arrival. “If you come from the US, Hungary, Poland or Portugal, we can’t expect you to know as much about Irish business,” says O’Sullivan.

“The main reasons for relocating here are that it’s an excellent place to do business and both Forbes magazine and the World Bank have backed that up.

Ireland is also a major centre for both the IT and medical device sectors. As a result, a comprehensive eco-system of talent, advisers, and other supports have grown up with deep expertise in these sectors. This can be hugely helpful to start-ups in those sectors. There is also excellent start-up supports and funding.  In addition, the Government has just introduced a new start-up entrepreneur visa, which is helpful.

Food Inc

Ireland Inc has always been proud of its high-quality indigenous food industry. There has been a renewed drive of late to get that message across, particularly in terms of attracting more FDI.

“Food and the agrifood sector are very important parts of our domestic economy,” explains David Butler, Enterprise Ireland FDI manager, food division. “There are some large food players in Ireland, particularly in beef and dairy.  It has always been a central policy to keep overseas investors aligned with activities in the Irish supply chain.”

The food industry has been performing well in a situation where the rest of the economy has not. This must be capitalised upon.  “We recognise that there are significant opportunities for Ireland in food and we must build our position whereby people see food as a prime industrial sector, comparable to IT or life sciences. “We should be doing more to attract the best in the world in terms of processers, so they carry out value-adding activity in Ireland,” he adds.

Global markets

Certain markets are currently of more interest than others. “The UK and US are important to us, as is China,” he says. “With the growth of the middle class in China, demand is on an upward trajectory, particularly for protein. However, this demand can be seen globally. Governments and companies are looking to get closer to the source of their food supply, both from a food safety and a food security perspective.”

Butler sees Ireland as having a number of key advantages for FDI into food over its competitors: a talented workforce, transparent fiscal regime, proven track record, good infrastructure, raw materials and the continued production of high quality, safe food inputs and ingredients. “We also have a very sophisticated food science and food R&D infrastructure, through government agencies like Teagasc, and our own Food For Health Ireland (FHI) initiative.”