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Dublin: 18 °C Thursday 31 July, 2014

Column: From idea to reality, the story of a young Irish start-up

Gary Fox took a business idea from college classroom to young company. Here he describes how he did it.

Gary Fox

IN JUST SIX months I went from kicking around a business idea in a classroom in Dublin City University to pitching the idea to a room of over 200 investors, entrepreneurs and industry experts from Ireland, UK and Europe. Here’s how I did it and how you can too.

Starting your own business in Ireland has never been more accessible. Suddenly being an entrepreneur is sexy thanks to Dragons’ Den and the Apprentice. Barriers to entry have dropped dramatically and as more and more people find themselves unemployed, the opportunity is there to take the leap and create your own job. Why wait for a job? Go out and create your own.

What do I need?

First and foremost you need an idea. Something you are passionate about and believe can really make a difference and be successful. While the idea is important, the real key factor is the entrepreneur and the team behind the idea. Find people who share your passion and who won’t shy away at the first suggestion of working over the weekend. Tensions will flare in the high-pressure environment of business start-ups, so treat it like a marriage. Be sure they are right for you and the business otherwise it’s going to be a messy and costly divorce.

If you watched the Social Network or read the headlines of multi-billion dollar valuations of Facebook you would imagine starting a tech company is the quickest and sexiest way to become a millionaire almost overnight. In truth, its endless days of hard work, staring at a whiteboard seeking a solution to a technical problem, juggling finances and trying to figure out how to make the elevator pitch sound interesting after you’ve delivered it a thousand times. But not for one second would I swap it for a traditional 9-to-5 and a secure pay check on a Friday.

Where do I get my idea?

All three founders are graduates of the Masters in eCommerce course in DCU so naturally our background in tech led us in that direction. Jennifer Murphy from Dublin is the technical lead and John Walsh from Mayo is head of business development. If possible, try to work in an area you have knowledge of or at least have a burning passion for. Putting in 80 hours a week is much easier if you really have a love for the idea.

The raw idea for VideoScamp was created during our final masters project and we began commercialisation after securing a shared office space in the DCU Invent Centre for three months. Finding somewhere to work is key as sitting at your kitchen table will offer too many distractions and being in a shared spare offers new connections and opportunities with other entrepreneurs.

As much of a genius as you think you are, all ideas are going to need that little bit of luck. Ours came early one morning in August 2012. Less than three months after starting work on the company and just two weeks before we presented our idea to college examiners, we secured a place in the best accelerator programme for young tech companies in Ireland.

You don’t know everything

The more you begin to learn, the more you will realise that you have so much to learn. Our team is relatively small and we are all first time tech entrepreneurs so it was crucial for us to get outside help. Securing a spot on the NDRC Launchpad programme ensured we got three months’ intensive mentoring from some of Ireland’s leading experts in the areas of PR; from Paul Hayes of BeachHut PR, Harry Largey for commercialisation, finance mentor Johnny Harte and Nicola Riordan in marketing. Twitter and LinkedIn will give you access to anyone you wish to seek advice from.

Through Twitter alone, I’ve secured meetings with company CEOs and industry experts who will gladly spare you 30 minutes for a cup of coffee if you approach them correctly. A little bit of flattery and ego stroking never did any harm either. They are successful people, but they still like to be told how brilliant they are.

Alternatively meet-up events are the ideal place to learn from other entrepreneurs and experts; check out Startup Digest for a list of upcoming tech events in Dublin. Notable events include Dublin Beta and Pub Standards.

Talking to experienced entrepreneurs can avoid costly mistakes and offer much needed external perspective. Every entrepreneur believes their idea is going to change the world and make millions but this passion can often blind you from seeing obvious flaws or roadblocks ahead.

If it’s good enough for Google

The Irish tech scene is gaining international recognition. In September 2012 Fortune Magazine named Dublin as one of the best new global cities for start-ups.

Right now there’s arguably no better place in Europe to start you own business, especially in the tech sector. The leading tech companies from all over the globe are located right here in Dublin. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter have all chosen Dublin as their European base. With Ireland now recognised as a good place to do business, largely because of favourable corporate tax rates, it means easy access for entrepreneurs to some of the world’s leading industry figures.

The ecosystem surrounding startups is booming. Tech accelerators such as the programme we took part in, NDRC Launchpad, along with DCU Ryan Academy’s Propeller programme and the newly established StartupBootCamp Health XL and Wayra Ireland (backed by O2 Telefonica) offer the perfect starting place for young tech startups.

Money

The source of most sleepless nights are “what if” scenarios for potential entrepreneurs. There is never going to be a perfect time so use the lack of certainty as a motivator as you have less to lose.

With bank lending at an all time low, entrepreneurs must get creative to secure investment for their business. Securing a spot on an accelerator programme will net you roughly €20,000 funding and give you a runway of six months to get your business up and running. Enterprise Ireland also offer a number of excellent supports including the Competitive Start Fund worth €50,000 and Innovation Vouchers which will partner you with a university for research projects worth €5000. Angel investors are another source of investment but they are unlikely to take a gamble on an unproven idea so you will need to at least have the product to market.

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Gary is co-founder of VideoScamp, a young Irish tech start-up based in the NDRC Launchpad programme in the Digital Hub, Dublin. VideoScamp is the first video content marketplace exclusively for online retailers. You can follow Gary on Twitter @garethfox, add him on LinkedIn, or email him at gary@videoscamp.com or visit www.videoscamp.com.

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