An insider’s guide to help start-up firms progress

MUCH more needs to be done to help young innovators develop their business ideas if Ireland is to compete strongly for global investment funds.

This is the view of Kieran Moynihan, who was appointed as the first entrepreneur-in-residence to an Irish third-level college this week. He will be working hands-on with students and staff at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), offering practical assistance to potential start-up companies and helping with their business proposals.

The 40-year-old has been globe-hopping for almost a decade since he co-founded telecom network management company Comnitel in 1999. The Vallent firm that was formed when it merged with two other companies was sold to IBM in 2007 and Mr Moynihan was the computer giant’s vice-president in telecom software up to last month.

He is settling back in Cork as a management consultant but has agreed to make his expertise available to students and staff at CIT.

“I left a good job in Motorola in 1999 to go out on my own and I know all about the risks that are involved in a start-up. We were complete rookies but we were lucky to have good advisors and managed to raise $30 million over four years in capital,” he explained.

Vallent employs 300 people in Cork and Galway in research and development for telecoms networks solutions, but Mr Moynihan believes new Irish start-ups could benefit from the expertise of people already working in multinational firms here.

“There are some very strong early-stage companies where the founder is an excellent chief technology officer but isn’t the type of person an investor coming from the United States is going to hand over €10 million to. People need to be able to not only manage building the product or service, but to drive sales and finance for the organisation,” he said.

Mr Moynihan feels the €500m innovation fund announced by Taoiseach Brian Cowen in New York is a positive step in the right direction, with half coming out of State coffers and the rest to be raised by venture capitalists to promote new innovative companies here.

“It was important that the Taoiseach went to Wall Street and demonstrated the Government’s commitment. At a time when this country is doing serious soul-searching and trying to find out who’s to blame for our economic troubles, we’re in a battle zone with other countries that are also pushing the smart economy idea,” he said.

“There’s an international investment pool out there and whether it goes to Singapore, the United States, here or anywhere else, we need to pick up in areas where we can see Ireland being centres of excellence in five years’ time,” he said.

The ideal situation would be, he said, to focus on areas where we can develop high-end technologies but ones with the potential to make a dent into unemployment numbers approaching half a million, particularly for people with lower qualifications. He puts forward the example of water technology needed to monitor its quality, metering it in homes and keeping track of water levels in public supplies from rivers and lakes.

“All these systems are going to be needed very soon and not alone would you have technology companies to provide the software and management, you could also train people to install the equipment and also export the know-how to other countries,” Mr Moynihan said.

Another emerging technology he feels we could exploit is cloud computing, with applications that include the potential to revolutionise medical diagnostics and improve cancer detection rates.

But before all this is done, he believes the worrying drop in maths and science achievement and uptake among second level students needs to be addressed urgently. He strongly backs Education Minister Mary Coughlan’s support for bonus college entry points for Leaving Certificate students who sit higher level maths, but feels new approaches to teaching like that in a second level curriculum being rolled out from September are vital.

“I’m seriously troubled by the situation with maths and science because we’re struggling when compared to other OECD countries, like Finland which is at the top of all the rankings. In some colleges, students can’t keep up on science or engineering courses, we need maths to be taught in a much more practical way,” he said.

But while he feels it is vital that colleges continue to receive research funding, such as the €359m Programme for Research in Third Level Institutions fund announced yesterday, it is critical that jobs potential emerges from such investment.

“We don’t have enough start-up companies coming out of colleges and there has to be more scrutiny and expectation in this area,” he said.

Having been through CIT’s programme for emerging technology companies more than a decade ago, Kieran Moynihan hopes now to offer some of the support vital to new innovative businesses to drive future jobs growth.


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