UCC IGNITE: Igniting the next generation of Irish entrepreneurs

The IGNITE programme at UCC, which nurtures startups from ideas to commercial reality, has supported 100-plus new start-ups since its inception.
UCC IGNITE: Igniting the next generation of Irish entrepreneurs
Conor Walsh and Luke O'Mahony, co-founders of Traxsit. Traxsit is a Cork based Internet of Things (IoT) company developing innovative asset recovery and management solutions for the agricultural, construction and rental industries.

The IGNITE programme at UCC, which nurtures startups from ideas to commercial reality, has supported 100-plus new start-ups since its inception.

Those accepted on the programme have access to mentors and leading businesses in the region, with IGNITE counting on some of Munster’s best-known entrepreneurs on its advisory board.

Successful applicants will be able to call on the vast experience of entrepreneurs, all of whom have expertise in various fields needed to succeed in business, IGNITE director Eamon Curtin said.

“Those on the IGNITE programme can source the decades of experience of advisory expert entrepreneurs in the likes of supply chain, accounting, quality control, innovation, human resources, etc to hone their own business concepts,” Mr Curtin said.

Entrepreneurs in the region said they were passionate about passing on their experiences to the next generation of startups.

Aidan Lee of research firm Eolas International said IGNITE was a perfect conduit for would-be entrepreneurs to reach their commercial potential.

“The exceptional entrepreneurial talent we have within third-level ranks in Ireland remains largely untapped, and a programme like IGNITE at UCC not only brings it to the surface, but allows it to flourish,” he said.

Colum O’Sullivan of food firm Cully & Sully said IGNITE offers a “fantastic opportunity” and programme to anyone who has a dream to establish their own business.

Ali-Rose Sisk of Safecare and a nurse working on the frontline. She has developed a management software for nurses that allows them to increase patient contact time.
Ali-Rose Sisk of Safecare and a nurse working on the frontline. She has developed a management software for nurses that allows them to increase patient contact time.

“It will help provide you with a roadmap to success, mentoring, introductions to key industry personnel and much more. It is a truly excellent programme,” he said.

Co-founder and chairman of Lincor and former Apple director of European operations, Dan Byrne, said IGNITE began in 2011 as a fledgling effort to help promote entrepreneurship in UCC but has now become an internationally-lauded programme.

“Today, it is a truly functioning enterprise that teaches, counsels and develops entrepreneurs in a structured professional manner. The results speak for themselves with many successful businesses continuing to grow and employing significant numbers of both graduates and other key employees in the Cork region.”

The board also has some of the best-known business figures in Ireland, whom IGNITE participants can access.

Chairman Dick Lehane, who has over 40 year’s multinational experience, serving with General Electric Corp, Wang Laboratories and EMC Corporation, said the IGNITE programme benefits significantly from the support of the Advisory Board.

“Experienced business owners, entrepreneurs and public sector executives help ensure that the programme is practical and relevant to the needs of new start-ups and they provide valuable advice and guidance to individual businesses,” he said.

The structure of the programme meant would-be entrepreneurs had a safe and nurturing environment to help their businesses off the ground, according to chief operating officer (COO) of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and former Pepsico vice-president, Mary Good.

“The UCC IGNITE program provides a structured, safe environment for entrepreneurs to experiment, learn and make the right connections to enable them to develop their business idea. It provides the critical foundations to be a successful entrepreneur - it is a massive opportunity for those who get on the program,” she said.

Annelie de Jager, founder of Jabula Jabula is developing a traditional South-African sausage food product for the Irish market.
Annelie de Jager, founder of Jabula Jabula is developing a traditional South-African sausage food product for the Irish market.

Co-founder and chairman of Lincor and former Apple director of European operations, Dan Byrne, said IGNITE began as a fledgling effort to help promote entrepreneurship in UCC ‘x’ years ago but has now become an internationally-lauded programme.

“Today, it is a truly functioning enterprise that teaches, counsels and develops entrepreneurs in a structured professional manner. The results speak for themselves with many successful businesses continuing to grow and employing significant numbers of both graduates and other key employees in the Cork region.”

Chairman and CEO of Irish Mainport Holdings, Dave Ronayne, said Ireland as a whole benefited from IGNITE’s burgeoning reputation.

"Graduates of third-level institutions in Ireland now have possibilities that will add value to their entrepreneurial prowess from the outset. As board members, we feel the more they succeed, the more Ireland Inc does well,” he said.

'IGNITE gave us skills and resources to validate our idea'

James Northridge, founder of UrAbility This business is about online training for parents and SNA/teachers. It supports families to better understand how assistive technology works for the one in five kids in Irish classes that have dyslexia/DCD or Autism.
James Northridge, founder of UrAbility This business is about online training for parents and SNA/teachers. It supports families to better understand how assistive technology works for the one in five kids in Irish classes that have dyslexia/DCD or Autism.

The IGNITE programme based at University College Cork has come a long way since its inception in 2011 - just like a range of businesses that have graduated and gone onto global recognition and acclaim.

Out of IGNITE has come some of Ireland’s most ambitious entrepreneurs, who came to the programme with bold ideas but little knowledge of commercialising those concepts and building viable businesses.

Supported by Bank of Ireland, IGNITE is a joint initiative by Cork City Council, Cork County Council, the Local Enterprise Offices of Cork City, South Cork and North & West Cork and UCC to encourage entrepreneurship and enterprise creation.

Anzhelika Samuilova, founder of Global Mind Bank Global Mind Bank / Time To Move Ireland Ltd is developing an online platform to provide relocation and immigration services for those wishing to relocate to Ireland.
Anzhelika Samuilova, founder of Global Mind Bank Global Mind Bank / Time To Move Ireland Ltd is developing an online platform to provide relocation and immigration services for those wishing to relocate to Ireland.

Since then, it has worked with almost 100 start-ups and over 120 founders who have launched companies such as AnaBio Technologies, ApisProtect, Eurocomply, LegitFit, OnTheQt, PunditArena, Supply.ie, Talivest, TrustAp and Vconnecta.

Wide international acclaim has come for IGNITE, such as in Sweden last October where it was placed alongside the likes of the University of Illinois and the University of San Diego, both hotbeds of innovation, for “outstanding contribution” at the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Center’s awards for global university entrepreneurship.

Based at UCC, the 12-month IGNITE programme is open to all recent graduates from all third level institutions in Ireland to work full-time on a scalable start-up idea with potential for commercial or social impact.

With director Eamon Curtin and programme manager Michelle Dorgan at the helm, the latest tranche of graduates joined the commercial world this month, armed with the tools and knowledge given to them by mentors and leaders from the wider business community.

IGNITE held its Awards and Showcase online for the first time for the newest graduates.

Among the finalists were a qualified nurse working on the frontline and a Masters graduate who was diagnosed with dyslexia and has now developed a technology company for parents and educators.

Best Business Award Winner, James Northridge, founded the company UrAbility. UrAbility is reinventing the way parents and educators support children with disabilities, enhancing the learning experience with an online training and support model.

UrAbility’s online platform uses algorithms to auto assign online courses and advise on assistive technologies based on users’ technical abilities, spoken language, and location. James was diagnosed with dyslexia when he was in school and went on to study a Masters in University.

Emer Keaveney, founder of Ocean Research Consultants (ORC) Ocean Research Consultants (ORC) aims to monitor and minimise disturbance to marine wildlife through education, research and technology.
Emer Keaveney, founder of Ocean Research Consultants (ORC) Ocean Research Consultants (ORC) aims to monitor and minimise disturbance to marine wildlife through education, research and technology.

Best Business Plan Winner, Traxsit, owned by Conor Walsh and Luke O’Mahony, have developed superior GPS technology to farm management. The firm’s devices, powered by the newest IoT technology, are used for theft prevention and asset monitoring.

Luke O’Mahony said IGNITE had opened new avenues for business regionally and nationally.

“Ignite equipped us with the skills and resources to validate our business idea. Among the many benefits, the program will provide you with access. Access to mentorship, access to an invaluable network of successful alumni and industry experts and access to a shared working space full of fellow founders.”

Ali-Rose Sisk, who is a graduate of UCC is another finalist, who has developed the company ‘Safecare’. SafeCare is developing software that aims to revolutionise care home management through digitalisation. Ali-Rose is currently working as a nurse in a care home in Cork.

Other finalists include Annelie de Jager, whose company ‘Jabula’ is developing a traditional South-African sausage food product for Irish market.

Conor Hayes, has a company called Techvie, which is a modern SaaS platform dedicated to the medical device industry, which allows sales teams to find and convert new customers easily through aggregation of data from multiple online channels, & trade events.

Meanwhile, Emer Keaveney’s company ‘Ocean Research Consultants (ORC)’ aims to monitor and minimise disturbance to marine wildlife through education, research and technology.

Another finalist is Anzhelika Samuilova of Global Mind Bank. She is developing an online platform to provide relocation and immigration services for those wishing to relocate to Ireland.

Conor Hayes, founder of Techvie MedTechvie is a modern SaaS platform dedicated to the medical device industry, which allowing sales teams to find and convert new customers easily through aggregation of data from multiple online channels, & trade events.
Conor Hayes, founder of Techvie MedTechvie is a modern SaaS platform dedicated to the medical device industry, which allowing sales teams to find and convert new customers easily through aggregation of data from multiple online channels, & trade events.

The latest graduates follow in the footsteps of previous graduates who have gone on to have major international success.

ApisProtect, co-founded by Kanturk native Fiona Edwards-Murphy, monitors more than 20 million honey bees across the world and has received significant international funding since graduating.

Ms Edwards-Murphy said IGNITE was instrumental in ApisProtect’s success.

“IGNITE really helped me to develop so many skills, especially my pitching skills. I’ve gone from being afraid to stand up and talk in front of a single person to pitching to over 400.”

Those pitching skills contributed to a €1.5m injection of seed funding in November 2018, with 25 new jobs created over three years and a potential market of 91 million managed beehives across the world that could use ApisProtect’s Internet of Things (IoT) monitoring technology.

Founder and CEO of T4Adventure, Jennifer Hurley, said IGNITE was a “critical step” in establishing her business.

“The quality of supports available to me, from office space to experience mentors and guest speakers, exceeded my expectations and allowed me to develop self-management skills while refining the business model,” she said.

Brendan Finucane of VConnecta, the data analytics tool that political operatives the world over have been scrambling to use, is adamant its success began with IGNITE.

“IGNITE facilitated introductions to investors, advisors, customers and more. Almost the entire business network that I now rely on for support is derived from connections made on IGNITE,” Mr Finucane said.

IGNITE’s advisory board includes some of Ireland’s best-known entrepreneurs and business people, with recent additions including Colum O’Sullivan, Cully & Sully, Mary Good, formerly PepsiCo and Kate Hyde, Glencove Group.

Director Eamon Curtin said IGNITE itself now wanted to take the next step up, and said corporate assistance would be a boon for programme participants.

“Establishing relationships with members of the business community who want to assist the next generation of successful startups has been a boon to IGNITE graduates. The value of being able to call on the experience of businesses who have navigated the twists and turns of commercial realities cannot be understated.”

Trying to grow a startup from scratch is an arduous process, especially when it comes to funding, he said.

“Having members of the business community willing to assist with funding our IGNITE participants is essential. Our early stage start-ups need seed funding, there is no way around that. Recent graduates can go a long way on relatively little money but are less well able to raise those funds themselves.

"LEO feasibility grants, priming grants, Enterprise Ireland innovation vouchers and Competitive Start Funds are all accessible, but they require some form of matching funding.”

He said the temptation for IGNITE participants is to take a part-time job in order to raise their own funds but this distracts them from developing the business.

“Having an injection of €5,000 to €10,000 from a member of the business community three or six months into the programme can be far more valuable than an investment of €25,000 or €50,000 at the end of the process.

"If we can build up that network of businesses in our ecosystem willing to provide those early-stage funds to IGNITE participants, then we will see the commercial potential of businesses on the programme improve immeasurably.”

To have more members of the business community get onboard with IGNITE as partners, whether financially or non-financially, means it can take the programme to new heights, Mr Curtin said.

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