As I have mentioned before, I am ‘close-mentoring’ a number of very early stage start-ups in Dublin City University at the moment. It started me thinking about what the process was like. When I was younger I managed a couple of rock bands, we were young and alas my lack of knowledge and their ego’s put paid to any future in the music industry. But there is a similarity with mentoring early stage technology companies. It is kinds like a cross between a band manager and the artists and repertoire (A&R) people that the music labels employ. Managers are meant to make the deals and sort out gigs for bands. Close mentoring tech companies can often mean getting them into potential partners, or help them make initial sales.
A&R people are meant to help groom the musicians for greatness, expected to understand the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that will be commercially successful. As a mentor in a university environment, my job is to help the researchers to clarify their vision but in a way that there is an immediate commercial application. In my life in the higher education sector, and previously in early stage venture capital, I saw several ‘we have built it so they will come’ technology ideas from labs of various Dublin universities. Of course the problem is that academics and researchers tend to think of technology as an end all and be all. They don’t start with the question of who will want it and what will they pay for it. This is because they are trained this way as this is how the academic research world works. Alas all these academically driven start-ups all those years ago all failed.
The ones I am dealing with now are different. They all came through the DCU Invent/Ryan Academy tech start programme, a series of mini-modules delivered by pracademic staff (entrepreneurs or those who dealt with entrepreneurs), with follow-up one-to-one meetings at the end, to see where their original idea sat with what they had learned. In most cases the ideas had developed in a different directions and since the mentoring (myself and others around Dublin) they have developed further again, to the point where the first start-up is currently in the process of actually setting up a company. Two more are probably going to be set-up in the next three or four months.
Dublin City University’s Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship is delighted to announce the establishment of a seed venture fund of 1 million for early stage technology start-up companies. The new venture fund is an accelerator fund, which will help fund new companies develop from concept to product. The aim of the venture fund is to jump-start a number of high technology start-ups in Ireland with an emphasis on software and biotechnology hardware ideas such as medical devices and diagnostics.
The successful companies will get approximately 50,000 in direct funding, as well as a three-month programme of support from the Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship, which will include office space, mentorship and specially-designed networking and educational programmes. The financial support for the venture fund is provided by the One Foundation. In addition any profits generated by the Accelerator Fund will be returned to the Fund for further investment.
“This is an important initiative for Ireland and I am delighted that the Ryan Academy is providing a catalyst for the next generation of Irish entrepreneurs. This initiative is not only another clear manifestation of DCU’s commitment to be the University of Enterprise but also addresses an obvious deficit in the pathway from concept to successful product”, said Professor Brian MacCraith, President-designate of Dublin City University.
The first round of investment will open for applicants in October this year, with the first four successful entrepreneurs being announced before the end of the year. A further eight entrepreneurs will be funded in 2011 and again in 2012. Each of these entrepreneurial groups will then work with the Ryan Academy to develop their company, building key and lasting business relationships along the way to help them sustain a viable business. The Ryan Academy is aiming to work with other seed funds and individual investors, and will be seeking to increase the fund size over time.
“Raising the money to get through the first year is often difficult for entrepreneurs and our objective is to support twenty early-stage entrepreneurial teams over the next two and half years” said Gordon McConnell, Deputy-CEO of the Ryan Academy and venture manager for the new fund. “We will work with other later-stage angel investors, other funds and the venture capital community to help ensure further funding for these new companies. We want to help nurture innovative technology ideas and act as a launchpad for new entrepreneurs.”
The fund is unique as it is both a university-related venture fund for start-ups across Ireland, as well as offering a programme of support for these startups through the Ryan Academy and its network.
The new fund will be governed by a Technology Advisory Board, which will be announced later
For those interested, the Ryan Academy will be running a bootcamp on innovation (Fri the 3rd of September) and entrepreneurship (Sat 4th September) on the DCU campus. The innovation day will be based around getting from a vague idea to a fully fleshed concept (in a practical format for those attending), while the Sat session will be a ‘start your own business’ which will look at specific areas such as financing and financial control, marketing and branding, and product positioning for example. We are also hoping to have some useful panels at the end of both days. One can book each day separately or both days together. The cost is Eur 140 per day or Eur 220 for both days. Hope to see you there.