Archive for April, 2011

SFI Researchers Commercialise with DCU Ryan Academy

April 25, 2011 Leave a comment

DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurship develops entrepreneurship programme for Science Foundation Ireland-funded researchers

 Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has partnered with the Dublin City University (DCU) Ryan Academy to provide entrepreneurship training for postdoctoral researchers at research centres in Universities across Ireland. This is part of SFI’s TIDA (Technology Innovation Development Award) 2010 programme.

SFI is working in partnership with Enterprise Ireland on TIDA to realise a greater economic impact from the state investment in oriented basic research.

The programme aims to teach business skills to university researchers and scientists.  The key objective is that successful TIDA awardees will start to develop a base of commercially-relevant, applied research skills that can then be built on with Enterprise Ireland support in order to produce tangible commercial outputs.

Director of Enterprise and International Affairs at SFI, Dr Ruth Freeman said: “Manifesting and nurturing a twinned culture of innovation and commercialization within the scientific community is a cornerstone of SFI’s TIDA programme. Identifying and bringing to fruition the commercial potential of any research concept are critical steps in the journey from idea to industry, and these are encouraged and facilitated by TIDA’s mechanisms.”

The programme, which is delivered in the iconic Ryan Academy building in Citywest Business Campus, culminates in a Demo Day for the participants.  During Demo Day, they will get to pitch their idea to a selected panel that includes a representative from the Irish Technology Leadership Group in Silicon Valley. SFI is facilitating a week-long visit to Silicon Valley for the winning presentation, which will be hosted by the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG). The visit will be an opportunity for the winning researchers to meet members of the venture community and leading technology companies.

“These modules in the SFI programme are delivered by practitioners in the various fields that are vital to an entrepreneurial endeavour,” said Gordon McConnell, Deputy-CEO of the Ryan Academy and director of the SFI programme. “The objective is to give the researchers a real idea of what they need to do to start a technology company tomorrow,” he added.

The SFI programme is modeled on best practice programmes in the US and a variation of a similar programme that the Ryan Academy is delivering in collaboration with DCU Invent for researchers in Dublin City University.


Fascinating View into Early Computer Games Industry

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

With a title like “Masters of Doom” one might expect the book to be some end-of-epoch blockbuster but instead this book highlights the careers of two of the founders of the modern computer gaming industry. John Carmack and John Romero are outlined in the book as somewhat teenage rebels, Romero in particular could have gone either way when he was young but for one saving grace. Both were enamoured and obsessed by the early games that appeared not long after the home computer revolution started.

The book is a riveting read, and filled in a lot of blanks in my knowledge of this particular part of internet history. I can remember clearly playing Castle Wolfenstein on my 386 computer with friends back in college in the early nineties. As innovators in the gaming space, the duo brought the first ‘rockstar’ games that went beyond fanboys. Romero in particular was a larger-than-life character that followed on from the public’s fascination in early computer entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs. In particular many readers will have played or heard of their main games, being Doom and Quake. It’s also an example of how revenue-rich companies don’t need much in the way of venture funding, a lesson perhaps lost on the modern generation of tech entrepreneurs.

It also deals with the controversy such as the attacks on ultra violent games that followed the Columbine shootings in the US.

But it is also an interesting set of anecdotes about seeing and seizing opportunity, particular in the shareware sector that developed alongside their companies. It is also a cautionary tale about what happens when the vision of the two founders starts to diverge. Modern gaming companies like Zynga have some of Carmack and Romero’s DNA in their system.

Originally published in 2004, a reprint came out earlier this year. A great read, I started and finished it in a weekend.

The New Hybrid – Socially Good and Making Money?

April 12, 2011 3 comments

One of the really interesting things about the social sector is the level of innovation it shows, doing it with very little resources (probably the key for that type of innovation). A lot of students these days seem to be interested in social enterprise or social entrepreneurship. Actually probably more interested than in commercial companies, which is slightly worrying. With funding for social being tight, and the country needing to produce high growth companies, I have reached the point where I am arguing the issue of whether starting so many potential social companies is such a good idea. But there is another model the ‘partial’ or ‘hybrid.’

A favourite example of this (and there are a few going back a few years) is TOMS Shoes.

TOMS Shoes was founded in 2006 by Blake Mycoskie, inspired by a trip to Argentina where he saw extreme poverty and health conditions, as well as children walking without shoes. That’s when he recognized the traditional Argentine alpargata shoe as a simple, yet revolutionary solution. He quickly set out to reinvent the alpargata for the U.S. market with a simple goal: to show how together, we can create a better tomorrow by taking compassionate action today. To realize this mission, Blake made a commitment to match every pair of TOMS purchased with a pair of new shoes to a child in need.

TOMS Shoes is an example of what the Ryan Academy defines as a ‘partial’: a commercial company with a strong social element that goes far beyond corporate social responsibility. The founder of Grameen Bank, in the light of the global financial crisis, has called for a ‘new’ kind of more socially conscious capitalism. TOMS Shoes is a growth company with a nice angle and a slew of stars willing to promote the brand. There are questions to be asked of this of course….

How many of these kinds of companies can an individual sector sustain? Could it be done geographically? Is there a need for a ‘socially conscious’ brand like there is with Fair Trade? Can we persuade a generation of youth that want more than the ‘social network’ styled greed to investigate such models? Is this just an advanced for of consumption philanthropy? More importantly will the venture community see this as a valuable competitive advance or positioning or will they see it as a revenue-draining element? Not all partials need to give away as much as TOMS Shoes of course…..I guess time will tell…

Whats the Future for Startup Accelerators?

So those of us involved in the world of venture accelerators (Propeller Venture Accelerator) are used to telling our startups that they need to ‘pivot’ but there may be a case for ‘physician heal thyself’ coming in our own sector. The line between competitions, incubators and accelerators are becoming blurred. If you look at global competitions like General Electrics Ecomagination or Mass Challenge, you can see that there are similar treads to what incubators used to do during the dotcom period (anyone old enough to remember Ant Factory or Gorilla Park?), and what Accelerator’s do now.

So what are the trends coming through?

1. In the Venture or Seed Accelerator sector you are now seeing the venture capital and angel investors react. Techstars, our friends through the Techstars Network, have just raised $8 million to continue their four city acceleration program for the next few years, backed by angels and early stage funds. But there is also no doubt there is nervousness about pre-money valuations from early stage investors, particularly with some of the rapid-rise-to-valuation of the likes of Groupon, or the never-ending rise in Facebook. Every startup or indeed the vast majority will not get there. But their founders might think so (founder syndrome which in itself creates a type of bubble mentality). See last point in the list!

2. The Good News: with the huge amount of cash on-hand with US companies, and the continued issues with many of them in terms of internal revenue-generating new ideas (we are looking at you, Google), these two issues will continue to fuel the early stage buying frenzy that makes accelerators a decent enough bet. As the Technology Cold War continues to heat up (legal swipes and moves like Google +1) there will to be a race to find the next big thing, bought early.

3. But….it is all about two factors – the right mentor group and the right group of companies. Many accelerators are taking on 10-15 startups at a time. And there are multiple accelerators appearing in different cities. Is the continuous high quality deal flow really there? Having looked at some recent startup lists of accelerators in the US, I am beginning to doubt it a little. Particularly if your accelerator is Web 2.0 only.

4. More corporate involvement. Last week BMW announced a new incubation facility to open in New York. And a $100 million fund to back it up. So, this must be in alternative energy , right? Wrong, it is in the mobile space. Go figure. Or ‘individual mobility solutions’ as IBM puts it.  To be honest as the story came out on April 1st I thought it might have been a joke. But this new play, BMW i Venture, seems a serious one for the car maker. The focus is on solutions which will improve usage of existing parking spaces, as well as intelligent navigation systems with local information, intermodal route planning, and premium car-sharing. New York-based My City Way is the first company in which BMW i Ventures has taken a stake. As a mobile app, My City Way provides users with information on public transportation, parking availability, and local entertainment for over 40 cities in the US. The company plans to expand its services to Munich and other major European cities.

I think we will see more vertical plays in the acceleration/incubation space, in more specific areas, with corporate backers. These backers will probably get first look and probably have an investment priority with the new startups. And possibly pre-money valuation ceilings too.

5. Money but a Valuation Ceiling. A new fund (End Fund) announced in the US backed by some serious angel investors have offered $1 million to the first 100 startups to apply (this story appeared in Techcrunch, I presume it is $1 million across the 100 startups, unless this is an April Fools!), but and it is a big but the next round of financing cannot be closed at a pre-money valuation of more than $4 million AND the startup is only permitted to raise equity in the future from the funds and individual angel investors involved with End Fund. This is obviously designed to put a stop to rising valuations by US West Coast companies (we don’t that big a problem in Europe at this point). So this takes up back up to point number one. These things are happening and some are good for startups and some are bad. Trends will come and go, and Accelerators themselves will change.

So the bottom line is this – the Accelerator model is hitting maturity in 2010. At least the first blossom of adulthood. It will continue to develop and will shape the other complementary areas around it like incubation, venture capital investing and corporate involvement in innovation.

Ray Murphy Bursary Open to Postgraduates in Philanthropy and Non-Profit Research

The 2011 Ray Murphy Bursary Programme was launched on 24th March at a ceremony honouring the first two Ray Murphy Scholars, Fiona Descoteaux and Naomi Feely. They are now accepting applications for the 2011 programme. For details and to download copies of the application form, please visit the website.
The deadline is Friday, 15th April at 5pm.

About the Bursary

The Ray Murphy Memorial Bursary was established with initial support from The Atlantic Philanthropies to honour Ray Murphy’s commitment to developing philanthropy, social finance and the wider non-profit sector in Ireland.

The Bursary was launched by Clann Credo – the Social Investment Fund and Philanthropy Ireland to encourage postgraduate research in philanthropy, social finance, charities regulation, social enterprise/ entrepreneurship, not-for-profit management or other relevant topics, as approved by the Bursary Committee. Postgraduate students (part-time or full-time), intending to pursue either a taught or research postgraduate programme in a third-level institution on the island of Ireland, may apply. For more information, please visit their website here.