Digital Ireland 2020: Is Ireland Ready to Become a Global Start Up Hub?

Karim Benabdallah
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On: 25 Aug 2016
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In the first blog of the “Digital Ireland 2020” Series, the Head of End to End Technology Strategy and Development for Three Ireland, Karim Benabdallah, asks simply: “Is Ireland ready to become a global start-up hub?”

If I was establishing a start-up business in this increasingly connected world, geography would be the last thing to constrain my thinking on location. The world would be my oyster. That said, in 2015 Start-Up Ireland CEO, Eoin Costello, said Ireland could be a global start-up hub by 2020. Why is that, and can today’s start-ups already benefit?

Why Start Up in Ireland?

Start-ups in the communications and IT sectors are proven to be the most likely ones to consider Ireland as a location, as it’s already on their radar. Ireland is indisputably a global technology leader – and when you look a little more closely, it’s obvious why that’s so.

Firstly, there are already several large, world-leading companies hosted in Ireland, including IT-based operations such as Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, eBay, Amazon, PayPal, Microsoft and Apple. So there’s a thriving business ecosystem in the sector, and an established pool of talent with relevant skills and experience.

What’s more, Ireland’s small size means that the business ecosystem is equally compact. Communities are tight-knit, access to local resources is made easier, and the ability to learn from like-minded companies is simplified – for a start-up these can be crucial enablers.

However, small and compact doesn’t mean inward-looking. In fact, for Ireland it means the complete opposite. To survive, and thrive, the country has had to look outward.

As part of the European Union, Ireland has ready access to markets and resources close to home. For most Ireland-based businesses, leveraging this and operating internationally has been the only way to develop the necessary critical mass to grow.

Secondly, Ireland is an open-minded, supportive place for start-up businesses, with funding available through Enterprise Ireland and the Industrial Development Authority. The nation is open to entrepreneurship, with reasonable labour laws and a relatively light-touch administrative environment, which means start-ups can focus their energy and resources on their core business and its development instead of battling with red tape.

Additionally, low corporation tax is attractive to any business, of course, but particularly so to high-profile established companies, who in turn support an ecosystem of smaller companies – including start-ups.

Thirdly, if a population can have a personality, Ireland’s would be enthusiastic and optimistic. That makes it the perfect match for start-ups, which are, by definition, driven by enthusiasm and optimism.

However those qualities can only take you so far, so fortunately, Ireland’s workforce is also well-educated and – as we’ve already established – well-supplied with the relevant skills to meet the requirements of the communications and IT sectors.

Ireland’s bankruptcy laws were changed in January 2016, going from a barrier to entrepreneurship to a benefit. It’s a fact of life that start-ups fail. Dave McClure, the founder of the “500 Startups” incubator, has said that an alternative name considered for his business was “Fail Factory”. It’s a concept that appropriately comes from the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, who asked: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Yet failure in Ireland – or failure which leads to bankruptcy, was previously penalised by a period of 12 years, which was later revised to three years, and is now thankfully reduced to 12 months.

Challenges Facing the Entrepreneur

So is the grass really that much greener on the Emerald Isle for start-ups? Well, nothing is without its challenges.

Despite the country’s small size, its communications infrastructure isn’t all-encompassing. Outside the main urban centres, broadband, cable and even fixed line infrastructure can be underdeveloped. At the same time, should a business want to deploy a large, in-country infrastructure, there’s no single entity which can support it. This can not only have a decelerating effect on development but can also increase the cost of doing business.

Those who do decide to make the move then face the difficulty of finding somewhere to live. As the population living in urban centres continues to grow at a fast pace, available housing is currently at its lowest level for many years. A job may be easy to find for people with the right skills, a place to live may be harder – particularly for those with a family.

That said, Ireland is ready.

When there is so much positive happening in Ireland, let’s not end on a negative. The country’s credentials as an attractive location for start-ups are already strong, and getting stronger.

An approximately €300 million investment in network and IT systems by Three Ireland over the next two years will do much to support the growth of current and future digital services.

The acquisition of O2 by Three Ireland has enabled CK Hutchison to radically transform its IT infrastructure, so it’s able to support its consumer and corporate customers’ communications and data requirements.

Finally, already carrying more mobile data than all the country’s other mobile operators combined, Three Ireland is looking to expand its data communication capabilities, and to facilitate the Internet of Things for its customers.

So on balance, the evidence proves that Ireland is ready – and waiting for you and your start-up.