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Thank you for your warm introduction.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be here in Croke Park today - at the Enterprise Ireland Start-Up Showcase 2018 - to celebrate with you all - the Class of 2017. I’d like to extend a particularly warm welcome to the 90 new High Potential Start Up companies (HPSUs), the 91 new Competitive Start Fund companies (CSFs) and the 13 representatives from our New Frontiers Programme
As the new High Potential Start-Up companies and entrepreneurs that Enterprise Ireland has supported in the last year, you are now playing an important role in the indigenous business community - driving Ireland’s economy forward. I was fortunate enough to chat with some of you earlier this morning and I can tell you that the Class of 2017 is indeed a group with ‘global ambition’.
There’s no doubt in my mind that you are now part of the ever-growing number of internationally focused Irish businesses, increasing Irish exports and jobs in every corner of the country. I am also delighted to welcome and acknowledge the representatives and investors from the wider business, government and finance community and the academics here today.
It is very encouraging to see so many of you here. Observing the calibre of our start-up environment represented here – I can only assume that this will be a very worthwhile and productive day for you all.
I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work that Enterprise Ireland is doing nationwide. Your contribution to the economy hasn’t gone unnoticed. I am delighted to say that the total number of people employed by Enterprise Ireland companies is now at over 209,000 – a record result. Every region of the country and every county recorded job increases - with 64% of new jobs created outside of Dublin. This is very encouraging.
It is the people that I see here before me today – the people with ideas, the entrepreneurs, the start-ups and early stage companies that will continue to drive the growth in jobs and in exports. In the last year, Enterprise Ireland supported 90 High Potential Start-Ups and a further 91 new businesses through the Competitive Start Fund - over half of these businesses were based outside of Dublin – this is extremely heartening.
I am also particularly pleased to see that female entrepreneurship continues to be a key focus. There were 67 new female-led start-ups in 2017 - 25 HPSUs and 42 Competitive Start Fund companies. This is a significant increase in the overall proportion of female-led HPSUs supported by Enterprise Ireland, which has grown from 7% in 2011 to 28% in 2017.
The success of Enterprise Ireland’s female entrepreneurship strategy brings Ireland in line with best international practice. Female-led, scalable Start-Ups now account for 37% of all our Start-Up investments. Also, 11 of the HPSUs and 7 of the Competitive Start Fund companies are from overseas, from a range of sectors with founders who have moved to Ireland from across the globe.
Despite global economic challenges during the period, we can attribute the strong performance by Irish businesses to an improving entrepreneurial climate for start-ups more generally. Dynamic Irish companies are innovating and scaling up in key sectors such as food, fintech, business process outsourcing, non-food manufacturing, ICT and construction.
You will be interested to hear about the other trends from 2017:
The fintech sector continues to grow and expand with 7 fintech investments and 7 new Competitive Start Funds in 2017.
Med-tech and Ag-tech are also growing sectors with many future growth opportunities.
Spin outs from the 3rd level sector continue to perform with 15 spin-outs recorded from third level institutes last year alone.
Historically, accelerators have proven to be a good early stage support mechanism for our progammes. To recognise this eco-system support mechanism, we have launched four new regional accelerators – two in Galway, one in Clare and one in Waterford.
The ambition is that these accelerators will focus on digital technology, aviation, and the Ag-tech and Med-tech sectors. And to build on the start-up success to date - Enterprise Ireland’s ambition is to foster 75 regional High Potential Start-Ups over a two year period.
We are more than half-way there – in 2017 alone we had 44 regional HPSUs. And I’m delighted to see three regional HPSUs and one Competitive Start Fund here today from my own area of Cavan/Monaghan. We must remember that despite the strong outcomes achieved in 2017, there are a number of future challenges facing people in business - the most significant is Brexit.
As a resident of a border county, I am only too aware of Brexit, its repercussions, and the threats and opportunities it presents. The impact in 2017 has been felt in terms of currency volatility, which has directly impacted cash flow and profitability. As we head into Phase 2 of the negotiations, the uncertainty and volatility will continue.
Our priority for the year ahead is to ensure that Irish companies have Brexit plans in place, to prepare and deal with these challenges. Start-ups and small businesses are the backbone of the Irish economy and the government’s Action Plan for Jobs sets out a plan to directly support these businesses.
This plan involves cutting red tape, reducing costs, providing low cost finance and providing easier access to public procurement opportunities. We will also deliver actions to improve productivity and importantly - drive innovation, which will add value to our services and exports. This is all in line with Enterprise Ireland’s strategy which is focused on building scale and expanding the reach of Irish businesses in international markets.
The strategy sets out ambitious targets growing exports by €5bn to €26bn per annum by the end of 2020 with two thirds of those exports going to markets outside the UK and critically, the driving of innovation in Irish enterprise to unprecedented levels to reach the target of €1.25 billion in R&D expenditure per annum by 2020.
As you know, our nearest neighbour, the UK, is often the first export market for start-ups and early stage companies. I encourage you and other Irish companies to set their sights further afield, to look beyond the UK.
Enterprise Ireland’s supports will help you on this journey. Innovation is a key driver of competitive advantage and my Department, though Enterprise Ireland is supporting more innovative start-ups.
Improving access to finance is another key element of the Enterprise Ireland strategy and they will continue to work with seed and business angels to avail of new approaches to sourcing finance. As part of their mandate to develop and maintain an appropriate funding environment for early stage companies, Enterprise Ireland’s Growth Capital team works with a range of equity providers.
I’m delighted to announce that during 2017, my Department, though Enterprise Ireland, invested more than €30 million directly in start-up companies, to support their international growth, investing in seed and venture capital funds, such as:
- Seroba Lifesciences
- Frontline Ventures
- ACT Venture Capital and
- Suir Valley
These venture funds, combined, will put €188 million of available new risk capital in to the market - improving access to appropriate funding for early stage innovative companies. It is reassuring to know that the Irish start-up ecosystem will continue to strengthen as a result of these investments.
Together with the work of Enterprise Ireland’s many financial and strategic initiatives, the European Angel Fund and HBAN, we are focused on building a platform for High Potential Start-Up companies that is strong, effective and sustainable.
You have an interesting morning ahead of you and I’m sorry I can’t stay to hear James Murphy from Lifes2Good.com and the panel discussions. Start-up companies have an opportunity to gain valuable insight and tips this morning. Please make the most of every resource available to you. I’d like to congratulate you, the class of 2017 for your achievements to date and for having the ambition to take the courageous leap to start a new business.
You have come up with an idea and have been resilient enough to follow though – investing a considerable amount of your time and effort along the way, to bring you to the stage you are at today. It’s a brave step to be an entrepreneur and State supports, such as those provided by Enterprise Ireland have given you the opportunity to build your company, offering future rewards and career opportunities, not just for you but for others in your community.
Many of the client companies who started their journey with Enterprise Ireland as start-ups have grown into international companies of scale. I encourage all the entrepreneurs and new start-ups here today to continue to avail of every opportunity available from the various State supports, including those available through Enterprise Ireland. These State supports will be invaluable in your ambition to grow your business locally and in global markets.
And I can say, after meeting many of you this morning, I have no doubt that the Start-up Class of 2017 will become Irish business success stories of the future. Hopefully some of you will go on to start further businesses. This morning you will be given the opportunity to showcase your business and network with key business stakeholders and investors.
I hope you all have a very successful and productive morning and I wish you all every success for the future.