Ireland is a great place to set up a business. We’re an English-speaking country within the European Union, we have a talented and educated workforce, and a business-friendly tax system. Another benefit is the wide range of programmes and supports available from various government agencies and semi-states.
The two main bodies you may be aware of are the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) – a network around the country offering support for small business, and Enterprise Ireland (EI) – the agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets. So, what’s the difference between them?
The main difference between the LEOs and EI
There are 31 Local Enterprise Offices, with dedicated teams working from local authorities (so, here in Dublin, your local office may be Dublin City, Dublin South, or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown). The LEO describes itself as the first stop shop for anyone seeking information and support on starting or growing a business in Ireland. Clients tend to be smaller businesses or the ones that are domestically focused.
Enterprise Ireland operates nationally with headquarters in Dublin (EastPoint Business Park) and a handful of regional offices. They also have over 30 international offices facilitating access to more than 60 countries worldwide. Enterprise Ireland’s focus is therefore on internationally traded services and manufacturing. EI’s budget in 2019 was €403 million, with EI-backed businesses achieving €25.6 billion in export trade, of which the largest chunk was the UK (€7.9 billion) followed by the Eurozone (€5.65 billion) and North America (€4.72 billion).
How does Enterprise Ireland work with businesses?
Enterprise Ireland structures its supports according to the different phases of a business: startup, “high potential” startup, established SME, and large company. What’s interesting about their approach is that, during the earlier stages, they invest as much in the entrepreneur themselves (known as a “promoter”) as the business idea. So you will be able to get supports from them if they feel you have the capacity and ability to grow a business into their comfort zone: employing at least 10 people, exporting or trading internationally, with turnover above €1 million.
One way entrepreneurs start their journey with EI is through the New Frontiers programme. Run at locations around the country, it is split into two phases. Phase 1 is part-time and will introduce you to the basics of launching a startup. It’s aimed at getting you to a go/no-go decision on your idea. Phase 2 is full-time, so you are expected to give up your job and work full-time on the business. In exchange, you receive a tax-free stipend of €15,000 over six months. You’ll be based in an incubator and be given guidance, advice, facilities, training, and mentoring to develop your idea.
The next step after New Frontiers is often Competitive Start Fund (CSF). If successful, you’ll get a cash injection of €50,000 and Enterprise Ireland becomes a 10% shareholder in the company. You’re now a “client” of EI and as such part of the Enterprise Ireland family. It’s worth noting that roughly 30% of CSF funding goes to former New Frontiers participants, so it really is an excellent way to open the door.
If Enterprise Ireland identifies that you have the potential to really scale, you become a High Potential Startup (HPSU). You’ll get individual support from a Development Advisor (DA) who should keep you up to date with any additional opportunities that might be open to you – schemes, grants, programmes, etc. – but it’s also up to you to network with other people within EI as there are various different departments with their own area of knowledge.
Being in the EI ecosystem is a great networking tool and if you nurture the contacts you make through them it can really open doors for your business.
As an HPSU, Enterprise Ireland will require you to raise funding within 18 months. If you are able to, they will match the funding up to 50/50 without taking any more equity in the business (it stays capped at 10%). This could see you raising large sums for the business and is a massive boost to a growing company. EI also works really hard on trade delegations, showcase events, and introductions to VCs.
If you’ve been in business for more than five years, you’re no longer treated as a startup or HPSU. At this point, you are classed as a “core” company – which is handled by a different team within Enterprise Ireland. Your DA will have a large roster of clients, so it’s a good idea to actively engage with them to ensure you get the support and access to you require.
The benefits of working closely with Enterprise Ireland
Some of the additional supports you may be tapping into during these stages are Innovation Vouchers (up to €12,500 towards R&D), feasibility grants, market research, mentoring, consultancy, Brexit supports, workshops and training programmes, and employment grants. The list is long and there are various eligibility criteria you need to meet depending of the support.
In balance, I think that it’s a really good idea to develop a relationship with EI, and I’m always surprised when I meet businesses that would be a perfect fit for them but have not engaged once with the agency. You may want to pick and choose the supports you get from them by balancing the overall benefit against the amount of involvement that will be required from you. You don’t have to apply for every scheme or turn up to every single event they invite you to – be strategic and choose what’s right for you.
Above all, being in the EI ecosystem is a great networking tool and if you nurture the contacts you make through them it can really open doors for your business. You’ll also find professional services – financial consultants, lawyers, etc. – who know EI’s way of working and can help you navigate the tasks and paperwork that will be required as you move through the different stages of business.
EI isn’t the only state-backed initiative supporting businesses, of course. Depending on your sector or focus, you’ll find there are a variety of organisations that can give you access to both tangible and intangible resources. Our third-level research offering is also very strong in Ireland (see below). So do your research and ask around in your business network to make sure you’re not missing out. If you’re interested in some of the funding I mentioned above, this blog gives a brief introduction to the main funding supports offered by Enterprise Ireland.
A quick reference of related terminology
The terms and acronyms used by EI and the startup/SME community in Ireland can be a bit of a learning curve and you will come across some new language that you may not be familiar with. Here’s a quick glossary of some of the terms you need to know:
- Accelerate: the top tier of Enterprise Ireland clients. These are the household names (indigenous brands).
- Ask: this is the term used at EI to describe your key need (your “ask”) as a business – what gaps you have (skills, knowledge, etc.) that EI can provide or help you with.
- Client: Once EI decides to work with you, you become a “client” (N.B. at early stage, such as on New Frontiers, you’re not yet a client but only on an EI programme).
- Core: this is the middle band of businesses that EI works with. A “core” client has been in business for over five years but is not yet in the “accelerate” tier.
- CSF: Competitive Start Fund (there are various calls throughout the year).
- DA: Development Advisor (your point of contact at EI, every EI client has one).
- HPSU: High Potential Startup – a special category of businesses as defined by EI. In a nutshell, you have the capacity to employ 10+ people and turnover €1 million within three years.
- IDA: Ireland’s inward investment promotion agency. A non-commercial semi-state, it promotes foreign direct investment into the country.
- ILO: an Industry Liaison Office is a name often applied to the team at an institute of technology responsible for managing knowledge transfer or technology transfer services (e.g. intellectual property, licensing, partnering with industry, startup creation).
- IRC: The Irish Research Council is an associated agency of the Department of Education and Skills. It funds research, education and skills development across all disciplines.
- IUA: Irish Universities Association represents, supports, and advocates for matters of shared sector concern.
- KT: Knowledge Transfer refers to the sharing of expertise, capability, technology, and intellectual property between the research base and industry or the public sector. The goal is to develop new or improved products, processes, and services that deliver societal and economic benefit. (Sometimes referred to as KTT or TT.)
- KTI: Knowledge Transfer Ireland is the national office that helps business to benefit from access to Irish expertise and technology by making it simple to connect and engage with the research base in Ireland.
- Lean: EI is a proponent of “lean” business principles and has a range of programmes supporting this. Lean focuses on improving performance by creating greater value using fewer resources.
- MA: Market Advisor – like a DA but based overseas and will have market knowledge as well as specific sectoral knowledge.
- Promoter: The term EI uses to refer to the entrepreneur who founded the startup.
- RPO: Research Performing Organisations – universities, institutes of technology, and other publicly funded research institutions.
- SFI: Science Foundation Ireland funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
- Spin-out: a startup that came about as a result of a research project in an RPO. The RPO will hold equity and/or have a licence to the intellectual property involved.
- Technologist: EI has experienced technologists on its staff, who provide support and expertise to EI clients.