Can Ireland Offer Startups Something Silicon Valley Can't?

In the past few years just about every country with a high-speed network and a national budget has hatched a “startup ecosystem.” From http://readwrite.com/2012/04/17/move-your-startup-to-chile-con to the Silicon Taiga, these programs offer entrepreneurs funding, infrastructure and support in an effort to lure a critical mass of promising young companies and spawn the next Silicon Valley.

None has succeeded. The Dropboxes and Instagrams of the world still flock to the original Silicon Valley.

First Choice For Second-Tier Startups?

But if you’ve got a startup that is not quite as hot as a Dropbox or an Instagram, there could be a good reason to consider one of those other startup ecosystems. You won’t get Marc Andreessen’s number at the next rooftop party. But there’s something else you won’t get: ignored.

“Our startups get tons of hands-on support - much more than they’d get almost anywhere else in the world,” says Lorcan O’Sullivan, manager of Enterprise Ireland, one of the latest of the many campaigns by governments around the globe to attract startups to their shores and inject new life into their local economies.

Enterprise Ireland has a fund of €10 million to dole out. Startups that relocate to Ireland can get between €100,000 and €500,000 each. Those that are accepted must arrange private-sector funding in an amount equal to the Startup Ireland funding. Startup Ireland does not take a seat on the board but does take 10% equity. That’s more than top U.S. accelerators like Y Combinator take (normally around 6%) but O’Sullivan says Enterprise Ireland gives more in return, particularly to startups in sectors where Ireland is strong, such as medical devices, pharma and IT.

“Of course, a good startup can get funding anywhere. But we think we have extra things to offer.”

Ireland Can Help With Going Global

Enterprise Ireland has so far attracted entrepreneurs from the U.S., Russia, Belarus, England, Greece and South Africa. Many of them are outfits that want to internationalize but don’t know how to do it. “We have a network of 28 offices around the world that are at the disposal of our startups to make business connections and gain access to customers and partners,” O’Sullivan says.

Some of Enterprise Ireland’s startups joined the program because Ireland is the easiest place in the EU to launch a business. One startup in the medical device field that joined recently was attracted by the favorable regulatory environment.

“We hope to attract a wide range of startups, even those who have a reason to leave the U.S.,” O’Sullivan says. “These could be entrepreneurs who can’t get a visa in the U.S. but can get a visa in Ireland, because we have very attractive startup entrepreneur visas here.”

For all his country’s advantages - lower taxes and costs than Silicon Valley - O’Sullivan says he realizes that entrepreneurs with a good shot in the U.S. will not choose Ireland, especially given all the negative economic news about the country of late, including its recession and debt.

“People think, ‘Why would I go to Ireland? There is not money or jobs or anything happening there.’ But we want to say there is very vibrant startup scene here. Are we going to replicate Silicon Valley? No. But you can still be very successful without being Silicon Valley.”

 

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock.