On Tuesday the 17th of February, my fellow DCU Business School students and I had the great pleasure of attending our third mini-conference which was once again held in the Helix’s Mahony Hall. The conference we attended was the free mini-conference “Get Started” which featured presentations from a number of successful entrepreneurs, including Kealan Lennon from Cleverbug, David McKernan from Java Republic and Paul Kerley, formerly of Norkom Technologies who shared their own personal experiences of starting their business’s and also gave us brutally honest advise about what it takes to become an entrepreneur. DCU Business School with the DCU Techspectations Initiative held the conference which ran from 14:00 till 18:00. I know that sounds like an awfully long time to be sitting in one spot, but when you read down through my blog you’ll understand how time flew as we listened to the extremely different experiences each of the six speakers encountered throughout their journeys and continued journeys of entrepreneur-hood.
The first speaker at the conference was Niamh Bushnell. Niamh was recently appointed Dublin’s first Commissioner for Startups. As Commissioner for Startups, Niamh is responsible for spearheading the development of the city as a global hub for innovative companies.
Niamh began her presentation with informing of us of her first leap into entrepreneurship. Niamh and her brother co-founded the company, Pan Research back in 1996. Niamh described Pan Research as being five years before its time as it allowed companies and businesses to buy from each other over the internet. Niamh continued on her presentation with enlightening us of the varies career changes she’s undertaken to present date which enabled her to have the qualifications to become Dublins first ever Commissioner for Startups. In 1998 Niamh became Enterprise Irelands VP of software in their New York offices, here Niamhs main focus was assisting Irish technology companies entering the US east coast market. In 2004 Niamh then decided to move back into the private sector and became VP of Accounts management for Orbiscom, a Dublin-based payments technology companys that has since been acquires by Mastercard.
Niamh then continued on with her talk informing us that she has been involved in numerous start-up companies and that she is also an angel investor and advisor. Niamh then spoke of her becoming a founder and co-founder once again of the companies TechResources and IDIRUS while in America. She informed us that TechResources was created to assist international tech companies entering the US market and that IDIRUS was developed with the aim of being a mentor matching tool for diverse and global organizations where their clients can use IDIRUS to optimize their internal talents by being paired up with other members and employees to train, coach and mentor each other.
Niamh then continued on by speaking about the difficulties she encountered when she became a founder. She stressed that believe in herself was her biggest problem and that a founder MUST have passion, belief and the ability to bite the silver bullet. I found the fact that Niamh Bushnell, a well-established business woman who helps mentor and support massive internal companies had difficulties with belief in herself while finding her own companies, fascinating and extremely interesting. Its most definitely one of my many thoughts I will be taking away from the Get Started conference.
Niamh then went on to talk about her job as Dublin first ever Commissioner for Startups. She spoke about how it’s her job to promote Dublin as good innovation area for startups and how she wants to put Dublin on the map along with major startup cities like Berlin, New York and the Silicone Valley (which technically isn’t a city but I think you get my drift).
Niamh stressed how Dublin has so much potential it just lacks collaboration and a common message/mission. She described being an entrepreneur as being a fundamental learning experience and advised us to put ourselves out there as we’ve little to lose while we’re young, that we’ll develop diversity in our experience and that finding new ways to help the world is fun and exciting.
My favourite presentation from the Get Started conference had to from David Mckernan, David founded Java Republic in 1999, which is one of Irelands most successful brands and one of Europe’s leading coffee companies. Within a few minutes of David beginning to speak I believe it was clear enough to grasp that he is a persistent, passionate and high-spirited entrepreneur, who has the ability to inspire and drive the people around him. Before founding Java Republic (which is one of Irelands most successful brands and one of Irelands leading coffee companies) David had a comfortable and steady job in the successful company Bewleys however David stated that he had just wanted to achieve more and even put his house on the line as recourse* for the chance to achieve his goal!
David then went on to explain that Java Republic only worked because he had-
- A never ending drive
- A love for coffee
- A product that people wanted
- And finally because he surrounded himself with great people (2 of them)
David explained how Java Republic is second to Bewley’s yet he still isn’t satisfied and wants a bigger company which I believe perfectly captures his perseverance and drive as a true entrepreneur.
David then presented us with the following advice-
- That partnerships DO NOT WORK
- That VC’s (venture capital) will SCREW you for everything you’ve got
- DON’T take money from family but if you have to be very carefully..
- SPEND MONEY on “legals”
David then talked about the future prospects of Java Republic,
- Keep innovating
- Stay relevant
- And GROW LIKE HELL!
David then brought up the topic of what it takes to be a great entrepreneur and the controversial subject of nature verses nurture. David talked about characteristics research declares a successful entrepreneur should have
- Hustlers- Enthusiastic,action orientated & conscientious like Zig Ziglar
- Innovators- Adventurous, forward thinking & unconventional in business like Richard Branson
- Machines- Strong sense of duty & an aptitude for problem solving like Bill Gates
- Prodigies- Run on instinct, trust their natural intellect & social skills to succeed like Elon Musk
- Strategists- Rely on intellect to develop business models & never lose their cool like Steve Jobs
- Visionaries- See the big picture & constantly try to push their companies to new heights like Oprah Winfrey
(Pictures are in order to bullet points)
However according to David the traits of a great entrepreneur are
- Be humble
- Hard work
- A great storyteller
- Learn to delegate
- Confident decision maker
- Fitness-look after yourself
David then concluded his talk with the most important trait of all the ability to keep getting back up no matter how many times you’ve been kicked down…. repeatedly!!!
The next presentation came from Richard Stokes, Richard is the Director of Innovation at DCU. He is also the CEO of Invent DCU Ltd, the technology transfer and incubation centre at Dublin City University.
Richard told us that he’s been in business for thirty years working with multinationals and start-up companies, has co-founded four start-up companies and has also been CEO to two successful companies in the ICT sector. Richard informed us that he is responsible for providing support to spin-out and spin-in companies in DCU. He told us about the DCU Innovation Campus which is only about 500 metre from the university as the crow flies and that in the centre there are a cluster of like-minded, collaborative, innovative companies that get to network with each other. He explained how big health care companies get to talk to big ICT companies and described it as a community that creates links over a cup of coffee which I believe as a business student is a fantastic idea.
The next speaker to take to the stage at the Get started mini-conference was Kealan Lennon. Kealan Lennon is the founder and CEO of Cleverbug. Cleverbug is a company which enables customers to create truly personalized, one-of-a-kind greeting cards for their family and friends simply and conveniently by allowing its customers to connect with the social networking platform Facebook or with their email (but really who doesn’t have a facebook page in this day and age) to enable you to quickly and conveniently track down photos of your loved ones which I believe is very clever indeed!
Cleverbug also is available for download in the appstore so even when you’re on the run you can simply design a beautiful thoughtful card and arrange for it to be delivered in a matter of minutes with cleverbugs wide range of 75 printing stations located around the world.
Cleverbug also has the added bonus of sending you reminders of friends birthdays once you’ve connect with Facebook so you never have to feel the embarrassment of forgetting a loved ones birthday again and will even become the thoughtful one of the group! Kealan gave everyone at the conference a promo code to use on the site so we could all try out the service. I’m delighted to announce that I loved the process of creating a unique and thoughtful birthday card for my friend, it was also super easy to do with the site directing me to pictures of the two of us on Facebook so I didn’t even have to search or download pictures.
I believe Cleverbug is a brilliant example of an outdated service being rejuvenated and brought back to life with adding ICT technology and becoming a brand new service.
Kealan was once again using his entrepreneurial skills when he saw the opportunity to send some sample cards to the presenter of the Today Show with Kathie Lee & Hoda a selection of their cards which ended up getting viewed by millions of Americans helping publicise his company in the states.
The next entrepreneur to take to the stage was Sean Ahern. Sean is a tech entrepreneur who is currently in the thick of getting his socially conscuious startup ThankFrank off the ground. Sean is another example of a budding entrepreneur who left a comfortable job and risked it all in the pursuit of following his passion.
Sean then began telling us how ThankFrank works and the idea behind the business. ThankFrank is basically a browser extension and app that allows you to take part in our good will thanks Economy. It allows you to quickly “Frank” any webpage with a “Thanks” button and for every person that ticks “Thanks” you get a credit. The goal is to collect as much thanks as possible so you can then trade the credit in for shopping vouchers for yourself or others or even donate your credit to charity.
I believe ThankFrank is brilliant idea as it eliminates big brands paying celebrities and bloggers to write and speak highly of their products but instead leaves the real consumers to rate and advise people on the products honestly and fairly and will even give them rewards measured on the number of people who say “Thanks”.
Sean then continued on with his presentation with giving us some advice on entrepreneur-hood
- He informed us that our ideas are not worth anything as anyone of us could have a billion dollar idea but without the execution the idea is worthless.
- That we should become fascinated with failure as it’s the only time we will truly learn and when you do screw up make sure to learn from it.
- Surround yourself with a team of fantastic people- find the best people possible for the job and develop your work management tools as they are VITAL for defining success.
- That you have to be persistent and keep going, celebrate the little victories because there will bad times ahead.
Sean then told us something that stuck in my head- that every successful person will say I was going to give up but “I don’t know how I hung in there”
Sean then presented us with the graces of being an entrepreneur
- The feeling of working towards something, doing something bigger than work gives you happiness
- That the people you will meet as an entrepreneur are the most amazing, smart and energetic people you’ll ever encounter. That they understand your pain and frustration and will try support you as much as they can.
- That you undergo a journey of personal development that gives you pride and energy that drives you
Sean then signed off his talk with a few more points- that we need to believe in yourselves, that we’re going to get there, that life is about choices and that we should talk to people in business because they care.
The final speaker of the Get Started mini conference was Paul Kerley. Paul is an entrepreneur and investor. He is a graduate of Dublin City University and currently serves on the boards of a number of technology companies including Chairman of Fenergo, Non-Executive Chairman of SmartBin and Non-Executive Director of MindConnex Learning. Prior to all this Paul was the CEO of Norkom Technologies, a global financial crime and compliance solution provider. Norkom was ranked on the Global FinTech 100 listing of the worlds top financial technology firms and won critical acclaim from global analysts and industry publications. It has since been acquired by BAE systems for €217 million in 2011.
Back in 2000 Paul was named Ernest & Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year and in 2009 Paul was named the Technology Person of the Year by the Irish Software Association (ISA). Paul has had many highs and lows in his life as an entrepreneur, however I believe these lows I’m going to talk about truly show the drive and passion an entrepreneur needs to have to keep on going. Paul spoke of having to let 120 people go from Norkom in the year 2000 as being one of the most difficult processes he’s had to encounter as an entrepreneur. He also spoke of the telecom shock that occurred on a Friday afternoon in June that caused his ownership in the company to drop from 30% down to 3%that following Monday morning so he could save Northcom.
From the Get Started conference I learned that being an entrepreneur is not just all fun and games that there are hard times when you just WANT to crawl under a rock and give up BUT that’s when you need to pull up your socks and work even harder, no matter how many times you fall. I learnt that persistence is the key to success, well along with believe, drive, motivation and everything else that the six speakers mentioned above. I also learnt that being an entrepreneur will make you feel like you’re doing something bigger than just work, that you’ll meet some amazing and inspirational people on your way and that you’ll undergo a journey of personal development that energises and drives you. As a business student I was always aware that my career could take the entrepreneur path however after the conference I believe I’d be perfectly suited for the role and will definitely try and peruse it in the next few years because like Niamh Bushnell said while I’m young I’ve nothing much to lose.