In the global quest for talent, there was a time when the name Enterprise Ireland may have flown somewhat under the international radar. Today, Ireland’s national export agency invests in a staggering 200 or so start-ups every year.

As one of the most prolific seed investors in the world, Enterprise Ireland places an especially high value on what it defines as High Potential Start-Ups (HPSUs). These fall under the remit of Divisional Manager for HPSUs, Joe Healy, who explains how the agency operates – and what they look for.

What is the the role of Enterprise Ireland?

Our role is to develop the companies of tomorrow – those that will drive the Irish economy. We try and help those companies on their journey.

Enterprise Ireland has a 20-year track record of supporting companies with a strong international ambition. We have worked with hundreds of founders, taking a hands-on role to give these fledgling companies the benefit of our vast experience and knowledge.

Where does Enterprise Ireland sit in a global start-up context?

In terms of deal flow and volume of investment, we’re ranked third in Europe right now. We have a portfolio of more than 1500 companies across all sectors and of all sizes, including our HPSUs.

We make equity investments in approximately 200 early-stage companies per year. Last year, we invested €31 million in HPSUs, in addition to our wider investment strategy. We try to give companies that have potential the opportunity to succeed by giving the right level of support in terms of both funding and mentorship.

What do you look for in an early-stage start-up?

At a minimum, we look for a viable product plus evidence that there’s a market for that product. We also look for a team. That’s crucial. We ask: “Does this [founder] have what it takes to get people in who can help?”

Once those milestones have been reached, we set off on an 18-month project, collaborating and supporting the business where help is needed. It usually takes at least 18 months to raise the first round of proper investment.

How do you identify HPSUs?

We’re very active at trade and industry events. We also have a strong regional network to help ensure a continuous flow of entrepreneurs and founders. Whatever stage they’re at, we have people and resources in place to help them. These are not linear journeys and of course no two companies are the same, but it all starts with a conversation. Whatever the need, we have people to talk to and signposts that give clarity and direction.

For example, if you’re still at the idea stage we will encourage you towards our New Frontiers program. If you have a clear concept, you’ll probably start talking to your Local Enterprise Office. If you have a product that’s been validated, you’ll be working with Enterprise Ireland. And if you’ve fleshed out the market opportunity and devised a pathway to sales, then we’ll probably look to invest [and scale].

Do you gravitate towards some sectors more than others?

Quality projects and committed founders are always welcome. If you talk about sectors, right now probably two-thirds of our HPSU investments are in the technology or software field. Those companies, when they succeed, are easier to scale. That’s the fact of the matter. We also have a small but strong cohort of medical device companies. But again, there are no limits on good ideas.

What are the rewards on offer – for the start-ups and for Enterprise Ireland?

Our reward, as a Government agency, is that we’re building the next generation of Irish industry.

For the entrepreneurs, the reward is obvious – they want to work for themselves and we can help make that happen. But they must have the drive to pursue their vision. It can be a tough journey. It’s a 24/7 commitment so they need to be passionate about what they’re doing.

What are the challenges?

Our main challenge is to continuously identify viable projects and businesses. That puts us in the risk business. We accept that. We do everything in our power to help companies succeed, but in the end it’s down to the market. Ultimately it’s whether they can convince customers to buy.

For founders, the big challenge is funding. No surprise there. It can be extremely hard to find risk capital. One of the big tests is whether or not other investors believe in projects as much as we do.

Who are some of the role models HPSUs can look up to?

You look at Ergo, led by John Purdy, and Taxback by Terry Clune, both examples of Irish entrepreneurs who not only started innovative companies but also led them to commercial success. Others scaling well include Nearform led by Cian O’Maidín, Boxever led by David O’Flanagan and CurrencyFair led by Paul Byrne. We also have high hopes for rising stars such as Glofox led by Conor O’Loughlin and SalesOptimize led by Liz Fulham.

What makes Ireland such a fertile breeding ground for start-ups?

Ireland is a dynamic country with a very strong ecosystem for innovation. We have a culture of entrepreneurship that benefits from a fast-growing economy and a young, highly-employable population.

All the ingredients are there for start-ups. But it’s not for everyone. The things you have to do might not be sophisticated, but they can be hard. What could be harder than building things you want people to pay money for? Anyone who chooses that path deserves the very best support they can get. That’s what Enterprise Ireland tries to do.

Heike John works in Enterprise Ireland’s Dusseldorf office. In this interview, she describes her work as a market advisor, introducing innovative Irish agritech products to the market.

 

What area of agritech do you focus on?

My area of agritech deals with agricultural machinery and components for the agricultural machinery OEMs here in the German market. Irish agritech manufacturers in most cases are niche players in Germany and Austria, offering specialised solutions to farmers and agricultural contractors. At the moment, the German market is doing well and that means that suppliers and sub-suppliers have opportunities to sell to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and dealerships.

 

How do you assist businesses in your region?

When I am contacted by an Irish company, the first thing I do is learn about their product and then develop a strategy in collaboration with the client for them to enter the German market, to grow the market or to introduce a new product. It is important that companies supported by Enterprise Ireland [the national export agency] understand the cost and time required to start exporting to a new market, and also the steps required.

For example, from a technical perspective, they will need to understand if their agritech products will suit the German market and also its specific regions. Also, they will need to be aware of their competitors, how they promote their products and what market share might exist for them.

Furthermore, I can introduce clients to ‘pathfinders’, who are market experts and can do a short assignment to provide clients with actual, tangible feedback from the market on a product.

For existing clients, I try to find new opportunities for them while promoting Irish strengths at events such as EuroTier, which is one of the world’s most comprehensive exhibitions for professional animal husbandry and livestock professionals, hosted in Hanover. This November around 18 Irish clients will exhibit at EuroTier, some at the Irish Pavilion organised by Enterprise Ireland. It is a high-profile show and in the past Irish ministers and ambassadors have attended.

Recently, we brought 12 German agricultural contractors over to Ireland who found it very interesting to meet Irish manufacturers and local agricultural contractors who showed them how their machinery is used on Irish farms. The initiative helped the Irish companies to get market exposure and there has been great interest and initial sales due to the trip. Ultimately, it helps Irish companies to potentially get dealerships for their agritech products.

 

Who are you working with at the moment?

Our clients are niche players in Germany and have very strong equipment and technology in the dairy and the grassland sectors. Ireland traditionally has a lot of expertise in these areas and our clients offer innovative solutions for German farmers.

For example, there are certain Irish methods of farming which are not that well known to Germany, and the technologies which go with these methods are of relevance here in the market and generate interest.

 

Why should companies work with Enterprise Ireland?

We are a very trusted and worthwhile resource that has the same objective as the companies we support – we want them to build sustainable, long-term businesses in Germany and Austria. And if we do not have in-house expertise, we have contacts and local networks to assist in any way. Overall, it’s a great way to enter a new market and to grow existing ones.

 

What does a typical day look like for your work?

There is a lot of variety in my job and therefore no two days are exactly the same. Generally, I talk to my clients, research markets, and communicate with potential dealers and distributors for my clients’ agritech products.

I also have follow-up on introductions which I have made or give feedback from pathfinders to the Irish companies involved in the project.

There are days when I come across an opportunity for another market sector, such as cleantech, which happened recently. In that case, I contacted my colleagues and informed them about it which created new leads for Irish companies.

Every day gives me great satisfaction. I have been with Enterprise Ireland for 23 years and I love learning about companies and working with and helping my clients to become successful in the German market.

 

What are the main trends in agritech products in Germany right now?

German manufacturers of agricultural machinery achieved record half-year growth in the first half of 2018, with an increase of 14% in turnover to a good €5 billion.

This strong half-yearly increase is largely due to the dynamic developments in the markets in the eurozone. The German market remains in leading position; here sales from business with local sales partners increased by 19% in the first two quarters, reaching €1.4 billion. (Source: VDMA)

Trends in the industry are: smart farming, farm management systems and solutions that support farmers to operating more efficiently. Additionally, irrigation is an important trend, as water is such an important and scarce resource in many parts of the world.

爱尔兰企业向中国的出口金额已接近十亿英镑。

 

中国经济增长迅猛,吸引了世界各地众多企业的目光。快速增长的同时,挑战也随之而来。爱尔兰企业在多个行业具有优势,能协助应对这些挑战。

 

目前,300家爱尔兰企业在爱尔兰国家出口机构爱尔兰贸易与科技局(Enterprise Ireland)的支持下,活跃于香港、北京、上海和中国其它地域。未来还会有更多爱尔兰企业来华深耕。

 

爱尔兰贸易与科技局在北京、上海和香港(同时覆盖深圳)设有办事处,从地理布局和行业专知两个方面支持爱尔兰企业为其在华客户及合作伙伴提供助力。

 

爱尔兰贸易与科技局的马柯娜(Mary Kinnane)说,中国市场的规模和重要性与日俱增,获得爱尔兰企业的青睐。

 

“目前爱尔兰有300家企业在中国开展业务。其中,150多家企业在华设立办事机构。2017年,这些企业对中国出口的金额高达10.3亿英镑,占据爱尔兰贸易与科技局所服务客户的对亚太地区的出口总额的54%。”

 

作为一个开放的经济体,爱尔兰支持旨在加强互联互通、推动共同经济增长的一带一路倡议。作为成员国,爱尔兰积极投身欧盟事务,中、爱之间的商业合作伙伴关系也因此获益。随着双边贸易的逐年增长,中、爱之间于2018年开辟了新的直飞航线,通商更便捷。

 

爱尔兰贸易与科技局专注中国重点发展的行业,如农业科技(agritech)、制药、工程技术、清洁技术(cleantech)、医疗技术(medtech)、金融科技(fintech)、信息与计算机技术和教育等。爱尔兰企业能在这些领域提供解决方案,为中国的持续增长加油。

农业科技

爱尔兰农业历史悠久,声名远播。进入21世纪,新一代农场主、制造商和农业科学家在农业价值链上下屡屡创新(innovation),爱尔兰农业的声誉得以发扬光大。

 

爱尔兰制造商具备世界领先的能力,专业制造能够帮助中国农业实现整合和现代化的农业机械,如养牛场专用的饲料搅拌车、高质量的干草堆垛和包装系统、泥肥撒布机等。

 

如今,爱尔兰农业工程技术出口总额每年可达2.5亿欧元。新开发的技术围绕现代农场的需求,帮助农场提升管理水平,如先进传感器和电子文档记录系统等。中国政府大力提倡农业机械化,这些按世界最高水准交付的技术在中国逐渐深入人心。

 

爱尔兰食品质量也在全球位列前茅,抗生素使用率极低,无激素,牲畜福利水平高,从农场到餐桌全程可追溯。

 

Dairymaster为代表的企业引领行业潮流,投入巨资进行自主研发,事事以客户为先。Dairymaster最近研发出一款智能手机APP,帮助奶农远程控制贮乳槽。MagGrow开发的技术能让喷雾器喷出的液体微滴磁化,使其同庄稼更好键合,从而减少所需液体量。

工程技术和清洁技术

据中国人民银行估算,为了实现中国生态环境部制定的空气和水质量目标,接下来五年全国需投入2550亿英镑,而土壤污染的治理还需投入8550亿英镑。中国企业责无旁贷,必须应对这些历史遗留问题。为了实现这些雄心勃勃的目标,它们需要全球合作伙伴的协助。

 

爱尔兰正迅速成为国际清洁技术(clean technology)中心。爱尔兰的水处理行业为全球客户提供创新、验证有效的解决方案。无论是重大建筑项目现场还是场外制造合同的履行,爱尔兰企业的可靠性、质量和交付能力均达到最高标准,因而享誉世界。此外,该行业建立起一个生气勃勃的创新生态系统,在应对世界上最重要的可持续性挑战方面不断突破。

制药和医疗卫生

人口老龄化、可支配收入增加、医疗卫生改革和日渐严重的非传染性健康问题使得中国成为世界第二大制药市场。

 

与此同时,爱尔兰的医疗技术行业(Ireland’s medtech sector)以其创新性、整合能力和全球视野在国际上声名鹊起。因为它独特的协作型生态系统涵盖了跨国企业、新创企业、高校科研人员和政府拨款的研发中心,爱尔兰出口商得以为客户交付独一无二的创新优势。新一代医疗仪器、诊断工具和数字健康企业放眼未来,率先运用以设计为导向的生物医学思维来满足客户不断演变的需求。在医疗技术行业成功的背后,有着颇具规模但又极其精益的爱尔兰次级供应商体系和有能力精准满足全球市场领先者要求的供应链。

 

随着中国内需的拉动,新GMP法规的生效,国内制药企业不断走出国门寻找新增长机遇,中国制药工程项目的数量和复杂程度都会增加。爱尔兰充满活力的制药行业具备这些方面的丰富知识和过往成功交付的诸多案例。

金融服务

中国经济的快速增长创造了巨大的中产阶级群体。他们需要更多的养老金、社会保障和金融服务。

 

爱尔兰金融服务企业经历过类似进程,积累了经验和专知,能帮助中国企业克服它们在这样一个环境中将遭遇的障碍。

 

爱尔兰贸易与科技局所支持的企业能在支付网关、全球退税、企业数据管理后台办公室服务(都柏林已经是此方面的世界领先者)和云解决方案等方面为中国客户提供服务。

信息与计算机技术

在信息与计算机技术方面,中国对移动技术、云技术和旅行技术行业的需求巨大。

 

除此之外,城镇化的快速推进刺激了对智能城市和物联网(Internet of Things)解决方案的需求。

 

爱尔兰享有欧洲硅谷的声誉。爱尔兰企业正在运用它们的工程技术和专知在这一领域推动实实在在的创新。它们还放眼世界,迫切希望能将自己的经验与世界分享。

教育

教育是爱尔兰对华非食品出口中的大头之一。21家爱尔兰教育机构直接参与中国市场。

 

迄今为止,已有49个运转良好的联合办学项目和一个联办大学获得中国教育部的批准。

 

爱尔兰爱心奖学金计划(Claddagh Scholarship Programme)是首个也是唯一一个专门为中国学生设计的国家级奖学金计划。它覆盖17个不同层次教育机构的250多个奖学金,涉及100多个研究领域。

 

爱尔兰中国校友会(ICAN)的官网和微信平台目前已有2700多个粉丝。

 

迄今为止,爱尔兰企业和组织已经向爱尔兰中国校友会推送了20多个职位招聘广告,其中接近60%的职位都由中国校友应聘成功。

消费产品

目前中国是世界最大的在线购物市场,成交额占全球电子商务零售额的40%还多。第三方平台– 阿里巴巴、京东、爱奇艺和腾讯 — 在其中扮演主导角色 。消费者可在平台上向诸多卖家购买各种产品。

 

2016年,阿里巴巴和腾讯的利润创下新高,说明中国消费市场依然势头良好。阿里巴巴和腾讯的业绩告诉我们,中国最成功的面向消费者的企业所采用的商业模式与西方同类企业有很大不同。如果深入挖掘这些商业模式的与众不同之处,我们就能获得宝贵洞察,知晓用什么来打动中国消费者、成功品牌都有哪些实践。这当中有许多都可以由外国品牌进行较小规模的复制。传销已是昨日黄花,娱乐和移动微支付正当红。

 

爱尔兰贸易与科技局提供消费市场的第一手知识和经验,帮助我们所支持的企业把产品带到中国来进行验证,也在必要时协助后者建立电子商务运作。

爱尔兰人的优势落地中国

爱尔兰贸易与科技局的戴博恩(David Byrne)说过,关系和产品是爱尔兰成功的关键。

 

“爱尔兰人天生热情、友善、开朗。我们还很擅长建立关系(very good at building relationships)。那对我们很有帮助。

 

不过,光靠关系还不够。中国商业伙伴们期望获得高质量产品和服务 。爱尔兰企业能做到。”

 

高质量产品和解决问题的天赋,这就是爱尔兰人的优点。中国企业们,行动起来,把这些优点用起来。

Irish fintech start-ups enjoy numerous advantages over those based in other countries, attendees heard at an event hosted by Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, as part of MoneyConf 2018.

Ireland’s small population and cultural openness makes it easy to get access to key decision makers, even at top government level, delegates heard.

“Ireland is super connected. That’s something unique the Irish have,” said Donnchadh Cullinan, manager banking relations and growth capital at Enterprise Ireland.

“It’s a small town, which, if you are an entrepreneur, is fantastic because it means you can make a lot of stuff happen in a short amount of time,” agreed Brian Norton, founder of Supply Finance, a trade finance platform aimed at small businesses.

Norton moved to Ireland from his home in Chicago four and a half years ago to found Future Finance, a successful European-wide student lender.

What he terms Fintech Phase I “the irrational exuberance phase” has now ended.

“The hype is gone, people are now focused on sustainability in business models, early stage revenues, and proper business-model stuff,” said Norton.

There is also an acceptance that “fintech is about finance businesses that are enabled by technology, not technology businesses that happen to be working in finance”.

Deep financial services talent pool for Irish fintech

That’s another advantage Ireland has: the depth of its financial services talent pool, said Nicola McClafferty of venture capital firm Draper Esprit. Based in London and Dublin, it invests in early stage and high-growth technology companies – from Series A upwards.

“Ireland, in so many walks of life, has a remarkable ability to punch above its weight, given the size of its population,” said McClafferty.

“We have a very international approach, and a very international talent pool here, including in early stage companies, entrepreneurs coming to start businesses here, and multinationals that attract an international workforce, which we can leverage to build really interesting businesses.”

Ireland’s perfect storm of start-up activity

A number of factors have combined to create “the perfect storm of start-up activity” over the past 15 years here, said Pete Townsend of Norio Ventures, a specialist advisory firm.

This includes the fact that all 10 of the top 10 ‘born-on-the-internet’ companies are based in Ireland, as are 9 of the top 10 global tech companies, he pointed out. On the finance side, 20 of the top 25 global financial services firms are here, he said.

“There is a strong start-up community and great government support programmes. As a small country of 5 million people, that closeness is a key factor too. People talk about six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon, in Ireland it’s two. If the person you are talking to doesn’t know the person you need to talk to, they will know someone who does,” said Townsend.

Ireland has both overseas and indigenous fintechs, major multinational financial services companies, a vibrant start-up community, universities that specialise in particular parts of the fintech world, plus a number of dedicated start-up accelerators around the country – “and Enterprise Ireland tends to be at the centre of all of it,” said Donnchadh Cullinan.

Enterprise Ireland invests in 100 start ups a year at the €100,000 to €200,000 level. As well as in another 100 start ups at €50,000 level, “almost like a Y Combinator, to really create that funnel. And we can tailor that funnel to particular themes, to capture world trends,” he said.

This gives comfort to potential partners. “Historically people didn’t invest across borders. They invested down the road because they could reference check. But we are seeing more and more people coming to Ireland because they recognise there are good deals here. We see, too, in recent years a move from people who previously invested in UK but are saying the valuations there are getting too frothy.”

A connected fintech ecosystem

In looking for alternative deal flows, they come to Ireland. “And see that this is a really connected ecosystem. They know they can trust deals coming out of Ireland. They know the traction they will get coming out of Ireland is probably going to be quite low, just because of the small domestic economy, but it has all this infrastructure behind it – Enterprise Ireland, the government, IDA Ireland, and Science Foundation Ireland. All are pushing these companies out with a huge backing in terms of finance and also in terms of capability building.”

Composing short term, freelance, on demand, and contingent workers, the gig economy is currently valued at US $3.5 (€3) trillion globally, according to Barry Asin, president of San Francisco-based Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA).

“That puts it on a scale with just about any major industry in the world, including oil, gas and retail,” said Asin, speaking at the World Employment Conference in Dublin, sponsored by national export agency Enterprise Ireland.

A recent SIA survey asked Fortune 500 companies what they are doing to manage gig work. More than 70% said they are using a vendor management system (VMS), an electronic platform to track all suppliers. Over 60% have a network service provider in place to help with IT systems.

“That change has disrupted the recruitment industry over the last decade. There are also other changes, including more analytics, outsourcing, and consolidating suppliers.”

Total talent acquisition

Looking to the future, most respondents reported that contingent work is now part of strategic planning – something they are thinking about long term, as opposed to tactically, Asin noted.

It is one reason why the concept of total talent acquisition (TTA) is gaining currency within organisations.

“The question is – what is the right resource in the organisation? Is it a permanent worker, a gig worker, temporary agency worker, or an outsourced service? Those questions are top of mind among large companies and are driving the way they organise themselves.”

The human cloud

Some companies are choosing to self-source, using their own career site to attract contingent workers.

While the tech story of the past decade has been the growth of VMSs and jobs boards, as ways of connecting talent and companies, the new story is the growth of online platforms, forming what SIA calls the ‘human cloud’.

“Labour markets are tight right now, and recruiters are competing for talent with online platforms that have made it easy for people to get jobs and to work when they want,” Asin said, citing the rise of Uber and Deliveroo as examples.

Such companies allow people to choose when they want to work, without the need for a human intermediary.

These activities are less common in the B2B space, valued at US $5 (£4.3) billion globally, and much smaller than agency or temp work, “but growing faster than anything else in the industry,” Asin noted, “and growing faster than any other category we track.”

While large companies often lead staffing trends, the gig economy is being driven by SMEs, using platforms such as Upwork. “Most of this work can be done remotely. Companies can connect to people who can do a piece of work for them anywhere in the world, mostly in roles that are easily digital – IT, marketing, creative.”

Improving access to talent

Contrary to popular perception, the trend is not about sourcing cheaper labour but access to talent, “because talent is in great shortage,” Asin said.

While only 13% of large companies surveyed by SIA currently use online staffing, their interest in doing so has grown significantly.

It remains to be seen to what extent it will disrupt the traditional recruitment industry. “The answer is about human behaviour, and what it takes to get people to adopt [new solutions],” he said, noting that only 24% of large companies had a VMS in place before the 2008 recession.

As the global economy moved out of recession in 2011, 64% of large companies had a VMS. “Companies change when they have to. They needed to get more creative and find ways to reduce cost, hence the big growth in VMS adoption. I suspect that might be the way things will play out for online platforms.”

Disrupt or be disrupted

For those in the traditional recruitment industry, it is time to adopt a “disrupt or be disrupted” mindset, Asin said.

“What is your business?” he asked recruitment agencies. “Is it branches and recruiters, or is it connecting people and work? I would argue it is the latter. Therefore, find the best way for you to connect people and work, which may be new ways of doing your work.”

A raft of hybrid tech-rich recruiters have emerged that are doing just that, combining both human and platform elements, including ShiftGig in the US.

There has been convergence in the industry too, such as Randstad’s purchase of freelance platform Twago, and the purchase by global HR services firm Adecco of digital recruiter Vettery.

True Blue is the US’s largest industrial staffer, with JobStack its internal take on an online platform. Within two years of JobStack’s launch, 25% of its placements are filled with no human intervention.

“And the tech is not stopping, which is, mostly, a good news story for the industry,” Asin said, improving efficiencies and automating tedious manual work, such as scheduling interviews. Chat bots are already moving into the area and could well move into matching, he said.

“Do we need a recruiter to pick the top three candidates for a particular job, if AI can do it quicker and more efficiently? In many cases, it can but the good news is that it is the human intuition of the recruiter – plus the AI – that will make it an even better match.”

Blockchain technology has been in development since the 1990s but only came to global prominence in 2009 as a component of the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

As bitcoin has become synonymous with financial risk, the blockchain technology behind it has been lauded as revolutionary for its wide-ranging potential.

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In essence, blockchain is a series of records – or blocks – with each block securely linked to every other block in the chain. Secure linking means that any one block cannot be altered without altering all the blocks in the chain.

Those blocks can be thought of like entries in a ledger, and the ledger can be distributed among users in an open and transparent way. Interested parties can see each transaction in the ledger and therefore fully trust the records.

Application of blockchain has potential to revolutionise industries

“In practical terms, blockchain allows people to send money or records in an open, transparent and identifiable way. Its application has the potential to revolutionise entire sectors,” says Eoin Fitzgerald, senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency.

The agency recently launched a fintech and deep tech fund for start-ups based in Ireland, which will invest in technologies like proptech, Artificial Intelligence (AI), machine learning, augmented and virtual reality, the internet of things, cloud, and blockchain.

It is the first time that Enterprise Ireland has sought investments in blockchain.

“I think that the time is right for us to invest in blockchain. It has certainly come of age and we are starting to see concrete examples of how beneficial this technology is. It is no longer the tech which runs bitcoin.”

Recently, a business chamber in England certified an export consignment from an engineering company using blockchain. A certificate of origin is used to prove where goods were made for customs purposes.

The development has been described as a possible solution for Brexit if such certificates are required in bulk. Such information is stored via blockchain and tracked with a QR code. As the technology is extremely secure, it would be very difficult to falsify a certificate.

“As blockchain is perfect for sending relatively small amounts of data – not millions and billions of records – it has many varied uses in any supply chain or distribution network,” explains Fitzgerald.

How Irish start-up AID:Tech leverages blockchain

Recently Enterprise Ireland made its first direct investment in blockchain by backing Irish start-up AID:Tech.

By utilising blockchain technology, the company’s software creates secure digital identities for people. Once you have a secure identity, aid, welfare or remittances can be safely tracked and delivered to individuals.

“AID:Tech’s leveraging of blockchain is a great example of how you can safely and securely transfer money or aid from an organisation to a person, no matter where they are,” says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald points to the trouble NGOs have in distributing aid and how a certain amount can get lost through poor processes or fraud. If your digital identity is proven via blockchain, and you are armed with a QR code, then you will be entitled to whatever your records state you are.

“While AID-Tech is operating in the NGO sector, there is tremendous scale in what they can achieve and over the next year we expect to see such solutions being adopted wholescale by companies which need to track the transfer of payments or records,” says Fitzgerald.

Other Irish companies developing blockchain products include TravaCoin. It has created a payment solution which enables airlines to compensate and refund passengers.

While GECKO Governance has developed a number of blockchain-integrated products which allow fund managers and banks to schedule all end-to-end compliance and regulatory tasks on a single platform.

GECKO Governance believes that the technology is the future for regtech – regulation and compliance in financial services.

“What we are seeing in Ireland is the rapid growth and maturity of blockchain. It’s only a matter of time before we see governments using the technology. State healthcare services and social welfare payments are perfectly positioned to adopt such technology,” explains Fitzgerald.

Ireland’s fintech ecosystem is helping companies in the country to leading the way in innovating such solutions.

“When I think of blockchain, I see Ireland becoming a centre of excellence for the technology,” says Fitzgerald.

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland, describes why fintech investors should keep a close eye on the government agency’s investments.

Enterprise Ireland is most likely the biggest fintech investor you’ve never heard of. While Y Combinator may be a start-up machine, Enterprise Ireland is a fintech factory.

The Irish government agency responsible for supporting Irish businesses and helping them to internationalise, is also one of the largest and most successful fintech investors in the world.

Enterprise Ireland actively supports a portfolio of more than 1500 companies with equity investments at any time, spanning almost all sectors, including large and small businesses, and what it defines as ‘High Potential Start-Ups’.

In 2017, Enterprise Ireland invested more than €30 million in over 200 companies, of which 90 were HPSUs.

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development advisor for the fintech sector at Enterprise Ireland.

Some Enterprise Ireland-backed companies are pure financial service plays. Others focus on selling ICT solutions into financial services. But more than 200 are fintechs, and roughly half of those are start-ups.

To put Enterprise Ireland’s investment activities into perspective, the most active fintech investor in the world is California’s Y Combinator. It is famously characterised by the New York Times as a ‘start-up machine’. Last year it invested in 29 companies.

The second most active fintech investor in the world was Enterprise Ireland, with 23.

That positions the agency ahead of high-profile players such as Digital Currency Group and Accel Partners, who backed 19 companies each, as well as iconic Silicon Valley-based operators such as 500 Startups (17), and venture capital titans like Sequoia (15).

As a state agency, our primary driver is unapologetically jobs growth, while other investors may focus exclusively on financial metrics. They are not, of course, mutually exclusive.

Rather, they are two sides of one coin, a fact underscored by Enterprise Ireland’s strike-rate. Over a ten-year period, the agency’s fintech return on investment stands well above the industry average.

Payments pedigree starts with Fexco

It helps to have a pedigree that goes back to Ireland’s very first fintech, international payments firm Fexco, which was set up in 1981.

Today Enterprise Ireland’s expert fintech team handles all companies in the sector, from two-person start-ups to 500 employee growth-stage enterprises, providing an unrivalled depth of knowledge.

It’s the same holistic approach Enterprise Ireland takes to food, for which Ireland has a long-established global reputation for excellence.

Ireland’s reputation for fintech excellence is growing, with Enterprise Ireland playing an active and central role. Activity ranges from contributing to national policy through instruments such as IFS2020, Ireland’s ‘whole of Government’ approach to driving growth in the financial services sector, to actively taking an equity stake in promising fintechs.

€1 billion in revenues generated by fintech portfolio in 2016

In 2016, Enterprise Ireland’s portfolio of 200+ fintech companies generated over €1 billion in revenues, an enormous success story for Ireland but one which is not as well-known as it should be. Fintech investors worldwide should recognise that an Enterprise Ireland-backed company comes with a significant seal of approval.

€1 billion in revenues generated by fintech portfolio in 2016Such a company is, by necessity, internationally focused and will have been, from a very early stage, taking on markets worldwide.

Enterprise Ireland’s deal-making experience also sets such companies apart.

A typical VC will do two or perhaps three fintech deals a year. By contrast, between 2014 and 2017 serious players such as 500 Startups and Y Combinator did 105 and 102 deals respectively. Enterprise Ireland did 85.

Why Ireland for fintech?

What makes a small country like Ireland, with a population just 4.5 million, such a fertile seedbed for fintech? It can be attributed to a unique set of fruitful circumstances.

Firstly, Ireland’s fintech sector benefits from an exceptionally collaborative culture. Unusually for any entrepreneurial ecosystem, this collaborative approach includes significant government and state agency support, with fintech treated as a national priority.

Biggest names in tech and global financial services

Ireland also benefits from an exceptional selection of international players. It is home to the operations of nine of the world’s top 10 technology companies, including Facebook, Google and Amazon. That’s the ‘tech’ side.

Ireland is also home to some of the biggest names in global financial services, from Bank of America Merill Lynch, to Barclays and Sumitomo Mitsui. Ireland is the fourth-largest exporter of financial services in the world. That’s the ‘fin’ side.

While Ireland hosts all of these international tech and financial services companies, none of them competes with each other for customers in Ireland, allowing for extraordinary levels of collaboration.

It also allows Irish fintechs an unrivalled ability to secure expertise. Many of Ireland’s fintech and regtech founders know first-hand the pinch points of the sector, having held senior positions.

And Enterprise Ireland actively supports them. We don’t seek to sit on the board of investee companies, and we are not driven by the same return as other investors but, like them, we aim to back successful, scalable, international businesses.

We do it day in day out. No other agency anywhere in the world is fostering fintech success on the same scale as Enterprise Ireland.  Y Combinator may be a start-up machine, but Enterprise Ireland is a fintech factory.

Irish suppliers have much to offer customers in Singapore and the ASEAN region, according to Smruti Inamdar, Director ASEAN at Enterprise Ireland Singapore.

Affinities shared by Singapore and Ireland are making Irish companies increasingly attractive to ASEAN partners and customers.

Coming from a small open economy, Irish companies inherently understand that the region cannot be treated as a cohesive or homogeneous bloc and that each individual market is unique.

Irish companies also appreciate the need to spend time building relationships with local customers and partners. When delivering long-term projects, Irish companies are known for adopting a flexible approach, working in partnership with customers to deliver the best solution, even when unexpected challenges or changes arise.

The appeal of this approach is evident in the growth of Irish exports to, and presences in, Singapore and ASEAN. There are now approximately 300 Irish companies exporting to the region, with 130 companies having at least one presence on the ground. That number continues to grow.

Exports from Ireland to the region reached €320 million last year, following five consecutive years of double-digit growth. Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, has demonstrated its confidence in the development of the relationship, aiming to increase total exports to €500 million by 2020.

If you are interested in discussing the advantages of sourcing an Irish partner, Enterprise Ireland can help you to assess which innovative products, services, and solutions may be best suited to your requirements.

Let’s take a close look at key sectors in which Irish companies offer a particularly strong advantage to partners in Singapore and ASEAN.

Aerospace and Aviation

With investment in aerospace and aviation continuing to grow, Ireland is emerging as a global hub servicing the needs of rapidly developing industries. Over 250 Irish companies are actively engaged in aerospace and aviation and over 40% of the world’s fleet of leased aircraft are owned and managed from Ireland. That performance has helped Ireland to become widely regarded as a global centre of excellence for aviation, with its proud history of pioneering developments and dynamic innovation.

As the world’s fastest-growing air hub, Singapore must expand its infrastructure to meet growing demand. In July 2017, Singapore to Jakarta and Singapore to Kuala Lumpur were included in the top five of the world’s busiest international air routes. The development of a T5 mega passenger terminal remains on the drawing board, which, when completed, would have the capacity to handle 132 million passengers a year, a huge jump from the 82 million passengers currently served.

In contributing to the region, Irish companies including CAE, Eirtech Aviation and Aero Inspection lead the way, securing aviation opportunities in the wider region from bases in Singapore.

To demonstrate Irish capability in the sector, Enterprise Ireland participated alongside nine client companies in the Aviation Festival Asia in Singapore in February 2018.

Construction

As one of the most dense and vibrant urban areas in the world, Singapore is very much leading the way internationally in creating a sustainable building environment. There is much potential for Irish companies to help deliver the government’s ambitious agenda in this area. Singapore is striving towards a target of ‘greening’ 80% of new and existing buildings by 2030 (currently at approximately 30%). The power consumption of Tanjong Pagar Centre, Singapore’s tallest building, is managed by Dublin-headquartered Cylon Controls. Dortek hygienic doors have been used in an inflight catering kitchen facility in Singapore’s Changi Airport, providing hygienic and low temperature sealing solutions to the facility. Enterprise Ireland is also actively working with the Singapore Green Building Council to build awareness of Irish technologies in the area. The growing Irish green-build cluster includes firms such as Kingspan Insulated Panels and LED Group ROBUS.

Irish companies in the high-end construction sector are well positioned to support Singapore’s transformation as a data centre hub for the Asia Pacific region, with the country’s colocation data centre market expected to grow at 13% year-on-year 2017 – 2018 (Source: Structure Research, 2017). Global and regional data centre providers such as Global Switch, Digital Realty, Equinix, Microsoft and Amazon are all operating in Singapore as well as Irish companies active in data centre development, including Linesight, PM Group, and E+I Engineering.

Fintech

Ireland and Singapore are relatively similar, with both having a small number of local banks and several hundred international financial institutions also located in the market. That shared ecosystem makes for a highly competitive arena in which innovation is a crucial driver.

Ireland is home to one of the most important financial services centres in the EU and one of the world’s largest concentrations of technology companies.

As the main financial services hub in the ASEAN region, a strong cohort of Irish companies are active in Singapore having secured significant wins with SGX (Singapore Exchange), United Overseas Bank (UOB), and Standard Chartered Bank. Ireland’s global leadership in the fintech, regtech and insurtech spaces is also making an impact in other financial hubs in the broader region.

With over 40% of global hedge fund assets serviced in Ireland, its resulting regulatory expertise is leveraged by Irish fintech companies to help funds, banks and insurance companies deal efficiently with compliance, and make better, data-driven management decisions. An established sector of payments technology companies has a strong track record of helping major banks and marketplaces to respond to rapid digitisation and changing consumer demand.

Telecommunications and IoT

Another key offering from Ireland is in telecommunications and Internet of Things (IoT), with Irish technology companies delivering high-end solutions to mobile network operators (MNOs) across the ASEAN region. Irish technology providers have progressed from the provision of SMS technologies and services to more sophisticated data analytics, IoT solutions and technologies used to enhance customer experience.

Irish companies in the sector have been active in the ASEAN region for many years, developing leading solutions to meet the evolving needs of local operators. The Irish telco cluster in ASEAN includes Accuris Networks, Anam, Asavie, Nasctech, Openmind, Tango, and Openet, which has more than 250 staff based in their regional HQ in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Many are now doing business with major operators such as Axiata Group , Globe Telecom in the Philippines, Singtel in Singapore, and Vietnamobile in Vietnam.

With Building Information Modelling technology offering significant reductions in project costs and delivery times, Enterprise Ireland, the national export agency, is supporting its adoption.

The construction industry has never been slow to embrace new technologies. Sophisticated computer-aided design systems have long been a feature of Irish architectural and engineering practices, while many building components are now precision-made in computer-aided manufacturing facilities.

The latest wave of virtual and augmented reality technologies is enabling clients to take virtual “walks” through buildings, long before a shovel has touched soil.

At the same time, contractors have invested heavily in advanced systems to manage all aspects of projects – from resource planning through cost control and beyond.

However, the various pieces of software and systems employed on projects do not necessarily communicate or connect with one another in a coherent fashion. Each element of the project – design, construction, supplies – may be operating efficiently, but the project may be suboptimal in key respects such as cost and schedule.

What exactly is BIM?

That is where Building Information Modelling (BIM) technology comes in. Put simply, BIM is a digital representation of all aspects and characteristics of a building, both physical and functional. It is a shared pool of knowledge which all stakeholders can utilise from the moment design of the building commences right through the life-cycle – from construction through completion, ongoing maintenance and management, eventually to the point where it is demolished.

It is wrongly assumed in some quarters that BIM is essentially a digital 3D model of a building but it is far more than that. It includes the original specifications for every block and board, fixture and fitting employed in the building, and goes further by including data on time, cost and operation – sometimes referred to as the fourth, fifth and sixth dimensions of a building.

Advantages of BIM

This makes BIM an enormously powerful decision support and conflict avoidance tool. At a very basic level, cost or time overruns in even quite minor areas of the project are notified before they can become problems, thus allowing swift remedial action to be taken.

The key aspect of BIM is the fact that it is a shared resource. Everyone who has to interact with a building at any stage has access to it. The subcontractors who arrive on site months after construction has begun have access to fully updated information about the project and their role in delivering it. Indeed, they can utilise the model long before they go on-site to clear up any potential problems or difficulties before they arise.

The same applies to the facilities manager who takes charge of the building following completion. Even the most complex maintenance and repair tasks are made far simpler as a result of having all data relating to building services and their location to hand in a single resource.

Also of key importance is the fact that the BIM is the property of all stakeholders. This means that everyone on the project team is responsible for updating it. Information is therefore up to date and spans all aspect of the project thereby greatly reducing the margin for error and the costs associated with making good discrepancies.

In this context, it is little wonder that Ireland’s National BIM Council (NBC) has estimated that the reduction of wasteful practices in construction as a result of BIM will result in costs being brought down by as much as 20%. The council also asserts that construction exports could be increased by 20% through enhanced productivity and knowledge leadership, which will enable Irish firms to drive and support the advancement of digital construction across overseas markets. The NBC also believes that project delivery time schedules will be reduced by 20%.

There will also be a societal gain. The information gathered through BIM will mean that every construction project will contribute valuable digital data to smart communities, smart cities and smart economy, which in turn will position Ireland at the forefront of the digital transformation across Europe and globally.