Shorla Pharma is the latest innovator to benefit from Ireland’s national entrepreneurial honour.
Sharon Cunningham of Shorla Pharma, an innovator of oncology drugs, has been named Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur. It’s a major accolade for the 34 year-old former accountant who co-founded it with pharma-regulatory expert Orlaith Ryan.
The annual IBYE competition is run by Ireland’s Local Enterprise Offices and supported by Enterprise Ireland, the trade and innovation agency. The 31 Local Enterprise Offices are Ireland’s first-stop-shop for anyone thinking of starting or growing a business in Ireland.
IBYE helps Ireland to nurture entrepreneurs
IBYE is open to entrepreneurs under 35 and offers three categories – Best Business Idea, Best Start up Business and Best Established Business. In the past five years, it has received more than 7,300 entries from ambitious entrepreneurs attracted by an investment fund of up to €2 million, which is divided up between county and national finalists.
IBYE also offers an intensive Entrepreneur Bootcamp, plus mentoring and pitch training.
The competition is now a major proving ground for businesses with innovative technologies that are looking to grow. Previous winners have gone on to become clients of the Government agency Enterprise Ireland, in many cases going on to secure millions of euro in investment funding to help them internationalise and scale.
Previous participants include Daniel Loftus of UrbanFox, which specialises in the development of anti-fraud technology, and former physiotherapist Ciara Clancy of Beats Medical, an innovator in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
It also includes Alvan Hunt of insect protein company Hexafly and Brendan Boland, co-founder of medtech start-up Loci Orthopaedics in Galway, whose InDx device is designed to help those suffering from arthritis of the thumb base joint.
Participating in the IBYE programme helps “put you on the map from an investor perspective,” says Conor Lyden of Trustap. Its platform, which facilitates trusted transactions between strangers, is now used around the world.
Some of its current investors “reached out to me” as a result of the competition, he says. “There’s a clearly defined path from your local LEO to Enterprise Ireland and on to private investors.”
Shorla Pharma has identified a significant issue in relation to women and children’s cancer drugs. Its first product is the redevelopment of a children’s cancer drug, transforming a difficult to swallow capsule into an oral solution.
The next stage for Shorla is to become a client of Enterprise Ireland. “The Local Enterprise Office helped us build stronger foundations,” says Sharon Cunningham. “The business is ready to grow and we look forward to working with Enterprise Ireland.”
Winning the IBYE will help it meets its international ambitions. “We are currently applying for NIH (National Institutes of Health) funding in the US, the equivalent of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Pharmaceuticals is a highly competitive sector. Being recognised as having Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur is a huge differentiator,” Orlaith says.
Ireland’s strong track record in supporting innovative start-ups through the Local Enterprise Network, on into Enterprise Ireland and then out to the world, is increasingly recognised overseas, she feels.
“In North Carolina recently, a state representative said to us that Ireland is one of the most proactive countries in the world, in terms of supporting its companies to set up abroad and pursue their global ambitions,” says Orlaith.
“In our industry, Enterprise Ireland is well recognised internationally. They ask all the right questions, they do their due diligence on your business.” As a result, prospective clients and investors overseas “know you are coming with all this agency support behind you,” she says.
Ireland has a deep talent pool of talented entrepreneurs with innovative ideas, says Oisin Geoghegan, chair of the Local Enterprise Office Network, who says the IBYE competition is an important part of its entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“It’s a very rigorous process and a very challenging competition. We are interested in cultivating businesses with strong export and growth potential. They may not yet have made that export leap yet, but have demonstrable export potential for the future,” he says.
The pathway from Local Enterprise Office to Enterprise Ireland is well established. “We are always looking to maximise the potential of Local Enterprise Office clients to grow and develop into Enterprise Ireland’s portfolio so that they can avail of the support structures that it has in place, including its network of overseas offices,” he says.
Knowing a person has won this important, State-backed competition should give any international business dealing with them a huge amount of comfort, he says. “Those international companies who are aware of the strong business support systems we have in place in Ireland will recognise this.”