It has been a good year for start-ups in Ireland so far, with two new unicorns whizzing past the $1bn valuation milestone within the first few weeks. And starting next month, entrepreneurs and founders of Irish start-ups will have the opportunity to be mentored by the who’s who of the tech business world, helping them on their path to become the next Flipdish or Wayflyer.
Dogpatch Labs, which runs Ireland’s national start-up accelerator programme NDRC, and the Irish Tech Hub Network have teamed up with some of the biggest multinationals in Ireland, including Google, HubSpot, Microsoft and Salesforce, to relaunch its First Fridays for Startups programme to support budding business ideas from across the island.
Starting 4 March, the First Fridays programme will open up the floor for ambitious entrepreneurs to learn from more than 1,000 professionals working for multinationals, through curated expert workshops, advisory panels and fireside chats held virtually and for free on the first Friday of every month.
In an interview with SiliconRepublic.com, debutant First Fridays director and Republic of Work co-founder DC Cahalane said that one of the charms of the relaunched programme is its focus on ‘decentralising’ innovation in Ireland. While Dublin has had an unfair advantage in the start-up ecosystem in the past, partly due to its status as a capital, Dogpatch Labs aims to level the playing field across regions.
Cahalane, a Cork native who has been attending First Fridays for many years, used to hop on a train to get to Dublin on the first Friday of every month to attend the programme before regions such as Cork, Kerry and Galway had their own workspaces and events.
But the pandemic-induced shift to online events has had a positive impact on this disparity. “Now, we can take all these multinational companies based primarily in Dublin and ‘unlock’ them such that it is completely irrelevant whether you’re in Belfast, Connemara or Waterford,” he said.
Founders can now speak directly to mentors siting anywhere in Ireland, and the world, and ask questions around areas of specific interest without needing to travel. “Since so many of our high-performance Irish founders happen to work outside of Ireland, that’s a big unlock as well,” Cahalane noted.
‘Green jersey factor’
Mentors for First Fridays largely fall into two categories, with one set being domain experts with specific sectoral knowledge, such as managers and executives, and the other group being the “enthusiastic entrepreneurial thinkers” who share the founders’ passion for scaling business ideas.
According to Cahalane, founders of start-ups need more than just technical questions answered. Often, they find themselves “second-guessing” their choices and need a “therapy-styled” approach to mentoring from experienced founders who have been in the same position.
“The sort of people that you’re really looking for are people with very good listening skills and analytical thinking – and that’s exactly the kind of skillset that most large tech employers look for,” he explained, noting that it also makes them a perfect fit for mentoring entrepreneurs.
A big proportion of these mentors are also Irish nationals living abroad as global executives, which means that there’s a “green jersey factor” at play. “They want to see Ireland do well and its start-ups succeed, and [First Fridays] gives them a way to unlock and help the next generation of Irish companies,” Cahalane said.
Many of the biggest names in the Irish start-up ecosystem, including some of the country’s growing number of unicorns, have been part of First Fridays over the past five years, and Intercom co-founder Des Traynor is set to be one of the keynote speakers this year. “It feels like bringing the band back together, really,” said Cahalane, who has been a mentor at the programme for many years.
First Fridays by Dogpatch Labs will run from March to December, with each month’s event being held from a different hub across Ireland: Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, PorterShed in Galway, RDI Hub in Kerry, Cahalane’s Republic of Work in Cork, Ormeau Baths in Belfast and Dogpatch Labs in Dublin.
Speaking at the launch of the revised First Fridays today (15 February), PorterShed and Irish Tech Hub Network CEO Mary Rodgers said that the initiative will be a boost for all the regions by “extending equal access to the wealth of multinational talent to founders” across the island.
“We hope to inspire founders and give Irish start-ups unrivalled access to global networks as they seek to go out beyond our shores and conquer the world,” she added.
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