Speech by the Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, T.D. at Enterprise Ireland’s Start-Up Showcase 2022 – Investor & Networking Event – MerrionStreet

Good morning. I am delighted to be here in person at Enterprise Ireland’s Start-Up Showcase 2022.

Móra dhaoibh ar maidin, a dhaoine uaisle. Is mór an pléisiúr dom é teacht chun cainte libh inniu, chun ceiliúradh a dhéanamh agus aitheantas a thabhairt d’earnáil atá ina chuid lárnach de rathúnas eacnamaíoch na tíre seo – na gnólachtaí nuathionscanta.

Today, we are celebrating the “class of 2021” and their outstanding achievements in what has been an incredibly challenging period for business globally and here in Ireland.

Export-focussed start-ups like those here today are the epitome of Ireland’s success as an open dynamic economy.  You are at the coalface – building, scaling, innovating and expanding your reach internationally.

We know that the past two years have brought unprecedented change for business, both in the context of the pandemic, and indeed as a result of Brexit.

From the early days of the pandemic, the Government responded quickly to put in place comprehensive supports to help to protect businesses and workers through the worst of the impacts.

In excess of €20 billion in direct supports have been provided. While this has added significantly to our national debt, I am certain in my view that it was the right thing to do.

These interventions have proved highly effective, laying strong foundations for Ireland’s robust economic and employment recovery.

So soon after emerging from the crisis stage of the pandemic, we now find ourselves yet again faced with another period of uncertainty, with new and significant challenges ahead.

I have condemned Russia’s senseless and brutal actions in Ukraine. Russia’s war is illegal, immoral, and unjustified.

As I made clear, directly to Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy yesterday when he addressed the Joint Houses of the Oireachtas, Ireland remains resolute in its solidarity and support for Ukraine, and reiterates the call on Russia to cease all hostilities immediately and to withdraw from Ukraine unconditionally.

In addition to the immense humanitarian crisis this situation has precipitated, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has also brought significant economic challenges.

It has clearly exacerbated pre-existing inflationary pressures. We are seeing supply chain disruption, leading to large rises in international prices for energy, food and other commodities.

With these ‘cost of living’ and supply chain challenges, global economic growth and investment this year will be impacted, which will of course affect Ireland.

However, the Government is taking steps to help ease the impact, including through the €505 million package to introduce a €200 Electricity Costs Emergency Benefit Payment; and a temporary reduction in excise duty on fuels worth €320 million; as well as a targeted and temporary grant scheme for hauliers, valued at €18 million, to mitigate the rising cost of fuel.   We are also moving to significantly reduce the cost of Public Transport.

We will continue to examine what measures we can take to manage the impacts on low income households, as well as continuing to work closely with affected sectors.

Through these new challenges, our commitment to enabling and creating the right environment for new ideas, for businesses large and small, established and start-ups, domestic and international, to flourish remains steadfast.

Indeed, Ireland’s decision to enter the OECD International tax agreement, though it will not directly impact on the vast majority of Irish businesses, particularly SMEs, is rooted in providing certainty and stability. 

While the period ahead will not be without challenges, businesses across this country have demonstrated great resilience, adaptability and innovation over the last couple of years.

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All of you here today, are prime examples of how to respond creatively to a rapidly changing environment.

Your achievements and success are a cause for celebration.

Innovative start-ups are a key driver of the Irish economy and vital to sustain our success.

The Government recognises this, with a continuing focus on ensuring that both start-ups and SMEs are supported and nurtured.

Last year, we published the SME and Entrepreneurship Growth Plan, which sets out a wide range of recommendations from the business community for Government, to create a better business and regulatory environment for SMEs and entrepreneurs over the long term.

Implementation of these recommendations is progressing, with priority areas of focus including access to finance; digital transformation; increasing first time exporters; and enhanced assistance for high-potential businesses.

In addition, the Government is implementing the SME Test, as part of our National Recovery and Resilience Plan. This will ensure that policy is viewed through the lens of SMEs as it is developed, to better understand the potential impacts that new legislation or regulation can have on SMEs. This will increase awareness of any potential regulatory burdens, and importantly, how they can be eased.

In terms of funding and advisory supports, you will all be well aware of the wide range of programmes Government has made available to start-ups through Enterprise Ireland.

These include the Innovative High Potential Start-Up Fund to support companies developing innovative solutions; the Competitive Start-Up Fund to enable companies to reach key milestones; the New Frontiers programme for early stage start-ups; as well as Innovation Vouchers which support collaboration.

It has been hugely encouraging to see such a strong interest in Enterprise Ireland supports for start-ups over the last couple of years, in the face of a everything we’ve been through.

This encapsulates very effectively the determination and dynamism of the Irish business community.

Indeed, during 2021, Enterprise Ireland invested more than €28 million directly into start-up companies to support their international growth and help them manage the pandemic.

Overall, almost €62 million in funding was approved by EI for COVID-impacted companies in 2021.

And the results of this broad range of Government support speak for themselves – EI client companies enjoyed strong employment growth in 2021 and the highest increase in net jobs created by their client companies in a single year at just under 12,000, with employment increasing across all economic sectors.

As part of their new strategy, ‘Leading in a Changing World’, Enterprise Ireland has made a number of important commitments to ensure that businesses of all sizes continue to be assisted on their journey from start-up to scaling.

This builds on important work by EI, such as a strong focus on encouraging more women to start innovative businesses. And we are seeing the positive impact of these measures; in 2021, there were 40 new female-led start-ups.

I am particularly pleased to see that 11 of the High Potential Start-Ups here today are spinouts from our Higher Education Institutions. This is a great outcome resulting from close collaboration between third level researchers and technology-transfer personnel, and Enterprise Ireland.

Education and research are life long passions of mine, and I’ve spoken many times of my belief that education is the bedrock of the progress we have made as a nation over recent generations.

It’s why the establishment of a new Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science was a key part of the Programme establishing this Government.

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It’s why the Government agreed last week to introduce the most radical changes to the Leaving Certificate exam in half a century.

Your success, celebrated today, shows why continuous investment and innovation in the sector is so crucial.

This annual gathering of Irish start-ups, investors and the wider eco-system is a great testament to the vibrancy of our start-up and innovation environment and the wealth of talent and skills. 

We are determined to build on our existing competitive strengths through our forthcoming national strategy for Research & Innovation. Building on our strong ecosystem, it will place R&I at the centre of Ireland’s programme of decarbonisation and digital transformation.

Collaboration – within industry, and between industry and academia – will be central to maximising the opportunities of a renewed economy. 

The Government will help to maximise the potential of collaboration through a new National Clustering Policy and Enabling Framework, which will be finalised over the coming months.

It is clear that we are facing a more competitive and complex global landscape where the accelerating digital and decarbonisation transitions are to the fore.

Indeed, current geopolitical tensions have made these trends more apparent and pressing.

These transitions will have impacts right across society, including, of course, for the enterprise sector.

Our 2021 Economic Recovery Plan has a focus on leveraging the opportunities these changes will bring, and our Climate Action Plan and new national Digital Strategy provide clear and comprehensive frameworks. 

Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework, sets out a pathway to drive and enable the digital transition across society and the economy, including a focus on the digitalisation of enterprise and public services, through key enablers such as digital infrastructure and skills.

Indeed, technology and digitalisation are central to transforming small businesses, opening up new opportunities and markets, cost efficiencies and productivity gains.

Digital technologies have a vital role to play in enabling decarbonisation including in gathering and analysing data around climate change, and protecting and restoring biodiversity and ecosystems.

As you know, Ireland has committed to more than halving our greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to becoming a climate-neutral economy by 2050 at the latest. The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act ensures that these targets are legally binding.

The actions required to achieve this are challenging but I am confident that, as all parts of the society take this transformational journey together, and with support from innovative start-ups like you, it can be achieved.

Once again, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my congratulations to each and every one of you here today.

Starting a business takes courage and tenacity, but starting and growing a business during a pandemic takes a lot more. Your achievements are therefore even more impressive given the unprecedented global challenges of the past two years.

Your achievements are a testament to your resilience and determination to succeed.

Seeing the energy and commitment here this morning I have no doubt about the heights you can scale, and what we can achieve as a country.

Gabhaim buíochas libh arís as an deis seo labhairt libh anseo inniu. Tá súil agam go mbainfidh sibh sult as an gcuid eile den lá.

Thank you.

This content was originally published here.