Get Started Mini Conference 2015

On Tuesday January 17th we had our third mini conference as part of the four we will attend for our DICE program. The name of the conference was Get started and the theme throughout the day was addressed by Sean Donnelly, the business innovation platform director, as he launched the conference. The theme of our conference was starting your own enterprise and was aimed at how companies start out in the industries. As always we had a wide variety of interesting speakers including the Dublin commissioner for start-ups, the CEO of Java Republic, the DCU innovation panel, the founder and CEO of Cleverbug, the founder and CEO of and, lastly, an entrepreneur and investor.

Niamh Bushnell

Our first speaker of the day was the Dublin commissioner for start-ups, Niamh Bushnell. Ms. Bushnell was elected commissioner in October 2014. Before Niamh came to Ireland, to be elected commissioner for start-ups, she worked as an investor and mentor for start-ups in New York, as Vice President of software for Enterprise Ireland New York as well as founding two companies of her own. After telling us about her successful business and her failed start-up Niamh moved on to discuss the bust of the .com era and the appeal of Dublin for Entrepreneurs and enterprise. When the .com era came to a bust people started throwing money at start-ups left, right and centre. This bust acted as gateway to trading in the states for Irish tech companies. One of these start-ups was Orbiscom which was later bought by MasterCard. In my opinion this purchase, effectively, put Ireland on the map as a popular location for companies as, according to Niamh, people come to Ireland from all over the world to be part of MasterCard. Following this surge of popularity Niamh, herself, set up a start-up in Dublin only to discover that it wasn’t as easy as she had predicted it to be. Niamh blamed her failure on focusing more on output instead of functionality and a lack of focus on their mission statement.

“Dublin is where people come from all over the world to be part of MasterCard”

Niamh then began to discuss how nobody outside of Dublin knows about the innovation being driven out of the city. After this Niamh spent several minutes trying to stress the importance of entrepreneurship at any age as it encourages us to learn fundamental skills that will serve us later in life such as problem solving,  how to improve methods and, how to seek diversity in knowledge and opinion.

” Entrepreneurship is a fundamental learning experience at any age”

At the end of her speech Niamh opened up the floor to questions from the audience which included what Dublin’s like as a place to locate a start-up and what major achievements,if any, Niamh had to date. The responses were both interesting and visibly honest as Niamh freely shared her belief that, despite being a great location to start a business, Dublin needs a more systematic approach to collaboration. Niamh also readily admitted that she has had no major achievements since taking up her new role in October of last year but promised great things in the future such as the Dublin Data Initiative and a virtual accelerator to allow companies to go to their primary market before the project is finished.

David McKernan 

Our second speaker of the day was David McKernan, the CEO and founder of Java Republic. David set Java Republic up in Selbridge once he had gained the self-confidence necessary to start up his own business and let Bewleys where he had been working for twelve years. David initially had some trouble with his start-up as people wanted the business to be named java bay as there were very many problems with the republic at that time and they feared it would be a controversial name. David then commented on his own personality saying that has always goes against the grain.

“Forget about the bad things and jump on the good ones”

“Be ruthless you don’t know how tough it is” 

David spoke a lot about the beginning of Java Republic throughout his speech providing us with a very interesting background of the  company. We learned that the business was inspired by café Roma in San Francisco. Once he had been inspired by this business David went home where he proceeded to put his house on the line in order to procure a loan to start his business.

David discussed in great detail why Java worked and provided very concrete reasons to back himself up. According to David his business survived thanks to his never ending drive, a love of coffee, the fact that he had a product which people want, being surrounded by a great team and a desire to get his brand out there that is stronger than his desire to make a profit. David also credited café roma once again because, when he returned to visit the café again years later, the poor state that the business was in and its lack of progress or development spurred him on to redesign his entire product line and relaunch the brand in January of this year to prevent his own business from falling into this state.

To finish his speech David made two predictions in response to questions he was asked, one for his own future and what was in store and, another, for the future of the audience. For himself and java republic, David’s plan is to keep innovating, to stay relevant and, to grow like hell. In order to predict our future, David answered another question which was whether or not entrepreneurship is something we’re born with, or, something that we learn and develop over time. David’s answer was that nature, nurture and life experience are what make an entrepreneur – he believes that an entrepreneur must be trained or made into one as nobody is born an entrepreneur.

“How do you become an outstanding entrepreneur?”

“Be brave and resilient as well as a confident decision maker”


Richards Stokes                        Ronan Furlong                        Eoghan Stack

Our third talk of the day was delivered by the DCU innovation panel consisting of Richard Stokes, Ronan Furlong and Eoghan Stack.

Richard Stokes, CEO of Invent DCU, began the panel by speaking about his role in Invent DCU. Richard spoke a lot about the process involved in choosing the candidates to be accepted into the programme and how they had to filter through a lot of unsuitable or “flaky” applications to find the few gems that could prove successful. Examples of these successful candidates includes Pilot Phototonics which is designed to tackle the internet capacity crunch.

“We see a lot of flaky ideas, you have to screen them all”

The second speaker from the panel was Ronan Furlong, the executive director of the DCU innovation campus. The innovation campus has been running for 6-8 months across 10 acres and 200,000 square feet of land. Ronan spoke of the benefits of businesses setting up on the innovation campus and they included being among a group of like-minded companies that can collaborate, being able to engage with DCU research and being part of a supportive ecosystem.

The final speaker from the panel was Eoghan Stack, CEO of DCU Ryan Academy. Eoghan talked about how he pictures entrepreneurship. Eoghan described his image of entrepreneurship as being composed of a call to action stage, the wise/sage stage, the dark forest stage and the death/rebirth stage.

“I believe entrepreneurship looks much more like the archetypal heroes journey”

For a video about the DCU innovation campus click here.

Kealan Lennon

The fourth speaker of the day was Kealan Lennon, the CEO and founder of Cleverbug. Cleverbug is an online company that specialises in personalised greeting cards. They provide both e-cards and physical cards. Cleverbug also uses facebook to automatically filter and find pictures. Cleverbug also syncs your facebook contacts and can send you reminders when your friends birthdays are coming up. Kealan spoke about how they managed to solve the problem of photo-curation and are now able to find the most appropriate pictures that have the most meaning behind them. Kealan also spoke about how they managed to get a full fifty-five second mention on the today show in America by sending one of the hostesses, Bobbi, a number of personalised cards.

“Share moments in minutes”

After giving us the background about Cleverbug, Kealan went on to share his own opinions about whether or not people are born to be an entrepreneur or if it’s something they have to learn. Kealan believes that people are born to be an entrepreneur or, at least, with the personality for it. According to Kealan an entrepreneur is born competitive, passionate and ambitious. In relation to start-ups Kealan’s advice is that entrepreneurs must adapt to consumer behaviour. For example, Cleverbug is adapted to suit busy mums by automatically sending cards once the profile has been filled in on the website.

To see cleverbug on the today show click here.


Sean Ahern

 Sean Ahern

Our fifth speaker of the day was Sean Ahern, CEO and founder of ThankFrank. ThankFrank is a company that Sean is still in the process of setting up. The ThankFrank idea is to provide a way of putting a thank you button on web pages. The ThankFrank button shows how many people see what’s shared and how many people appreciated it. Sean wants to get the ThankFrank button on the browser of anyone who shares anything on the internet. The aim of ThankFrank is to serve the trustworthy people in the world as Sean loves the trustworthy.

“I love trust”

As a company that is still in the process of establishing itself Sean was able to provide a lot of valuable advice for anyone trying to do the same thing. Th first piece of advice was to understand your product well enough that you could explain it simply enough that one sentence would do.

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”

Sean also gave us an insight into what life is like for an entrepreneur during the first few years in business. Sean spoke about how an entrepreneur must be very resilient as a business will experience a lot of ups and downs so they’ll need to be able to pick themselves up and brush themselves off.

“Our greatest glory is not never falling but in rising every time we fall”

Overall, I found Sean’s presentation very interesting as well as informative. It provided a new view to see start-ups from. The majority of the time we hear from the perspectives of people that have already passed the start-up stage and are at a point where their business is succeeding and thriving. For this reason Sean’s talk was my favourite. I found that Sean’s talk was incredibly comfoting for anyone that desires to create or found their own start-up.

Paul Kerley

Our final speaker was Paul Kerley a very successful entrepreneur and investor. Paul spoke a lot about the life of an entrepreneur in his speech, focusing on his own life as an entrepreneur.

Paul began by giving us the background information about his life, telling us that he left school at sixteen to gain control of his own life. After this he decided to start studying engineering, commerce and science at night before beginning to work for US multinationals.

“Anything of value is dangerous to share”

Although Paul worked for many firms throughout his career he chose to focus on his time with Norkom in his speech. Paul spoke about both the successes and failures of Norkom during his time there. Throughout his speech Paul mainly spoke about his struggles at Norkom for example, two weeks before Norkom was due to become an I.P.O they ran into problems and were forced to cut their staff from three hundred and twenty down to one hundred and twenty. Paul discussed what an emotive process it was and how difficult it was to let staff down and to lose hard workers and, sometimes, friends. Throughout the speech Paul constantly spoke about the presonal sacrifices he had to make. After the Telco shock in 2002 Paul and his team had one weekend to come up with a contingency plan for the company. The plan Paul came up with resulted in him having to decrease his stake in the business from 33% to 3% as he struggled to find the funds to keep running the business. Following several further years of struggling Norkom finally managed to become an I.P.O and became profitable. After Norkom was sold to BAE systems in 2011 Paul was able to pay off all of the debts they had accumulated over the years and still make a profit for himself.

“You had to play the game if you wanted to get the money”

Overall, I found Paul’s presentation fascinating as we got to see the entire life cycle of an enterprise from the beginning stages to the profitable final stage. To finish his speech Paul shared a quote with us that Norkom was famous for which was:

“If you’re not making mistakes you’re not going fast enough. The only thing we ask is that you don’t make the same mistakes twice.” 


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