Ireland, with its entrepreneurial zeal and innovation capacity, has fostered a unique and conducive ecosystem for startups, with a special focus on the cybersecurity sector. Central to this growth and development have been the efforts of Enterprise Ireland, the governmental organization dedicated to the development and growth of Irish businesses in global markets. They provide not just essential financial resources but also work alongside companies to help them start, grow, and innovate. A recent PitchBook report has highlighted their pivotal role, ranking them as the leading domestic venture capital investor in Europe.
In 2022, Enterprise Ireland supported a remarkable 161 startups, with half of them located outside of Dublin. As a clear sign of diversity and inclusion, over a third of these startups were led by women. These figures are a testament to the organization's dedication and commitment to nurturing and supporting new businesses, not just in the capital but across the entire country.
Moreover, Ireland has become a benchmark in the cybersecurity landscape. In addition to being home to the top five global security software companies, Ireland boasts a 'Triple Helix' ecosystem that combines talent, innovation, and trust. This translates into a collaboration among businesses, academia, and government, all uniting to cooperate and solve problems. The nation hosts over 500 companies offering cybersecurity products or services, and these companies generated a revenue of €2 billion in 2021.
The office of Enterprise Ireland in Milan helps Italian companies to find relevant Irish technology partners and suppliers. The support they give to Italian entrepreneurs willing to start a business in Ireland is provided directly from their HQ in Ireland.
The following interview with Kevin Buckley Senior Development Advisor Ireland from Enterprise Ireland and Board Member of Cyber Ireland, offers an opportunity to delve deeply into the successes, challenges, and future prospects of Ireland in the startup sector, outlining Ireland as a hub for cybersecurity and solutions for the future.
Enterprise Ireland has been ranked by PitchBook as the most active domestic venture capital investor in Europe. What do you believe are the main factors that have led to this recognition, and how does the organization support startups in the Irish ecosystem?
Enterprise Ireland has a comprehensive level of supports to encourage entrepreneurial activity in Ireland. These include New Frontiers which provides funding and training and access to expertise for people to explore opportunities to start new companies. New Frontiers | Funding and support for Irish startups The Pre-Seed-Start-Fund Pre-Seed Start Fund - Enterprise Ireland (enterprise-ireland.com) is a programme that allows start-up companies, with good potential, to secure a €100,000 equity investment into a new business, invested by way of a Convertible Loan Note. This programme is very founder friendly, and gives many entrepreneurs enough funding to get their projects to Minimal Viable Product (MVP) stage, where they are more likely to secure more significant equity investment. Enterprise Ireland also invests in approximately 90 High-Potential-Start-Ups annually, with €27 million being invested into these early stage companies in 2022. Enterprise Ireland invests alongside Venture Capital companies and over private equity investors. It is the volume of deals that EI does annually that puts it into the top echelon of seed investors annually.
In 2022, Enterprise Ireland invested €27 million in startups. How are startups selected for such investments, and which sectors are particularly prominent? What makes one startup eligible over another?
Enterprise Ireland is looking for innovative companies, that are focussed on global markets and bring new solutions to the marketplace. Like any investor, EI looks at the quality of the founding team, the innovation of the solution and the potential in the marketplace. SaaS solutions are particularly relevant at the moment and spread across a wide range of industries, from sports technology to cybersecurity. The key for us is that they are scalable businesses with global ambition.
Ireland hosts the five major global producers of security software. What is the role of Irish universities and national research centers in promoting innovation and nurturing talent in the cybersecurity sector?
The Irish universities support the sector through their research agendas and by working closely together with industry to develop new courses at bachelor and masters degree levels that are closely aligned with the needs and priority of industry. Apart from full-time courses, universities are engaged in developing micro-qualifications in key areas through the likes of Cybersecurity Courses | CyberSkills. They also provide undergraduate and post graduate training, that is subsidised by the Irish government in cyber security skills. HEA - Springboard+ (springboardcourses.ie)
With Ireland hosting over 30% of Europe's data, how does the country maintain a high level of trust and security for global companies choosing Ireland for their data hosting?
Compliance with EU law and privacy legislation is key as well as Irelands long-earned reputation for property rights. Being a neutral country is also important as well as the clear separation of courts from the government and the protection of company and individual rights.
What is required of teams looking to develop a startup in Ireland? What are the advantages of incorporating it in the country, and what are the rules for joining the selection process?
Enterprise Ireland is looking for companies who have or can have at least 10 full-time employees and a turnover of over €1m and are export and innovation focussed. The formation of a company in Ireland is something that can be achieved in a few days. Apart from generally low levels of corporation tax, Ireland offers the support of the likes of Enterprise Ireland, which can support companies expanding in global markets through its 40x offices located in key markets in places such as London, Paris, Milan, New York, Tokyo etc. There is also ample venture capital funds in place. In 2022, Enterprise Ireland invested €175m in fresh capital in 7x new VC funds, that attracted a total of €800m of new funds that need to be deployed in the coming years.
With an annual growth rate of 10% in the cybersecurity sector and the goal of employing 17,000 professionals by 2030, what are the main challenges and opportunities you see for companies and professionals in the industry?
The cybersecurity sector itself will continue to grow and with the growth of integrated technologies and networks and AI, there is a growth threat surface and increased risk of cyber hacking. These new threats bring new opportunities to help companies and consumers protect themselves and their IP. One of the top priorities is the growth of the talent pool and the attraction of people, especially women, who are under-represented, into the industry. If we can scale the number of qualified people entering the industry, we can sustain high growth rates into the future.
Could you share some more details on Enterprise Ireland's success stories and how they represent innovation in the cybersecurity sector in Ireland?
Tines | Smart, secure workflows and Data-In-Use Encryption - Vaultree are two Enterprise Ireland client companies that have emerged in the last 2 to 3 years and stand out in terms of their growth trajectories and innovation that they bring to the market. The companies have raised €100m and €20m respectively, have operations in Ireland and the USA, and are considered some of the hottest cybersecurity companies from Europe. They are led by ambitious leadership teams and both work closely with the Enterprise Ireland teams in the key European and North American markets to accelerate their growth in these key markets. The compete by the level of innovation that they bring to the marketplace, both offering new technology that brings huge levels of value rather than competing with legacy technology.
How do you envision the evolution of the cybersecurity sector in Ireland in the coming years?
We see the industry continuing to grow and evolve, and respond to new threats by innovating and developing new solutions to the global marketplace. EI is well positioned to support the industry also by financially supporting R&D activity.
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