How to impress a client - have the PM speak on your behalf

Abu Dhabi Model Economies: Ireland has put huge amounts of money and effort behind growing its small businesses. The government-led push has helped make thousands of homegrown companies successful and given them a lasting foothold in the global economy.

Given its small population, Ireland's development model relies on attracting foreign investment to stimulate economic growth.

Entrepreneurial fever runs hot among the Irish, however, and the country has invested heavily over the years in getting home-grown businesses off the ground.

The driving force behind those efforts is Enterprise Ireland, which issues grants to businesses, educates executives and even goes so far as to buy stakes in local companies. The organisation works with small companies virtually on a daily basis, helping them to win contracts and gain access to new markets.

Ronan Murray, the chief financial officer of CR2, a mobile phone payment software company, says Ireland's small size and the government's hands-on approach are very useful for small businesses.

With Enterprise Ireland's help, he says, Irish companies can get relatively easy access to the country's political elite, impressing potential customers and helping them to win business that otherwise might be beyond their reach.

"We won a customer in South Africa not so long ago after we were able to sit the customer beside the prime minister of Ireland at a function at the ambassador's residence," Mr Murray says. "It adds a lot of credibility to your company when the ambassador or the prime minister of Ireland speaks on behalf of your company to potential customers."

In addition to all its other aid, he says, Enterprise Ireland even set up a support fund during the financial crisis to help out local companies in need. The close government cooperation - building the kinds of links Abu Dhabi is trying to establish with small businesses through the Khalifa Fund and other support mechanisms - has been invaluable, he says.

Organisations such as the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) are newer pieces of the small-business puzzle in Ireland.

The NDRC plays an intermediary role between the academic research community and entrepreneurs who want to translate ideas into business opportunities. Founded in 2008, the centre works with both universities and industry to find a marketplace for Ireland's best ideas.

"Ireland has made a lot of investment in the research and development side as well in the upstream development of scientific knowledge at the research end of things," says Ben Hurley, the NDRC's chief executive. "That's a good thing to do, but you also need to make sure that translates across into downstream income. That's the age-old challenge - the gap between what is research and what is development and the gap between an academic lab and what a lab might produce."

In its short life, the NDRC has already had several successes, including a joint venture where an Irish company partnered with Sendero Group, a US-based company that makes products for the visually impaired. The venture is developing a mobile phone application that helps blind people to keep track of their location using touch cues.

"We are looking at how do we [turn] a really good bit of technology [into a product]," Mr Hurley says.

"How do you create a business around that … and how do you get investment into that business to make it actually happen and drive it forward. That's where we focus all of our energies."

* Asa Fitch

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM

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