Scale Ireland Annual Autumn Gathering: Minister for Finance, tech start-up founders and investors discuss the way forward for the sector

Scale Ireland’s autumn event turned out to be a well timed curtain raiser to share the thoughts, expectations, and also challenges facing the start-up ecosystem. It was also important to ensure the key sectoral issues were raised in an open discussion with the Government ahead of the upcoming budget. 

Scale Ireland’s Annual Autumn Gathering, its first in-person event took place on the 12th September in the impressive auditorium of Avolon, a global leader in aviation leasing.

Opening the event and welcoming members, Martina Fitzgerald, the CEO of Scale Ireland spoke about the organisation, its key objectives and the launch of their membership model in May of last year – in the middle of the pandemic. She noted that the organsiation is growing and ‘at a pace’.

She also stated that they were hosting the event ‘at a critical juncture for Ireland Inc. because the government is formulating a new white paper on enterprise policy’ and she said ‘it is vital that the indigenous tech start-up sector is centre stage in our future economic planning’.

Next up Andy Cronin, Founder and CEO designate of Avolon, welcomed everyone to their offices and shared an anecdote about the early days and creation of Avolon’s first business plan. He told the crowd about their humble beginnings and that the company ‘took off’ from the ‘backbenches’ of a nearby pub and is now a global leader.

He also spoke about their initiatives, Project I, Innovate for Ireland, which Avolon launched in recent years to support start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs. Andy also noted that for founders “the highs are higher and the lows are lower” but also spoke of the wider contributions of our entrepreneurs to our economy.

The Chair of Scale Ireland, Brian Caulfield expressed his gratitude to Dómhnal Slattery, Andy Cronin and Avolon for supporting Scale Ireland from its inception. Brian also provided some context for the afternoon.

We are holding today’s event at a time when the government is reviewing a number of key, very important state awards for entrepreneurs, founders including R&D tax credits and KEEP share options. We had positive engagement with the minister and his department on these issues and we are hopeful to see some positive reform on both fronts. As always, I would encourage the minister to be radical on his approach and in particular to the KEEP share options which has the wonderful benefit of being cost free in the short term from the government perspective but also is potentially hugely impactful in the longer term.” 

He also mentioned the steps taken by the government last year including reform of the Employer Investment Incentive Scheme and the announcement of 90 million euro innovation fund for early stage companies. 

The Minister for Finance and President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe, then gave his keynote address and spoke extensively about the external economic and geo-political situation affecting Ireland such as rising energy prices and the war on Ukraine. The Minister said the eurozone was being pushed and facing higher inflation along with an increase in interest rates. Minister Donohoe also addressed Ireland’s future economic planning, which he said will focus on digital initiatives and climate change.

Minister Donohoe also stated that a really important pillar in our economic model will be  ‘to have a vibrant and dynamic enterprise sector and one that is capable of both scaling up… and builds the resilience of our economy in the years ahead and also builds the number of different forms of employment and diversity that our economy will need.’

Two panel discussions then took place with leading founders and investors, and the Minister also contributed and gave his feedback. 

The first panel comprised three leading founders who spoke about their start-ups and their future plans, as well as the challenges they and the sector faced.

The second panel comprised leading investors, who shared their insights about the current national and international investment market conditions, the availability of funds, and how start-ups could nativage this landscape.

The first panel comprised Jack Pierse, Co-founder and CFO, Wayflyer, Orlaith Ryan, Co-founder and CTO, Shorla Oncology and Matthew Coffey, Co-founder and CEO, Squid and was chaired by Martina Fitzgerald.

The founders shared their experiences, challenges, upcoming plans and also what support they need from the government. This included reform of the KEEP share option scheme, R&D tax credit scheme, Employment Investment Incentive scheme and also the need to reduce the administrative burden on founders. The Minister responded to their contributions and also noted that some of these matters may be looked at in the upcoming budget. He wisely though did not reveal any details. Although there was an in-depth discussion of key issues, there were also lots of lighter moments which gave the audience plenty to laugh about.

The next panel discussion was chaired by Brian Caulfield and comprised leading investors  Will Prendergast, Partner, Frontline Ventures and Faye Walsh Drouillard, Founder and Managing Partner, WakeUp Capital

Will spoke at length about the investment landscape and noted that the funding in US has probably has fallen by up to 20% in the last couple of quarters. Given the international landscape, he added that VCs may look to strengthen their existing portfolios rather than investing in new ventures. 

Faye Walsh Drouillard spoke comprehensively and passionately about investment in national and international markets with regard to sustainable investment. She highlighted that most  companies have an ESG focus now, but she stressed the importance to focus on impact and also the extensive commitment by the EU to fund and support sustainable solutions. 

To widespread laughter in the auditorium, Will Prendergast advised everyone during this discussion ‘not to believe in general advice that you hear on panels.”

The Minister once again shared his thoughts on their contributions on how to to attract more private funding and investments into Ireland. 

All eyes will be now on the Budget 2023 which is taking place on 27th of September.

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