‘Get Started’, our third of four conferences in The Helix, DCU. This conference was set to be an interesting one jam-packed with entrepreneurs from around the world telling their story of ‘getting started’ in the business world. I was intrigued from the start as I thought this would be an interesting way to hear personal anecdotes from real, successful entrepreneurs.
Our first speaker, Niamh Bushnell, is the Dublin Commissioner for Start Ups. Niamh was involved in the DCU UStart program back in October. According to her it is a great initiative filled with student potential. Niamh has always been involved in techweb and when she was younger, she set up a market research company with her brother. To this day it is a success. Shortly after setting up the company she looked to take a new direction in her career and applied for a software executive job with Enterprise Ireland, this involved moving to New York and assisting Irish companies setting up in North America. From this, she moved to a company called OrbisCom which has been acquired by MasterCard. She started to invest in startups in New York and realised she had a flair for working for startups. She pursued this career path and has been working in it ever since. The career proved to be a revelation for her as initially she noticed that she didn’t quite have the level of experience that she originally had thought. However, she developed herself and is now working as the Dublin Commissioner for Start Ups. So, as you can see, Niamh has a wealth of experience in her area of work. An interesting piece of advice that I took from her speech was that start-up companies need to “Stop selling the functionality of a product, and focus on the outcome for the customer.” I found Niamh’s change in careers coupled with her self-development in her employment to be very interesting.
The second speaker was a particularly compelling story as it was by David McKearnan, the CEO of Java Republic! David founded Java Republic in 1998 after having worked for Bewleys for 12 years and getting a sense of what a successful coffee corporation looks like. David never went to college but stressed that the reason for his immense success was his confidence, self-belief and resilience. Particularly in relation the company’s name. Everyone told David that the name wouldn’t work and that it was too controversial but David knew the company must be called this and he followed his heart and has made millions as a result of the company’s iconic name. I found David’s speech, in particular, to be the most inspiring as it truly reflected the well-known ‘required entrepreneurial trait’ of resilience. He told us the story as to where Java Republic came from – a small cafe in New York called Cafe Roma. He gave us his perspective on modern-day funding as well as finishing his speech with an interesting summary on the 6 types of entrepreneurs;
The third speaker was an innovation panel consisting of 3 different directors from different schools of DCU. The first of the panel was; Richard Stokes, Director of Innovation DCU. The second was; Ronan Furlong, Executive Director of Innovation Campus. And the last, but not least, was Ryan Stack from The Ryan Academy. Each speaker talked about their individual organisation and what each does for various students, businessmen, organisations and companies. Interestingly, the Innovation Campus has a lot of firms such as Fujifilm based there. These firms work together to improve their companies. After the presentation of each organisation the three men did a Q&A panel for 20 minutes where we could ask them questions based on starting up in relation to the respective organisations. Personally, I thought the panel was an excellent idea because many of us students are oblivious to what it is that these organisations actually do even though it is us that they are set up for.
We were greeted next by Kealan Lennon of Clever Cards. Kealan has developed a niche market in the card business whereby people can design, customise and have their cards ready for their loved ones ahead of their birthday, anniversary, etc. Kealan’s aim is to eliminate the fear of forgetting a loved one’s birthday and always being prepared. Users can connect through Facebook and the site will remind them of the people that they are close to on Facebook’s birthdays. Algorithims that have been developed, determine the appropriateness and relevant register of the cards. I think that this is an interesting idea and one that seems to be working well for Kealan as he was approached by the President of American Greetings – a famous card company in the US and the President wanted to get involved in Kealan’s company.
The penultimate speaker was Sean Ahern, the founder of ThankFrank, another niche market online idea where he aims to place a ‘ThankFrank’ button on every web page. The total amount of thanks a webpage has determines it’s trustworthiness, effectiveness, etc. Sean has been running ThankFrank for two and a half years unsuccessfully for the most part . However, it was not Sean’s business idea that I found to be interesting. Much like David McKearnan, I thought Sean’s life lessons and personal anecdotes were far more interesting and beneficial. He gave us a number of simple but effective tips in starting your own business:
- You need to be able to explain yourself simply.
- Don’t keep the idea to yourself.
- Love failure.
- Work with people.
- Prepare for the grind.
- Associate with successful people.
- Be resilient.
His discussion of these tips in business and in life were the most beneficial things that I took from his presentation.
Our conference finished with a man who had been between various jobs and universities. Paul Kerley was the CEO of Norkom and originally started his career by obtaining degrees in electronics, computer science and commerce in DCU.
Get Started 2015 was radically different from the rest. It was refreshing to hear the stories of successful entrepreneurs and their struggle to develop a successful firm. I took a lot away from it in terms of knowing for sure that constant resilience is something that must be applied when becoming a successful entrepreneur.