Enterprise / Ireland

Priming Irish business for worldwide success

The world’s leading venture capital investor by deal count, Enterprise Ireland, supports Irish companies to win business in global markets.

Priming Irish business for worldwide success

Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland

The Irish government’s trade and innovation agency, Enterprise Ireland, plays a central role behind the buoyancy of Irish business and major individual success stories, CEO Leo Clancy explains.

How do you help domestic companies grow at home and abroad?

We provide funding to companies in Ireland right from early-stage entrepreneurship and pre-accelerator type activities. We’re involved from the grassroots all the way up to Irish global multinationals. We have a substantial presence abroad, with a network of 40 offices, helping our companies scale internationally and connect international companies to Irish innovation.

Ireland has invested hugely in this agency, which is among the world’s largest relative to the size of the economy. The state and the entire country really believe that we need to be on the world stage with export-oriented business.

Which sectors are most promising for exports?

Our food industry remains very successful, with an ambitious target of 50% export growth by 2030. Manufacturing and engineering are also world class. In terms of clear growth sectors, I would highlight digital technologies: we are going to see lots more start-ups scaling very fast. The same is true for life sciences, where Ireland is very competitive.

“We have a substantial presence abroad, with a network of 40 offices, helping our companies scale internationally and connect international companies to Irish innovation.” – Leo Clancy, CEO of Enterprise Ireland

What challenges and opportunities do you foresee?

One of the biggest challenges for business is climate change, which is part of our strategy. In Ireland, we’ve set ambitious targets for industry and enterprise, and we’re seeing huge engagement from companies. We know that in order to stay in the game globally, you need a sustainability plan. In fact, this is a massive opportunity. Many Irish companies have considerable experience in electrical infrastructure, and construction companies are used to meeting strict requirements. We’re seeing software start-ups in the sustainability space, too.

The other big opportunity is entrepreneurship. In Ireland, over the last 25 years, this has snowballed in terms of start-up numbers and scaling companies. In just the last few months we’ve seen two new unicorns, Wayflyer and Flipdish, and I think we’ll see more, as well as growing numbers of start-ups in general.

How is Ireland progressing from attracting global tech to becoming a tech capital in its own right?

We are well on our way. Ireland remains central to the European strategies of many global giants, but the Irish enterprise sector has itself become a digital challenger, with the emergence of four unicorns in the last two years. The momentum is great. The unicorns are digital natives, and we see more of those emerging. The presence of so many multinationals provides a huge opportunity to leverage on their experience building digital operations to service all of Europe. Replicating that model among Irish-owned enterprises is going to be massive for our economy.

With our growing start-up scene, we’re also a melting pot – having gone from being quite homogeneous in the 1980s to an incredibly multicultural country today. That’s crucial, because digital business can be conducted effectively from anywhere in the world with people of all backgrounds and ways of thinking.

How easy is access to growth capital in Ireland?

This is also improving. In the past some Irish companies moved abroad out of necessity, but our recent unicorns have attracted global capital in order to grow, while remaining Irish.

In Ireland, with our small domestic population, if you are ambitious you need to be global from the start. So, the scale of our market is actually a positive factor, because capital will find good companies no matter where they are. The capital is there for an Irish company that can show that it can translate and scale its model abroad.

What potential is there for more business synergies between Ireland and the U.S.?

Growth and investment in the U.S. are important for Irish companies, which can bring a lot of innovation and agility to the U.S. market. The Irish and U.S. relationship has never been stronger, with our client company exports at an all-time high. The major driver for this growth was the soaring demand for Irish technology solutions. Globally, North America is the biggest market for Enterprise Ireland client company technology solutions.

We understand what investment means. Interestingly, Irish companies employ more people in the U.S. than vice versa. More than 100,000 people are employed by Irish-owned companies in the U.S. The underlying cultural alignment between the two countries shouldn’t be underestimated, as we share a long history and great affinity.