Last week, I was in Dublin to attend the Web Summit conference (very mesh-like, although much bigger) and get an in-depth immersion of the Irish startup scene.
After conversations with government officials, incubators, accelerators and startups, it struck me there are many similarities between the Irish and Canadian startup landscapes.
Perhaps the most striking are the vibrant and enthusiastic startup communities. The energy is palpable and Dublin seems to be teeming with startup entrepreneurs or people who aspire to launch or work for a startup. Like many Canadian cities, Dublin’s startup community is relatively small but tight-knit and supportive.
Dublin features a growing number of early-stage startups trying to establish themselves with customers and investors. There are also incubators such as Dogpatch Labs (backed by Boston-based Polaris Ventures), and accelerators such as LaunchPad, a unit of the National Digital Research Centre, which is funded by the Irish government.
And then you’ve got grassroots events such as Open Mic Idea Jam held at a popular pub in which entrepreneurs had three minutes to pitch their idea to a standing-room only crowd. It’s a concept that would probably be a hit in many Canadian cities.
By far, the biggest difference between Canada and Irish is the major investment being made by the Irish government to develop a vibrant startup ecosystem in Ireland.
Enterprise Ireland, a government agency, makes direct investments in more than 150 startups a year through an early-stage “high potential” program, and a Y Combinator-like “Competitive Startup Fund” that invests €50,000 into pre-revenue startups.
Enterprise Ireland also raised €175-million for fund-to-fund investments in seed and early-stage venture capital firms, and it committed €10-million to attract international startup entrepreneurs to Dublin.
In Canada, there isn’t a government agency driving and nurturing the startup ecosystem. Instead, we’ve got a scattered approach that involves tax credits for R&D, a government agency (The Business Development Bank of Canada) making direct and fund-to-fund investments, a federal program that matches private sector investments (FedDev) and a $400-million commitment by the Conservatives in the last budget to boost VCs.
If there was one big lesson from spending time in Dublin, it would be the important role the different levels of government could take if they had a well-articulated and cohesive plans of attack to support and nurture the startup community. It’s not to suggest there isn’t a lot of activity but it happens to be a shotgun approach rather than targeted.
The fact is Canada has a huge opportunity to become a startup powerhouse. We have a growing population of startup entrepreneurs, developing startup communities across the country, and a financing landscape slowly getting more engaged and active.
If done properly, the federal and provincial governments could play an interesting supporting role so the startup ecosystem can continue to thrive.