Enterprise Ireland’s recently launched Global Irish Contacts Programme is already gaining significant traction in bringing successful Irish expatriates in contact with growing Irish businesses. This newly introduced programme could play a key role in the Irish road to economic recovery.
It doesn’t need to be said just how important the Irish Diaspora is to the reputation and future recovery of this country. Despite moving from the Emerald Isle, most expats feel a close affinity to Ireland - that in many cases can lead to more than just good feeling - as has been shown at events like the Global Irish Economic Forum.
Government-led, the Global Irish Economic Forum brought together 270 members of the Global Irish Network (GIN) who were based in 37 countries. This influential group of Irish people from across the globe met with the Taoiseach, Government, State Agencies and domestic business leaders to come up with innovative ideas for economic renewal, job creation and the restoration of Ireland’s reputation abroad.
The second of these forums took place in Dublin Castle in October 2011 and turned out to be the birthplace of the Global Irish Contacts Programme.
“It was suggested at the forum that GIN members could be of benefit to companies in Ireland by helping them to access markets abroad,” explains David Byrne, Manager of Latin America and High Growth Markets at Enterprise Ireland.
“It fits with our already active engagement with the wider Diaspora in international markets, Enterprise Ireland, so through the Department of Foreign Affairs, reached out to the GIN seeking their assistance to support the work of Irish companies in international markets. We asked for their help in assisting Irish companies gain greater knowledge and access to their specific sectors in international markets and they responded very positively.
“However, we were keen for the programme to be very much on a voluntary basis with an opt-out situation for participants at any time. So in that sense it is unlike a mentorship programme. We wanted people to come to us voluntarily with their skills and their market knowledge. We were delighted when over 100 responded initially to the request and more are coming on board every day.”
The participants have agreed to engage with Irish companies who are already at an established level with some prior knowledge of an export market. “We already have a significant number of people mentoring Irish companies but this isn’t the same thing,” stresses Byrne. “It is an introductory networking service provided by Enterprise Ireland and how far it goes depends on the strength of engagement between the Irish company and the Global Irish Contact member.”
Initially the programme has been run in two key markets: North America and Asia. This is so it could be tested in both developed and developing markets, respectively. “Entering a developed market requires a different approach to a newer emerging market” says Byrne. “Also regions are culturally very different. Irish companies would already be comfortable with the American approach to business but perhaps less so in Asia. We wanted to test the system at both ends of the spectrum.”
One participant based in Singapore has been both enthusiastic and accommodating in his involvement. “I was originally a scientist and I have a PHD in Chemical Physics,” explains Dr Noel Moore of the Global Irish Contacts Programme. “I worked in the laser business for a number of years for multinationals, then I decided to go out on my own.”
Moore moved out to Singapore seven years ago and is now a serial investor and entrepreneur. He is currently director in two companies: DPS, which provides training for pharmaceutical and medical device companies; and Fresh Brew, a marketing and communications firm he set up with his wife.
“I’ve come to a point in my own career where I’m no longer worried about where the next pay cheque is going to come from,” says Moore. “So I’m willing and able to impart my expertise onto those in Ireland who need it, particularly in the medical device and technology area. There’s a lot of good will in Asia in terms of supporting Irish enterprise.
“You don’t need tonnes of money to support the Global Irish Contacts Programme: just some of your time. It doesn’t take me huge amounts of effort to put guys in contact with local distributors here etc. It’s not like I have any special skills in that respect. They could go ahead and try and establish contacts themselves. But if, for example, you’re in an Irish company making medical devices and you need to hook up with someone you can trust in Korea, on your own that could take months. For me it’s just a phone call away.”
Dundalk-based Blueacre Technology is one such company that Moore and the GICP have assisted. This optics company develops laser-based machines for the medical device industry. Since its inception in 2006 Blueacre has derived over 75 per cent of their revenue from the export market, particularly in Asia.
“Countries in Asia such as Singapore have a very well educated population and they have a strong desire to develop new products and enter new markets,” explains David Gillen, Founder and Managing Director of Blueacre Technologies. “These countries are also very well financed, with an excellent industrial-academic spin out infrastructure. Where they are lacking is the experience to engineer these new ideas into working systems, quickly and cost effectively. Contacts and networking are everything in this business though and the GICP has fast tracked the opening of a number of doors for us, which we would have struggled to open ourselves.”
In many respects the Global Irish Contacts Programme is a formalisation of how most business is generated: through personal relationships. “There has always been a willingness in the Irish expat community to assist Irish companies,” says Moore. “But making that initial contact can be a serious barrier for some who aren’t lucky enough to already know someone somewhere on the ground.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny pictured delivering the opening address at the forum