Ireland is a great place to start a business. An English-speaking country within the European Union, the workforce is talented and educated, and the tax system is business friendly. In addition, there is a wide range of programs and supports available from various government and semi-state agencies to help businesses.
The two main bodies are the Local Enterprise Office (LEO) - a network across the country providing support to small businesses, and Enterprise Ireland (EI) - the agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish businesses in global markets.
What's the difference between the LEOs and EI?
There are 31 local corporate offices across Ireland, with dedicated teams working with local authorities (so here in Dublin your local office might be Dublin City, Dublin South or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown). LEO caters to anyone looking for information and support to start or grow a business in Ireland. Their interlocutors tend to be small companies or companies focused on the domestic market.
Enterprise Ireland is headquartered in Dublin (EastPoint Business Park) and a few regional offices but also more than 30 international offices facilitating access to more than 60 countries in the world. The action of Enterprise Ireland is therefore focused on companies selling goods and services wishing to develop their business internationally.
EI's budget in 2019 was 403 million euros. EI-supported companies achieved €25.6 billion in export trade that year, the largest part of which was the UK (7.9 billion euros) followed by the euro area (5.65 billion euros) and North America (4.72 billion euros).
How does Enterprise Ireland work with businesses?
Enterprise Ireland structures its support according to the different phases of a company's development: start-up, start-up "with high potential", SME then large company.
During the first stages, they invest as much in the entrepreneur himself (called a “promoter”) as in his business idea. You will therefore be able to obtain support from them if they feel that you have the ability to develop a business that meets their criteria, employ at least 10 people, export or trade internationally, achieve a turnover greater than 1 million euros.
The New Frontiers program is the first program offered by EI to new start-ups who request it. Carried out across the country, it is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is part-time and will present you the basics of launching a startup to allow you to make a favorable or unfavorable decision on your idea and your ability to launch into entrepreneurship. Phase 2 is full-time, so you are expected to work full-time in the company and on your project, even if it means quitting your job. In exchange, you receive a tax-free allowance of €15,000 over six months. You will be based in an incubator and benefit from advice, guidance, facilities, training and mentoring to develop your idea.
The next step after New Frontiers is often the Competitive Start Fund (CSF). If successful, you will benefit from an injection of funds of €50,000 and Enterprise Ireland becomes a 10% shareholder of the company. You are now an EI “customer” and as such part of the Enterprise Ireland family.
If Enterprise Ireland identifies you as a High Potential Startup (HPSU), you benefit from the one-on-one support of a Development Advisor (DA) who should keep you informed of any additional opportunities that may open to you. - programs, grants, programs, etc. This does not exempt you from networking with other people within EI, as there are different departments with their own areas of knowledge.
As an HPSU, you will need to fundraise within 18 months. If you can, they'll match EI's funding 50/50 without taking more equity into the business. This could allow you to raise significant sums for the development of the business and is a huge boost for a growing business. EI also works on trade delegations, presentation events, etc.
If your business has been around for more than five years, it is no longer considered a startup or HPSU. At this point, you are classified as a "primary" business. Your business will then be managed by a different team within Enterprise Ireland. Your DA will be able to communicate a large list of potential clients to you, so it's a good idea to actively engage with them to ensure you get the support and access you need.
Why should you work closely with Enterprise Ireland?
Beyond these development programs, Enterprise Ireland offers other devices to companies, innovation vouchers (up to €12,500 for R&D), feasibility grants, market studies, mentoring, advice, Brexit aid, workshops and training programs and employment subsidies. The list is long and there are different eligibility criteria to meet depending on the support.
Above all, being part of the EI ecosystem is a great networking tool that can open doors for your business. You will also find professional services - financial consultants, lawyers, etc. - who know the EI way of working and can help and support you during the different stages of the activity.
EI is obviously not the only government-backed initiative to support business. Depending on your industry or goal, you will find that there are a variety of organizations that can give you access to both tangible and intangible resources. So do your research and interview your professional network, especially your accountant, to make sure you don't miss a thing.