Mentoring, business development training and financial investment available for international entrepreneurs

‘If you’re not in, you can’t win’, is the simple yet effective advice from Enterprise Ireland regarding their latest round of funding for international start-ups.



Enterprise Ireland is currently running a competition to attract international start-ups to Ireland. The Competitive Start Fund, worth €500,000, is open to all entrepreneurs currently living outside Ireland and willing to relocate here. Under the fund, ten companies will each receive an investment of €50,000, as well as a great package of additional supports, for a 10% equity stake.

John O’Dea, Department Manager, Enterprise Ireland HPSU Startups unit, gives some good advice about this competition, what Ireland has to offer start-ups and why people should apply for the funding before close of applications on Wednesday 6th April 2016.


Tell us a bit more about this competition for International Start-ups

This is a great offer for early stage businesses that might be interested in locating to Ireland. The application is a simple online application together with a short video pitch on your computer. We evaluate the applications and select the best twenty projects – we will invite them to come to Ireland and pitch to the selection panel on the 1st June this year.

If you are selected to come and pitch in Ireland, Enterprise Ireland will fund the travel [economy airfare] and accommodation and we have an exciting itinerary planned for four or five days to show the applicants the great start-up ecosystem here. The twenty start-ups will spend some time in Dublin and experience the range of accelerators, co-working spaces, meetups etc. The pitch will take place in Galway where applicants will have an opportunity to experience the lively Galway start-up scene.

As well as the money [€50k investment for a 10% ordinary equity stake] successful applicants will get a mentor to assist them with the business and with settling in. They can participate on our start-up development program over four months, where they will get to know other start-ups at similar stage of development; Bank of Ireland will make space available in their co-working spaces to suitable companies; we will assist them to get to seed investment stage and introduce them to business angels and Seed Funds in Ireland.

Where the promoters, or some of them, are from outside the EU, successful applicants will be eligible for a Start-up Entrepreneur Visa which permits the holder and his/her family to reside and work in Ireland.


What kind of people are suitable for this competition?

The Competitive Start Fund is aimed at early stage propositions that are probably still trying to establish if there is product market fit – i.e. if customers are likely to buy! The rules of the competition reflect this early stage focus;

  • the company must be less than five years in existence,
  • the company must have less than €100k in equity prior to application [i.e. less than €100k in cash already invested in the business. Sweat equity is not cash, so that is not an issue]
  • the company should be early stage in terms of sales – the requirement is that the business should not have had sales of €60k in any previous year

Ideally, the start-up should have some sort of a prototype developed and they should be in a position to do customer validation. We like to see a rounded team of founders and advisors (like most investors we don’t invest in one-man-bands – they really don’t have the potential to develop into scalable businesses in our experience).

Obviously, projects that can demonstrate that they are making progress are more successful.

We are sector agnostic, provided the start-ups are engaged in ICT, software, manufacture or traded services. However, we don’t invest in start-ups engaged in gambling, “adult entertainment” or military.

Ideally they are start-ups that have the potential to raise a seed round of a few hundred euro within the next year. This CSF investment is usually to validate that customers will buy the product – something that is really important if a start-up is going to raise a seed round. In the vast majority of cases Enterprise Ireland will follow our money and co-invest at the next round (we are one of the largest seed-round investors in Europe and we have a great track record of supporting tech businesses at seed stage).


Why is now a good time to run this competition?

Actually, this is the second time we have run a competition like this. While we run Competitive Start Fund competitions regularly throughout the year, until last year these were primarily marketed to start-ups in Ireland [while international start-ups were always welcome to apply].  We were really delighted with the response to our initial competition for international entrepreneurs last year.  We received almost 100 applications – about half were from the diaspora (many were young people who left during Ireland’s financial crisis) and about half had no prior connection with Ireland.  We brought the best twenty to Cork last October as part of The Startup Gathering. We invested in the best ten of them.  And several of the companies that were not successful last year have subsequently gone on to win a subsequent competition or have raised a seed round in which Enterprise Ireland co-invested.


What has Ireland got to offer returning entrepreneurs?

If you are an international entrepreneur looking for a location to base your next business venture, Ireland is the perfect location for your start-up. Ireland is a world leader in key innovative sectors (including ICT, Life Sciences, Gaming, Financial Services and Food and Beverages) and a perfect location from which to serve key world markets like the US, Europe and the Middle East.

A hotbed of entrepreneurship, Ireland is a great place to live and work. We have a favorable low tax regime and supportive environment for startups and a well-educated workforce and, on a personal level, Ireland is simply a great place to live. Enterprise Ireland can provide significant support, both financial and otherwise. In 2015 we invested in 230 start-ups. This year we will invest in even more.

Here are some reasons why you should consider joining the growing list of entrepreneurs who have chosen to base their businesses in Ireland.

  • Ireland is a start-up friendly environment – a low-bureaucracy, low-tax environment that is very supportive of entrepreneurs. You don’t have to take our word for it – read what credible independent sources say about the Irish business environment.
  • Ireland is a world leader in key innovative sectors – clusters in several key sectors, with a strong pool of management, skilled staff from a multitude of nationalities, serial entrepreneurs, professional advisors, investors and service providers, allowing you and your start-up to ‘hit the ground running’.
  • Great start-up funding and support programs; on a per capita basis, funding is high by international standards.
  • Ireland is a great place to live and work – with great opportunities for business and a great way of life for families.
  • Ireland is a gateway to world markets – one of the most open and globally connected countries in the world.


Any words of advice for applicants?

This is a great opportunity for early stage start-ups willing to relocate to Ireland (a majority of the founders must commit to living in Ireland for at least one year post investment).

If English is not your first language, remember to speak slowly and clearly for the video pitch. It is useful also to send a transcript of the pitch if English is not your mother tongue.

Even if you think your start-up is a bit early, why not apply anyway? Even if you are not successful, Enterprise Ireland will give you feedback on your project that could be invaluable as you develop your business project.

If you’re not in, you can’t win!  If you are interested, don’t leave it to the last minute; open the online application form and get cracking! The application is pretty straightforward, but if you have any problems we have a help-desk with email and phone to resolve any questions.

For full details and how to apply, click here.

Applications must be made via the Online Application System.


Closing date for applications: 6th April 2016

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