The Guinness Enterprise Centre, on Taylor’s Lane in the heart of Dublin’s Liberties, is managed by Dublin Business Innovation Centre and has been named the no.1 university associated business incubation centre in the world.

Eamonn Sayers, GEC centre manager

In the first of two articles about the GEC, talks to Eamonn Sayers, the centre’s manager since 2011. I’m an entrepreneur. I’ve got an idea. What can the GEC do for me here?
Eamonn Sayers: The first step here is that we’ll try and put you in front of an entrepreneur who’s in the same industry. We’ll say have a chat with this person, see what they’re thinking. If you’ve identified your target market, again we’ll say we know someone here who’s in the same market and they’ll have a coffee with you too. Then what happens?
Eamonn Sayers: Our role here is to help your company grow and scale. We help to make it become better and we help to make you a better entrepreneur. We create an environment and a community and a sense of belonging that makes entrepreneurs very comfortable, makes them enjoy the fact that this is their office, this is their workplace, so that both the entrepreneur and their teams are in the best place to grow their businesses.

Whatever challenge you’re facing as a start-up, there’s always someone here who can say I was in the same boat two years ago. Or a year ago. Or only six weeks ago

For the very early stage guys we have mentoring. We help them with their business plans, we help them with their market strategy, then after that we help them to become investor-ready. A start-up: it’s a lonely old business, isn’t it?
Eamonn Sayers: It’s really a case of throwing the arm around, asking how can we make it better? We’re always trying to add value in small subtle ways. At that stage of your growth it’s the small subtle things that can trip you up. We try to remove as many of those barriers as possible – mainly using the expertise here in the community in-house.

Whatever challenge you’re facing as a start-up, there’s always someone here who can say I was in the same boat two years ago. Or a year ago. Or only six weeks ago. You can see your next door neighbour here and how he or she is succeeding with their business so you’re thinking, well, if they can do it… You’ve had a coffee with them, you know you’re as intelligent as they are: it all helps to remove the fear factor. And there’s that sense of ‘we’re all in it together’ too. The beauty of it is that people here share successes but also the things that didn’t work so well.

Sometimes our role is just to be the ear for an entrepreneur. We’ll sit down for a chat in complete confidence

Entrepreneur Mike Sikorski (left) presents his idea at the GEC. Image courtesy of Colm Nicell

25 different industries are represented here. We’ve got people with skills in technology, engineering, mathematics, science, marketing, accounting, finance etc so the skills are all in-house. It’s a matter of knowing, no. 1, who has the skills and, no. 2, who’s good at passing those skills on and willing to meet for an americano down here in the café. And then there’s the fact that 36 per cent of the workforce here are overseas entrepreneurs. So if you’re looking to sell into France for instance, you can immediately go to an entrepreneur here who’s from France to find out what the barriers are and what systems you have to look into.

Sometimes our role is just to be the ear for an entrepreneur. We’ll sit down for a chat in complete confidence. If they’re in charge of the company they can’t have that out-pouring in front of their team and staff. They need their own time when they can talk things through. We’ve a vested interest in these guys because we want them to succeed. But we don’t have any financial stake in the companies here. We have an emotional stake. We miss them when they go and we’re delighted when they go – because it means we’ve done our job. It’s all about adding value for the entrepreneur, giving them those soft supports. Soft supports?
Eamonn Sayers: Well for instance an entrepreneur might be on the road a lot, might be out of the country a lot. So they have to be very comfortable that the team they’ve taken on are in a good environment to do the work they’re supposed to do. And then there’s the social side of it. So there’s yoga classes at lunch time twice a week. There’s indoor soccer, a cycling club, a hiking club, Christmas parties, summer parties.. What about hard truths?
Eamonn Sayers: Because of our remit, because of the public/private nature of the GEC, we want to help every person as much as we can. And if that means we have to say to them have a long hard think about what you’re doing then we have to do it.

Image courtesy of Colm Nicell

Dublin BIC runs a great programme here called Enterprise Start 2. You get to explore your idea with up to maybe 15 other people. You’re all bouncing your ideas off each other. So you’ve got 15 people asking you in a day ‘tell me again what’s your business? How’s it going to work, what’s the business model, who’s going to buy it?’ If after the third or fourth one you realize these guys aren’t getting it, you have to start asking yourself am I saying it wrong? Is there really a business here? And if there is, then it’s only going to get better with the help of the programme. Thanks Eamonn – next time we meet we’ll be talking about some of the many businesses that the GEC has helped to get up and running.

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Laurence is a writer, cyclist and gardener. He’s always finding new things to like about Dublin, the city where’s he’s spent most of his life.

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