In a world increasingly fascinated by blockchain and its transformative potential, Ireland is emerging as a significant player. In this series we tap into the minds of those at the forefront of shaping Ireland’s blockchain future.
In this episode, Lory Kehoe, Chairperson of Blockchain Ireland and Fiona Delaney, Co-chair of the Start-up Working Group, Blockchain Ireland guide us through a conversation with a key visionary in the Irish start-up landscape. We are joined by Leo Clancy, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland, whose insights are instrumental in understanding the complex interplay of innovation, entrepreneurship, and governmental support that propels Ireland’s blockchain ecosystem forward.
With a focus on building, growing, and nurturing the burgeoning crypto and web3 sectors, Lory delves into the strategies that position Ireland at the cusp of blockchain advancement. From the start-up scene to large-scale enterprise growth, Leo offers an insider’s perspective on the challenges, opportunities, and future directions of Ireland’s vibrant blockchain community.
As we navigate through the intricacies of regulatory frameworks, funding mechanisms, and technological pivots, this episode promises to be a treasure trove of knowledge for entrepreneurs, technologists, and enthusiasts alike, looking to understand the pulse ofIreland’s blockchain innovation.
Join us as we unravel the threads of thought leadership that are weaving the digital fabric ofIreland’s future in blockchain technology.
The “Blockchain Leaders Insights” podcast provides a comprehensive overview of the current state and the potential trajectory of Ireland’s blockchain ecosystem. Through the lens of Enterprise Ireland’s efforts, it’s clear that while challenges persist, particularly in regulatory compliance and market adaptation, there is a strong foundation for growth and innovation. Ireland’s commitment to nurturing a supportive environment for blockchain technologies signifies its readiness to play a significant role in the global blockchain arena.
For more detailed insights and future discussions, follow our podcast series for the latest in blockchain thought leadership.
Leo Clancy, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland, provides an expert’s perspective on the evolving landscape for start-ups and how the organisation has been pivotal in championing the growth of Ireland’s tech industry, propelling Irish start-ups into the Web3 revolution.
[00:00] Podcast title introduction
[00:14] Lory: Hello and welcome to Blockchain Ireland’s video podcast series titled Blockchain Leaders Insights. My name is Lory Kehoe, I am the chair of Blockchain Ireland and I’m joined today by my co-host Fiona Delaney. Fiona?
[00:28] Fiona: Hi Lory, thanks a million for inviting me here to be on the inaugural session.
My name is Fiona Delaney, I’m a blockchain architect, engineer and entrepreneur and I’m the co-chair of the start-ups group at Blockchain Ireland. It’s a real pleasure to be here today.
[00:45] Lory: Super stuff. Thank you very much, Fiona. So over the coming months, we’re going to be interviewing leaders from around the globe who are helping to build, grow, and shape Ireland’s blockchain, crypto, and web3 ecosystem. And we’re starting strong in our first episode, and we’re delighted to welcome a long-time supporter of Blockchain Ireland, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland, Mr. Leo Clancy. Leo, you’re very welcome.
[01:07] Leo: Thanks Lory, thanks Fiona, brilliant to be here and I’m delighted and honoured to be the inaugural guest. I’m super interested in what you’re doing, thank you for what you’re doing for the community and really looking forward to the conversation.
[01:21] Lory: Thank you very much Leo. So look, let’s dive in and get started. So first things first, I know there aren’t many people out there who don’t know who you are but it’d be great to learn just a little bit about your background, who you are and how you’ve gotten to become the CEO of Enterprise Ireland.
[01:36] Leo: Well, my kids for one do their very best to avoid anyone knowing who I am or spotting me online. But yeah, thank you for saying that. So my career has been long, I would say at this stage, I spent 17 years in the telecoms industry. So worked as a network, worked for Ericsson, the global telecoms provider, was CTO of the Fiber Optics Communications Network. And then I joined IDA, where for eight years I led the tech sector. IDA Ireland, for those of you who don’t know it, is the Irish state agency for foreign and direct investment into Ireland. And that’s where we first met, Laurie, when you worked at Deloitte and you led the new blockchain lab that they had decided to put in Ireland at the time. So my job was attracting tech to Ireland and doing my best to look after it when it was here. Two and a half years ago, I moved across to take up the role of CEO of Enterprise Ireland, which is the Irish state agency that supports Irish companies to start, grow, and scale internationally.
[02:31] Lory: Yeah, and look, for those folks who are, I guess, listening domestically, they may have an idea of what Enterprise Ireland is and does, but there’s also a bunch of folks, hopefully, who are going to listen to this from around the world. So, just to dig into a little bit more about what Enterprise Ireland is, what it does, and how is it different from other state bodies in other countries?
[02:51] Leo: So we’re an organisation of 850 people, we have 39 offices outside Ireland and a number of offices across Ireland. Our sole mission is to support Irish enterprise and we do that, we start with university based research, so we support commercial ideas coming out of research, we support early stage tech centres and gateways that industry can use to engage with academic research in Ireland. So that’s a relatively unique infrastructure that we offer where we can bring companies into academic settings, which isn’t always easy and needs someone who speaks industry and academia bridging that. We then, moving on through scales, we support a lot of start-up ecosystem in Ireland. So we have programs, stipend-based programs for people who are thinking about starting businesses. We support in a soft way accelerators who are self-determined. We also fund a certain regional hub infrastructure. We’re an LP, a limited partner in most of the local Irish venture capital funds. So those funds have made thousands of investments over the last 29 years since inception. So that’s something not a lot of people know about us. We’ve invested 750 million to date in those funds, which has leveraged a total fund value of 3.5 billion. So, that’s a lot of money that’s gone into the start-up ecosystem. We have then also invested directly in equity terms in over 1,400 Irish companies. So we hold cap table positions in 1,400 Irish start-ups of various scales, large and small. We’re making, last year we made 161 pre-seed and seed stage investments in Irish owned companies, and then we support companies all the way up the tree, including those start-ups as they grow and scale, and some of the largest companies out of Ireland, like Kerry Group and Icon, the largest clinical research organization in the world. We count all those companies right up the chain as clients, numbering about 4,000 clients in total. So we’re pretty much networked through most of Irish entrepreneurship, and we’re public servants. So what we do is, in order to drive economic benefit, it’s not for the financial return that we get in the funds, nor the financial return we get in equity positions. A lot of our aid that we give to companies is non-dilutive grant aid. We give that in order to see jobs and economic growth happen here in Ireland. The 39 offices around the world employ close to 200 people, whose job it is then to help those companies as they take their first steps out of Ireland to meet partners, to understand the market, to get started a new export market. So that’s the trade end of our agency. So very wide ranging. Your second part of your question was who else does things like this? Lots of different countries, lots of countries have different components of what we do in different areas. But I think there is, I don’t think there’s anywhere that has all of what we do in one agency, which I think is the uniqueness that we can see the thread all the way from academics thinking about how their research ideas might be companies or people in a local community thinking about starting a business, all the way through to those quoted market based companies that are global leaders.
[06:05] Lory: Okay. And that was the piece that I was going to, yeah, without giving the secret sauce away, that was the piece I wanted to understand a little bit about. Okay. So it’s that all-encompassing piece. Thank you.
[06:15] Fiona: That sounds really interesting. And you put a lot of emphasis, I think, on the academic piece. I mean, so I’m in the start-up scene, so I would really lean into innovation being market-driven and market-led, and very much from innovation in the marketplace.
And I think that is very reflective of probably the Web3 hustle attitude, build this, all that kind of thing. and not an awful lot of that is coming out of academia. Bitcoin was not, well, we don’t know for sure, but it’s not associated with an institution like a university and neither are many of the other protocols. So taking that into consideration, what is your view specifically on the tech start-up scene outside of academia in Ireland? And how does Enterprise Ireland sort of position itself to face that. I would say disruptive talent force, an entrepreneurial kind of spirit. And how what’s the kind of view on that?
[07:21] Leo: So great question. And actually, I did overemphasize the academic side. It is a large part of what the organization does as a whole. It goes further than fostering start-ups, obviously. But just last year, if you take the hundred and sixty one companies we supported, I would say between 15 and 20 of those would have come out of academia of the 161.
So most of our start-ups are actually market-based. We’re always hoping to squeeze more out of academia. We know, as you say, there are areas such as the areas you work in, Web3 and related technologies, things like apparel and other sectors that absolutely just don’t depend at all on academic research. Then there are a cohort that are deep academic, med-tech research or deep tech AI, something like that, that will more classically come out of academia, but we’re very much leading with market-based. Our newest instrument to support market-based start-ups is what we call the Pre-Seed Start Fund. So up to two years ago we had a competitive start fund instrument which was 50k of our funding in return for 10% of equity in your company and ordinary shares. And it was a pretty straightforward offer, it had to be matched by 5k of founder funds as well. We’ve changed that just last year to a convertible loan note of up to 100,000 euros. It doesn’t have to be 100, but can be as high as that, matched by 10K of founder funds. And that’s gone really well. I mean, that’s driven the numbers up from early 40s to 70, because it’s attractive and because the equity isn’t as cut and dried as early in terms of what we take. And that gets a lot of marketplace people in.
[08:53] Fiona: That’s very, very interesting. And just focusing on that for one second, how, how would you say that the tech side of that is, is being taken up? Is it tech companies?
Is that a large percentage or can you, can you?
[09:09] Leo: Tech is the largest single percentage. Yeah. MedTech. I think if you look at tech, MedTech, sustainability may be competing more recently with MedTech and a lot of the sustainability is sustainability tech. Some of it very relevant to the topics you work on, you know, so it will be things like offset technology, some really interesting things which are very blockchain amenable. Yeah, I’m sure you’d agree.
[09:29] Fiona: Evidencing that kind of all that stuff.
[09:31] Leo: But tech is the single biggest proportion. We do require for that pre-seed start fund that you have a good go-to-market, that you have an idea about how you’re going to start the team. You don’t have to be on the team just yet, but you do have to have an MVP and ideally some proof of path to revenue.
[09:47] Fiona: Really, really interesting. Thanks a million.
[09:50] Leo: Thanks Fiona.
[09:51] Lory: Leo, I’m kind of following on from that. So Given, I guess, you must see a lot of businesses across a lot of sectors. What are your thoughts on what you’re seeing in terms of businesses that are coming across your desk around blockchain, crypto, and Web3?
[10:07] Leo: Some super interesting companies. First of all, global trend-wise, there’s some amazing technologies coming and we’re seeing some interesting ones. I won’t go into individual companies, but crypto is difficult for us. I have to say, hand on heart, if we’re looking at crypto because regulatory framework has yet to catch up with crypto, we tend to even where we do classic financial service companies that we support on the innovative tech end, we tend to even require for those companies that they achieve some kind of regulation before we allow full drawdown of equity tranches. So crypto is even further out there as you can imagine because of some of those strictures. And a lot of that is because of normal investor risk-based views of life. But more of it is because we are a state agency, you know, and we’re still exploring the edges of what we can do. So for us, crypto is that much harder because there isn’t a regulatory framework. If you look at blockchain more generally, you look at DeFi technologies that are more based on real world assets, I think that’s much easier to think about because it’s essentially a technology for working with assets that we know very well and that have regulatory frameworks. It’s just a different way of handling them.
[11:24] Lory: Okay, well that’s I think a great point I guess to everybody who is watching and listening I guess when it comes to applications and working with Enterprise Ireland is absolute focus on regulation if you are in the crypto space. In terms of kind of other themes that you might be seeing within the kind of blockchain space, are there specific areas?
For example, Is it stable coins, is it custody, or is it infrastructure security, or what are you seeing?
[11:50] Leo: Yeah, I think the stuff I’ve seen so far are more around, you know, just ledgers of real world assets using blockchain. I think they’re probably the most common ones that cross our desks from a risk profile and tolerance point of view. Even areas such as stable coin, you know, we haven’t seen too much come through in that sense. And again, that risk profile we take, we’re still learning in this space, I would say. So it’s early for us in terms of blockchains.
[12:15] Lory: Do you think that there’s a lot of interest in this space? Is it growing, is it decreasing, is it stabilizing?
[12:23] Leo: I’d say it’s not huge. We don’t see massive amounts coming through yet.
I don’t know if that’s of interest in your view, but whether there’s a strong enough community of start-ups, but don’t see a massive volume of start-ups coming our way.
And maybe that’s because of some of the factors we talked about where our risk aversion causes people to go, well, they wouldn’t be interested anyway. Maybe some things get headed off at the pass, but not as… I think opportunities to invest aren’t as abundant as I would have thought, even in the more classic real world assets on blockchain kind of area.
[12:57] Lory: And are you seeing a big spike in AI given the recent interest in that?
[13:02] Leo: I think we’re seeing AI talked about in everything.
[13:04] Lory: Okay.
[13:05] Leo: Yeah. That’s probably the best, kind of straight to put it. I think it’s hard not to talk about AI if you’re a start-up these days. You need something, it needs to be baked in.
Even very large, slow moving companies and organizations are being challenged now as to what their AI strategies are. So if you’re a tech start-up, it’s almost impossible, whether that’s tech, med tech, sustainability, it’s almost impossible now not to have some level of AI story in there. Same is true of blockchain. You know, lots of companies looking at AI and blockchain as future directions, even if they’re not starting as pure play AI or blockchain companies. They want to show investors and they want to show a roadmap to adding those kinds of values in and hedge themselves against competitor impact.
[13:45] Lory: Well, hopefully as we, you know, fingers crossed and we’re at the start of the next bull cycle within crypto and blockchain and web 3, hopefully that will, I guess, excite a bunch more people to come up with ideas, create new projects and create new start-ups and you’ll have a whole slew of more companies to review.
[14:05] Fiona: More companies, more talent, maybe more to review and those opportunities. I think it’s really interesting. There’s definitely no shortage, I would say, of start-up businesses, start-up talent in the Irish ecosystem. We certainly see that in the start-ups group in Blockchain Ireland, super active both here and abroad. In fact, we’ve hosted more events outside of Ireland than we have inside. And, and we in the start-ups group have held seven events in the last eight months with our next event coming up shortly. So definitely very active, definitely nationwide. I do see a tendency for a trend towards that, you know, that phrase digital nomadism, where people are really, really decoupling themselves from a single base. And most of the teams are super remote. You know, very, very international teams. You’ll have a leg in Singapore, a leg somewhere in Europe, maybe someplace in Latin America or the US, and that’ll all be on the same team.
So I would definitely say from my small niche, I’m just wondering about the relevance of enterprise Ireland opportunities for that really significant talent. And I’m just wondering, is there a way, and I think opportunities like this conversation, I think help to bridge that gap or share that knowledge. So I guess my question then is, companies are reluctant to come here, I think. Housing crisis, cost of living, no shortage of talent. Just wondering, is there something else there that we can help prepare, like, you know, from the blockchain Ireland point of view, to prepare and support that kind of network and that emerging talent pool, acknowledging that it is a kind of digital nomad experience. Is that something that in Enterprise Ireland, the business development crew are thinking about, connecting in that more open innovation way or?
[16:22] Leo: Always, always open to it and we’re never prescriptive about how start-ups land, you know. What we do, we will only invest though in Irish start-ups, you know, that is, that’s our rule, it’s the mandate we have. But actually, we love to see people nomadically coming to Ireland. So digital nomads from around the world, we’re, I think we do pretty well in terms of, as a population now in Ireland, 20% or thereabouts of people that are working in Ireland. and today we’re not born in Ireland. And that’s across the population as a whole. That is pretty, it’s not only tech-led, you know, a lot of it is in the services industry and factories and areas like that. But probably I would say proportionally within tech, it’s a bigger proportion of people who weren’t born here that are working in the industry because it’s grown so hugely. When I was at IDA, I saw growth from, I worked there from the end of 2013 until 2021. And just the explosion in growth, you know, We saw Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple grow enormously and a huge preponderance of talent come into Ireland. So we’re very international now in the talent base, which is fantastic. We’re not seeing enough yet, though, to your point of start-ups coming to Ireland, or people come to Ireland to start businesses. We are seeing it. We’re seeing people leaving multinationals who had come to Ireland to work with them and start businesses, which is really positive. But I’d love to understand from your perspective, do you think there’s a trick we’re missing, Fiona?
[17:47] Fiona: I’m just wondering, because I know a number of start-ups that are based here are using us as their headquarters, but maybe the operational team is elsewhere. Maybe Barcelona, maybe partly in Houston, partly here. I don’t want to name company names, but there’s a lot of that and there’s a lot of decoupling, I think. So a company might be started here. The team is already remote. that governance or operational centre can hop somewhere else. And I’m just wondering at what point does that make a difference, a material difference in the Enterprise Ireland relationship? And if there is something there about supporting the talent or supporting the very early stage that emergence of those new ideas, because I’m quite familiar with the New Frontiers program, for example, which is almost like it supports talent more than the business.
[18:40] Leo: Yeah.
[18:40] Fiona: Right.
[18:41] Lory: For the people who are just listening in. Yeah. Leah, would you mind giving a recap of their New Frontiers program?
[18:46] Leo: Yeah. Great. Thank you. And thanks for the mention. New Frontiers is a program that we fund, which is a stipend-based start-up lab effectively that runs over a year in two phases, so it’s effectively a stipend-based accelerator and entrepreneur education program for people who have good business ideas to start with. You’ll know from people who’ve been through it that you need to come in with a good idea that you’re bringing to the table, and then you can get a stipend to participate in this over a period of time. So it’s very much I agree with your point, actually, it’s very much about the talent and supporting the people who want to start the business.
[19:25] Fiona: I would say as well for again, for the listeners, unlike some other incubation programs, which are often themed, you know, sustainability or AgriTech or, you know, anything, right? These ones are very much about location. So they happen right across the country. And they are location based, region based, probably regional.
[19:45] Leo: Yeah.
[19:46] Fiona: And then they’re linking in with local business networks. I think the difficulty for, let’s say, a tech CTO or a tech CEO is that the business development people are business people, they’re not tech people. And so whatever the requirement is to shift a tech founder into a business founder or develop those kind of skills, there’s some kind of disconnect there for sure. And I definitely see that in the Web3 space. That’s just a comment. I feel that for all business, business and technology is converging, and how that communication piece happens, it needs to accelerate and come closer anyway. So this is not just an Enterprise Ireland issue or founder issue. This is the converged future, essentially, you know!
[20:40] Leo: Yeah, that’s really interesting. So you see you’re saying that, and it is, I deliberately didn’t use the word accelerator because it’s almost more like an education program with a stipend.
[20:49] Fiona: Incubator. I think it’s kind of like an incubator.
[20:49] Leo: Yeah. So it’s a bit like that. But as you say, so your feedback would be just finding more ways to convert tech founders to business people throughout the programme and probably starting with more understanding of the tech part.
[21:03] Fiona: And maybe what it takes to lead with that. Yeah.
[21:06] Leo: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good.
[21:07] Fiona: And it’s not going to necessarily be Irish money first, because what Enterprise Ireland and the IDA have are these phenomenal networks, You know, there’s possibly some trick we’re missing there, you know.
[21:23] Leo: No, we’d love to understand that because like you say, they’re run at different centres around the country. They’re run typically in what used to be institutes of technology, technological universities and they’re great regional bases, but we’re always looking for ways to improve the offering to do different things. And I’d say the colleges would be really interested as well because you often find those TUs are very open minded about the content. And so I think, I think we’re probably certainly do something there.
[21:49] Lory: Great, switching gears, and something you touched on a little bit earlier, which is when it comes to blockchain, Web3, digital asset and crypto companies, and I think companies more broadly, not just those, based on your experience and your team’s experience, what are the tips that you can give to those companies to help them get onto some of your programs?
[22:11] Leo: I think like any company we deal with, there’s a lot of the simple basics, you know, like it’s team, product, go to market, you know, the usual things you’d expect, finance, journey. Those are the simple basics. Make sure you’ve done those, no matter what your technology, and it isn’t just in blockchain related technologies, it’s across the board.
We see people who haven’t fully considered all of those. Now, different levels of program, you need different levels of consideration of those things. New Frontiers is the starting point, potentially, for a lot of people. You need to show that you’ve thought about some of those things. If you’re going for a pre-seed start fund, you need to have an MVP, so you need to have developed your product and ideally have some customers lined up that will buy from you, as opposed to might possibly buy from you in the future. At HPSU stage, which is our seed stage funding, typically of 250K of our funding matched 100% by private investor, we would expect to see revenue or at least some certain path to revenue at that point, plus a product that’s ready to sell, you know, ready to sell or being sold actively and a very strong leadership team at that point that has experience in the market. So, I think all those things are true, Laurie, for also for blockchain companies. I think the regulatory piece is really important and I hate to harp on it, but just where does your product fit in its market?
Where does it stand in relation to regulation? I mean, we’ve seen even things like stable coins from some of the biggest platforms in the world, frankly, be unpalatable to regulatory ecosystems and not be developed further, not naming companies again. But if that’s the case for some of the largest platforms with the largest tech capability in the world in terms of they’re not seeing a go-to-market, it’s even more true for a start-up. Because unless you can convince yourself, the buyer, and the regulator that you have license to operate, I think that’s going to be difficult. I think being clear about the buyer readiness, and particularly if you talk about real world assets on blockchain, which I think is a huge opportunity in Ireland because I think we’re, like Irish companies, I think could do a lot in that space. We love our physical assets. We’ve had this property obsession famously and disastrously at times over our history as a country. But Irish people understand assets and custody of assets. We now have a very large financial services base, even larger in the last six, seven years in Dublin.
So lots of people understand custody, and lots of people understand assets. And I think if I was zoning in an area that’s probably safer to play in, but also much more potentially drawing on the wider talent base, not just the crypto or the Web3 or the blockchain start-up community, but also the financial people, that’s an area I’m really interested in actually.
[24:57] Fiona: 100%. I have two kids in secondary school. I would totally love them to be risk analysts.
[25:03] Leo: Would you? Would you wish that on them?
[25:07] Fiona: So I build the infrastructure and I build these systems. And for me, the fascinating piece is the business risk and diminishing that risk mitigation and working with the teams around not quite automating, but creating the tool sets that make all of that much simpler, more transparent. I mean, FinTech is just phenomenally interesting.
[25:29] Leo: And you just have that higher bar, you know, and blockchain companies have that higher bar of believability, regulation ability that they’ve got to convince not just us, but also customers of. AI is the same at present, right? You know, everyone’s moved from being super excited about LLMs to now wondering about hallucination and all of the other complications of LLMs. So it’s, it’s not just blockchain when you’re on any frontier technology, I think you’ve got to prove to people that this is going to be something that you can make work for the customer today and that will stay and persist as a regulated technology that they can depend on in the future.
[26:05] Lory: One other quick follow up on that, I hear a lot about LEOs, if you could talk a little bit about what they are, I know obviously that is your name.
[26:14] Leo: It’s Myself and the Prime Minister of the country, but you’re not talking about us, Right?.
[26:18] Lory: No, I’m actually not on this rare instance.
[26:19] Leo: You’re not. So, LEOs are the Local Enterprise Offices and they are in fairness the first stop shop for Irish Enterprise. So, we talked about New Frontiers and Pre-Seed Start and there are programs for more innovative companies that have got their act together in terms of understanding what a company needs to look like and how they need to get started and where the steps are. That’s all great. Local Enterprise Offices are offices hosted in the county councils of Ireland, so all of the local authorities in Ireland host one. so there are 31 by definition in the country. They are teams of people that work in those small communities, working with people from the first time they have a glimmer of having an idea about starting a business all the way up. So they do things like they run Start Your Own Business workshops for free for the communities they operate in at a county level or local authority level. They help people who might be thinking about starting a business with understanding some of the resources they might use to start planning or thinking about how they might have revenue stream for this business. They also support the wider community and are not that often recognized or known for it that they do support domestically traded businesses to do certain things like productivity workshops and things like that. So huge effort on the ground, but they support the first stage of company development. They have, we have 4,000 clients, they have eight. And they are small companies, typically under 10 people.
[27:42] Lory: Got it.
[27:43] Fiona: I think just tips for the web3 people there with approaching your Leo, making yourself known, you can get access to business advisors, maybe, you know, some guidance around putting together a business plan, maybe one or two legal queries, not senior council stuff, which may be for the crypto space, your Leo is not the place to go. But there are resources there. And particularly if you’re not based in Dublin, your Leo’s will be an excellent business network resource in your locality just as a as a vector for introductions and bringing you to the attention of, I guess, your local, reputable business support type people.
[28:31] Leo: 100%. We should probably swap seats, Fiona, between this and New Frontiers.
You do an excellent job of selling the value.
[28:37] Fiona: Far too nice. Far too nice. You are.
[28:41] Leo: Thank you. Thanks, though. You’re dead right. They are community-based and right there when someone needs help or needs to, and so nice, like the people are.
It’s funny, you know, you asked what the unique thing earlier is, and I didn’t fully answer your question, Lory, either, but I think Fiona nailed it there a few minutes ago. The unique thing in Ireland is the focus that Ireland has on business. I grew up in a country that had high unemployment, 17, 18 percent, personal tax rates were 65 percent. This is growing up in Ireland. My mom, when I was in school in the 80s, had to pay those tax rates, people around us. I started college in the early 90s and my full expectation was to emigrate from this country. So people in Ireland have a visceral and recent memory of unemployment and lack of economic progress. We’re now in a country that is an 8.8 billion surplus on an over 90 billion total budget this year. And we have that because we focused on business and actually the secret sauce that you mentioned, all the stuff we do, we share with people all around the world. So if anyone from any country in the world comes in and asks how Enterprise Ireland work or IDA works, we’ll tell them. We just share everything, but actually the secret sauce that you can’t share and can’t replicate almost anywhere is the commitment that various governments and actually the citizen of Ireland have had to business success over the years. That is something that just can’t be replicated anywhere because I don’t think, I think there are few enough places in the world that have had as an acute a problem. And put so much effort into solving it and seeing the result of that effort in terms of the outcome. You know, nearly nowhere I can say that’s done that.
[30:21] Lory: And then a final one for me before passing over to Fiona, I think when it comes to all these, especially emerging technologies and we’re talking about kind of web3 and, industrial revolution 4.0, how does everybody in enterprise Ireland and people at the frontline I mean, keep up with what’s going on. So I come off the street and I’ve got this idea and I’m talking to somebody in my local LEO office, it’s got to be tough for that person to kind of keep up with everything.
[30:52] Leo: It’s actually really simple. You listen to the entrepreneurs telling you how things are. And I say entrepreneurs, you know, our 4,000 clients, we hear from companies like Icon about the cutting edge of clinical trials and research. We hear from companies like APC about drug product development. And hear from companies like Soapbox Labs about the latest trends in kids’ speech recognition in AI. Every day in my job as an MBA, it’s just incredible the knowledge that you take in. It does depend on you listening, and it depends on you not assuming that what you knew yesterday is good enough to assess what comes in the door tomorrow. And I think if you flip your mindset that way and you really listen, some of the critical questions you’d ask about business plan and market, they don’t change over time really that much, you know, talk about SAS based model and on-prem and there are things that change but actually if you listen with both ears you often learn enough to be able to make your own judgments and you create a view of the industry but the worst thing we could do is think of ourselves as experts on technologies. We need to be listeners and supporters of business and not trying to pass judgment on the technologies but being able to use other networks and if we do hit a really thorny anyone, being able to go out to someone and bring in someone who actually understands what they’re talking about.
We’ve great people on staff who are very technical, but I think you can’t be listening.
[32:13] Lory: Got it.
[32:15] Fiona: That’s pretty amazing. It’s a very positive, open-minded way to approach it. And I definitely think we talk about that a lot in Web3 about mindset and reading beyond the hype, I think when we, I mean, to pick a different technology and AI, the hype cycle right now for AI is just, you know, absolutely phenomenal. And it’s so difficult to read into what the near future can mean, not for regulation, but for society. We are right in the midst of this kind of industrial transformation, this digital revolution, and it’s so, well, it’s exciting to be part of it, to be building into it. I wonder, does Enterprise Ireland have a stance on that?
Do you have a like, what are you supporting in terms of social hybrid digital futures? Or is there a view or is it as simple as listen to business, keep it simple?
[33:26] Leo: Yeah, I think a bit of context setting to that. So it is a great question and we do have people of times and not just us but others like us who try to control the future but in reality we are a country of 5 million people in Ireland. We are a state agency within a country of 5 million people who are 850 people. We with all the resources given to us by government which are really substantial, we can’t control how society moves forward.
We Ireland can’t and we Enterprise Ireland certainly can’t. What we can do is control how Ireland reacts and how Irish business shows up in the world. So, that bit we can inform policy about what business needs and then we can ensure we do it. You know, I heard a scary stat during the week, someone who knows the contact industry well, the contact center industry well, said that up to 80% of the jobs could be gone within 10 years in that industry. And that is top of hype cycle, but it’s someone actually whose view I trust and who knows the industry well. So you think about some of those stats.
[34:28] Lory: I thought it would be less, to be honest.
[34:30] Fiona: Less time.
[34:31] Leo: Yeah, that’s a crazy number, isn’t it? And it’s, it’s, it stops you in your tracks.
[34:35] Lory: Sorry. I thought it would be less as in years. I thought it would be…
[34:38] Leo: Oh, less years.
[34:39] Lory: Yeah. I thought it would be maybe five years.
[34:41] Leo: Remember how, you got to remember how slow and bureaucratic business really is, you know, and that’s, you learn this in working in multinationals, not to name any, but in other locations, big companies and business and society, particularly with the regulatory levels that we have now across so many domains, stuff moves relatively slowly.
So that felt, the time frame felt right, actually, I felt it was even higher than I’d expect in terms of the contact centre jobs. But to the question Fiona asked, there’s no point in us trying to take a view on how we stop or change that future. The only view we can take is about how Irish companies will compete in that future. And you lean into the fact that that may well be where we land, and then you go, well, what can we do to support the companies that will continue to succeed, to support our people of Ireland as they want to continue to flourish and feed their families and have economic success in that 10 year future and you try and adapt and make sure that we’re on the cutting edge as far as we can be of the industries that will continue to flourish. So that’s the job for us, not to try and shape that future, but apart from the narrow piece which we can shape, which is helping Irish companies succeed.
[35:51] Fiona: And I totally agree with you. You know, you can’t hold back the tide.
And personally, I wouldn’t want to anyway. I think it’s kind of interesting when we look at the European approach, like the wider European context, and that this idea of digital sovereignty, digital autonomy. I think there are aspects there that become really important for not so much the nation state, but for an island state. When we’re talking about things like energy resourcing, diversification of supply chains, let’s say, that kind of thing and making us adaptable in, or business-wise, society-wise, adaptable for the future. I think entrepreneurship has a role to play in that. I think entrepreneurs are adaptive and flexible and I think that’s a key component of our, business as society, you know. So I think there’s something there. I don’t know how you guide it or anything, you know.
[36:51] Leo: I think you take a positive view, so you won’t create digital autonomy or any other kind of autonomy by blocking others. You create it by taking a positive stance on what you want to create for yourself and locally. And that’s true. We have a wind energy resource that’s the envy of the world, potentially another blockchain amenable industry that It could be super interesting going forward in terms of the assets that comprise it. We have a potentially 70 or 80 gigawatt wind asset off the west coast of Ireland and we only consume, and even in the medium term future without any Bitcoin proof of work activity in Ireland, we will still only consume between six and eight gigawatts of that wind. So, we’ve got to find out a way to make that wind available to industry in Ireland and to promote industries that are energy intensive on the island, because that’s one part of the solution, but also to make that wind available to the rest of Europe, because it’s the right thing to do. And because we will need more energy, we have an abundance of it, Europe will need more, Europe’s gas supply in Central Europe has been decimated, and actually accelerating that future is a better response than trying to stop other people competing in our market. You know I always think these zero sum games never end well. You know the best thing you can do is grow leaders and one thing we’re going to be doing in the next year is figuring out how we take more and more Irish companies and help them if they have the ambition and the go to market and the product that can be the next Facebook, Google, Apple. How we support those companies, incubate them, bring more money in, but also more advice, more capability, more global reach and grow the next generation of global leaders out of Ireland. And that is a much better way to approach things than worrying about how we stop others operating in our jurisdiction.
[38:47] Lory: Sure. When it comes to, I guess, growing our Irish-based businesses. If I could grant you one wish or give you a magic wand to, you know, give you power to do one specific thing to accelerate that or build out that function and capability even further than what it is today, what would you do?
[39:06] Leo: Irish businesses?
[39:08] Lory: Yes.
[39:08] Leo: How do we get them scaled? More top of funnel, end of funnel, anything like that?
[39:13] Lory: You tell me. Yeah. What would be, you know, if there’s one thorny problem that, you know, you had the ability to solve right now, what would that problem be or what would the opportunity that you create?
[39:23] Leo: We could be here all day, but just one would be more people choosing to work in entrepreneurial companies.
[39:31] Lory: Yes.
[39:32] Leo: And we often confuse people starting companies and being entrepreneurs with people working in entrepreneurial companies. We don’t all want to be company founders, but actually we do need more kids choosing entrepreneurial careers. So if there’s one thing I regret from my college career, I don’t have regrets, it’s the most useless emotion, but if I do have one thing that I wish I’d maybe realized sooner, it’s when you’re in your early 20s, you have the opportunity to go out and do something that carries risk. And actually doing something risky in an entrepreneurial early stage company is the least risky thing you can do, because you’re not in a narrow job in public service or in multinational. You’re at the cutting edge of an industry. You’re learning 10 different aspects of a business where you might only learn half of one if you work in a much bigger organization. And just trying that out, whether you want to be the founder or not, that’s my one wish that more kids would be doing that and more older people, frankly, who can, can change their career.
[40:27] Lory: And so is that okay. And I think that’s a really interesting point. And is that, is that something that exists more in the US than in Ireland or would you say it’s a, it’s a cultural thing?
[40:37] Leo: It’s changing here. I think it’s changing a lot and it does exist more in the US. I believe I’d be interested in your views.
[40:44] Fiona: And the UK, I think, as a good comparison, you would see a lot of that.
[40:48] Leo: Yeah.
[40:48] Fiona: I think in the UK also. I think it’s a numbers game, though. I think the US, UK, it is numbers. And you definitely see it here. And I think Web3 is an amazing launch opportunity for something like that, because not everybody in Web3 needs to be incredibly technical. You know, the sort of Web3 vibe is a little quite a bit of hustle. And certainly what we saw in our community coming out of COVID, very entrepreneurial people turning their interests into some kind of an online business opportunity, whether it’s as influencers, community builders, dabbling a bit in crypto, you know, this, that and whatever.
And then coming on stream into communities like ours and also many diverse online communities and expressing their creative will, their innovative will. And what I think they’re missing is that step into a business. And how to convert that, how to do the work to convert that, build the team. But they’re definitely making a living and they’re definitely making a career. So what we’re seeing is this direct influencer to digital nomad type growth. And I’m which is super cool. But I think there’s another piece there that I do think indigenous business could do with a bit of that spirit. And I think that spirit could do sometimes with a bit of grounding.
[42:13] Leo: I think so. I think you’re right about the gateway, and though I have one nephew who did crypto-based Wi-Fi deployments, don’t ask me what the business model was, it sounded, even having worked in telecoms for 17 years, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how he got paid for this, but it was his first foray into tech, actually. And he wasn’t a tech guy. His initial interest was probably to do business in college, but he pivoted towards more computer science. My other nephew’s a tech product manager who owns some Ethereum that he bought very early on, you know, so they both got their start in tech having had a bias towards a more classical business career through crypto assets in this case.
[43:00] Fiona: It’s so experimental. It’s so accessible as long as you can use a wallet. It’s an interesting, it’s an interesting ground.
[43:09] Lory: I have two more questions Fiona, do you have any more?
[43:11] Fiona: No, you go for it.
[43:12] Leo: Okay, so I guess, and these are kind of quick ones Leo, so if people want to follow you, or the work Enterprise Ireland does, what’s the best place for them to go to or follow?
[43:25] Leo: Go to our website and our social channels, we’re launching a new website next week, so I think by the time this podcast releases, we will just have minted a brand new website as Enterprise Ireland, it will replace a much longer standing one. So I’m really excited about that. So please go to the website. We’ve focused very much, I’d be open to feedback from your community as well. We’ve been super focused on changing towards a client and a buyer journey perspective because our job is to showcase Irish companies and to help them access support. So we’ve taken a view of that. So the website should be really good and will be really good. And then we have social channels on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, all the other areas, but you’ll find us at Enterprise Ireland.
[44:10] Lory: Okay. And you as well on LinkedIn?
[44:13] Leo: Yeah, you’ll find me on LinkedIn.
[44:15] Lory: Okay, perfect. And then last question, and this is something we’re going to ask all our listeners, especially given the conversation we had just before coming on air, was actually around podcasts. So if you were kind of giving listeners out there your favourite podcast to listen into, what would they be?
[44:32] Leo: Conversations with Tyler by Tyler Cowen.
[44:34] Lory: Okay, and why so?
[44:35] Leo: Because I came across Tyler first interviewing with Patrick Collison but being interviewed by Mark Zuckerberg. I think it was about five, six years ago so it’s still out there I’m sure, because nothing ever goes away on the internet but that’s probably still out there but he is probably the best interviewer I’ve ever heard. The content is eclectic, you’ll have everything from artists and foodies to techies to economists. So huge range of stuff, phenomenal interviewer though. I think just the style you’ll really enjoy.
[45:05] Lory: So a big thank you to everybody for listening in and also for watching the podcast with us. Certainly three key things that I took away from today’s podcast with Leo Clancy, the CEO of Enterprise Ireland. Number one, I think it is the importance of regulation when it comes to Web3, crypto and blockchain and digital asset companies that are looking to apply for funding, it is having a clear view on the regulatory requirements associated to your business. So where possible, seeking legal advice is probably going to speed up that process. So definitely keep an eye on that. Number two is the tokenization of real world assets. So whether it is indeed property or planes or, you know, whiskey casks as the case may be, there’s a lot of interest in that here in Ireland, in Europe and around the world.
And then thirdly, I thought the point around wind. It is something we have an awful lot of here in Ireland, but it is harnessing that. And what role can blockchain play in terms of harnessing that asset? And then providing accessibility to millions of people, not just in Ireland but also around Europe with that asset. So a big thank you again to Leo for being our first guest.
[46:12] Leo: Can I just take the opportunity before you finish, Laurie, to thank you both for the time and the opportunity. I’m honoured to be your first guest. I’d also, I know it’s been a long road with Blockchain Ireland and I know you guys have worked very hard to create a wonderful community and you’ve brought in people from all sides, government, start-ups, multinational, academia, you’ve brought that whole quadruple helix of success foundation in and it’s a real credit to you in terms of how you’ve done your work. We’re really excited about where you go next.
[46:40] Lory: Thank you very much.
[46:41] Fiona: Thank you.
[46:42] Lory: If you would like to find out more about what we’ve discussed today, please feel free to go on to blockchainireland.ie. You can also find us on LinkedIn under Blockchain Ireland and also on X. As a sneak peek into what we’re looking at in our next episode, it’s going to be slightly be more technical, so we hope to see you then.