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The Tech Sector - Recovery Mecca or Monster?

Paypal announced 1000 new jobs this week, to be rolled out in Dundalk over the next three years. There is absolutely no doubt that this is fantastic news, especially given the weight of the company and the fact that they already employ 1500 people in Ireland. I do find myself wondering however, is the emphasis we place on the tech sector an emphasis borne out of naivety? There may be some irony in me asking this, considering I am writing on a blog, which will be posted to Twitter, with facts which were sourced online. But bear with me please, as I am not questioning the importance of the tech sector in 2012 Ireland, and more broadly the world. What I am questioning is the weight of importance we put on it as a means of leading us to recovery.

As one of many young men who has tried to start my own business, I have had multiple dealings with Enterprise Boards and incubation centres, all of which were fruitless. Now, if it were just me this had happened to, I would understand and recognise that maybe my business idea was just not strong enough to impress the board or centre into assisting me. Or perhaps I did not see eye to eye with the particular person in charge. But that's the point, it's not just me that has experienced this, far from it. At this point, I am sure anyone who reads this is thinking, here is a bitter young man, angry at state bodies because he didn't get help from the already stretched services who exist in order to help start ups. Maybe you're right, but before you make up your mind, I would ask you to read on before forming an opinion.

Far be it for me to criticise some of the wonderful tech businesses that have got support from Enterprise Ireland or the incubation centres, in fact I know that in Cork alone, there are plenty of tech start ups already progressing rapidly abroad, and to these companies, I salute you. It does beg the awkward question however, how many real jobs are these companies creating? No doubt this question could put me on plenty dart boards in plenty canteens, but it's an honest question formed from an honest interpretation of where the tech sector is at.

I am no expert but it seems to me that the cream of the crop of Irish tech entrepreneurs base themselves in the US. The remainder of the successful ones base themselves in Ireland, with successful ideas and balance sheets no doubt, however, the vast majority are not employee heavy. Part of the remit of successful tech companies is the ability of them to do heavy workloads by using little manpower. You only have to look at an emerging Irish company, Tweak, by the already successful Jerry Kenneally. (This man is one in a million in my eyes and should actually get more recognition than he does get). Tweak's whole business model is based around using computer programs to carry out design work which would in normal scenarios be carried out by qualified graphic designers. This business model may be fantastic for Jerry and his employees, based out of Killorglin, but will it be for the graphic designers put out of work, if the company is a success? I am not trying to have a dig at anyone, I greatly admire Jerry Kenneally, he is an inspiration to young men like myself, who want to create a successful company. He is a true entrepreneur, a man who wanted more than "merely" setting up Stockbyte and developing it to sell it for over €110 million. On top of that Jerry has and is employing a lot of people of Killorglin. I merely use his company as an example of what tech companies remit actually is.

So it is from this understanding of the remit of tech companies, that I absolutely abhor the fact that the soon to be non existent enterprise boards don't even want to know entrepreneurs or start ups who are not tech based. This is extremely naive of them and possibly irresponsible. I ask myself, why is it that a company that has the capability to create 5-10 jobs outside the tech sector with a little assistance, is less important than a one man destined operation that fits into the "tech" category and ticks a box inside in an Enterprise Board office? I have a friend who recently opened up a new business with no help from the state, banks or enterprise boards and now, less than two years on, employs 6 people full time. Yet, I invite anyone to walk into the multiple incubation centres and observe the equal amount of lost causes as there is successful companies, that remain getting funding, because of the niche box they tick. It's simply wrong, that in a country where we suggest encouragement of entrepreneurship, that such naive and reckless mistakes are being made. 

So, as I conclude today's piece, I will ask that we stop placing emphasis on the sector, and start with an emphasis on the viability of the business. It's a more rational starting point which will fruit more returns for our country and our vast and exceptional group of upcoming entrepreneurs. Facebook and Twitter are rare breeds, lets have a back up plan to the possibility of an Irish company not starting the next one. Because as I sit here, I am feeling nostalgic, about a "better time", when just one sector was the answer to all our problems!

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