A conversation with Bernie Cullinan, CEO of Pragma

Bernie Cullinan is CEO of Pragma

On supports for young businesses, talent shortages, and the impact of Covid-19 on the IT space



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22 June 2021 | 0

Bernie Cullinan has held positions in a leadership capacity in a number of organisations including the Virgin Group, Novum, Performix, SteelTrace and Clarigen. She has more than 25 years’ experience at a senior level in business, both in Ireland and internationally, in senior executive and consulting capacities.

In her role as CEO of Pragma, Bernie works with range of organisations, including media, manufacturing, food processing, services, technology, public and the not-for-profit sectors, and sport dealing with the complex challenges that can be encountered in difficult economic times or when new market opportunities are being developed.

Amid all the gloom, what was your highlight from the IT space in the last 18 months?

Despite the pandemic, the number of start-ups in the last 18 months is at least as high as it in our past, pre-covid lives.  What is notable about so many of these start-ups is the level of ambition they have had from the outset and the broader source of funding they have been accessing in order to fulfil their ambitions.




What do you think the main challenge for growth in the next 12 months will be?

There is a shortage around the world of the level of talent needed for so many companies. That is putting the cost of acquisition of talent up, but also it requires founders to be very resourceful in how and where they can access the talent and ensure they can deliver a great experience from the outset. 

What is your opinion of the support infrastructure available for young businesses?  

There is substantial support out there but I do think that there is a degree of fragmentation around it that makes it hard to navigate. One of the positive outcomes of the pandemic is the number of hubs opening up around the country. These hubs provide a really useful base for start-ups to find their way around the ecosystem and I would encourage start-ups to connect to a base that has a number of other early-stage companies operating from there. It will also be necessary for the publicly funded support bodies to continue to adapt to the rapidly evolving needs of the sector if we are to remain a great place to start a business.

As a highly respected judge of the Tech Excellence Awards, what are three items that you look for from submissions? 

Clarity of the value proposition, clarity of the value proposition, clarity of the value proposition. It is only partially a facetious answer – I think a lot of companies struggle with this – essentially being able to answer ‘what need do we fulfil’; ‘why will people buy’ and ‘do the economics of the way we sell and what we charge, allow us to make money?’

In your view, how would possible changes to corporation tax impact foreign direct investment? 

Whilst our tax rate and structure has been a major incentive in FDI location in Ireland, we have never been the lowest tax environment – FDI exists at the level it does here because of many different factors – government policy towards business, the skills and work ethic of a high proportion of the people, the quality of research being undertaken at third level, and the ease of access to that research are all factors that have contributed to and will play an increasing role in the winning of new FDI as tax equalisation becomes more prevalent.

If we had a Minister for Technology, what do you think their number one priority should be?  

To roll out initiatives that are fully funded at primary, secondary and third- level to ensure that we provide all of those in education with the opportunity to become as digitally savvy as they are capable of being and want to be. 

In the next five years, which technology will have had the greatest impact on the tech industry? 

Artificial Intelligence – one of the greatest challenges will be how to use it to sustainably positive effect.

Bernie Cullinan is a member of this year’s Tech Excellence Awards judging panel. For details on how to enter click here.

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