Foundation-level entrepreneurs showing no fear

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9 April 2018 | 0

“Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the research is how two-in-five founders have a background in computing, a figure lower than perhaps many people expect.” – Ben Hurley, CEO, NDRC.

Billy MacInnesNot me, Ben. Not surprised at all. In fact, the only surprise I feel is that the figure is higher than I expected. “What figure is that?”, I hear you ask. It’s the percentage of tech entrepreneurs in the NDRC portfolio that have formal training in computing programming or other technology, revealed in a report entitled The Digital Startup Journey And Experience. It may also come as a surprise, or not, to hear that close to a third have no formal education in business or technology. Again, that’s no surprise to me.

And I have to admit to being equally unfazed by the news that only 17% believe Brexit will prove to be a barrier to their business expansion plans. Why? Because unlike many other homegrown businesses, especially those that deal in physical goods or food, the geographical proximity of the UK does not automatically confer on it the right to be the dominant market for Irish tech businesses.

In addition, most tech businesses don’t need to worry about the logistics of transporting their goods to countries in the EU. Unlike industries that deal in tangible goods that will be confronted with the practicalities and cost of moving their produce to the EU if they can’t use the UK as a ‘land bridge’, many tech companies will be relatively unscathed by any physical obstacles erected by Brexit.

It should be noted, however, that 49% of the entrepreneurs surveyed already operate in the UK and another 36% hope to expand into it over the next five years. This suggests they also believe that whatever deal emerges from Brexit will not prove too much of a hindrance to their future plans. Unsurprisingly, English speaking countries – the US, Australia/New Zealand and Canada – top the list of territories the entrepreneurs hope to expand into over the next five years. But it’s also worth noting that 20% or so would like to expand into South America, Germany, France and Asia.

Background checks
Turning to those other figures, is anyone really surprised that “only” 39% of tech entrepreneurs have a background in computing? Why? How many people working in IT companies have formal training in computing programming or other technology? How many of them have degrees in other disciplines, such as business studies or marketing? Or something completely different?

So should we be shocked or startled to learn that tech entrepreneurs are no different, that according to the report, 46% of them have formal training in business, 22% in accounting and 20% in engineering?

A good indication, for me, that the majority of tech entrepreneurs are people who just happen to have formed technology companies is revealed in the finding that 52% are more comfortable with the people side of the business than the tech side compared to 35% who are more comfortable with the tech side.

What is clear, however, is that many people are spurred by an idea for a business that they want to pursue (75%) and a lot of them identified the gap in the market when they were working somewhere else. In other words, experience gained in a previous job and observation provided the inspiration for their start-up.

It’s also notable that one of the biggest preconceptions we tend to have of entrepreneurship, that people have felt impelled to start a company after being made redundant, was only cited by 5% of respondents. Additionally, only a small number left a steady job to pursue the dream of starting their own company and they tended to have a financial safety net in place. I must admit to being surprised by those figures.

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