The AIB Start-up Academy is a joint venture between AIB and The Irish Times to help start-ups grow by providing them with a place to learn and network with like-minded entrepreneurs and industry leaders through our series of nationwide start-up nights.
Start-ups will also have the opportunity to win a place on the AIB Start-up Academy mentoring and training programme, run by Irish Times Training, early next year.
The AIB Start-up Academy is now in its second year so can you give us a quick rundown of last year’s programme, and how successful it was in relation to its aims?
We ran 11 events in 9 counties during 2014, with over 800 start-ups in attendance. We had 300 entries into the AIB Start-Up Academy mentoring and training programme competition which was a great result for the first year of the initiative. 11 finalists went through the 8 week training programme in the Irish Times offices and at the final pitch night in April, Fabien Peyaud from Herdwatch - a farming app and software package for dairy and beef cattle farmers - won the overall prize fund.
How do the team at AIB Start-Up Academy hope to build on the success of last year’s event and are there any major differences or changes of direction?
We were keen to build on the success of year 1 and so we have opened up the AIB Start-Up Academy to Northern Ireland in order to support start-ups throughout the country. First Trust Bank is a great supporter of local businesses and SMEs, and so we knew the start-up community here is strong. We have also adopted an enhanced social media strategy to communicate and reach even more start-ups. Additionally, in response to the high number of artisan food start-ups that engaged with the programme during year 1, we introduced a Food-themed AIB Start-up Academy event that took place in Killarney in October following the Blas na hEireann Awards.
We have also introduced additional prizes for those who enter the AIB Start-up Academy mentoring and training programme this year. There are now prizes for 2 runners up as well as an overall winner and we have introduced a €20k cash element into the prize fund*. The entry mechanism is also easier with AIB Start-Up Academy event attendees able to enter the competition immediately.
Many start-up programmes now elect to handle their application process entirely online, why do you folks go to such lengths to deliver ‘face-to-face’ events?
The event roadshow is such an important element of the AIB Start-up Academy. Our objective is to provide a platform for start-ups from around the country to network and learn. Our events tick both boxes by giving start-ups an opportunity to speak with industry leaders and established entrepreneurs, as well as the ability to network with other start-ups, investors and business experts.
At the Belfast event, guests will get the chance to hear from Brendan Monaghan, Founder of local IT consultancy Neueda, as well as three local start-ups who will be pitching their businesses to the audience. One of these pitchers will be Lee-Anne Daly, creator of Orby Swim – a start-up which helps children learn how to swim with the aid of air-assisted swimwear.
Tell us about some of the things that this this year's participants can look forward to?
The Belfast AIB Start-up Academy event takes place on 17th November in McHugh’s Bar, Queen’s Square. Three local businesses will share their elevator pitch to the audience as well as two more established entrepreneurs who will share their inspiring stories and provide insight to the audience. Attendees will also be able enter the AIB Start-up Academy competition for a chance to win a place on the 8 week training and mentoring programme run by Irish Times Training. The programme included Networking Skills, Design Thinking, Finance, Sales & Negotiation, The Marketing Funnel, eCommerce, Social Media and finally learning the craft of the Elevator Pitch. The finalists then get to present their pitch to a panel of judges for a chance to share in the overall prize package worth €250k.
Are there any particular ‘types’ of start-ups that you are most interested in hearing from this year?
When we developed the AIB Start-up Academy in association with the Irish Times, we wanted to attract all start-ups from across all sectors and geographies. This resulted in an eclectic group of finalists going through the training programme earlier this year, from agri-food to technology and from entertainment to the arts sectors. The feedback from the finalists was that they learned as much from each other as from the coaches and mentors from the programme. We want to replicate this again in the 2016 programme.
From your experience of the Irish ‘entrepreneurial scene’ why do you think it has flourished in the way that it has, and what are some of the most significant challenges still facing Irish entrepreneurs?
The Irish start-up community is a tight-knit bunch; they are social, they like to talk about their business ideas and learn from anyone they can. The AIB Start-up Academy taps into this culture and provides a platform for start-ups to engage and flourish. Another important element of the AIB Start-up Academy is the profile the participants and finalists get on both the AIB social channels, as well as our partner channels – The Irish Times and Joe.ie & Her.ie
In terms of challenges, funding is still very much one of the issues facing start-ups. Funding for feasibility studies to ensure they test their target market and understand the viability of their idea in their chosen market, along with funding to bring their idea to market. Our advice for start-ups is to develop a good business plan and engage early with their Bank and to be aware of the various government grants and support schemes available to them.