Marie O'Riordan from Prepaid Financial Services speaking at the Regional Enterprise Summit in Kells Tech Hub

SMEs ‘need to think global’

Inaugural Regional Enterprise Summit focuses on local roots and global ambition

SMEs in Ireland need to look beyond these shores if they are to consider themselves competitive in a global sense. This was one of the key takeaways from the inaugural Regional Enterprise Summit, held in Kells, County Meath, as part of this year’s Meath Enterprise Week #MEW2019.

The summit, the first of its kind held in the region, brought together speakers from both the private and public sector as well as business groups and enterprise support agencies to discuss topics which centred on entrepreneurship and regional economic development.

There was a particular focus on innovation, collaboration and shared learning as a means of both starting and scaling a business. The summit, held in Meath Enterprise’s new Kells Tech Hub, was told Irish SMEs have
underperformed when it comes to exporting, with just over six per cent of them doing business internationally.

Eoghan Richardson of the SME and entrepreneurship policy unit of the Dept of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, said internationalisation was one of the big issues for the sector.

“We do not have enough SMEs exporting but we are looking to get that to nine per cent within five years,” he said.

However, he acknowledged that securing access to funding was a constraint, especially for some types of firms.

“If you are a micro company with less than 10 employees, supports are quite strong; but for those who are 10-50 employees, there’s a big lacuna there, especially if you’re not exporting,” he added.

Eoghan Richardson of the SME and entrepreneurship policy unit of the Dept of Business, Enterprise and Innovation

The internationalisation and funding theme was one also touched upon by Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for the mid-east and midlands, Michael Brougham, when he said small businesses needed to think about the scale of their ambition.

“Companies need to consider really ambitious projects of a pan-European scale – significant global projects. And the other people who need to think about the ambition level are ourselves, the funders, because the maximum you can get at the moment is €5 million,” said Mr Brougham.

“If you were to compare that to developing an internationally recognised R&D capability, funding things to the level of €5 million doesn’t get you anything – you need to be thinking of a level of €20 to €25 million.”

Dr Michael Brougham, Enterprise Ireland’s regional director for the mid-east and midlands

He instanced the success of County Meath company Prepaid Financial Services, started at a kitchen table 11 years ago and recently sold to Australian payments solution provider EML Payments for €327 million, as an example of what can be achieved by Irish companies with global ambition.

The fintech firm is on a major upward trajectory in terms of growth and will shortly move to new premises in Trim as it has outgrown its current base in the IDA Business Park in Johnstown.

“We are hiring intensely locally, bringing fintech jobs and employment to Meath,” she said. “Earlier in the year, we hired 50 people, recently we advertised another 50 jobs and right now we have another 44 vacancies in the company.” Ultimately, PFS hopes to employ up to 750 people in Trim.

Marie O’Riordan, Head of PR with Prepaid Financial Services (PFS)

The regional enterprise summit also looked at the changing world of work, with particular emphasis on flexible and remote working and coworking spaces like that offered by the Kells Tech Hub – a hot topic in a county
where over 21,000 commuters leave Meath every day to work in Dublin.

The gathering heard from three clients of the hub – Eugene Cahill of 5D Design, John McGowan of Unicorn Magic and Twisted Image’s Des Fitzgerald – on their experiences of remote working or working for themselves close to home in a large coworking space with the advantage of high-speed fibre broadband.

Des Fitzgerald is typical of the type of commuter the Kells Tech Hub is keen to attract. Working for Dublin-based firm Twisted Image as design and projects manager, he was fed up of the daily grind of the commute to the city each day, spending 16 hours a week in traffic and coming home exhausted in the evenings.

He handed in his notice to quit but his boss asked him if he’d consider staying with the company but instead working remotely from the Kells Tech Hub in his native town. He jumped at the opportunity and now only needs to travel to Dublin once a week or so to sign off on projects.

“I genuinely get more work done when working remotely,” he told the audience.

Des Fitzgerald, Twisted Image

One of the major difficulties for many SMEs in an era of virtually full employment is filling vacancies. Siobhan Keogh of the Mid-East Regional Skills Forum, an initiative of the Dept of Education & Skills, said employers needed to articulate what the skills needs of their businesses are.

“By connecting with us, we can analyse what your needs are and see if the education and training providers are in a position to assist you. We can do a proper skills audit and talk about your skills needs, such as vacancies you may be finding particularly hard to fill, and establishing if that difficulty is as a result of an education and training provision or is it something else – so we can uncover a lot through a conversation,” she said.

Siobhan Keogh, Mid-East Regional Skills Forum

Opening the summit, Minister of State for Housing & Urban Development Damien English, TD, said Meath was a county that has taken a lead in regional economic development through the work of organisations such as Meath Enterprise, Meath County Council and Meath Chamber.

“Meath has been very successful in taking that regional approach. Meath Enterprise has constantly promoted the case to work together, network together, pool our resources and win for the county,” he said.

Damien English TD, Minister of State for Housing & Urban Development

Gary O’Meara, CEO of Meath Enterprise and chairperson of the National Association of Community Enterprise Centres (NACEC) in Ireland said the idea of a regional enterprise summit was –

“To draw attention to and focus on what it is we are doing in relation to driving regional enterprise development and to ensure that we are more aligned with regional and national strategies”.

He added: “The purpose of this summit was to have some important conversations around keys topics such as the future of work, remote working, rural regeneration and regional development, global ambition of SMEs, diversity and inclusion, and to take a look at some of the things that are actually happening, some of the challenges we face and some of the opportunities ahead but also hopefully develop a list of actions that can be progressed at a local, regional and national level.”

Gary O’Meara, CEO of Meath Enterprise, Chair of NACEC

NACEC has developed a new strategic plan for the regional enterprise sector and Minister Heather Humphreys TD, in launching the new strategy, congratulated the organisation on the launch of its new plan, adding that she warmly welcomed the plans to establish nine regional clusters which will provide a networking platform for both established and emerging regional enterprise centres to support employment and enterprise development in the regions.

“This strategy aligns with the Regional Enterprise Plans I launched for the country earlier this year. Working together, we can ensure that our regions are best placed to build on the huge economic progress we have made in recent years,” the minister said.

Heather Humphreys TD, Minister of Business, Enterprise and Innovaton