There was an interesting article in The New York Times about how start-ups are the key to job creation. If that is the case what can we do in Ireland to create more start-ups?
When we think of start-ups, especially in the technology sector, we think of young men tinkering away in their garage or dorm room (before they drop out of course). The reality is a bit different. Starting a company is really hard. If the 'nerds' who start up tech companies seem to have no social life, it's probably because they don't; starting the company is taking up all their time.
After the general election there was a lot of talk about creating jobs through the digital economy and governments don't create jobs, they create the environment to create jobs. If the article form the New York Times is correct, the government should create the environment to create start-ups.
So what can be done to create this environment? The government essentially own the banks. Through Nama they own loads of property. We have a highly educated population and as the Global Irish Economic Forum showed us earlier in the month, we have a global business community that is willing to help.
The first thing we need to do is create a start-up culture; a hacker culture.
I'm not talking about the kind of hackers you see in Hollywood movies, I mean the kind of hacker Paul Graham had in mind in his book Hackers and Painters. This culture invariably starts in college or around colleges. It is no coincidence that silicon valley is close to Caltech and Stanford, and on the east coast of the US, a lot of start-ups are created in the vicinity of MIT and Harvard.
What drives the start-up culture in the US is a determination to give things a go. The fear of failure doesn't really come into it. It's better to take a risk and fail 100 times because you only need to succeed once. In Ireland, we have a problem with that way of thinking. Anyone who tries to do anything risky is seen as thinking "they're better than everyone else". There is a genuine fear of being laughed at by your friends down in the pub if you fail (and sometimes if you succeed).
Most successful entrepreneurs consider the experience of failure to be an important step in their eventual success. We need to teach people in Ireland that it's ok to fail. The best way of doing this is to allow people to fail in a safe environment.
So what does this safe environment look like? I think the Government should create hacker spaces, like tÃ³g around the major IT universities in the country.
We could use some of the buildings in Nama's portfolio for example. Attached to each hacker space should be a business development unit to help start-ups with the legal and tax implications of starting a company. Thereby allowing start-ups to get on with doing what they do best, creating new innovative products. The government should also encourage the banks to provide funding for potentially successful companies. It would also be a place where the current leaders in the business community could lend their expertise in a mentoring role.
If the New York Times is right, we need to lower the barrier to creating a start-up before we can rely on the digital economy creating jobs.
Is feidir linn.