Giving it up for the enterprise generation

The Irish Times – Friday, July 9, 2010

There are people out there who are getting on with getting on, and taking power back into their capable hands, writes AILISH CONNELLY

ENTERPRISE, ENERGY and enthusiasm are not quite such endangered qualities as we have been led to believe. When the curtain of gloom gets too much, draw it back for a few moments and enjoy the view of the resilient among us; those who have no truck with taunting our floundering governmental administration with “J’accuse”.

Take note and take heart. There are individuals and groups out there who are fizzing with the three Es. They are simply busy getting on with getting on, ignoring the recessionary doom, setting up small businesses, forging new ways of resourcing communities and schools, and taking power back into their own capable hands.

Mary Kelly was membership secretary in her local tennis club and spotted a potential gap in the payments systems for small and medium enterprises. Her lightbulb moment came when she realised it is quite expensive for small businesses and organisations such as clubs and colleges to acquire and run credit and laser facilities. So with 20 years’ IT experience under her belt, she set up FeePay.ie, an online payment facility. She now employs two others, and will be recruiting more staff shortly.

Mary refused to let funding issues stall her business plan. “It was difficult to get any assistance but I persevered and I got accepted on the Synergy Centre Platform programme, which trains and mentors in the whole area of establishing and running a business. I also got Cord funding from Enterprise Ireland. They look for good business ideas and put you through a rigorous programme of interviews before you’ll get a cent.”

The three Es, then, in glorious motion. Maybe Mary could run the country. Why not, or someone like her? A working parent, juggling, finding solutions, refusing to give up. Upscale it and anything is possible. Isn’t it time we had real business brains in situ, running what is essentially a macro-business: our country?

While sitting on your tush in traffic, you may have had the desperate urge (no, not that one) to find out what exactly is causing the five-mile tailback ahead of you. Necessity being the mother of invention, Messrs Phillip Comerford and Brendan Conway had the urge and found a brainy business opportunity into the bargain.

They have set up iTraffic, Ireland’s first real-time traffic service. It is a client company of Enterprise Ireland, currently receiving BES (business expansion scheme) resources. ITraffic has trademarked Twaffic, a new brand that allows users to “know before they go”. The boys themselves are kept off the streets negotiating content deals with major traffic partners worldwide to deliver this innovation.

And in a small triangle near the Garden of Ireland, a trio of schools have been industriously ignoring the downturn. From a brief conversation between parents and teachers, three schools – a Church of Ireland school, Rathmichael NS; a Deis school (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools Initiative), Scoil Mhuire; and St Anne’s NS, all in Shankill, Co Dublin – have started their own co-operative movement to develop an information and communications technology project.

They aim to get the best interactive whiteboard facilities, develop better internet access, link all three schools and pupils’ homes, and provide new classroom computers. By pooling leftover department building grants and using the technological skills of the combined parent and teacher body, they feel they can buck the trend of low-ranking Irish schools’ educational attainment in the field of IT usage compared with other OECD countries.

IT hardware has already been sourced via Camara, the volunteer organisation set up to deliver education via technology to disadvantaged communities in Africa and Ireland.

The respective principals of the schools – Caroline Senior, Patricia Slevin and Richie Cotter – are proud and keenly interested, and working intensively together with can-do groups such as Camara to ensure fruition.

Due credit must be given to the Department of Education, which gave surplus money left over after building projects, said Cotter. He argues the IT requirements of any school cannot be catered for by one class teacher – not if we are going to be serious in our attempt to rebrand Ireland as a hub of research and developmentand innovation.

“This could go countrywide. It’s the sort of self-help project that could work on a parish or village level in any part of the country,” he said.

These principals are ready to spread the gospel, as are those behind many new start-ups.

Of course we need to know who caused the economic chaos. But let’s not ignore the real green shoots in the process – the men and women in our communities who have never lost their energy, enterprise and enthusiasm.


John Waters is on leave
http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2010/0709/1224274348096.html