About Side Project

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SONY DSCThe creative side-projects we embark on are the foundations of the great startups that go on to become great businesses.  Businesses that create, innovate and foster creative endeavour in the community in which they operate and serve.

I started Sideprojectdublin to shine a spotlight on our capital’s creative scene and shout about why creativity and entrepreneurship are inextricably linked. I also wanted to learn about the startup community here and Ireland’s mission to become a Startup Island.

The world’s changed (in case you hadn’t noticed!) dramatically in the last 15 years and innovation is what we’ll use to differentiate ourselves in the global economy.

By fostering a thriving entrepreneurial culture our indigenous startup community will grow, becoming innovative and robust businesses capable of supporting Ireland achieving this goal. The nature of startups mean they have a greater capacity to move fast; adopting new technology and bringing ideas to market quicker. This will help make our economy stronger and less reliant on FDI.

While writing this blog I have realised that the spirit of startup culture can be adopted by all of us – not just those brave enough to leave their 9-5 job for the risky life of an entrepreneur.  And I believe that this startup spirt can help make our lives more fulfilling and a bit more exciting!

I hope to impart this startup spirit to readers of Sideprojectdublin. Maybe you’ll find your own startup spirit and become an intrapreneur. Or maybe you’ll decide the entrepreneurial life is the life for you.  Whatever way startup spirit infects you, it will change your life.  It has changed mine!

To contact me about what I’m working on at the moment or to discuss an article you’d like to publish in relation to entrepreneurship in Dublin’s please send me an email @ janice.e.valentine@gmail.com.  

You can follow me on Twitter @Janice Valentine

Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting entrepreneurship in Dublin.

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Is the saving of banks in a new corporate religion called Intrapreneurship?

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It was only last year that the word intrapreneur entered my vocabulary.

I’d been researching ways to package coaching and creativity into an employee engagement tool that would support corporate organisations like banks overcome the barriers inherent within their industry that impede their ability to innovate.

And there it was in my research; a bright new word full of promise for an industry which seems to be lacking a promising future as it struggles to come to terms with the innovation economy and looming disintermediation.

Banks – the last middle man standing

Like many industries before it banking is being disrupted by tech savvy alternatives to their business model. Funding options like Crowdsourcing are becoming more and more dominant, closing the gap between those who have money and those who want it. Primarily the reasons for this is that banks are full of data on archaic systems and have a workforce that’s culturally resistant to change.

Bankers infiltrate the world of the techie

So now banks are trying to find ways to mimic what technology companies do when they want to innovate. To that end, sharp suited bank executives have begun to infiltrate the habitat of the more sartorially relaxed, hoody-clad techie.

They surface from their reconnaissance mission in Silicon Valley talking incredulously about how failure is not feared there; how it is common for staff to participate in Hackathons to come up with ideas for new products. They marvel at how different this world is to theirs, and they wonder how they can introduce some modicum of all of this into their worlds. Is the fail fast mantra something that will work in the banks in which they work?

If the saving of banks is in the answers to these questions then banks need to look at intrapreneurship as their new religion,   But for Intrapreneuship to exist there needs to be a radical shift in the culture of banks; and this is no easy task. Especially given the barriers to that, provided in the points below.

  • The environment factor: Here’s the dilemma: It’s difficult to emulate the kind of behavior that happens in startup technology companies if the environment doesn’t support it.  Strict processes around change (including painfully slow approval processes) and developing new ideas, especially those relying on technology to realise them, curtails the necessary flexibility and looseness required to allow new ideas to flow and be developed into feasible products or services or even new internal processes that create more efficiencies.  The homogenization of the workforce enforced by a top down values system stifles individuality, which of course is a prerequisite of creativity.  Added to this is the rigid hierarchical structure, that is very much about linear movement, fosters a very power based progression system that is more about gaining status and power than creating innovations.
  • The adventurous factor: Traditionally people saw a job in a bank as secure and even as a job for life.   And they were and banks did offer that; but of course things have changed! But the structure of Banks hasn’t and needs to shift to attract a more adventurous employee not so influenced by security but driven to explore new ways of doing things; create solutions to problems.  The kind of employee who thrives in dynamic and changeable environments.  Even for me (a one time closeted creative) back ten years ago when I’d just arrived in London with no job and no money, I choose to work in a bank primarily for the security it gave me.  Job security and money are probably still the two main influencers in why people choose to work in a bank. Not particularly the requisite traits in innovators who tend to be a little bit more adventurous and experientially inclined hence motivated less by monetary rewards.  So Banks need to offer more than good salaries and job security to prospective employees; they need to offer excitement for the aspiring intrapreneur.
  • The fear Factor: It is daunting trying to be an innovator in an organisation not traditionally associated with radical thinking.  As to be truly innovative means to come up with an idea that is truly different and breaks new ground…so exposure to ridicule is a risk attached to bringing maverick ideas out into the open. And for many, especially closeted creatives leaning towards the more sensitive and introverted personality type, risking this level of vulnerability is not something they’re willing to do. Brene Brown talks about this in her amazing Ted Talk here which followed the book she wrote about embracing vulnerability, Daring Greatly.
  • The Introvert Factor: How work is done is also a factor; more often than not the doing happens in teams.  An important part of the creative process – as important as collaboration – is observation and reflection.  And of course for this you need quiet and solitude. Creativity is really about a deeper level of thought to see the big picture of the system within which you’re operating so that you can connect the various parts of the system to work out ways to do things better.  That’s why introverts tend to be more creative, the enjoy the quiet of solitude to observe and  reflect on what they see.  But introversion is not exactly the trait large corporate organisations seek in their staff! There’s a great Ted Talk about that by Susan Cain, author of Quiet,  here.
  • No platform for the closeted creatives: For the ones who are creative – the secret intrapreneurs waiting for their moment to shine – they face other problems. As part of employee creativity-engagement programs in the past I’ve commissioned staff surveys. When asked what is the biggest barrier to coming up with new ideas, staff responded that it is a lack of any clear platform or structure within which to do so.  Secondary to this is a lack of time and headspace in work to think about how they could do things better.

This is not an article to bash banks.  Not at all. But it is saying if they want to foster innovation then there needs to be some way to loosen up the rigidity; inject a bit of individuality and playfulness into people’s work. Somehow provide headspace for them to reflect and give them a platform to contribute new ideas, in a safe, supported environment.

As the founder of the startup Great Life Distillery (GLD), which is launching this summer initially as an inspiration platform and a virtual coaching service for individuals, I see great opportunities to change working environments and individual attitudes for the better. To that end early 2016 GLD will be extending its service to offer Intrapreneurship programs that will combine competitive events and creativity coaching geared to the needs of corporate organisations like banks,

Attending the Intrapreneurship Conference this week will be a great opportunity to learn more about what pioneering organisations like Intuit and individuals like Peter Sayburn, are doing to foster innovation. Most of all, I’m looking forward to being surrounded for three days by fresh perspectives on the world of work; not to mention connecting with many like-minds open and hungry to learn how they can hack corporate organisations like banks to make them more open to creativity and, lets face it, better places to work for their million or so employees around the world.

An invitation to Startup Salon for followers of Sideprojectdublin…

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Startup Salon Logo_green-01

 It’s all happening!

The launch of something great!

An event series which has startup dreams at the core of its mission…..

To inspire people to follow their dreams, conquer fear and doubt, and join Ireland’s entrepreneurial revolution.

Check out Startup Salon. I’m sharing this with followers of Sideprojectdublin first so that you can avail of the early bird tickets. Which you can get here.

This series is brought to you by Great Life Distillery, which is the startup I’m launching this summer.

You see, I told you. It’s all happening!

 

Kick ASS Women: Leonora O’Brien, Pharmapod, on the problem she’s using tech to solve

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I realise now that saying that people choose the divergent work life path called entrepreneurship simply because they don’t wish to conform to a conventional work life, is a simplistic argument.  The catalyst that causes some people to choose to set up a business can simply be the need to solve a problem that no-one else is solving; or they think they can do a superior job solving it.

Pharmapod, to me isn’t just a technology company; technology is the facilitator of a solution to a serious problem.   And Leonora O’Brien, Pharmapod’s founder and CEO, was lead down the entrepreneurship path by the need to solve it.

What’s the problem?

Accountability of pharmacists and the protection of patients against medical error, which sharing knowledge, co-ordinated thinking and identification of problems with medication would solve; all of which the Pharmapod platform was designed to facilitate.

When I asked Leonora if she always wanted to own her own business she laughed and said ‘no, never’.  There were many experiences in previous roles which made her aware of ‘what needs to be done to protect patients’.

What specifically are we talking about when we say medical error? It’s the kind of error whose effects could cause mothers to complain that their 2 year old’s hair has fallen out, or a women to suffer the loss of her husband due to medical error.

The Pharmapod platform is an example of tech being used smartly and ethically; harnessed in ways that really make a difference to people’s (and it could be any of us who need medication) quality of life.  That this is an Irish company, lead by a kick ass women like Leonora O’Brien, gives me a sense of pride.  And it strengthens my belief that companies built on a foundation of purpose are the ones really worth shouting loud about.

Breaking preconceived notions of the ‘kinds’ of people who do particular things, like start a business, is something I like to do. And cracking a notion (in my mind at least!) like: it is necessary to have a life low on fun, devoid of laughter and a spirit that is serious and stern, to set up a company like Pharmapod (which has quite a serious mission on its hands!), would be a feather in this writer’s/notion-hacker’s cap.

So if the above points were posed as questions…..what would the answer be?

Using Leonora’s story as the evidence, I’d say no.  Though I’ve no doubt about her battling abilities, tactical prowess and strategic brilliance to navigate the battlefield that is the international business environment, however, at various stages of our conversation levity was injected by a witty remark here and a wry joke there and I believe Leonora when she says ‘play is important’. She told me this when I asked her did she do anything in particular (like exercise, for example) to relax ‘no, nothing’ she said, but added that fun is her refuge from work.  She also engages in some sociable reading ‘I’m part of a book-club, we read biographies’, and she admits to a predilection for poetry, offering me one of her poems to publish in my blog….we didn’t shake on that though! However….perhaps there will come a time when you’ll see a selection of Leonora’s poetry on display in an exhibition of entrepreneurial art and literature curated by me on some other platform…. after all, entrepreneurship is inextricably linked to creativity.

Here’s some of the key things I learned from my evening chatting with Leonora:

  • Get out of your comfort zone: Surround yourself with people more experienced than you are, as Leonora said: ‘you can get comfortable in the startup scene‘ especially in Dublin where the community is so close-knit.
  • Be ambitious when seeking funding: ‘we need to ask for more, there’s not a huge difference in asking for 700,000 and 2 million….that’s the level of funding that’s required to launch a global tech product’’.
  • Diversity: Build a diverse team around you, as Leonora said:    ’balance is very important in a team, we have heavy hitters on the professional side and the tech side’.
  • Self Praise: at each stage of your startup’s development ‘remind yourself where you were a year ago’ and give yourself praise.

 

Kick Ass Women: Danielle Mallen, Acteavo, on how following your passion inspires entrepreneurial ideas

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One of my favorite parts of the creative process is scratching the surface to find layers of meaning. In the case of writing about the women in this series, I’ve enjoyed learning about what’s behind their entrepreneurial dreams; the story behind the hard work; the accelerators, the incubators – all the programs there to support them take their first steps as a business owner; the highs and the lows; the pivots and rebrands and the spark of inspiration that ignited the big idea on which hinge their dream.

As it is in these layers of meaning where I tend to find the most interesting details of an entrepreneur’s story.

Take Danielle Mallen, COO/CMO and co-founder of Acteavo, whose past is very like my present – which makes me believe that I can do what she has done.  And that is escape the corporate world.  Before Danielle’s entrepreneurial journey began she worked for a bank for ten years in a sales and marketing role.

We chatted about what it’s like working for other people when you have a dream to work for yourself, describing how she felt before she quit her secure job, Danielle said ”it felt wrong to be working for someone else’.  Of course for Danielle this was all the more intensely felt given that she comes from ‘an own business family’.

I asked Danielle what it means to her to own a business now and she answered: ‘you’re working towards your own goals and no one else’s’.

Many people within a corporate environment yearn to break away from the rigid confines of a 9-5; but take no action because they simply don’t know how to, or if they should, leave a secure job for the whirl that is startup life.

How did Danielle make it happen? 

Well, Danielle did one of the best things you can do to gain perspective on your life. She took a year out from work and went traveling.  During this time she experienced how disconnected the tours and activities market was and how hard it was to find and book activities; this inspired an idea for a business.  But, the Ireland she returned home to was financially on its knees and humiliated by the IMF bailout, so it was not exactly the most hospitable or opportune environment in which to set up a business. Danielle spoke about the need for ‘measured risk taking’ when setting up a business, especially in this kind of environment; for her and co-founder (and partner) Olan O’Sullivan this meant that she would work part-time on the business ‘until it wasn’t sustainable’ and he went full-time.

The idea’s first iteration was TripClocker; to develop it they were brought onboard DIT Hothouse’s New Frontiers program.  That was back in 2013; fast forward to 2015, TripClocker is now Acteavo and the original co-founding team, plus its newest members, is now with the StartLocal incubator program.

Acteavo evolved to respond to the needs of the sector ‘while developing Tripclocker and dealing with tour businesses, we saw the lack of booking technology in the sector. Existing software did not fit the needs of the these types of businesses’, Danielle said.

I believe the lesson in Danielle’s story, and the reason it is inspiring, is this: If you can set up a business during one of the most unstable economic periods in Irish history then you can set one up anytime. Provided the risk is carefully measured, the idea is tested to see how well it solves a problem and that you’re passionate about the area. As Danielle said on returning from her travels she knew she wanted to change her job: ‘and work in an area I was passionate about, and for me this was travel’.

Kick Ass Women: Niamh McHugh of Pucker on making entrepreneurial dreams come true

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During our chat about how Pucker came to be, co-founder Niamh McHugh confided ‘I always wanted to own my own business’.

As is the case with many a dream like this, it can only come true if the dreamer believes that they can make it happen and then takes action to make the dream a reality.  Often action comes when events unfold and present opportunities which the dreamer makes the most out of.   The event in Niamh’s case was redundancy.  The word has loomed ominously over the Irish workforce since 2008 but when it happens to people audacious enough to set up their first business while still a student – as Niamh did in her third year in college with www.pimpmyjumper.ie, – well, they see the event as an opportunity not a threat.

Niamh said that at the time she thought: ‘I have to do this’ and set a plan to ‘give it 6 months and go for it’.

So instead of heading straight back into the job market, Niamh and co-founder Louise Dunne, had an app made that was to be a directory for beauty businesses.

Often ideas morph into something else; something bigger and better, taking the brains behind them down another path.  The other path these women went down was the one provided by StartLocal. Niamh explained the reason for the change in direction ‘we’re perfectionists and we realised it [the directory] wasn’t the direction we wanted to go’.

So how did they come to join the startups in StartLocal? ‘I follow Popdeem and I found out from their Twitter feed that StartLocal were looking for companies to join their incubator program’ she said.

And it seems Niamh and Laura are in their element, working alongside other startups, like Popdeem ‘they’ve been so helpful to us’.  You get the sense that there’s a great spirit of community in the StartuLocal office, as Niamh said: ‘there are different levels of startups, it’s a real community with all of us 100% talking and connecting‘.

As a busy women with little time to spare for indulging in girly pampering, let alone for searching online for appointments, I’m looking forward to getting onto Pucker and getting some much needed beauty TLC!  This is a service that you feel can only go one way and that’s onwards and upwards, and it seems all the signs are pointing to this as Niamh said ‘orders are coming through and we have customers who can give us feedback, so we’re constantly improving our service’.

We spoke about the importance of role models for women, especially in industries like Tech, where there are fewer women available to inspire and mentor their junior counterparts. Inspiring stories make you believe that you can do something extraordinary with your life too, as Niamh said about the story of how the founder of the beauty website Into the Gloss, Emily Weiss, launched her own skin care range: ‘it’s not like these things don’t happen to people’.

Pucker’s story is a lesson in how important it is for aspiring entrepreneurs to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities that come their way.  By following and learning from companies who inspire you on social media and grabbing opportunities as they come, you never know what new paths will open up to you, on which are opportunities that will change your life.

We spoke about entrepreneurship as something that does this;  for those up for a challenge and willing to work extremely hard to execute an idea that seeks to solve a problem, owning a business is a gratifying and exciting work-life choice, as Niamh said: ‘Before I attached negativity to work – I was dreading going in on a Monday’ but of course there’s always a downside, as Niamh admitted ‘you become consumed by it; I’m thinking about it so much’. However, the sparkle in her eyes, and her uncontainable enthusiasm for what she’s doing, told me there’s no way this kick ass women would turn back on the path that she’s now following.

 

 

Why International Women’s Day is necessary

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I had mixed feelings coming up to International Women’s Day.  I wondered if we really needed one day devoted to us; is equality still something the world is figuring out.. well we know in many parts of the world there’s a massive imbalance, but for those of us lucky to be born into democratic societies, how does our world support us living the kinds of life we want.  And what about men? Do they deserve a day devoted to them too? They’ve got their own fears and insecurities; life is not an easy ride for them either. But I guess that’s not the point is it? It’s not about how one gender’s life is more difficult than the other.  It’s about how they differ in terms of opportunities and stereotypes.  The answers to these questions lie in the answer to this one: Are women still struggling against stereotypes that hold us back from living the kind of life we want?

Well, to help answer this lets take a quote from this Kick Ass Women series. It’s from Tara Dalrymple, founder of Busy Lizzie and Feelsright. As we were finishing our interview last week she told me a story about what happened during a recent bit of playful banter with her young son. When she told him that she was the boss he said: ‘no mummy, you can’t be the boss’ and his response to her question ‘and why not?’ was simply ‘because you’re a girl’.  Ouch.

Tara said ‘I don’t know where he got that from; it certainly wasn’t from me!’. That this belief was already formed in the mind of someone so young proves how early intervention to prevent this kind of conditioning towards this gender stereotyping in someone so young is needed.

I’ll share with you another example of this kind of stereotyping but using another scenario. And it is a hard one to share, but in the spirit of tackling this issue, here it is.  Someone with whom I was once in a cohabiting relationship said to me: ‘Well, maybe I expected you to be doing more [domestic things] because you’re a women’ Double ouch. And many comments like this were uttered during the course of that one year we lived together.  I fought vehemently against this stereotype he held about women – and I could not give in to it. Not surprisingly the relationship broke down.  If I’m honest, it was a huge blow to me and despite having a hefty measure of self esteem (my wonderful mother instilled this in me from a very young age) I wondered was my worth as a cohabiting partner wrapped up in how much I did around the house?? How domestic I was?? The question ‘is my worth not based on all that I am as a person and the support, love and respect I give to a partner?’ lingered for a while after the breakup.

So I guess these two stories answer the question.  Yes. The world needs International Womens Day.

My message as a women, who is an aspiring entrepreneur and a creative who needs time in her life for creative expression – time which may encroach on the time I share with a significant other – is that men and women need to support each other’s dreams. Equally.  Men and Women need to value each others strengths and weaknesses. Equally.  All the domestic administration that daily life requires should be shared by couples living together. Equally.  I believe working to promote equality needs to be as much about what happens in the home as it is about what happens at work.  Perhaps more work needs to be done at school level? As someday these boys will grow up to be boyfriends, partners and husbands to women who need their support just as much as they need ours.

Boys need to know that their Mums can be the boss equally as well as their Dads can. 

The series of articles coming over the next few weeks features some kick ass women who are doing a very good job of being the boss! These women have successfully followed their dream of setting up their own business. Some of them, like Niamh McHugh, Pucker; Danielle Mallen, Acteovo and Tara Dalrymple, Busylizzie, always had a dream to own their own business. But not all bosses are borne of the same dream.

Leonora O’Brien’s business, Pharmapod, was borne out of a problem she felt compelled to solve, and in Sinead Dalton’s case, the knowledge that she could provide a service better than what was currently being provided in her field, lead to her decision to go out on her own, which of course manifested in Mashup Media.

I hope their stories inspire other women to follow their dreams as much as they have inspired me to keep pursing mine.

To all the kick ass women out there pursuing their dreams of being the boss…….

HAPPY INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY!

A belly full of fire, persistence and following a mantra taken from evolutionary theory; this is what propels a startup to Oscar levels of success

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I’m not sure if I should be admitting this, but, it was nice to hear that someone as successful as Cathal Gaffney, CEO of Brown Bag Films, failed maths in the Leaving Cert too. Not only do we have this in common but we both attended Ballyfermot Senior College. Before I went down the marketing route, I completed a HND in Radio Production and Journalism, back in…actually no I’m not telling you the year, whilst Cathal, well, nearly completed a degree in Animation…..were it not for his proclivity for making  animated short films in his spare time. It appears the college doesn’t, or at least didn’t back in 1994, like students doing that as it kicked him out!

That didn’t stop him from becoming a hugely successful creative entrepreneur and this academic blip is something that obviously to this day still puts a wry smile on his face. To the audience gathered in the Science Gallery to hear his FirstUp talk, Cathal told the story about how hanging on a wall in Brown Bag Films is that very kick-out letter beside the letter from Oscar…yes THAT Oscar….,advising Brown Bag Films of their nomination for Give Up Yer Aul Sins.

You can’t get any more successful than that…or can you?

Seems like you can. Why else would Cathal say ‘It still feels like a startup, we’re only realising our full potential’.

The story of Brown Bag Films, from how the company was founded in 1994 and named (they had to choose a name quickly to put on a form of some kind and chose one based on the first thing they saw; a brown bag!) to how it ditched the advertising work it had taken on to make ends meet in favor of work that was admittedly not as lucrative but more interesting to do, is a story of persistence, evolution, and ‘lots of squiggles’. The squiggles to which Cathal referred to are the ups and downs a company will go through throughout its life cycle. The evolution of this company which started small and scrapped by for the first few years of its life is no doubt attributed to the mantra which has guided it; expressed by the words of Charles Darwin who said ‘it’s not the strongest who survive, it’s the ones who respond to change’.

This story’s narrative is peppered with anecdotes corroborating the fact that success as an entrepreneur is as much about a rebellious nature and a belly full of fire ‘if you’ve got a fire in your belly go do it’ and content over technology ‘don’t get caught up in technology, it’s all about content and the audience‘, as it is about business plans ‘We didn’t have a business plan; it evolved’. What resonated most with me and what I found particularly inspiring about this story is the fact that it is a story about authenticity and the power of shared values and trust in building relationships with your customers and your employees.

Cathal spoke about pitching to people with whom you’ve established trust and developed rapport first, and share a similar set of values. I find this attitude refreshing and I hope to emulate it in my own approach to business; surely it’s an approach that can be applied successfully in all industries, not just the creative industries. But, it’s evident that creativity is creeping into those industries not traditionally associated with it so lets hope the lines between corporate and creative businesses are getting ever more blurred meaning new rules governing how business relationships are formed can be created.

These Brown Bag relationship conventions apply to relationships inside the company too. Many of the tips Cathal gave for aspiring creative entrepreneurs (and I’ve no doubt these will apply to all kinds of startups thinking ahead to the kind of culture they want to foster) include those related to culture:

  • Share your vision with everyone involved in executing it, ‘have everyone pointing to the same North Star’
  • Hire to the company culture, ‘the wrong people in your organization can destroy the company’
  • Be aware of your own skills and know when is the right time to step aside for someone else, ‘be the talent facilitator not the talent’.

The last key takeaway from this talk is this: A company can be based in Ireland but have no Irish customers, as Cathal said ‘Brown Bag Films is Irish by geography’.

When he finished someone in the audience asked ‘why are you still in Ireland’?

His answer was simple: ‘I love it here’.