24 November 2014

Kauffman Fellowship brings its entrepreneurial ethos to Dublin

Paul Murray, Investment Director, Atlantic Bridge. 24-11-2014.

Earlier this month I was involved in the Kauffmann Fellows European Venture Capital Summit that took place in Dublin. Not perhaps as headline grabbing as the Web Summit – which was running at the same time – but a very big deal for Ireland’s community of VCs and entrepreneurs.

I became a Kauffman Fellow two and half years ago because I liked the ethos; I like the way it pursues a best-practice approach to investment that puts the interests of the client company first. A global network of venture capital investors who provide capital that fuels entrepreneurship worldwide, it’s a spinout of the Kauffman Foundation, set up to educate and develop new venture capitalists and provide leadership and direction to the venture industry.

The core mission of the Foundation is the education and empowerment of entrepreneurs. Its ethos is that investors only succeed if the client company succeeds; that venture capital is a service industry and the customers are the entrepreneurs. The starting point is that great entrepreneurs get the great investors they deserve – a principle, I’m afraid, that not all venture capitalists adhere to.

Every industry wants to shine a light on best practice and I hope we achieved that by bringing the summit to Ireland, and indeed Europe, for the first time. Ireland now has 11 Irish Fellows, one of the largest number of any country outside the US, which certainly helped the case for bringing it here. Previous summits have been held in Tokyo, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, New York and Mexico City – so it’s a great fillip for Ireland’s investor community to add our name to that list.

The aim of the event was to try and answer questions about how investors and the VC community can work together to build large, globally successful Irish technology companies. Run over two days at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, we showcased insights on the European venture capital industry from leading VCs, limited partners, and experienced entrepreneurs. Panel discussions, workshops, and networking sessions gave delegates an opportunity to connect with Kauffman Fellows, many of them for the first time.

Just having the event here was a powerful endorsement of Ireland’s start-up ecosystem. Over 250 delegates turned up, including over 120 Kauffman Fellows representing 94 venture capital firms from 33 countries. Their collective assets were in excess of $40 billion.

On the first day we looked at Europe from a VC perspective, and brought along investors from elsewhere in the world to give them an insight into all the activity here. As we know, there is a lot less VC money in Europe than the States so we took the opportunity to highlight the depth and range of investment opportunities in Ireland.

The good news is that regions can punch above their weight. Scandinavia and Ireland have produced companies with big valuations in numbers you wouldn’t expect from such small populations. We’re seeing more examples of VCs working together, joint funding companies to increase the capital that’s available – a strategy that’s true to the spirit of Kauffman. A strong syndicate that includes Atlantic Bridge, DFJ Esprit and Robert Bosch Venture Capital, for example, jointly funded Movidius in Ireland.

Role models, we learned, are really important for entrepreneurs, particularly if they can relate to them. So on the second day of the event Andrew Burton, CEO of Logentries, and Chris Horn, founder and CEO Iona Technologies, came in and shared two Irish examples of high growth companies. They discussed a range of issues, including how to grow a global company. Management consultant Mark Helow, of 10x CEO, offered interesting insights into how CEOs need to evolve with their businesses as they move from the prototype stage to business validation, then on to growth and maturity. In his words, a founder CEO needs to develop and grow their expertise as the business develops and assume different roles depending on the stage of the company. With a lot of Irish company founders in the room, it was a message that resonated strongly.

I spoke to a lot of local VCs at the event who were blown away by what they heard. It was high quality content, typical of the Kauffman approach, that I hope will increase the collective IQ of the local start-up ecosystem.

Delegates would also have left with a better understanding of Kauffman Fellows. To become a Fellow you take part in a two-year training programme that’s run out of Silicon Valley. Find out more here: