Ask Me Anythings
April 28, 2023

Ian Browne is the Managing Director of the NDRC in Dogpatch Labs

Question by Dave Graham: What are some of the common misconceptions about accelerator programmes and what is NDRC doing to educate and advance start-ups in Ireland?

Answer by Ian Brown: Understand the incentives of the programme you are applying for. Is it privately backed, venture backed, gov backed, or corporate backed? All have different expectations. Look at the team delivering the programme - have they a strong founder experience? Do they have a good track record of helping startups succeed? Speak to companies who have been through recent cohorts. What are their impressions of the programme, and would they recommend? How many companies have actually gone on to raise capital and from whom? So my thoughts are:

Question by Emma Smith: For a solo founder, wondering what your thoughts are about the benefits of incorporating vs. not incorporating?

Answer by Ian Brown: It’s fine to not incorporate while you are at the early stages. Still fleshing out the idea and plan. At some point, you are going to need to take in capital to grow, you will need to incorporate at that point.

Question by a Scale Ireland member: Does NDRC work with Enterprise Ireland and the seed fund at all or are they separate entities with which to deal with?

Answer by Ian Brown: I think Dogpatch and NDRC had an influence on the ecosystem with the introduction of the SAFE into the Irish market. The new PreSeed Start Fund from Enterprise Ireland has leant into this and I think it is a great offering. We work with EI but are a totally separate entity and I can see founders taking the PreSeed Start Fund and then getting some momentum before coming on the accelerator to expedite progress.

Question by Martina Fitzgerald: What are the biggest issues that need to be addressed with the start-ups that you work with? And are many of the start-ups you are working with, hiring, or what are the trends?

Answer by Ian Brown: There are so many issues at the minute, a lot of it predicated on the state of the macro markets. However, at a fundamental level, I see all startups in Ireland and regions of the UK (outside London) not being ambitious enough. It’s a mindset problem. You need to think much bigger to get venture capital, and few founders have a big enough vision. Secondly, hiring was happening at a strong rate earlier in the year but has slowed hugely due to future uncertainty. Burn rates are being cut across the board.

Question by Emma Smith: If someone is considering multiple accelerator programs, is doing them simultaneously a crazy proposition, or is there any value to it?

Answer by Ian Brown: Yes. This is dangerous as you are getting conflicting advice from people with different incentives. Also, programme hopping from one to another is a negative signal for me.

Question by Gary Gallagher: What about consecutively, one after another, to get as broad an experience as possible?

Answer by Ian Brown: Again, not a great signal. It shows a lack of progress as a company and that you are using programmes as a crutch. Plus, all programmes generally have some requirement from the company, and if this is equity, it can do damage to the cap table.

Question by Clodagh O'Reilly: Have you seen an increase in the number of social enterprises/social-minded organisations being supported by NDRC?

Answer by Ian Brown: There are parts of NDRC which can support this; pre-accelerator, founder weekends, masterclasses, but it’s a hard sell for an accelerator which has to show financial returns on investment. Social enterprises are not well supported. It is a different skill set. We should probably do something about that.

Question by Remo H. Jansen: What kind of companies are bestsuited for joining the NDRC? Is the NDRC a good option for a B2B services (not product) startup?

We are trying to “accelerate”companies and so this is difficult todo with physical product orhardware companies unless they arein the goldilocks zone of having full product ready and in market. I don’tdiscount them but, we almostalways end up with a cohort ofsoftware companies. Sector agnosticso B2B, B2C, whatever.

Question by a Scale Ireland member: Does NDRC have a stated direction or view on startups focused around sustainability?

At the minute it is completely sector agnostic but, as something whichhas been backed by public money, Ithink it is appropriate for us to thinkabout issues which affect the wholeeconomy of the future. We would liketo introduce something with a focuson sustainability. It probably needs adifferent structure as the R&D phasetends to be longer but, then again,the outcomes could be bigger!

Question by Houssem Jerbi: Do you work with start-ups atdifferent growth and funding levels? What support does NDRC and accelerators in general provide to 4-5 years old startups that’s starting looking to raise funding? Also 4-5 years old startups (based on their incorporation date) might be still looking for pilots via accelerator programmes but some accelerators exclude those startups based on their age. What are your thoughts on this?

Rather than thinking of the age of a company, we think of where they areat. We focus on helping companies go from zero to one. That is effectively pre-seed and we support right through to Series A. At thatpoint it is a very different skill set andyou need be in company building mode. I am not sure accelerators are great for finding pilot customers. They are good at helping you focus on who the right customer is and how to get them. There are some really good corporate accelerators - just make sure that what you are doing is aligned to the corporate involved and don’t try and shoehorn your business into the programme.

Question by Sohini De: What are your pointers for maximising market penetration in international markets with a small startup team?

It's tough when you are resource constrained. I always encourage founders to physically travel if they can. Go and meet people in the target market, understand the nuances of selling and grow your network. Once you have a better understanding then it becomes easier to build the sales and marketing playbook. Also, price everything in dollars from the start. It is a global standard that everyone understands!

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