Over the past months I have brought you some remarkable stories that, apparently coincidentally, have come from parts of the European Union that were most badly hit by the financial crisis, countries that have experienced extreme austerity as they seek to recover from crippling debt and huge bailouts. This month’s story comes from another of those countries, Ireland, which is the first to emerge from the straitjacket of its bailout.
On reflection it is perhaps not so surprising that fantastic innovation and creativity in the learning industry is coming from places where hardship required new approaches.
This will be the first piece from Ireland and will highlight some of the superb efforts coming from young eLearning businesses that are rapidly gaining traction beyond the shores of the Emerald Isle.
Bringing creativity to the fore in Ireland
Ireland has always had a proud academic tradition. In another article, I will focus on how the Learnovate Centre at the globally renowned Trinity College Dublin is applying that tradition at the cutting edge of learning. However, I want to begin with Enterprise Ireland (EI), a state-funded body that identifies good business initiatives in their start-up phase and supports them through exposure, advice, and some funding.
Ambition, high potential, leadership, and ability to scale
Olwen Sheedy is Enterprise Ireland’s marketing executive in London. She explained to me how EI works. “Our job is to help develop new businesses of high potential which are Irish-owned and led by entrepreneurs with an ability to compete in world markets. We are particularly interested in ambitious companies that demonstrate they have what it takes to scale and achieve significant success. Apart from direct business support and advice to companies, EI has links with an extensive research base to support research collaboration and access to further funding sources”
As was the case in Jordan, featured in my last article, Ireland has discovered rich talents in the IT and especially eLearning fields. Olwen listed examples ranging from LMS vendors, through high-end simulation software companies to online course providers, international coaching practices, and an extensive capability in instructional design.
“EI’s ultimate objective is increased experts, employment, and prosperity in Ireland as the long haul back from national bankruptcy continues. Success stories of entrepreneurs making breakthroughs to international markets are great news for Ireland as a whole as well as for the companies themselves. Succeeding in as competitive a market as eLearning provides additional impetus.”
To gain support from Enterprise Ireland, innovative companies have a string of hurdles to jump to demonstrate their potential. Effectiveness in management, marketing, innovation, finance, production, and strategic vision are all assessed. Successful entrepreneurs are then allocated advisors in each of those fields to assist in accelerating their business prospects. For these companies it is a high-value proposition.
Which startups make the grade?
So who have EI found in the eLearning space to match these tough criteria? Olwen: “There are lots of examples I can quote. Empower The User is making significant progress in the UK and European markets and is beginning to have a North American profile with SkillSim, a cost-effective and easy-for-the-user software-and-design support package in the rapidly growing simulations and gaming market. LearnUpon is an easy-to-use, cloud-based LMS specifically designed for professional training companies, allowing them to quickly sell and deliver online courses. LearnUpon already has 110 global customers of whom over 40 percent are US-based. These are examples of entrepreneurs who have taken good advantage of everything EI can offer. With EI presence on every continent and in major global markets, we are able to support sales and marketing all around the world.”
Looking forward, EI’s research priorities are heavily centered on high-end products and services in the technology industries. Learning technologies, the cloud, future networks and communications, and digital platforms are all priorities alongside data analytics, smart grids, and other areas of the digitally enhanced world.
I asked Olwen why Ireland has become such an emerging center of these skills and services. “Of course, none of this would be possible without the powerful research base of centers such as Learnovate.”
Enthusiasm, flair, and deep understanding of her entrepreneurs’ businesses all have something to do with it as well—enjoy listening to Olwen’s evident energy in talking about EI and the work she does.