Escaping 2008’s great brain drain

Graduates are plotting their getaway as the eighties are coming back and hopes are fading. Is misery and emigration our fate or can young entrepreneurs save the day? asks Grace Walsh

Graduates are plotting their getaway as the eighties are coming back and hopes are fading. Is misery and emigration our fate or can young entrepreneurs save the day? asks Grace Walsh

Unemployment is rising, the recession is worsening and even the bastion of profit that is Ryanair is feeling the pinch.

The reduction in spending on education, the possible reintroduction of college fees and decline in multinational companies locating here make Ireland’s economic rebound all the more difficult. We need new ideas, new innovations, and determined young people to make them work. Student entrepreneurs are a vital element of entrepreneurship.

Education is vital for the success of any entrepreneurial venture. It inspires, opens up opportunities to new markets and provides a dedicated knowledgeable workforce to enact the often genius ideas of the entrepreneur. In recent times a number of student entrepreneurs have made headlines for successful inventions and inspired many a resourceful classmate to follow in their footsteps.

Brendan Flood, Head of Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Enterprise Ireland, said: “To have a vibrant, successful knowledge economy, Ireland needs to increase the number and quality of indigenous companies and create graduates who are Entrepreneurial Thinkers and Entrepreneurial Doers.”

The art of entrepreneurship owes much to the work of economist and political thinker Joseph Schumpeter who defined an entrepreneur as a person who is willing and able to convert invention into successful innovation. Entrepreneurship forces “creative destruction” across markets and industries, simultaneously creating new products and business models. This creative destruction is largely responsible for the dynamism and creation of industries and long-run economic growth.

Patrick Collison is one such successful student entrepreneur. At the age of sixteen Patrick was named BT Young Scientist of the Year. He had designed a new computer programming language, Croma, which allowed web applications to be written easily and quickly. Since then, Patrick has attended the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founded a company with his younger brother John. After having difficulty securing funding from Enterprise Ireland, they relocated to Silicon Valley, and obtained investment from Y Combinator, a boot camp-style firm that specializes in funding early stage startups. On their advice, the brothers merged with a similar UK based start up,, founded by Oxford graduates Harjeet and Kulveer Taggar. Together they built a product, Auctomatic, for managing eBay businesses which can be used to track inventories, pictures, auction templates, and monitor the traffic on auctions so that companies can optimize their listing strategy. On a deal finalized on Good Friday earlier this year, Canadian company Live Current Media paid over €3 million for the company. Patrick is now Director of Engineering at Live Current Media.

“We just went for it. Neither of us knew much about business. We never wrote a business plan. We had no idea how investing or corporate structures worked. We just sat down and started writing code.”

The act of entrepreneurship is often associated with uncertainty, particularly when it involves bringing something really novel to the world whose market never previously existed. Before the Internet, nobody knew the market for Internet-related businesses such as Amazon, Google and YouTube would be so successful. Only after the emergence of the Internet did people begin to see the opportunities and marketplace that existed online.

One such student to capitalize on the phenomena of the Internet and social networking is the infamous Mark Zuckerberg.
Zuckerberg founded Facebook whilst attending Harvard University, however it was not his first foray into the social networking scene. His first networking project took was, which enabled students to register for courses online and to see who else was signing up for the same classes. The project came to an abrupt end when Zuckerberg’s laptop crashed from the huge volumes of students registering for the site.

Zuckerberg had just realized the potential success that voyeurism as an online industry could be. His next endeavor began when, jilted by a girl, he created where he hacked into Harvard’s system, downloaded photographs of his classmates and posted them online next to photos of farm animals to rate who was more attractive. The website was an instant success but pulled from the internet by Harvard authorities within hours. Zuckerberg, undeterred, began work on his next task, with help from his college roommate, Eduardo Saverin, was finally launched on February 4th 2004. Facebook was an instant success, over 4000 people signed up in the first two weeks. Realizing the potential of Facebook, Zuckerberg and some friends including Dustin Moskovitz rolled Facebook out to other Ivy League colleges.
Now four years on, Facebook is one of the internet’s most trafficked sites and has over 110 million registered users. Mark Zuckerberg is now a multi-billionaire and arguably the most successful student entrepreneur of recent times.
Another media forum where student endeavors have proved triumphant is in print media. In October 2007 Brendan McGuirk, a recent Trinity graduate, founded Analogue. Realizing the demand for a magazine that was fresh, original and dedicated to independent music acts Analogue became an instant success. Feature pieces such as “Mental Illness and Rock”, interviews, complimentary CDs and album reviews contributed to the niche market. Many well known bands such as Radiohead, CSS and The Arcade Fire have featured in Analogue. The magazine has since gone nationwide and is available free of charge in bars, cafes and colleges around the country,

McGuirk, the magazine’s editor and publisher, feels there is a nationwide demand for such a dedicated music title. “The main reason we decided to bring it nationwide is because of the reaction we got for the first three issues,” he explains.

“People were really excited to see the bands we were covering and how we were covering them. As writers, we approach interviews and features from an audience’s point of view, and I think bands really open up to us when they realize we’re fans. They say things to us they wouldn’t say to the NME or Pitchfork.”

The excellence of Analogue has recently been recognized in the National Student Media Awards 2008 where it won the People’s Choice Award. Analogue now has over 30,000 readers worldwide.

But where does the pursuit of entrepreneurship lie in the wake of recent financial turmoil?

Patrick Collison explains: “I don’t think the downturn matters. A successful company will be successful either way.”
Entrepreneurship can help ease the burden of recession. It provides employment, creates new markets and inspires confidence.

Entrepreneurs are not a definitive solution to Ireland’s economic woes but their bright eyed confidence and determination might just spark a return to the good old days.