In Ireland, Regional Innovation Has a Past – and a Future

One need look no further than Kerry-born economist Richard Cantillon to understand that Ireland has had its roots in innovation for a long time. Often overlooked for coining the term ‘entrepreneur’ – or at least radically shaping the meaning of the term – Richard was an Irish-French economist during the 17th and 18th centuries whose manuscript ‘Essai Sur La Nature Du Commerce En Général’ tackled the idea of entrepreneurship and new-age economics.

Much of Cantillon’s early life has been shrouded in mystery, and what seems clear from his later life appears to have numerous alternative interpretations. Some have him remembered as a “glorified conman” who gained from others’ losses, while certain others remember him as being the “Founding Father of Economics” who explored new avenues of economics.

It seems that there is more than one reading of who Cantillon really was.

Indeed, today, there are many ways the term ‘entrepreneur’ can be interpreted, and much of that can be attributed to Cantillon. Long before he arrived on the scene, Ireland had been innovating, whether through people emigrating to start new adventures far afield or working tirelessly to create better futures on Irish soil.

And that trend continues today as people continue to sow the seeds of their ideas.

The First Fridays for Startups series certainly highlights that idea quite clearly. As the road trip continues its tour around the country, there will be more and more amazing big thinkers and innovators speaking at them, as well as showing up as attendees. First Fridays will make its next stop in Dogpatch Labs in Dublin city – and it’s going to be a phenomenal day of mentoring, engaging panels, intriguing speakers, and plenty of start-up networking throughout.

While Dublin will take centre stage for the August edition, another hub outside the Irish capital will take up the mantle for the September edition, and so on, until the end of the year. Already, the PorterShed, Republic of Work, and the RDI Hub have hosted the start-up get-together this year, and fantastic collaboration has taken place at each of the editions so far.

At each of the events, many founders and innovation experts have shared their thoughts on so many topics such as how to get started, how to source funding, how to overcome numerous challenges faced, and more.

In Galway, we had panelists from AI companies, speakers from drone start-ups, and more. In Cork, successful people like Orb Media’s Ciara Sheahan and Workvivo’s John Goulding and Joe Lennon shared their expertise. While in the RDI Hub, less than an hour from Cantillon’s homeplace of Ballyheigue, Karl Aherne COO of Fexco and Liz McCarthy of Voxxify took to the stage to address audiences about the start-up ecosystem.

So much innovation is happening around the country, and it’s the entrepreneurs mentioned above – and others besides – who prove that Ireland remains a hotbed for new businesses to grow. There is plenty of regional innovation happening all the time, and so many amazing success stories have come through the north, south, west, and east, and so many jobs have been created in towns and cities around the country because of this.

Getting back to Richard Cantillon, who is no doubt hugely responsible for making entrepreneurship fondly considered, a quick scan of his rather lively life shows us that he used the word ‘adventurer’ to differentiate between his new type of business person and those who typically did business. That particular word sums up the spirit of an entrepreneur perhaps better than most because they typically keep returning to the pursuit of new challenges time and again.

Several hundred years have passed since Cantillon left his mark on the world through economic insights and etymological evolution, but that same energy, appetite, and enthusiasm lives on across the country, and it’s something that can clearly be seen on a regular basis – not only when First Fridays kickstarts into action each month, but on a daily basis in the hubs across the Irish start-up ecosystem.

And while we shouldn’t dismiss some of Cantillon’s shady business dealings, the questionable morals touched on by some historians, and the secrecy of his early life, what is clear is that many of today’s entrepreneurs might not be where they are today without him.

And clearer still, is that regional Ireland has a big part to play in ensuring many more innovation-driven people can continue the trend of blazing trails for generations of future entrepreneurs to come.

By Trevor Murray

Content Marketing Specialist at the PorterShed
Email: trevor@portershed.com | LinkedIn | Twitter

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