Seven Irish startups are to be given a helping hand expanding into the US market after being accepted into Bank of Ireland’s new Startlab program in New York.
The companies, all of which planned to expand in the US anyway, were chosen because the selection panel judged that they were ready to make the move and could benefit from Bank of Ireland’s connections stateside.
“The key factor,” Bank of Ireland’s Tony Dunne said, “is 'Is this company ready to move to the US?' If a company was like, ‘Oh we haven’t thought about the US, but if we’re getting free rent for the 12 months, let’s go over and see how it goes.’ That’s exactly what we didn’t want.
“We picked companies because they were at that stage that they were ready to move to the US.”
Four of the lucky companies in question traveled to New York in mid-May to begin their journeys. They are Kong Digital, which uses social data to drive their clients' advertising, BriteBiz, which focuses on cutting out unnecessary admin for business, LogoGrab, which builds logos and SKU detection into projects, and Glofox, which helps gyms expand and engage their membership. Three other Irish companies, Pulsate, a mobile marketing software for apps; Axonista, which powers real-time interactive graphics for video and TX; and Deposify, which offers security deposit management for landlords and tenants, joined StartLab in March.
The CEOs of the four companies told IrishCentral that getting into the program was a huge boost to their efforts to expand.
“It’s hard enough launching in a new country, our job is not only to provide the office… but it’s our job to make it as easy for them as well,” Dunne explained.
For instance, Kong Digital CEO Robert Kelly has had help from a few locals “working with me on the language [of our pitch]... certain terminologies I wasn’t using I should have been using.”
The Irish connection too is still a huge asset in America.
“Bank of Ireland has a great name over here and the affinity for the Irish people, it’s very hard to quantify but it’s amazing… There’s always a door open for Irish people. That’s why it’s so important for myself and [my colleague] Kate to get as much introductions as possible.”
That said, he added later, “It’s going to be very important for us not to get pigeon-holed into [just being] Irish.”
Despite Ireland and America’s strong historical connections, things are certainly different on the two sides of the Atlantic.
BriteBiz CEO, Emma Killian, said, “Even when we were talking last night we agreed the conversations were easier because they’re just a couple of steps ahead. Businesses in the US are actively looking for a solution, we don’t need to convince them they need it.”
Whatever the differences, the allure of the American market was just too strong to ignore.
Glofox CEO, Conor O’Loughlin, admitted, “We were trying to ignore America because there’s such a need in the European market. But we found [people] were more tech-savvy, self-serving in America.”
For LogoGrab, however, the decision was perhaps easier due to the fact that none of their clients actually live in Ireland.
When asked how they manage, CEO Luca Boschin laughingly told us, “The internet is a beautiful thing.”
But setting up shop in Bank of Ireland’s New York office means they have a crucial base to operate from in the US.
Kong Digital have already hired US staff and say they are indispensable.
“I have two local people in Boston… it’s risky but it has to be done. You need someone in the market who has the connections, the knowledge,” Kelly said.
And the ultimate aim of the program?
“If you ask us what success looks like it’s that in 12 months time these companies have moved on, hired US people and got operations here,” Dunne concluded.