A serial entrepreneur whose newest company is in Ireland makes the case for launching overseas--and explains the best way to do it.
Are you thinking of starting a technically innovative company that needs highly skilled workers? Consider launching in Europe. That advice comes from serial entrepreneur and Boston University professor Art Rosenthal, who recently launched his newest company, gEyeCue, in Galway, Ireland. gEyeCue makes a device for gastrointestinal biopsies. Rosenthal says Ireland and other European countries offer a welcoming environment for innovative companies, even those headed by Americans.
And--despite the current economic crisis in Europe--he says finding funding there may be easier than it is in the United States. Both governments and local VCs are eager to help launch companies that will create jobs in their communities. "In some countries with financial difficulties, one thing they're doing is investing in entrepreneurial companies," Rosenthal says. "My experience with Ireland is there are no constraints. My guess would be that other countries have earmarked money for this purpose and want to spend it."
The idea of starting a company in a foreign country that's at least a six-hour flight away might be daunting. But Rosenthal says it's easier than it might seem, and the process is similar to what it would be if you were researching a company and raising money at home.
Here's his step-by-step guide to getting started:
1. Look for universities in your specialty area.
"Start by considering the resources you need to create your product," Rosenthal says. "Look for the centers of expertise." Where there's a university known for its programs in your discipline, you'll find employees with the expertise you need.
2. Find out where the big players in your field have outposts.
If you're starting a Web-based software company and you need programmers, check and see where Google or other big software players have their development centers. "Once you have an anchor company, everybody realizes the local economy is built around that expertise," Rosenthal explains. Other companies start opening offices there too, and start-ups pop up to serve the larger companies. Pretty soon, you have a region or city focused on skill set.
3. Look for government agencies that fund start-ups.
In Ireland, it's Enterprise Ireland, for which Rosenthal has become a volunteer spokesman. Other European companies have similar programs. "The Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Ireland are particularly known for supporting innovation," he says. A simple Internet search should lead you to your target country's funding agency website, with detailed information on the funding offered and how to go about applying for it.
4. Check out local VCs.
These may be a bit harder to find than government funding programs, (or "programmes" as it's spelled in Ireland) but they're out there. Rosenthal suggests that you start by finding start-up companies in your industry within your target country. Explore these companies' websites. They will likely say who their investors are, or you may be able to deduce it by seeing who's on their boards of directors. Then go to the VCs' websites to see what they're investing in. Eventually, Rosenthal says, "You'll have a short list of VCs that might invest in your company."
5. Network with existing start-ups.
Now that you've found the start-ups similar to yours in your target country, get in touch with them as well, Rosenthal advises. Most will be open to sharing their experiences and giving you advice.
"Reach out to other entrepreneurs in your sector," he says. "Getting the wisdom of someone who's been there, done that is a great way to start out."