Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Investment in Science, Technology and Innovation: Statements
Susan O'Keeffe (Labour)
There is much to be encouraged by in the Minister of State's comments. When I meet somebody who has a great idea, who has won awards and has a large company to back him but is nevertheless on his knees looking for money, I wonder what is going on. Will the Minister of State give us some insight on why it seems that the only real access to finance seems to be through venture capital funds, which are more appropriate for larger companies that are perhaps at a more advanced stage? With start-up companies, a great deal of work is put in by people and they may have to give almost everything away because the value of the company could be so low. Is there some way in which somebody like the person I described could have access to a bank loan? That returns us to the same old problem.
We are talking about people with ideas, like the one I described and others across the country, emanating from real science and innovation, with a good prospect for employment. These people are on their knees looking for investment, and the only place they are being sent is to the venture capitalists, which is not appropriate.
Has the Department examined the idea of training or putting in place a cohort of solicitors and accountants acting as a panel across the regions to assist start-up companies with flat-rate fees appropriate to the type of business? In these cases there would be some expertise but much of it would be quite standard. Companies are being forced to go to larger accountancy and legal practices, where fees are greater, and many of them cannot afford it. A panel of flat-fee accountants is available in other countries so the idea is not new. Will the Government consider the suggestion?
We have a fine list of incubation and business centres and we would like to see more of these. As far as I can understand it, these are currently coupled to third level institutions in such a way as to make some of their operations quite difficult and lengthy in the way business is done. Has the Department considered decoupling them from the institutions in the way that businesses are run for incubation purposes? Small businesses often need some hand-holding but the way many of these are currently set up does not allow for direct help; instead, they must engage in institutional processes that take time.
My colleague, Senator Gilroy, spoke about the need to take risks and above all we are interested in job creation. If people like the one I described are on their knees, they will leave and take their idea somewhere with a better understanding of incubation of direct and practical support for small businesses. We can be starry-eyed about how great we are in sciences and technology, which is good, but we can lose sight of the blood and sweat required to run a business. The issue goes back to this whether a person is selling bones for dogs or high-tech equipment. We do not seem to have in place sufficient supports at that level.