The annual CorkBic Entrepreneur Experience brings 24 of Ireland’s brightest emerging entrepreneurs together with 24 of Ireland’s seasoned entrepreneurs for 24 hours of intense mentoring. More than 300 emerging entrepreneurs have been through the experience over the past 12 years and, each year, a magic is created as the emerging entrepreneurs are challenged and supported in equal measure with the simple goal of leaving the weekend clearer and more focused on the road ahead of them.

It’s an honour and a privilege to captain this event and lead a team of amazing entrepreneurs who willingly come back every year and give their time and energy to helping the next generation of talented entrepreneurs. It’s all about taking away actionable insights that entrepreneurs can implement immediately in their businesses.  

Here are some of the best general takeaway insights from the event: 

Vulnerability is allowed

On day one 24 emerging entrepreneurs arrive feeling ready. However, like most entrepreneurs who are brave enough to thrust themselves into an experience like this, it’s hard to prepare for the level of vulnerability required to get the full benefits from the weekend. 

Fear is just beneath their enthusiastic exterior; they all have rocks in their world that they hope nobody looks under for fear of being judged and exposed. It’s personal, and difficult not to take the challenges, critiques, and exploration personally. As experienced entrepreneurs, we need to create an environment of trust and respect; an environment that legitimises the openness and honesty required to promote and support vulnerability among the group. In other words, a caring environment for our entrepreneurs to thrive in.  

Reflection: It’s a question for all entrepreneurs and business leaders – Do you have such an environment in place?

The simple questions aren’t always the easy questions

People are quickly challenged with some simple questions. What does your business do? Who is your customer? Why buy from you? How do you make money?

However, the answers were often too broad and lacked clarity. Customers and target markets needed to be more specific. Many entrepreneurs didn’t have the killer reasons upfront; they were lost in the weeds. The road to making profits was often long and unclear. Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one.” 

Simplification is hard and it’s not just required at an early stage of your growth journey.  Simplification drives clarity, focus, and alignment – it also ensures your investment of time, energy, and capital is in the right areas at the right times.  

Reflection – Every company should annually ask themselves the question – Can we simplify what we are doing more?

Positively impactful businesses are better businesses 

Patrick Hickey, chairman and head of culture at Mobility Mojo, chaired a wonderful panel entitled: ‘Why impact-focused businesses are better business’.  The panel included social enterprises, a charity and an impact-focused commercial business. Patrick spoke about the importance in his business of the 3Ps: People, Planet and Profit. The consensus in the room was that, regardless of your commercial goals, impact needs to be part of your DNA from day one. 

It is much harder for businesses that try to retrofit positive impact into their model along the way. Fundamentally, the panellists discussed why operating with stakeholder interest in mind and not just shareholders’ interest is better for all parties, including shareholders. Today, a significant and growing proportion of stakeholders – employees, suppliers, partners, customers, investors, and bankers – want to be working with positively impactful businesses as they see them as being more sustainable businesses.

Reflection – How positively impactful is your business? How are you factoring in the 3Ps? 

Impact starts with awareness and small actions

Positive impact for some companies can appear to be challenging and costly to achieve. Often the challenge is seen as too large to tackle, and it can be hard to know where to start. For me, having a positive impact isn’t something any business should feel is an “opt-in” option in 2022. 

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, we are obliged to build positively impactful businesses -we are “in” and if we choose not to accept that responsibility then one is consciously choosing to “opt-out”.  We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to this. 

Every company can make simple changes and start a journey of having a positive impact. Simple steps include educating staff on social and environmental topics, looking at consuming less (and greener) energy, employee diversity, understanding a business’s impact on its local community, businesses buying local, and using ethical suppliers. 

Deirdre Mortell, CEO of Rethink Ireland, an organisation which has supported over 300 social enterprises with finance and support, shared her experiences and insight in a key-note presentation. She spoke of the importance of “Baking in Impact into the recipe of your business from the beginning.  We all know you can’t add flour to the cake at the end and think it will taste good”.  

Reflection – How many of your employees/team feel actively engaged in carrying out their role in a positively impactful way?

Customers are more than customers

The adage “The Customer is King” has been in existence for years and is usually associated with service and often positioned companies as being subservient to the customers. Meeting customer expectations is important, but early-stage companies need to ensure that their strategies are not heavily influenced by the demands of specific customers. Shane Curran, the founder of Evervault, spoke of the importance of customers to many aspects of your business, from assisting with opportunity identification, early research, product design and testing, product evolution, sales referencing, and talent identification. 

He saw the power of “customers as partners” when you work closely with them and ensure a win: win for both parties from the outset. Frank Madden, founder of Crest Solutions. now CXV Global, spoke about his success at bootstrapping his business and structuring contracts with customers that minimize the working capital requirements of his growth.  The Crest Founder was interviewed by Tom Lyons at the event about his recent nine-figure deal.

Reflection – Does your business have “customers” in the traditional sense of the word or “partners”?

Understand value over price

Businesses can get complicated very quickly and simplification is almost an annual requirement in scaling businesses to ensure your product or service benefits remain clear to existing and new customers. 

Clarity is important to create a sales-oriented culture where everybody understands “Value” and their role in delivering it. It is important to walk in your customers’ shoes and solve the problems they want solved, and not the ones you think they want solved. When selling, try and get as specific as you can about your “target customer value add”, and ask yourself if the value to all customers is the same. Or do different customers value different things?

In targeting business get beyond the target sector, region, company, and division, all the way down to the individual customers’ and decision maker’s name. Then try and understand the value you can add to help them achieve their goals. As Oscar Wilde famously said, “a cynic is a man who knows the price of everything but the value of nothing”. Don’t have cynics selling for you and help customers avoid being cynical by educating them on “value”. You need to get the price right from the start and focus on the value you give and not on the basic cost-plus model.

Reflection – Have you quantified the value your product or service adds, and do you charge enough, too little, or too much, based on the value you add?

Networks – go early, go wide, then go deep

The power of Community and Networks are at the heart of the Entrepreneur Experience.  There was an acknowledgement that Covid has fractured networks that have been starved of face-to-face interactions. Some insights on networks were: “build them early”, “go wide, and then deep”, “you must give to get”, “successful networks are built on mutual benefits”, “networks grow and develop over years, so have patience”, “use tech to keep your network warm and remember, networks can provide you with support in all areas of your business as you scale”. Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness and successful entrepreneurs are not afraid of asking for help.  

Reflection – How much time and energy do you invest in your network and how does it support you?   

Finally, the Entrepreneurs Experience is supported by phenomenal partners who put their energy and resources behind CorkBIC and the team helping to make the experience a success. These are Cork County Council, Cork City Council, Grant Thornton, William Fry, The Currency and Broadlake.

Pete Smyth is the Founder of Broadlake, the Captain of the Entrepreneur Experience and the host of Potential Squared, a Podcast produced in partnership with The Currency.

Further reading:

The Entrepreneur Experience 2022: meet the 24 businesses selected for this year’s event 

“Last year went really well. But this year we want to work even more with underrepresented groups”