Annual Report 2014: Enterprise Ireland

I remind members and those in the public Gallery to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off for the duration of the meeting as they interfere with the broadcasting equipment, even when in silent mode. I welcome Ms Julie Sinnamon, chief executive officer, Enterprise Ireland and her colleagues, Mr. Tom Hayes, divisional manager regions and entrepreneurship, Mr. Niall O'Donnellan, divisional manager people, policy and competitiveness, and Mr. Kevin Sherry, divisional manager for high-potential start-ups and growth engagement, to discuss the Enterprise Ireland annual report for 2014. All of the witnesses are very welcome.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

I thank the Chairman.

Before we begin, in accordance with procedure I am required to read the following. By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee.

However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I invite Ms Sinnamon to make her presentation.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to attend. I am joined by my colleagues, Mr. Tom Hayes, Mr. Niall O'Donnellan and Mr. Kevin Sherry.

Enterprise Ireland helps companies throughout Ireland to start and scale, innovate and remain competitive on international markets now and into the future. The total spend of these companies in the Irish economy across payroll, goods and services purchased reached €22.9 billion in 2014. Enterprise Ireland-supported companies now directly employ 180,072 people, comprising 156,202 full-time and 23,870 part-time workers. In total, some 300,000 people are employed directly and indirectly. In January we reported that Enterprise Ireland's client companies created 19,705 new jobs, a strong start to the first year of a three-year strategy that will run to 2016. As a result, some 8,476 net new jobs were created - the highest net gain recorded in the history of the agency. In the past two years there have been record employment gains for Irish companies. All our key indicators are suggesting that employment growth is set to continue and there is a strong pipeline of new start-up companies and expansion projects coming through.

In 2015 Irish companies have continued to invest in their expansion and to create much needed jobs throughout the country. Among the investments announced in quarter 1 of this year were Icon plc and Britebill, which created 300 jobs in Dublin. More than 330 jobs were announced for Galway, Monaghan and Cavan, by client companies, Lifes2Good, Combilift and Lakeland. In Waterford, 100 jobs were announced by nearForm and a further 30 jobs were announced in the context of Lagan Brick's expansion in Cavan. In quarter 2 came the announcement of significant investment by Tricel in Kerry, supporting 100 jobs, East Coast Bakehouse in Drogheda, also supporting 100 jobs, with EPS in Cork adding 50 positions and Payback Loyalty adding 28 positions in Limerick. In addition, in quarter 3 Blue Insurance announced 100 jobs in Dublin and ABP Group announced the completion of a €50 million redevelopment of its facilities in County Tipperary. The latter has resulted in the creation of 152 new jobs to date, with expansion expected in the future. Boann Distillery in County Louth also announced the creation of 80 jobs. The customer services solution company, Eishtec, continues its rapid expansion and announced 200 jobs in its new centre in Clonmel. This month the Kerry Group opened its new global technology and innovation centre in Naas. The Kerry Group has invested €100 million in the establishment of the new technology and innovation centre which today accommodates 800 research, product commercialisation, business development and business support positions, and which will accommodate a further 100 positions by the end of 2016. In October, the Connacht Whiskey Distillery in Ballina, County Mayo, opened. The €10 million investment being made in this instance will generate 40 new jobs at the 27,000 sq. ft. distillery.

Since Enterprise Ireland last attended a meeting of the joint committee, we launched our annual report in which we announced our clients' export performance for 2014. Enterprise Ireland's client exports reached record levels, increasing by almost 10% to total €18.6 billion last year. Growth was recorded in exports to all international regions and across all sectors. The top five countries to which Ireland exports are the UK, US, France, Germany and the Netherlands. In total, exports to these countries accounted for just over €11 billion of export sales in 2014.

Exports to high-growth markets have continued to increase, with the figure for 2014 in this regard standing at €2.27 billion. Exports to Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region were up 42% and 25%, respectively. Responding to evolving growth opportunities, Enterprise Ireland opened new offices in Abu Dhabi, UAE and in Perth, Australia during the year.

The EI experience on the ground with companies winning business is also supported by the positive trends we are continuing to see from a number of independent indicators, including the monthly Investec Purchasing Managers Index which has showed continued growth in export orders for more than three years.

We continue to actively work on a team Ireland basis in overseas markets to drive the growth of our clients. The recent mission to China involved a total of 36 Irish companies and four cities were covered – Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Last week we ran a second trade mission to Ireland around the global sourcing initiative with IDA. The goal of Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland global sourcing initiative is to deepen Irish company and multinational relationships. The mission involved 150 Irish companies and 85 multinational companies from across the country and was held in Dundalk, Waterford, Cork and Galway.

Starting and growing world class businesses is at the core of our strategy and a significant amount of our supports are geared towards preparing and helping entrepreneurs all over the country. In 2014, Enterprise Ireland invested in 183 new start-ups. This included 81 companies supported through the competitive start fund and 102 investments in new high-potential start-ups, HPSUs. The class of 2014 included 18 female entrepreneurs, ten overseas entrepreneurs and 11 research spinouts. Some 43 of the 183 start-ups supported were led by female entrepreneurs. Enterprise Ireland developed a series of female accelerator programmes in partnership with knowledge providers and launched our first peer-to-peer online networking platform for female-led companies.

To the end of September 2015, Enterprise Ireland has approved a total of 143 HPSU and CSF start-up projects. An important aspect of our performance is the strength of our ecosystem. The recently announced changes to modify the capital gains tax for entrepreneurs and the increase in company limits for EIIS investment are important steps in this regard.

Innovation is at the heart of all entrepreneurship, be it in high growth potential start-up companies or in established companies that are constantly improving their products and processes. With a view to helping companies with their innovation processes, Enterprise Ireland launched the first Innovation 4 Growth programme in partnership with the Irish Management Institute to meet the needs of ambitious and entrepreneurial Irish companies seeking to use innovation as a way to unlock opportunities in the marketplace.

In May 2014, Knowledge Transfer Ireland, KTI, was launched as the State’s central technology transfer office. The first resource of its kind in Europe, it is located in Enterprise Ireland and operated collaboratively by Enterprise Ireland and the Irish Universities Association. Among its many innovations, Knowledge Transfer Ireland provides a single repository for all technology opportunities available from the research system. Ireland’s technology centres are public private development centres at the interface between industry and academia. They facilitate the development and diffusion of new technology relevant to industry in Ireland. Two new technology centres were launched in partnership with IDA Ireland in 2014 - the new Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Technology Centre and the Governance Risk and Compliance Technology Centre, bringing the total number of centres to 15.

With two-thirds of EI's client companies outside of Dublin, regional development is a key element of Enterprise Ireland’s 2014-16 strategy.

Enterprise Ireland funds and drives the delivery of the 31 new local enterprise offices, LEOs, throughout the country, enhancing performance and ensuring best practice in the provision of funding, soft supports and advice to start-ups and existing businesses. This is a major initiative that EI is working on with the local authorities across the country and the objective is to enhance, year on year, the support available to the small businesses which are critical to job growth in the economy. The Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur, IBYE, initiative last year is an example of the momentum and spark which can be generated around celebrating our next generation of entrepreneurs.

Enterprise Ireland has just recently closed a call for expression of ideas from regions with proposals to inform the design of a formal open competitive funding call that will help to identify potential areas of enterprise and sectoral opportunities in regions and stimulate a future pipeline of potential strategic, sectorally-focused and regionally-based projects. This approach is in tandem with the development of regionally-focused action plans, with the mid west plan being launched yesterday.

The active support of the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is vital to our ability to execute our strategy with Irish companies, particularly in the context of the Action Plan for Jobs. Similarly, the close collaboration of team Ireland is critical to supporting Enterprise Ireland in Ireland. Our key focus under our strategy to 2016 continues to be on driving entrepreneurship and start-ups, scaling Irish enterprise across all sectors and stages of growth, developing Ireland’s market-driven research and development capabilities and accelerating regional enterprise development. The targets set as part of that strategy represent the most ambitious for any three-year period for Enterprise Ireland, EI. Its corporate strategy to 2016 sets a target of growth in exports of €5 billion to more than €22 billion and for our clients to create 40,000 new jobs in the same period. What we see at this point as being a very strong 2015 will position EI and its clients to achieve these targets and continue the contribution to the growing momentum behind the Irish economy. I again thank members for the opportunity to brief the committee. My colleagues and I are happy to assist them with any questions they may have.

I thank Ms Sinnamon and her team for the presentation. I commend them and everybody in Enterprise Ireland, particularly those who are abroad, on their performance over the past 12 months. It has been very strong and is the result of much hard work on the part of all Enterprise Ireland staff both here on the island and internationally. I have a couple of points. Ms Sinnamon mentioned the creation of 19,705 jobs last year with net jobs creation at 8,476, which would suggest just over 11,200 jobs were lost. Where is that occurring in terms of both sector and geography? Has Enterprise Ireland conducted an analysis of where those losses were to enable it to make alternative investments or to give other opportunities to those 11,000 or so people? What was the regional breakdown of the 19,705 jobs created? How many of those jobs were created in Dublin, Cork and Galway as opposed to elsewhere? As this is the first year of Enterprise Ireland's new marriage with the local enterprise offices, LEOs, how is that going? Is counselling needed or is it all hunky-dory with everyone getting on well? This is an entirely new area for Enterprise Ireland and while I am aware Mr. Tom Hayes is currently touring the country to talk to councils about it, what has Enterprise Ireland to learn from the experience in terms of proceeding and ensuring that relationship is working on the ground?

Ireland has some very good start-ups, some of which were listed by Ms Sinnamon, and I note there were 183 start-ups in 2014. Does Ireland face a challenge in scaling them up? Where will those 183 companies be in 2020, for example? What has been the record in respect of scaling up companies? While I cannot place my hands on it at present, a report has shown many Irish entrepreneurs had sold out of their companies at an early stage and that Ireland's record in scaling up is much poorer than that of our competitor or similar countries. The witnesses might reflect on that point.

On Enterprise Ireland's investment funds, I note the agency had some major successes in 2014 and again in 2015. It showed losses for 2014 of €16.8 million. What is the current loss figure and again, how does this compare with venture capital companies in general and how does it compare with enterprise agencies in our competitor countries?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

I will start on the issue regarding scaling up start-ups before handing over to Mr. Niall O'Donnellan to cover the issue on jobs and to Mr. Tom Hayes in respect of the local enterprise offices. The Deputy is correct in respect of start-ups and last year, we had 102 high-potential start-up companies. A key element of the 2014-16 strategy is the scaling up of Irish companies. It is not simply about scaling up the established companies but about doing so at all stages of growth. Certainly, one of the biggest challenges for Irish companies is to grow a middle-sized group of companies. We have a small number of large companies and a large number of small companies but do not have a sufficient number of middle-sized companies. This was a key focus of the strategy last year and will be for the next number of years. It is about working on the innovation and leadership agendas for the companies and on sources of funding, that is, the introduction of new development capital funds to bring in capital to help fund the growth. In Enterprise Ireland's annual report for 2014, a total of 27 of our companies were acquired by multinational companies in 2014 and were transferred over to IDA Ireland.

Those companies accounted for an additional 700 jobs in addition to the jobs we reported at the end of the year.

In the past year, the committee may have picked up on the Irish Stock Exchange working on an IPO agenda and trying to scale companies. All areas of the State are very interested in having more success in this area. We see it as an issue. If companies are acquired by multinationals, the key focus is that they have embedded sufficient stickiness in Ireland to make sure the company continues to develop in Ireland under its new ownership. We have regularly spoken at various fora about the fact that many Irish companies have sold out when they are given an offer. We would certainly like to see some of them holding on and maintaining some of that value within Ireland for the future and to try to-----

How would we compare with regards to Europe and scale-ups in California? Are we way behind the curve?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

When we compare Europe with the US, one of the issues is the fact that far larger cheques are written for startup companies in the US and in order to grow them. Therefore, they are not under the same pressure in terms of smaller fund-raising lines on an ongoing basis. One of the key reasons why we have increased the funding in development capital is to try to have a suite of different funding options to encourage more scaling of those companies in Ireland. It is not just an issue of acquisitions. Trying to put more of the focus on growing companies as opposed to it always being on increased numbers of startups is a big focus. While increased numbers of startups are important, growing companies of scale is a key part of the agenda because they create a lot of jobs and can create a lot of export opportunities globally. It is a major focus.

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

The Deputy is right about the job losses. There are the gains and gross gains that are spread throughout all sectors and there are the losses, which are also spread throughout all sectors. The food, ICT, manufacturing and construction sectors will all have job losses. Some of this is the legacy from the crisis, particularly in construction. Much of it is the churn in terms of the market. There are opportunities for gain but there is also restructuring within companies that needs to happen as they become more competitive. First, our role involves focusing on the specific opportunities within each sector. In the food sector, this involves supporting the elimination of the milk quota. We have had a particular focus on construction over the past number of years in response to the crisis and have been trying to get companies into the overseas marketplace and construction services. We have focused in particular on programmes that help companies become more competitive, especially around Lean. We have been a major champion of Lean within all of our companies in all sectors but particularly in food and manufacturing. Product development is a key part of maintaining competitiveness. They are the key responses. We are very conscious, particularly in a regional context, of companies that are significant employers in the smaller towns. We focus on their support and on making sure they are engaged with our services.

Could the witnesses provide us with a breakdown of both gains and losses geographically and sector by sector?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Absolutely, by sector. We are happy to do that.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

We can provide them by county as well.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

In respect of where the jobs were created and the question of Dublin versus the rest of the country, of the 8,000 plus net new jobs, about 2,300 were in Dublin and the rest were throughout the country, so it is fair to say that there was a fairly significant regional spread. We will give the committee a breakdown as to where precisely those 8,200 jobs were created but it is about one third-two thirds.

The Deputy is correct regarding the local enterprise offices. There has been significant transformation in terms of the work and where they were two to three years ago.

There is now a strong performance culture within local enterprise offices which, to a large extent, stems from the former county enterprise boards. Whatever about what we think of what they are doing, a client survey which we carried out this year, to which there were 750 respondents, showed positive results in the interaction of the client base with local enterprise offices throughout the country. For example, 75% of respondents said they would recommend a local enterprise office to an acquaintance or a friend; 70% said the local enterprise office had made it easy for them to conduct business; 64% were satisfied with the staff with whom they had engaged directly, while 82% said the funding they had received from the local enterprise office had helped and enabled their business to grow and develop.

Through our centre of excellence we have in place a huge range of supports to help and enable local enterprise offices to conduct their business. For example, we have a service level agreement in place with the local authorities, although it is being reviewed. The agreement sets out the role and responsibilities of the local authorities, local enterprise offices and Enterprise Ireland, including the deliverables on each side in terms of budgets, evaluation, procedures, processes and training. On the training and development of staff of local enterprise offices, there is a three year programme in place. We are approximately half way through the programme which seeks to ensure the functional competencies of staff to enable them to deal with their client base. In this regard, staff have undergone training on how to assist clients in the areas of change management, leadership, how to utilise social media to help them to grow their businesses and how to ensure they have the necessary financial expertise to do so. There are a range of supports in place. Another is the progression pathways which seek to ensure companies move through the system in order that once they reach a certain stage they can move through the local enterprise office to Enterprise Ireland.

On the other major changes that have taken place, it is fair to say local authority managers have engaged with enterprises. The view in the past was that local authority managers were not enterprise-friendly. To be fair to the CCMA and local authority managers, they are now much more engaged in the process, but that is not to say there is still not work to be done. As there will always be movement of people, there are some resource issues within some of the offices, but we are working with the local authorities to address them. We have taken on a number of new CEOs. There is also some work to be done in the area of communications. It is an ongoing process, but it is fair to say a lot of significant progress has been made in the last while.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The original cost of the shares we disposed of last year was €16.966 million. The sale proceeds were €21.266 million, which means we made a profit of €9.386 million.

Was there a profit of €3 million on one transaction?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Yes, a very significant profit was yielded in one transaction. There has been a spread of returns from a range of equities. While the Deputy is correct on the transaction he mentions, there have been quite a number of other significant returns.

How does that compare with the position in other agencies?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Compared to comparable VEC portfolios, we reckon it is roughly in the middle. Our broad conclusion is that it is on par with European VECs of the same size. We think it is a reasonable performance. It is also positive in the sense that since commencement of the agency, we have invested a total of €590 million and the return from that portfolio has been approximately €450 million.

We have got back about €450 million from that portfolio. We also had some equity from the previous agencies and we still have in net terms about €150 million in equities. The market value of that is significantly higher. We think we are certainly on the positive side in terms of our direct-equity portfolio.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The key objective of our investment is skewed towards the startup side, which is the highest-risk end of that market. It is, therefore, a particularly good return, given the end of the market we are investing in.

I congratulate Enterprise Ireland on the excellent figures presented to us today.

I wish to focus on the LEOs. I have been advised that because of the change from county enterprise boards with CEOs leaving and roles changing there may have been staffing difficulties in the LEOs. About a month and a half ago some people told me that they were advised that the start-your-own business courses in their county were full and would be full until the end of October. The have had to travel to a different county to do those courses. Is Enterprise Ireland happy with the staffing and the resources the LEOs have to deliver to that key microenterprise sector?

Mr. Tom Hayes

We have just conducted a review. We have been to all 31 LEOs. Inevitably with 31 of anything there will be challenges, as I mentioned to Deputy Calleary. We will be working with the local authorities and with our own Department to ensure that they are adequately resourced whenever there are gaps in the system.

It is a good complaint in one respect if start-your-own business programmes are full in that it shows there is a demand. We have the matter constantly under review. As it is an arrangement we have with the local authorities, there is an onus on them to ensure adequate staff. Equally we have an onus to ensure they are adequately trained so that they can respond to inquiries from people who want to start or expand a business. If the Deputy has a specific instance I would be happy to take it on board and look at it. We are constantly ensuring that all 31 are adequately resourced to respond.

Previously, the county enterprise boards had a very uneven delivery of exporting programmes for microbusinesses. Has that changed?

Mr. Tom Hayes

The Deputy is correct. Through the centre of excellence we are determined to ensure there is a degree of consistency while at the same time allowing certain latitude. With 31 involved there will be some variation from county to county. Some counties may be strong in particular sectors and demand will be stronger in some counties than in others. We have put in considerable effort in the past 12 to 18 months to ensure there is a standard and more uniform response to clients across the country.

Is Enterprise Ireland's funding increasing or decreasing next year?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The initial indication is that our funding is being maintained.

There were significant discussions a few years ago about Ireland's exports to the BRIC countries and some of the growth figures were quite interesting. However, in real terms the figures were still extremely low. Enterprise Ireland is pointing to a 25% increase to Latin American countries and quite a decent increase to Asia. However, what proportion do those countries make of the overall exports?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Last year's exports came to, I believe, €2.25 billion. Our three-year strategy has a target. Asia-Pacific accounts for €1.406 billion and Latin America €224 million. In total it was €2.25 billion to high-growth markets and the target is to bring it from €2 billion to €3 billion over the three-year period, a 50% increase.

What proportion would that be?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

About 13%.

Of high-growth-----

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Yes, high growth markets compared to the total, in particular Asian.

Mr. O'Donnellan mentioned geographical spread. We have seen in the media recently FDI companies such as PayPal mentioned there are difficulties about housing workers and they have called on staff to make rooms available for new employees. Have any Dublin clients of Enterprise Ireland communicated anything to the effect that the housing crisis in the city could act as a brake on expansion or give rise to wage inflation?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

It certainly has not been raised with me at any stage by any Dublin clients.

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Not specifically in terms of housing costs but, clearly, there is a big competition for talent and the salaries reflect that. In general, Dublin is more competitive for software than would be the case outside of Dublin.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

There definitely is a tightening of space for businesses in Dublin, in terms of availability of accommodation and the cost has substantially increased. For early stage companies that does represent a challenge. When there is great availability it provides them with a greater platform to get the business up and running. One of the things we have done earlier this month, for instance, was to have a competitive start fund where we brought people from outside the country for the first time into Ireland to look at establishing a business here. We had 87 applicants and we short-listed 20 groups. We brought them to Cork. The focus for us is to try to use such mechanisms to encourage the establishment of businesses outside of Dublin. We have selected ten of those businesses for funding through the competitive start scheme.

Very good. Funding was mentioned earlier. Are there any trends in that regard? In the past there was a bigger proportion of grant funding than equity funding, which would have been less, but the trend has gone towards equity funding in recent years. Is that situation continuing? What are the proportions of each currently?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

We still focus on equity for our startups and then we focus on grants for established companies. We have put about €30 million into equity and the total of grants is approximately €78 million. We might come back with a specific figure. They are roughly the proportions. The recent expansion of the food industry has resulted in an increase in the proportion of grants to some extent over the medium term. The policy has not changed within each of those two groups, namely, startups and established companies.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

In terms of startups, the vast majority of funding for startups is in the form of equity because companies need cash upfront in order to develop and grow the business in those early years. Typically, in general terms we invest about €25 million a year in funding for early stage companies.

Very good. Mention was made of the competitive calls in which Enterprise Ireland has been involved. Are they any key characteristics of the successful companies within that process?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

By close of business this year we will have done ten competitive start fund calls. Last year we supported 81 companies. It is where companies compete for funds at a very early stage. It requires those involved to bring the business to a stage where they prove the business concept and the business is up and running at a very small stage. This year, to date, we have supported 87 companies and we see ourselves supporting more than 110 before the end of the year. Those businesses require cash upfront. The funding we provide is to develop the business to a stage where we go on and support them in the subsequent round.

Has Enterprise Ireland been involved in the development of the knowledge development box? Has it been advising or at least suggesting to the Government the best structure for that?

I read recently that some of the research and development innovation can happen overseas for it to still fall within the knowledge development box.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Enterprise Ireland has been involved in discussions to ensure the knowledge development box is beneficial to small and medium-sized enterprises, SMEs. We will continue until the Finance Bill is issued to ensure it is relevant. We believe this could be of benefit to a large number of Irish companies which have intellectual property, IP, issues. We want to ensure it has as strong a role as possible for SMEs when the Finance Bill is concluded. We have been engaged in conversations on this with our parent Department and the Department of Finance.

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

To clarify some figures from earlier, it was €51 million in grants and €31 million in equity for 2014.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The €31 million is the start-up area that is funded almost 100% by equity.

I welcome Ms Sinnamon and her team. I congratulate them on last Thursday’s cross-sectoral working event in Galway, part of the trade and investment mission in conjunction with IDA Ireland. The purpose of this was for start-ups to engage with multinationals. How did this and the other meetings across the country go?

I congratulate Enterprise Ireland for a successful 2014 and 2015 thus far. Exports to the UK are at €6.8 billion and are up 9%. This shows the importance of our nearest neighbour. There are concerns in some quarters, however, about a possible Brexit. Exports to South America come to €0.2 billion, which is, relative to other export figures, not that large. What are the main challenges in exporting to that part of the world? What is needed to improve this? Under what category does China come in this report? Is it Asia-Pacific?

Are there other areas in which the Ireland House initiative, in conjunction with the embassies, consulates and IDA Ireland, can be rolled out? One in Austin, Texas, for example, was rolled out last year. Are there other areas where we can locate these offices?

Like Deputy Dara Calleary, I have some concerns about the 11,200 job losses and to what that can be put down. Overall, the west has the lowest net jobs growth. Will the delegation comment on this? At a recent IBEC-arranged meeting, I encountered at least one company from the Gaeltacht which would have come under the remit of Údarás na Gaeltachta but would prefer to engage with Enterprise Ireland. Is there some role Enterprise Ireland can play with these companies?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The trade mission event last week was an experiment last year. This year we had 150 Irish companies and 85 multinationals at four locations. It has changed from being a polite conversation. There was a strong view from the multinationals that this event was good for them. They were not just turning up but were strongly of the view that sourcing good quality innovative products and services locally was good for them. There was a really strong turnout from some multinationals.

The one thing we can see from the event this year compared to last year is that it is becoming more mainstream between the two agencies in that as new foreign direct investment potential clients come into Ireland, they meet Irish companies from day one on site visits, etc., and there is a specific target between the two agencies. The feedback from some of the participants who were at last year's event was that it has resulted in business and that there was a much stronger traction this year. I will ask Mr. Kevin Sherry to talk about resourcing overseas and the switch between high-growth markets and the UK.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

First, with respect to Údarás na Gaeltachta clients, we work very closely with it and its client companies. The funding for Údarás clients comes through Údarás but we would work very closely with its clients overseas to help them to get into overseas markets. Many of its clients would participate on our management development programmes. We involve them in sector initiatives across different clusters and in initiatives such as the trade mission in Ireland and other ones. There is no prohibition and we work very closely with our colleagues to encourage them.

Can Enterprise Ireland fund them?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

In terms of direct funding for the companies, the funding comes through Údarás but they utilise and collaborate with us on the funding instruments that we use. When we develop a new funding instrument it is automatically developed and rolled out for Údarás clients.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Research and development applications would come through the competitive call process through our committee, so they come through our approval process.

Enterprise Ireland does not fund them, rather the funding comes through Údarás. Is Enterprise Ireland prohibited from so doing?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

In terms of prohibited from funding?

Yes, from funding them?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

No, we are not prohibited from funding them, we provide funding, as the chief executive officer has said, through research and development but, obviously, they will not receive funding from Enterprise Ireland and from Údarás for the same activities.

In terms of Ireland House and areas to develop, we fundamentally restructured our overseas network during the past four years. We closed some offices, merged some offices and opened new offices. We downsized offices and then resized them because of the needs for our clients in taking account of different markets areas. We have 33 offices overseas. In 20 of those locations we are co-located with either an embassy or a consulate or a consul general. In a further six of those locations where such entities are not present we are co-located with another State agency and when no other players are present, for instance, as in Johannesburg where the embassy is in Pretoria, we have our own office. In some such cases we are co-located and in that particular example we share an office with ESBI. In addition to having our own offices, we have built out during the past three years what we call our pathfinder, our trade consultant network. These are people who have specific expertise in particular sector areas. At this stage we have more than 350 of those people around the globe to whom we introduce clients, who can liaise with them in terms of specialist items of work that need to be undertaken.

With respect to China, it has featured significantly in the news with the lowering of growth rates there but they are still above 6%. It is still an enormous and important market for our clients. Exports continue to grow strongly there. We do not target the market in general. We are very specific in most overseas markets about targeting specific sector areas where there is clear capability on the part of Irish companies to both address and deliver on opportunities in those markets. There is a big opportunity for Irish companies in some of those high-growth markets but it is in very specific sectors, and in some far distant markets it can be more on the international traded service activities rather than on the product side. A good example of that would be in Latin America where import duties are very high, where barriers to entry are also high and where companies need to have, for example, a very compelling product proposition that is not available in the marketplace. That happens on occasion. We have a client company in the north west that was successfully exporting self-erecting cranes into Brazil but that does not happen very often.

It tends to be more in financial services, educational services, engineering services and other sectors. The Deputy is right that we are only scratching the surface in Latin America. It is a difficult market, not one for every company. Companies that go into it need to be well prepared and well resourced to go the distance. The same applies to some of the more challenging markets in Asia. As nearer and more mature markets recover, we will have a greater challenge to encourage and ensure companies will remain committed to these higher growth but more distant markets because in the longer term they will represent a larger percentage of global trade. It is important that we continue to invest not just in the short term but in the long term in these markets, which is why, even during the difficult times of the past three years, we got agreement from the Government to put additional resources into these high growth markets.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Two weeks ago we had representatives of 36 companies in China. Looking back at trade missions in the past few years, one can see that there is now a better fit between what companies have and what China is looking for, including companies on the food side, the environmental side, where there are significant issues and for which we have products that are suitable, the technology-software side and the agri-tech side. We have gone from there being a lot of goodwill in the Chinese market to do business in Ireland to having got down to companies that have a strong proposition where there is a gap in China. While there is stuff in the news about growth rates dropping to 7% in China, there is a better fit for what we have and we are much more focused on the companies that have the right products for that market. There are, therefore, many opportunities.

Overall, therefore, the potential in South and Latin America might not be as great. There are limitations on growth and on importing into these countries.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

In 2014 the growth rate was 42% from a low base. We need to achieve higher growth rates in these markets because we are coming from a low base but, more importantly, it is not just about looking at the growth rate in a particular year but over a longer period because it requires that level of commitment. We will not have a figure of 42% every year, but we need to remain committed to these markets. The United Kingdom is and will continue to be our most important export market. It is important for us that, as we have seen in the past five years, exports to the United Kingdom as a percentage of our overall exports have declined. While they grew strongly last year, at almost 8% and as a percentage of our total exports, the figure has declined. That is good news because it means that we are reducing our dependence on this market.

I thank the delegates for the report. I congratulate Enterprise Ireland on 2014 being such a successful year. There are fears about Brexit and discussions are ongoing. There may, potentially, be a referendum in 2016-17. Has the agency examined the implications of a Brexit for companies exporting to the UK market?

Companies are finding it difficult to acquire staff and have to recruit overseas. Is the agency advising them on how to best source people? Is it linking with some of the trading agencies in order that education and training programmes can be modified to address staff shortages in various sectors? This is linked with the input the agency may have into the new apprenticeships being provided. Are we being proactive rather than reactive?

Mr. Sherry has said the agency's target for the period 2014 to 2016 is the creation of 40,000 jobs. Is that a gross or a net figure? Previously, both gross and net figures were given to the committee.

Can the witnesses give us an indication of that?

The Irish Government has almost €10 billion of procurement. Some of that has been taken up by overseas companies, taking the place of Irish companies. I know Enterprise Ireland supports Irish companies that are supplying internally on the import substitution role. However, has it looked at that on the Irish procurement side and could we do something on that?

It was mentioned earlier that the role of the local enterprise offices, LEOs, is now more within the local authorities, which are the controlling bodies, even though the finance comes from Enterprise Ireland. The feeling I get is that the LEOs have lost their independence, given they would previously have had their own boards, and they are now more controlled than they were, with the decision-making taken out of their hands in many cases. Do the witnesses get that feeling from around the country, given it is quite a strong feeling in certain areas? There would not be the business sense within the local authorities that there would have been in the local enterprise boards, which were more independent.

I was at Maynooth University recently when it opened its business hub, which is an excellent facility. How much support is Enterprise Ireland willing to give universities to establish places like that? While Enterprise Ireland supports the start-up companies that might spin off from that, this type of facility creates an environment so the research is then spun into actual job creation.

One of the biggest export areas is the service sector. How much support does Enterprise Ireland give to service sector companies, given the LEOs do not support start-ups in the service sector as a potential export sector?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

I will ask Mr. Sherry to talk about the Brexit side. While we have not done work on that, there has been a lot written on the implications of it, and we have shared that and talked to our clients about it.

The Deputy mentioned the skills side. That is probably the No. 1 issue our companies are facing at this point in time and the sector where the issue is biggest is on the ICT side. One of the things which is currently being tendered is a portal to help people here identify skills from anywhere relevant in order to try to match the skills available with the jobs available. We have worked closely with the companies on the question of apprenticeships, in particular engineering companies, so they have been very involved in terms of feeding into and proactively pushing to get the various apprenticeship programmes going. It is not being done alongside us but the companies and ourselves are very actively involved in it.

The 40,000 target in the three-year strategy is a gross target. We are actually ahead of that target at the end of the first year and we will be reviewing those numbers at the end of this year in terms of the stretch associated with it, depending on the outcome.

The procurement opportunity domestically is significant. Enterprise Ireland has a team of people who are basically working full-time in trying to help Irish companies access the public procurement opportunities that are there. We have done a number of pilots this year in the Small Business Innovation Research, SBIR, competition, which is helping small companies specifically. For example, one was with ESB on the electric car side, where we would get a specific programme to try to identify potential suppliers on metering for charging points for electric vehicles. The intention was that this would be open to small companies. It has been very successful and has now rolled out into a couple of areas.

I will ask Mr. Hayes to cover the local authorities and the question of the loss of independence of LEOs.

Mr. Tom Hayes

There is no point in underestimating the significant degree of change arising out of the dissolution of the county and city enterprise boards and the transfer of their functions to local authorities. There is no question about the extent of the change involved. Over time, however, I am confident it will prove to be the right way to go in that it will provide local authorities with the opportunity to support and encourage local businesses, be enterprise-focused and take on enterprise as a key development in their own local areas. As I said, I do not underestimate the challenges that exist. However, we certainly have worked very closely with the local authorities, the County and City Management Association, the Local Government Management Agency and with the team in the Department to ensure that the best possible supports are being provided to staff. It is an absolutely fundamental tenet of what we are doing to ensure the enterprise culture remains within the local enterprise offices. That is essential.

As I mentioned earlier in reply to Deputy Calleary, our training programmes are all geared to ensure the staff who are moving from the local authorities - it is a major change for them as well - are up to speed with what enterprise requires, how to read business propositions, understand business requirements and so on. All of that is very different from what they did when they were working in the local authority and a lot of effort has been put into meeting that challenge. I am not saying there are no longer any challenges or that there are no parts of the country where work remains to be done. However, the training and development initiative is a three-year programme and we are only halfway through it. It covers all the main business functions to ensure there is a unified and standardised approach to supporting enterprise at a local level.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The Deputy asked about the business hub at Maynooth University. Enterprise Ireland provided funding for that hub. Indeed, we have a significant role in terms of working with the universities, particularly in the context of the commercialisation of the research that is going on and which is funded by many parties, including Science Foundation Ireland and other research bodies. Our key focus is the commercialisation of research. We have incubation facilities in every institute of technology and university in the country and, as I said, we provided specific funding for Maynooth. We have 15 technology centres which are sectorally driven by companies in order to make sure the research is actually addressing the needs of industry, whether it is cloud computing, data analytics, Food for Health Ireland in the dairy processing sector, etc. All of that is driven by companies deciding the research agenda and joint funding being provided by us. It is a very active area.

Does my colleague, Mr. Sherry, wish to comment briefly on Brexit?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

I might speak first about the services sector, which accounts for an increasingly larger portion of our exports right across a whole range of areas, including financial services, education services, engineering services and so on. We work with a large number of client companies across those sectors. Services are different in that they are about selling confidence and relationships. That requires a different approach by companies. We do not provide support to service companies that are targeted solely at the domestic market; we are precluded from doing so under legislation. We do, however, through our potential exporters unit, work with small services companies which are seeking to export for the first time. We try to encourage and train those businesses to move into the export sector.

I apologise for interrupting. It is also the case that the LEOs do not support the services sector. This is potentially a huge growth area, with small businesses with only two or three employees having the capacity to become major players in the export market. However, they are not getting any of the assistance they need at the very start.

Mr. Tom Hayes

It is fair to say that for a business with two or three people that is providing a service and where there is ambition, scope or opportunity at some stage down the road to develop an export market, that operation will be supported by the local enterprise office.

It can be supported in two ways. Financial support is a great way to give them a start. Our survey showed that financial support is very valuable and useful but soft support is much more valuable at that stage, whether through the provision of a mentor, a start your own business programme, the use of social media to develop their business or provision a marketing plan. The local enterprise office can provide all those sorts of supports, whether or not the company ever has the ambition to export. The financial support can follow that. Once a company can demonstrate that it has a roadmap for one, two or three years to take its service to an overseas market, the local enterprise office can support it. If it is providing a local service, competing with another company in the next town, there is no reason for the State to support it because it is creating displacement.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The service sector has been the highest job creation part of our portfolio for the past two years. It is a really important part of our work. There have been several significant projects such as Voxpro in Cork or Eishtec in Waterford and Clonmel. The sector has the potential to create a lot of jobs in a relatively short time.

Mr. Kevin Sherry

One of our fastest growing start-ups ever was a company called Eishtec in the south east, which effectively came out of the ashes of TalkTalk and which after five years employs more than 1,200 people. We have several similar examples of companies that started off supplying a customer in Ireland but focused very quickly on international customers. They compete and win against the toughest international competition and can employ many people. We are very focused on that area.

On Brexit, the UK is and will continue to be our most important market and for the large number of clients that we work with which are targeting, and exporting to, that market, we work very closely to ensure they are as embedded as possible with their customers. In many cases, they are supplying not just those companies in the UK but in other parts of the globe that have different requirements from those in the EU. If there is a Brexit, it will have implications and those companies need to be prepared. We are also getting the benefit at the moment of a favourable exchange rate as we are with the US. We would not bank on that continuing forever. In terms of the competitiveness of Irish companies servicing those markets, we have also continued to focus on lean principles to ensure they are as internationally competitive as possible and to make sure that, irrespective of a Brexit, those Irish companies will have a compelling proposition that customers there and farther afield will want to buy. Time will tell whether it comes to pass.

In response to the comment about efforts to get staff from overseas, we put in a lot of effort with sister agencies, such as SOLAS, and other players to encourage and support the availability of skills in Ireland. In certain areas, there is a global shortage - for instance, in software development. We have assisted the Irish Software Association in raising the profile of Ireland as a location for software engineers and programmers through a programme called It’s happening here, which aims to raise the profile of Ireland as an attractive location for people with that type of skill. It is not just aimed at established companies looking to attract those skills and compete globally for those types of people but also for entrepreneurs who want to start a business, such as the example I gave of the competitive start fund earlier this month when we brought people to Ireland with a view to considering it as a location for their start-up businesses.

It has been very interesting to listen to the witnesses and learn how much is going on. I had a visit earlier this year from a group of Chinese investors. They may have been invited by Enterprise Ireland. I was impressed that they were visiting only two countries in Europe, Ireland and The Netherlands. Who are Enterprise Ireland’s competitors? The Netherlands must be one. Who else is a competitor and what are their main weapons? There was a meeting in Galway earlier this year where the British had sent somebody to encourage Irish investors to consider investing in Britain, whether in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, showing the tax and other advantages. In the business I was in we kept a very close eye on our opposition. To what extent does Enterprise Ireland have to keep an eye on its opposition to see what it is doing now and what it is likely to do next?

How important is the tax rate? It was hardly mentioned today but how important is it in competition with other investors? If, when the witnesses are on their way home, they meet a leprechaun with a crock of gold who says they can have anything they want, what would they love to have?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Our competitors vary from sector to sector and market to market. Dairy processing and within that, milk formula, is the biggest export sector to China. New Zealand is the key competitor for those products. For precision engineering and very sophisticated products it varies by country. Competition for our strong engineering companies might come from Germany. It really depends on the product.

One of the words that kept coming up when we were in China a few weeks ago was trust. The products China buys from Ireland, including milk formula, have not been without their local crises and scandals. China trusts Ireland as a source, on environmental grounds. We have some advantages in such markets and it is a matter of using them.

The United Kingdom is constantly in and out of our companies trying to get as much investment as it can from them. Therefore, for anybody supplying into the UK market, the UK is a competitor looking for that type of investment.

Most Irish start-ups begin with their community. Increasingly, on the technology start-up side cities are competing. When we looked for mobile entrepreneurs a few weeks ago those concerned came from every country. It was like a Eurovision list. We are competing against Berlin, the UK, and every key city in the world. Somebody setting up a technology company can choose to set it up here or in the US. We are constantly competing for start-up companies and in the market place against different players.

Much has been said about entrepreneurship tax in the past week. It is part of the competitive position. Last week a step was taken in the right direction but we still have a way to go, particularly against the UK, where there is a competitive situation. We take some comfort from the recognition that this is important and there has been a move in the right direction by bringing down the capital gains tax for entrepreneurs.

Senator Quinn wondered what I would ask for if I met a leprechaun with a crock of gold. The greatest issue facing all the companies we work with has to do with the skills base. They are constantly in a war for talent, both within Ireland and globally. The skills issue is probably the greatest constraint under which all these companies are operating. While we are happy to spend a lot of time in public fora talking about Irish companies, there is often not an awareness of the number of great companies within the Irish portfolio. Those companies want organisations like us, and public representatives, to talk about the successes within the Irish portfolio. That is how profiles are raised. Going back a few years, there was probably a greater resistance to announcing expansions and so on. Now, however, companies that never did so in the past increasingly want to raise their profile because they know they are competing against the best in the world for talent. I would certainly ask the leprechaun for help on the skills side as it is the main factor holding back the companies we deal with.

Deputy John Lyons took the Chair.

Ms Sinnamon and her team are very welcome. I apologise for missing the start of the meeting but I was delayed in travelling from Cork. I am sorry if some of the questions I raise have already been covered. My first point is addressed to Mr. Hayes and concerns the local enterprise offices. I am concerned that there seems to be a lot of politics going on between the LEOs, the Leader programmes and the county councils in regard to delivering training, mentoring and so on. If a person approaches one of these organisations, it seems he or she cannot then go to the others. I do not want to get too local but I was recently involved in efforts to deliver a programme in Millstreet, which involved working with Cork Institute of Technology. The PINC programme, with which the delegates will be very familiar, is a female entrepreneurship programme. Our objective was, for the first time ever, to take that programme out of an institute and bring it into a region, which would have been quite innovative in itself. However, we found ourselves very challenged when it came to securing funding. We went to a local economic fund and the county council but they could not provide any funding because that would upset the LEO. We had 24 female entrepreneurs signed up and ready to do the programme but no funding to deliver it. Many of these women could not access the programme at Cork Institute of Technology because it is an hour's drive away and they have children and so on.

As I said, there is a lot of politics going on at local level. Is there any way we could better collaborate to address the difficulties? After all, we are all paid by the taxpayer to do a job, which is to deliver a service to our customers, in this case the people who are trying to start or grow a business. It should be possible to do so without having to fight through the ream of politics that seems to be going on behind the scenes. I realise this is something the delegates cannot fix on their own and some of it comes down to the need for a policy from Government on how to manage it. However, some input from the witnesses on this matter would be helpful. Competition is good but I have real concerns when it is having the types of effects I am seeing. Some of the players involved will not run programmes out in the regions but only in their own offices. Many of the people we are trying to attract, people who are trying to get businesses off the ground, might not have access to public transport or full-time access to a car. We have a lot of young people who are long-term unemployed and we should be encouraging them to consider setting up a business and putting the supports in place to facilitate them. All of that is a real challenge.

Another concern of mine relates to the food industry. While I appreciate that we are doing very well in this space, there seem to be gaps in provision and support. For example, I read in The Sunday Business Post a few weeks ago about the importance of technical leadership. I understand Enterprise Ireland is not in a position to deliver that type of support because it is not general leadership. Do we need to implement some change in that regard? I have spoken to the Minister about it but am interested in the delegates' views. I recently saw a chart which showed all of the bodies that a food start-up in Ireland must deal with, including Bord Bia, Teagasc, Enterprise Ireland and so on. There is a huge amount of regulation involved. As a first step, the introduction of one portal would be a huge improvement. When I looked for information on female accelerator programmes on Enterprise Ireland's website, I found details of a recent event in Tralee, which I attended, but nothing about how female entrepreneurs can access an accelerator programme. Perhaps some work could be done on devising an information portal?

On a related point, the last time the delegates were here, I spoke about making the website more user-friendly. I hear from a lot of people that it is hard to get information. As I said, technical leadership in the food industry would give us a leader advantage because there is nobody else in Europe doing it. They are looking at it in North America. We should make it easy for people by having information in one place. I am sure that could be done through data analytics co-ordinating it behind the scenes. Enterprise Ireland could lead on that.

I mentioned the website. We are all concerned about the skills gap. I am glad that Skillnets is out there and SOLAS is up and running, so perhaps we will see some changes in that regard.

I know Enterprise Ireland has gone through an internal strategic review and there have been some changes. The delegates might comment on that.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy took the Chair.

Mr. Tom Hayes

As I mentioned earlier, there are, of course, challenges when we are undergoing such a fundamental change process in respect of the move from the county and city enterprise boards to the local enterprise offices. I am not aware of the specific case the Deputy mentioned but I am happy to take it on. It should not be the case because, as the Deputy said, when people look for support, they should be able to get it in the appropriate setting, wherever that might be.

As I said, we have literally been to every one of the local enterprise offices in recent weeks, taking stock and looking at the resources and challenges they have in order to ensure the integration process is taking place and that the SLA is operating to ensure a standard, uniform approach to supports. With 31 of anything, as the Deputy knows, it is not too easy to ensure there is a standard, uniform response right across the country. We would certainly be happy to take on board the specific case mentioned by the Deputy.

The funding for the Leader programme has not yet been allocated.

I appreciate that.

Mr. Tom Hayes

I am on the steering group in respect of Leader which will, hopefully, help to ensure there is some form of commonality. A protocol will be developed in the coming weeks to ensure there is not grant shopping or a significant overlap and that there is a fairly clear roadmap with regard to who people should go to for support.

A lot of effort has gone into ensuring the LEO project is a success. I mentioned earlier the client survey we undertook, to which we got over 700 responses from the clients who actually used the services of the local enterprise offices. This survey attained a satisfaction level of 75%, which was very encouraging, although there is always room for improvement. There are always challenges and there is always further work to be done. With regard to the specific case mentioned by the Deputy, we would be happy to deal with it.

As I said, while I do not want to get parochial about it, I am concerned about the culture. In the training carried out by Enterprise Ireland, perhaps the area of collaboration could be further explored.

Mr. Tom Hayes

One of the very early things we did was to bring all staff together for training days. In fact, Senator Quinn gave us the benefit of his experience in terms of customer service, which obviously went to the core of the business he ran. Equally, we want to ensure the same kind of philosophy runs through the local enterprise offices as well. We have had a huge investment in terms of training. We are about half-way through a three-year rolling programme which is focused right across the whole spectrum of change management, leadership and all of the functions it takes to enable the staff to deal with customers on the ground. The reality is this is a significant change and there are cultures which we are working to ensure are bedded in. As I said earlier, to be fair to the local authorities and the managers within them, I think they have really embraced the idea of enterprise coming into the ambit of the local authorities. However, as in any case where there is a significant change process, it takes some time. We will keep working at it.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

It is a work in progress. We now have baseline data, both from the client survey and from all of the LEOs.

It allows us to be much more targeted in what we do through the centre of excellence in terms of trying to ensure a higher level of consistency between the LEOs. If there are specific issues, however, it is often easy to deal with specifics because there may be something behind them. We would be delighted to deal with that subsequently.

I would be interested in talking separately about the technical leadership gaps in the area of food but we have done a great deal of work with food companies - both in the leadership for growth area and innovation for growth - and we have a programme with UCC in respect of middle management within food companies. If something is falling between stools, a portal is a good idea and that could be progressed. We are putting in place programmes such as Food Works to try to encourage start-ups in food. These involved Bord Bia, Teagasc and ourselves all working together. It is an integrated programmes in terms of all the agencies.

I would be happy to share that with Ms Sinnamon.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The Deputy asked previously about our website. She will be happy to know it has received a great deal of focus in recent months and I am led to believe it is ready to go. It is not mobile friendly, apart from anything else. Things have moved on and a great deal of work has taken place. It is almost complete.

We have undergone massive change during the past year. More than 50 people left the organisation. We are currently in recruitment mode and that is taking up quite a bit of time in terms of external recruitment, as well as some progression within the organisation. We have experienced a great deal of change within the organisation. We are also changing the way we deal with companies, which will be rolled out in 2016. It will be more focused on engagement with the companies that are delivering most and ensuring we are streamlining our engagement to generate maximum impact. We are beginning to see - as new staff join the organisation - that we will be able to rebuild. It has bottomed out and we are taking on new staff.

I refer finally to my favourite topic, namely, mentoring and the database. How is that progressing?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

We continue to provide our mentoring programme for our own clients. More than 300 engagements are envisaged this year. We are also directly providing some of our panel to LEO clients. That was a particular focus of the Deputy's. We have also worked with the LEOs on their mentoring panels. Traditionally, they had their own individual panels per county but we have helped them form an integrated panel of approximately 250 mentors who are available to all the LEOs as a unified panel. That means the resource is shared. We went to the 670 mentors that the LEOs had combined and asked them whether they would be willing to join the integrated, central panel and more than 250 elected to do so. That is in progress.

Is the long-term hope to get them on to closed networks where people can choose their mentor?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

We had a workshop with the mentors regarding their sense of what was the best way to do that and there was quite a debate around the topic. Some mentors were open to that but many of them were cautious. They felt that rather than just being available to everybody who wanted access to them, they needed a broker in place to select them. Currently, the model is the broker model. There is something about looking at other options. Office hours is a particular issue in the US, for example, and it is something we need to look at as part of our approach and that of the LEOs. There are other options, therefore, that we need to look at. We are not saying this is the final word on it. We need to learn from what is being piloted currently and then build on it.

Since the commencement of the meeting, the death of Hugh Cooney, the previous chairman of EI, has been announced. We are discussing much of his legacy at this meeting. On behalf of the committee, I wish to pay tribute to Hugh for his work in the agency and especially for his courage and advocacy in recent weeks. I extend my sympathies to his family and his former colleagues at the agency.

We all concur with that.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

He certainly left his mark in Enterprise Ireland. He was with us at a very important time in terms of the Irish enterprise issues. He showed great bravery in what he brought to Enterprise Ireland as well as in recent weeks in terms of his focus on early detection of cancer and fund-raising. He has left us all a lot richer for having known him.

Before we conclude I have a number of questions on whether the witnesses have had an opportunity to read our women in entrepreneurship report, which the committee launched during the summer, and whether some of the actions proposed in that report might find their way into their strategy in the coming years. Also, they might outline, regarding the regional action plan for jobs, what they intend to do differently or build on in terms of the strategies that are contained in it.

Where are the two new technology centres launched in partnership with IDA Ireland in 2014 located? Where are the others located? Regarding IDA Ireland, there is a huge emphasis on job announcements when foreign direct investment comes into the country. Enterprise Ireland has a wonderful story to tell. How do the witnesses intend to get the word out about that? In terms of the example they gave of Eishtec, if somebody announced five years ago that, on foot of foreign direct investment coming into the country through the work of the IDA, a company would come in and create 1,200 jobs, there would be singing and dancing about it. Is there something the witnesses could examine to get out the good news about what they are doing in that area?

Ms Julie Sinnamon

On the women in entrepreneurship report, we are currently bringing forward something internally in terms of our response to it. One of the immediate recommendations, for example, was that we should have two female competitive start funds. We will opt for two competitive start funds next year. Interestingly, we just got the figures for the year to date. How many females have we had come through the competitive start fund?

Mr. Kevin Sherry

Last year, between high potential starters and competitive start we supported 43 in the year. As of Friday of last week, we have already reached the figure of 51. We are already well ahead of the final outturn for last year.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Success for us would be not having any female competitive start funds but we appreciate that there is a little bit more time to go before we get to that magical 50% level. It certainly is something that has been very successful in bringing applications forward.

A number of other issues arise. On the venture capital fund and female-only funds, anything we do in venture funds is through our competitive call. We have done a number of things to bring female entrepreneurs to other funds and to get them to pitch in the United Kingdom. Some of them have successfully pitched to female only funds. They have not taken the money but gone back to general funds where they get better terms. We will constantly examine the situation but, to date, there has not been a sufficient critical mass to have a competitive commercial female fund, which is what we would need. That is the reason the competitive start funds are important, as are the initiatives to network females into sources of funding. Over the coming weeks we will be coming forward with all the responses item by item but a number of issues arise, and it continues to be a subject close to our hearts, not just in terms of the numbers of female entrepreneurs but particularly growing them to scale. The Cartier awards were held last week. Last year we had a female overall winner and this year we have a female European winner. It is very welcome to see not just the number of females involved but the quality of female entrepreneurs on a world stage. That is another bit of good news.

We have 15 technology centres, which are based in most of our universities. We can send the committee a list of all of them.

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

We have our list here and we will send the Chairman a list.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

The Government compliance one is in Cork.

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

We have cloud computing in DCU. We have the meat one in train. We have one in pharma, one in manufacturing, one in energy and so on. All the main sectors are represented in the spread of technology centres. It is industry led. We ask industry what are the big development issues it requires to be addressed. Then we put together a research programme which then goes out for a competitive bid by the various colleges. It is industry driven and industry is involved in the governance of the groups.

Is it regionally distributed?

Mr. Niall O'Donnellan

Yes, it is regionally distributed.

Ms Julie Sinnamon

Yes. If one takes, for example, the Food for Health Ireland research centre, it involves all the key dairy players, involving University College Cork, University College Dublin, Teagasc and so forth. Many of these projects cross many universities and colleges. We will submit a full list to the committee of who is involved in them later. Limerick has the largest number of projects, meaning they are largely based outside Dublin.

On the job announcements, it is a key focus to raise the profile of Irish enterprise, so that at least it is on a level playing field. Eishtec was a particularly interesting example of this. When it made its last job creation announcement, making it the fastest growing start-up in the history of the State, no news media turned up on the day because it thought it was a re-announcement. Eishtec was adding 250 jobs but had already done 250 jobs six months before. Accordingly, no news reporters actually turned up except some local journalists. It is constantly a battle to ensure Irish enterprises get the profile they deserve. That is why I will use every opportunity to raise this because they are the champions in every town and village. Most people do not even know they are even there. It is an issue which has been raised at our board level and there is a focus on trying to address that.

Mr. Tom Hayes

On what is different in the regional action plans, it really does put a spotlight on the eight regions. It is a bottom-up approach, pulling together all of the parties locally. We have had more than 1,000 people attend the stakeholder engagement events to date in seven of the regions. The Dublin event will be held over the next couple of weeks. It has brought together ideas from all parties, including the public sector, education and training boards, third level, foreign direct investment companies, the private sector and chambers of commerce. There was a significant element of engagement at local level which has been synthesised into an action plan for jobs effectively. Four of these have been launched to date, the latest just yesterday in Limerick. The remaining four will be launched over the next short while.

Apart from the spotlight, a local implementation working group will be established, comprising and mainly led by private sector people with representatives from various bodies such as ourselves, IDA Ireland and the local enterprise offices. This will ensure all of the hundreds of actions involved will be implemented. Obviously, it will also ensure people will work together and collaborate on a community-type approach in the creation of enterprise and the development and creation of further jobs locally. It is a work in progress and will evolve over time as local situations and conditions change. It is not a standstill published document. It is a start and they will be different in giving local communities some real autonomy.

I thank Enterprise Ireland for its engagement with the committee and congratulate it on the wonderful successes we heard about today.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.25 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 3 November 2015.