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Medtech entrepreneurs taking startups to Ireland

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 31, 2013 11:00 AM

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Irish heritage is deeply rooted in Boston’s cultural history. Over one hundred years after an influx of Irish immigrants seeking opportunity set the tone for Boston’s growth and development, there is a new “innovation exchange,” in which some Boston-based entrepreneurs, particularly those in the medtech sector, are choosing to locate their businesses in Ireland in order to expedite their path to success.

I am a champion of innovation and I am a proud Bostonian. And though I have no familial Irish roots, I found that locating my medtech startups—including Labcoat Ltd, Cappella, and most recently, gEyeCue Ltd—to the Emerald Isle was necessary to achieve my goals.

Here’s why: As a Boston resident with ties to local companies, organizations, and universities (I am a professor at Boston University), I know that relocating businesses across borders is not easy. That said, as much as I love Boston, the medtech community in the U.S. is characterized by long development cycles and costly, complex regulatory processes, making it extremely challenging for entrepreneurs to get their products to market in the US. And with the new medical device tax, moving outside of the U.S. to access the European market is becoming an even more attractive option for medtech entrepreneurs, with 25 percent of medical device company executives admitting to plans to expand overseas in order to deal with the tax, according to a recent study conducted by the Silicon Valley Bank.

For me, looking east to establish my business made sense. Ireland offers an efficient system that enables entrepreneurs to kick start their operations and more quickly bring their new medtech solutions to a large OUS market. In fact, some startups have found that they have been able to get their products to the European market by as much as five years faster than into the U.S. market due to access to a differential EU regulatory approval process. For a startup company, early market validation is extremely critical to creating enterprise and happy inventors.

While the streamlined EU regulatory processes which can be addressed in Ireland are hugely beneficial, they are only part of why the medtech sector there is so accommodating for entrepreneurs. The innovation beltway around Galway on Ireland’s west coast offers an exceptional and highly skilled workforce, including engineers coming out of esteemed university programs. Not only that, but entrepreneurs also have access to floor space and knowledgeable vendors, and can also receive tax incentives, like a 25 percent credit for R&D expenditure and 12.5 percent corporation tax.

Ultimately, though, every successful business is about the people—and access to the networks of founders, supporters, suppliers and experts that can help turn entrepreneurial dreams into reality. Ireland boasts over one billion dollars in seed and venture funding in all industries, as well as a number of VCs specializing in life science startups. Startups and VCs can easily connect through support programs like government agency Enterprise Ireland, which works proactively with angels and VCs investing in over 150 early-stage companies per year. I can’t go into a pub without running into people I know—or need to know—in my industry. And with a mature technology manufacturing infrastructure in place, Ireland offers the kind of supply chain that makes it incredibly easy to create, prototype and produce new products.

Has it been easy? No. There were many times I thought I’d made a mistake—struggling to contact my friends back home due to time zone differences, or when I couldn’t remember my country code calling from a payphone when my car broke down on a lonely country road. But entrepreneurs are risk takers by nature, and the risks I took to locate my business to Ireland have been vastly outweighed by the benefits I’ve reaped.

Boston is a great place to live and work, but pockets of innovation are opening not just around the country but around the world, and the competition for great entrepreneurial thinking will only get more intense in the months and years to come. The Silicon Valley-Kendall Square rivalry may be strong, but lesser known cities like Dublin and Galway are quickly rising as contenders in the global innovation economy.

Art Rosenthal is a Boston University professor, serial entrepreneur, and Life Sciences Ambassador at Enterprise Ireland.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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