Fast Company

Ireland's Strong-Willed Entrepreneurs Find Inspiration in Crisis

The Irish "are not a people to waste a good crisis," says one entrepreneur.

Fisher Price toy horse with repaired leg

With her country embroiled in budget cuts, a $113 billion bailout, and a general financial frenzy, product designer Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh's obsession with re-use and renewal has never looked more sensible.

She's the inventor of Sugru, an affordable, Play-doh-like silicone rubber clay that can be used for everything from protecting computer parts and re-shaping light switches to creating bike grips.

Sugru allows individuals to make use of the material for whatever purpose they desire. And now, Sugru is a band-aid for families hit hard by the financial crisis whose budgets for repair supplies have dwindled. At a price of $16.50 for a 60-gram pack, Sugru is a pocket-friendly product, nurtured and launched amidst Ireland's crisis economy.

The crisis, Ni Dhulchaointigh says, "has opened a new sense of opportunity for Irish entrepreneurs, and the Irish creative community in general. It feels like there's a sense of coming together and a determination amongst young Irish people to make the most of this opportunity for change," Ni Dhulchaointigh tells Fast Company.

Sugru packetes

She developed "Sugru"--a word derived from "sugradh" in Gaelic, which means "play"--with material scientists while studying at London's Royal College of Art.

"When I was studying product design, I realized that new things aren't actually that interesting to most people. I realized that the things people love are usually old things--things that have broken and been repaired, things that bear the scars of years of use, things that carry the memories of the person who used them before you. We all feel this--like the handbag I stole from my mum who used to wear it in the '70s or the penknife you got from your granddad when you were small. Those are the things we love," Ni Dhulchaointigh says.

John Hartnett, Founder and President of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), also sees a bright side in these dark economic times.

"The Irish are placing an even stronger emphasis on entrepreneurship than ever before and are not a people to waste a good crisis," Hartnett says.

As a founding member of the group of Irish entrepreneurs, ITLG, Hartnett channels Silicon Valley thinking with VC funding, business development, and mentoring programs. And the Valley certainly hasn't lost interest in Ireland yet--just last month a "Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” trade mission was held.

"Silicon Valley has had a 35-year relationship with Ireland where many of the top tech companies have successfully benefited from the educational talent, a business environment including a 12.5% corporate tax rate, as well as a gateway to 500 million European customers," says Hartnett.

"In fact, the competitiveness in Ireland is improving due to $15 billion in cost reductions that have taken place during this crisis."

Ni Dhulchaointigh says that Sugru users are more interested in "hacking and improving things when they don't work rather than replacing them."

And both she and Hartnett say they'd rather help fix Ireland's stalled economic engine rather than jump ship.

Follow me, Jenara Nerenberg, on Twitter.

 

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