The post I wrote a couple of weeks back –  Is Ireland Really and Innovation Island? – received more interest than usual and in particular generated a very interesting discussion in the comments that is worth checking out. The conversation around the need for an online network for innovators and entrepreneurs continued offline with Michael and Johneric. I’ve volunteered to articulate what I see as the essence of that conversation to see if there is potential in developing something practical out of it.

No Shortage of Irish Innovators

All are agreed on this at least, even if some think that IDA, EI and multi-nationals need to do more to support and foster budding entrepreneurs. The Internet is now facilitating a whole new breed of lazy entrepreneurs. However there are many innovators that for very practical reasons will probably never bring their great ideas much further than a few scribbles on scraps of paper.

Many are in full-time employment, jobs they enjoy, yet which don’t fully satisfy their appetite to innovate. With families to support and mortgages to pay, many others simply hand in their notice and face the prospect of months or years without a stable income. It is true that the most successful entrepreneurs are often natural risk takers, but it is also true that many of the most successful innovators are part-timers.

There are people out there with ideas and expertise in a wide range of areas but wouldn’t know the first place to start. There are also start-ups with business plans but with gaps in expertise that they simply cannot afford to fill with paid consultants. There are retired people with a lifetime of business acumen, eager to find projects that they can get stuck into.

A Network for Innovators

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a forum that could bring all these entrepreneurs and budding innovators together in a manner that was mutually beneficial. Start-ups with specific skills gaps could tap into the expertise of people who were willing to put in significant amounts of their spare time to help bring ideas to market. Innovators could find out how to progress their ideas and identify suitable entrepreneurs to help make them a reality.

An online network, similar in part to the Innovation in Ireland group that the IDA have established on LinkedIn, would be a very practical first step. All participants would have their resumés already in place on their profiles. Members would be able to share ideas with others and seek advice on the various aspects of the innovation process. Individuals could showcase their expertise by providing articles and advice with others. Public and private conversations will help to bring people together in a supportive environment.

There is nothing like face to face contact, and the network could be taken to venues around the country throughout the year. Networking events would see innovators pitch their ideas and outline the kinds of support they are looking for. Not unlike a Dragon’s Den or the First Tuesday Club of years gone by, entrepreneurs could pitch their business plans, not seeking capital investment, but human investment in terms of time and effort from subject matter experts. In return, partnerships would develop where start-ups would grant small amounts of equity in potential future successes in lieu of time and effort put in by their new partners.

Protecting intellectual capital and providing suitable legal frameworks would be an important consideration in establishing and managing such a network. Innovators will rightly be wary of sharing their ideas for fear of others stealing them. Would we, for example,  get people to sign NDA’s or other legally binding agreements in advance of being allowed to participate in the network? Are there models in place in other spheres that could be applied here?

Would YOU Join an Innovation Network?

The bottom line here is whether there is appetite out there for people to join in such a network. Are you an entrepreneur that needs specific skills, cannot find them but would be happy to share a small amount of equity in lieu of this expertise from a part-timer? Are you bursting with innovative ideas but lacking the framework to bring them beyond your garage or living room and would love the opportunity to hook up with others who are not risk averse?

Would you participate in such a network? Critically, if you are one of the types of people listed above and would NOT participate, tell us why not so we can see if it is viable or not before we go any further.

Have your say by voting here or leave a comment below, anonymously if you like. If you’d like to get involved in bringing this forward let me know in the comments below or here.

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