Be Inspired. Be an entrepreneur
‘Ireland needs to focus on building a portfolio of global companies rather than multinationals,’ explained Dr. Chris Horn, co-founder of IONA Technologies that grew from a three man operation with just under € 4,000 start-up cash to one of the top 10 software companies in the world and the 5th largest IPO in the history of Nasdaq.
Chris Horn was delighted to kick start the ‘Be Inspired. Be an entrepreneur 2010’ series along with Hothouse guest speakers Andy Hirst CEO of itabs and Matt Norton, MD of Sentry Wireless. The event was chaired by Conall O Móráin Sunday Business Show, TodayFM. The event was sponsored by Dublin City Enterprise Board, whose chairman, Pat Lynch, attended.
r-l: Tom Flanagan Head of Commercialisation DIT, Pat Lynch Chairman DCEB, Andy Hirst CEO i-tab.com, Conall O Móráin Sunday Business Show TodayFM, Dr. Chris Horn co-founder IONA Technologies, Matt Norton MD Sentry Wireless and Ruth Kearney Marketing Officer Hothouse.
Above: Students from DIT Business and Marketing Society (BAM) give a helping hand.
Gleeson Theatre DIT Kevin Street full of entrepreneurs, local businesses students and general public at the Be Inspired 2010.
Inspiration from the valley
The story of IONA Technologies is one of smart moves and success and it all started back in 1982 after Chris visited the US. He was inspired after meeting with the top guys in Stanford University Network (SUN) and others in Silicon Valley and he thought to himself, ‘If they can do it, I can do it too and I can do it better’.
Armed with this winning attitude Chris was destined for big things and in 1991 he setup IONA Technologies with two other academics Sean Baker and Anrai O’Toole with an initial investment of just € 1,250 each. The business plan consisted of the concept ‘A world wide opportunity in computer software industry’. The competitor analysis showed that there were some big players in the space including HP, IBM and ORACLE. Despite this impressive competitor list and the fact that Microsoft had declared that this area of the internet ‘would simply never work’ Chris was still convinced that IONA would ‘do it better’.
Back in the early 1980’s government agencies and the Business Expansion Scheme (BES) fund were really only interested in giving money to asset back investments like restaurants and tourism activities, not to unproven software companies. Enterprise Ireland did not exist at that time and the IDA was the only source of support available. The IDA had only one person who was responsible for indigenous software/electronics companies and his response to funding IONA was simply ‘You guys aren’t playing at Croker’. In other words, if you couldn’t deliver 5000 jobs like Intel did then there was no funding available for them.
Hit the ground running
For the next nine months with no venture/seed funding, Chris and the other founders were totally dependent on consultancy work such as IT training courses, backup and device drivers operations and any surplus they made was pumped straight back into the company. Finally, in 1992 the company had just enough money to hire two extra staff and they began to develop the software products that they had always wanted to build. This was when the ‘fun’ began. First they launched into technology hotspot San Francisco knowing that if they were a success in the US that Europe and Asia would follow. In 1993, with just 11 staff they exhibited at a trade show where they got their first customers for a contract worth $20,000 and an introduction to SUN that was eventually to be their lucky break.
The sun was shining
SUN Microsoft which was then a multi-billion dollar company flew to Ireland to meet with Chris and offered to license IONA technology for a contract worth $ 600,000. This was at a time when the revenue for IONA was a mere $ 50,000 and this was also the deal that IONA has been waiting for, well almost!
The grand slam - invest and they shall follow
Chris Horn had something else on this mind. Previous contract talks with mobile giants Nokia had proven disappointing because IONA had no financial backing and was considered by Nokia to be too small to do business with. Nokia loved IONA technology but without financial security they were deemed too risky. Taking this into consideration, Chris suggested that SUN take a stake of 25% in IONA instead of a licensing contract for the same sum of € 600,000. Christmas 1993 SUN agreed and shortly afterwards Nokia became a customer followed by another huge contract with Boeing. It was a grand slam in all respects.
IONA from strength to strength
IONA went from strength to strength and in 1997 the company went public with the 5th largest IPO in the history of Nasdaq. SUN sold its stake making a handsome return of $6 million on their $ 600,000 investment which they had initially written off. In just over five years IONA had gone from tradeshows to trading stocks and they were listed in the top ten software companies in the world. Chris Horn was right - , IONA ‘did do it better’ and in 2008 the company was sold to Progress Software for approximately € 162 million where it continues to delivers cutting edge software products for world markets.
As for Dr. Chris Horn, he is now an active member of the Government Innovation Taskforce advising the government on strategy for positioning Ireland as an international innovation hub and how to make the smart economy become a reality. He is also the current Chair of Engineers Ireland and serves on several other boards. Chris is an avid blogger http://chrisjhorn.wordpress.com/ and twitmeister http://twitter.com/chrisjhorn with almost 900 subscribers and in our opinion definitely one to follow.
Watch the full Be Inspired video series here
Sponsored by: Dublin City Enterprise Board
Dublin City Enterprise Board is a state funded agency that helps start-up and micro businesses in Dublin city with enterprise information, advice, training, mentoring, networking and in some cases financial assistance. http://www.dceb.ie/
For more information contact
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