Proposal: An Irish Tech Brain Trust – Advisory Board for Irish startups

This post has been in draft since February so is a little stale now. I had some private chats with James Corbett and John Timmons about this. I don’t really have the time to put more work into this idea but I thought I’d throw it out and get my draft posts down under the 20 number. :) So here goes:

James over on EirePreneur is talking about fantasy business teams and how the Entrepreneur OPML reading list he created would make a good advisory board:

I started asking myself similar questions recently after putting together a reading list for Irish entrepreneurs. It occured to me that the list was something of a fantasy business team. If I was to be struck by a flash of inspiration for the right business idea I can’t imagine having a better team than the 13 people on that list.

IrelandOffline has something we call a “Brain Trust”. It comprises of people we’ve handpicked and who we trust and we pass ideas to them that we would not disclose in public for a while. Sometimes these are new campaigns we are working on, or consultations we are answering or questions we want to ask and debate but not do so in a public forum. The IrelandOffline discussion forum on boards.ie is great but from logs and conversations with the *buzzword warning* stakeholders in the telecoms industry, we know that people from ComReg, DCMNR, eircom, BT, Smart, Digiweb tune in daily to see what we are up to. That’s why we have an exclusive private mailing list where we can safely discuss some items. I have been in other groups that also use this idea of a private advisory team and it can be quite effective.

A Brain Trust comprised of some of the people on James’ list might be a worthwhile group for a new startup to seek advice from. While some people give out about stealth modes being so last year or Web 1.0, they are still important for a small company working on something where their only advantage is a great idea and keeping out of the public domain. If you’re a one person operation I’m sure you wouldn’t like it if you had this idea, blogged about it and then a week later saw another company with 10 dedicated employees do the same thing but faster. As well as that it might be better for some companies to keep their fuckups private if they are small and cannot manage their PR properly as they are spending all their time doing other things. Or in fact to not fuckup at all. One public fuckup early on could wreck your reputation. The Brain Trust could say “Listen mate, if you do that then this is going to happen. Why not try this instead?”

Advisory boards are good but generally want some kind of cut on future revenue. Me, well I like money but don’t think the type of Brain Trust I’m proposing should demand anything from a small startup. However, to prevent every kid with an idea from spamming the Trust, I would like to see some kind of small fee given to the Trust which could be used later on to perhaps help out a struggling company or used as some kind of defense fund or put a small investment in a company we all like. Hell it could be used to run a conference or showcase for all the companies that we liked. Just piggy bank the money for now. I’m thinking something small like €100 would do. The Trust members would not get any of this money.

So why would people want to be on the Trust if they get nothing out of it? Well, they themselves would probably learn a lot from their peers. It might also mean business for them where they could sell consulting services to the people that are seeking Trust advice because while the Trust would give advice I’m adamant we would not be redesigning a whole system for a guy with an idea for free. There’d be nothing stopping a Trust member from getting work from an advisee, once it’s disclosed to the Trust. Still, maybe it is a romantic notion but I would like to think the main motivator for the Trustees is to help foster local businesses and aid in the growth of indigenous ideas.

There’d need to be guidelines too for this Trust, like above about selling your services to someone. I’m sure they can be worked out in time. I’m sure people would give out that such a Brain Trust would be elitist and non-transparent. Yes it would be and there shouldn’t be any apologies for that. Issues about NDAs and so forth would have to be looked at too. Lots of stuff would need to be figured out. Maybe this can be the place to figure them out.

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13 Responses to “Proposal: An Irish Tech Brain Trust – Advisory Board for Irish startups”

  1. This is a wonderful idea Damien. I’m interested from both sides of the fence and I think the same might apply to others. Sometimes giving advice, other times seeking but always in a confidential and supportive way.

    €100 or so makes total sense. I was happy to hand my €130 fee over to the Business Angel Partnership not just because of their core mission of trying to match entrepreneurs to investors but more for the great advice and assistance they gave with business and financial planning.

  2. Great idea Damien. Very good indeed.

  3. Brilliant! I agree with it all and am also interested from both sides.

  4. Walter says:

    Damien, that’s a great idea.

  5. Irish Technical Brain Trust

    Damien has gone public on an idea he mooted to me about 6 months ago. A not for profit Advisory Group for small businesses. Have a read of his initial draft.

    My take on it was that it was an excellent idea, and that the secrecy aspect of it as a …

  6. [...] Damien comes up trumps again with a wonderful idea that he calls “An Irish Tech Brain Trust” which would be an advisory board for Irish startups. I posted a comment where I said that I was interested from both sides of the fence and I think the same might apply to many others. Sometimes you could be giving advice, other times you could be seeking but always in a confidential and supportive way. [...]

  7. Fantastic idea – I would be very interested in getting involved, like the others above, from both sides of the fence.

    Rgds

    Richard

  8. [...] A few weeks back I blogged about the Irish Brain Trust idea. An advosry board for new Irish companies or existing ones who wanted some advice. [...]

  9. Des Traynor says:

    Damien thats a cool idea, we would certainly have loved it if such a structre was in place when we were building bigulo.

    Hopefully this comes to fruition.

    Des

  10. Beats waiting for the government to do something like this :-)

    Nice one – and again could be interested on both sides of the fence.

    keith

  11. Any thoughts on how to move it on from the ‘nice idea’? stage.

    In the past I’ve benefited from the Enterprise Ireland mentor scheme (’benefit’ is used loosely, as I also found out what can happen if you ignore good advice!).

    I think I’ll be seeking more than giving advice over the next couple of months , but I like the idea of paying (even a token) fee, so that the advice is more valued.

    Probably also useful time limiting it (e.g. x amount of hours), and after that you’re onto more commercial rates.

  12. Damien says:

    Yeah I hope to start getting this moving pretty soon. Once I get back from Aberdeen and before I have to head away again. :)

  13. Tom Corcoran says:

    Damien,
    I’m a bit late picking this up but would be very interested in getting involved and can think of a number of other experienced business people who would also.