Irish Student Entrepreneurship Forum coming to RDS on Thursday

by Quinn Kanner
A student pitching their startup to judges at the ISEF semi-finals.

The seventh annual Irish Student Entrepreneurship Forum (ISEF)—an event put on by students for students—will be held at the RDS Concert Hall on Thursday at 5pm.

UCD student and ISEF Co-Head Chris Byrne said: “The Irish Entrepreneurship Forum, or ISEF as we like to call it, is a non-profit student initiative that aims to foster entrepreneurship among third-level students.

“It began as a pitching session between lecturers and students in UCD and from there it’s grown year on year into what we believe is a national event.”

The forum consists of a competition where student-run start-ups can win a prize of €8,000 and mentorship from Unifund, an Irish seed fund for students, plus speakers and networking events.

The competition is open to undergrad university students and first-year master’s students.

Byrne said:“We initially said we weren’t gonna take master students because we wanted to hold on to the purpose of a student entrepreneurship forum for undergrad. But we figured if people were just one year into a Master’s program that that wouldn’t be a problem.”

A committee of Irish university students plans and executes the forum from June to April each year.

The first step the committee takes towards running the forum is getting the word out, both seeking startup applicants and generating interest in the forum through promotion among university societies, campus publications and social media.

This year, the committee received about 50 applications, from start-ups ranging from initial “whiteboard ideas” to products with patents pending or services that were already generating revenue.

Byrne said: “Some people had only whiteboard ideas of apps, some people had apps in the app market. Our winner last year was only a whiteboard idea when they applied. I think that’s a really good point to note: you can be at any stage of business.

“We try to provide support from the earliest stage possible, so if you have a great idea, but you can’t get it off the ground, we will come in and hopefully help you get there.”

About half of the start-ups that applied were accepted to the first stage of the competition: a showcase at Broadlake Capital. Entrepreneurs who couldn’t attend the showcase were able to do an interview about their idea instead.

Byrne said: “One of our finalists now wasn’t at the Broadlake event, but we didn’t want to discriminate against anyone for not being able to show up to an event.”

Eight Semi-finalists were selected based on the merit of their idea, their team, their business model and their market viability. Their presentation skills also come into play.

Byrne said: “You could have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t actually get that idea across to the judges, to the rest of us, that’s not much help.”

Based on those same main points, three finalists were selected to present before a panel of judges at the Forum: Lexi, a language learning platform, Placemate, a student internship platform, and Luminary Hub, which helps businesses develop an online presence.

In addition the competition finals, the forum will also have speeches by Domhnal Slattery, the founder and CEO of the aircraft-leasing company Avolon, and Sonya Lennon, the founder of FaFinder, an app that helps make independent boutiques more accessible. 

Event attendees can also enjoy coffee and pastries while networking with sponsors of the event, graduate recruiters and start-up members as part of the events Careers and Coffee initiative.

Byrne said: “We’re hoping to get some informal chats going on between the graduate recruiters and the students from a variety of different backgrounds.”

The Forum is free for students to attend. They just need to get a ticket through Eventbrite and bring their student card.

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