Start-up advice from Tony McEnroe, Sirius XT

Tony McEnroe

Tony McEnroe, CEO, SiriusXT

Thinking of applying for the Competitive Start Fund? Tony McEnroe, CEO of SiriusXT and Enterprise Ireland’s HPSU Founder of the Year 2017, describes himself as an “accidental entrepreneur” – here’s his advice on taking the plunge and setting up your own business.

My background is in Electronic Engineering and I have worked for over 30 years in high-tech companies across a range of industries spanning software publishing, machine tools, aircraft and automotive assembly, wireless communications, security imaging, cloud computing and medical imaging. This time has been split, almost 50:50 between start-ups and large enterprises.

I consider myself an accidental entrepreneur! I love getting involved in developing new technologies to help solve problems and, in particular, in developing the business cases for commercializing such technologies. This has led to my involvement not only in founding new companies but also in getting existing commercial enterprises to undertake new product developments. I get the biggest 'buzz' in spinning out the new idea into a new venture as this gives greater autonomy and flexibility to the management team.

All start-ups face challenges

Managing a start-up is no more and no less challenging than managing a business unit of a larger company, but the challenges are very different. It would be naive for someone with many years of experience in managing business units of larger companies to assume that managing a start-up is easier or similar.

The five start-ups I have been involved in all had different challenges to face. These have varied from 'lack of funding', to 'cash flow management' to 'attracting skilled staff' to 'sales channel management'.

In my experience, less than 50% of managers who have been successful in managing in one area are successful in the other. My advice to anyone getting involved in a start-up is to always be willing to listen to, and learn from, the experience of other start-up founders.

Unconscious incompetence – not knowing what you don’t know

Business founders are intelligent people who have already demonstrated a proficiency, given sufficient time, in finding solutions and answers to the wide variety of issues they encounter in business. The biggest problem facing start-up founders is in not knowing the next problem that is just around the corner. In other words, it is in not knowing what they don't know. This is where the benefits in networking with other start-up founders can help as most start-ups face very similar challenges at some time or other.

This problem is more acute for the start-up manager than the business unit manager, as the former will likely be a founder with the niche domain expertise that enables innovation. This skillset is diametrically opposite to the skills needed by the business manager, who is expected to be a 'Jack of all Trades', spanning legal, funding, grants, regulatory, HR, finance etc.

My advice is that it's easier (and less costly) to learn from other peoples' mistakes and any forum that allows founders to share their experiences with other founders should be leveraged and valued.

Final advice

You can never spend too much time practicing how best to articulate your business proposition. Every founder needs a well-honed one to two minute 'elevator pitch' (as well as a 10-minute version for the more formal presentation occasion) that is compelling, even to the non-technical listener.

About SiriusXT

SiriusXT is developing a soft x-ray microscope, which will generate high resolution, 3D, images of the internal structure of intact biological cells, without having to slice or stain the cell. There is no laboratory instrument available today that is capable of doing this.

The primary application for a soft x-ray microscope is to help biologists, working in disease research, to measure and track the change in shape, volume and density of internal cell organelle as the disease spreads through the cell and from cell to cell. This information gives the biologists a deeper understanding of cell signalling mechanisms, the changes in which are believed to be the cause of diseases such as cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases.

Interested in applying for the Competitive Start Fund - All Sectors? Find out if you’re eligible and how to apply here.