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Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 2011 edition of Business and Finance: Business & Finance Young Leaders: Neil Leyden

Neil Leyden, winner of Your Country, Your Call explains how his big idea is becoming a reality.

Behind all the grim headlines in Ireland, there’s an army of unseen entrepreneurs getting on with spotting business opportunities in the rubble of the Celtic Tiger.

Neil Leyden, winner of Your Country, Your Call competition, is part of this army that is not afraid to follow their instincts, risk failure and just give it a go.

The competition was designed to find innovative ideas to foster economic recovery and Leydon responded with a simple yet ambitious plan that beat 9,000 other entries. Just as the IFSC became a hub for international financial services, an international content services centre (ICSC) could make Ireland the global gateway for digital content between the US and Europe.


This would position Ireland centrally in the evolution of the knowledge economy by setting up an intellectual property services centre anchored around an intellectual property (IP)-based exchange with potential to create long-term employment opportunities and revenue streams.

Leydon says the project has the potential to create as many as 45,000 digital media jobs over the next 10 years.

 “We’re bringing content owners and service providers, that’s people who own the rights to films, books, magazines and anything that’s physically published as well as digitally, and everything that has intellectual property rights, we’re want them to locate in Ireland and use the corporate tax gateway to sell that content into Europe.”

The way Leydon sees it, Ireland has excelled in attracting international financial services and pharmaceutical software, why not capitalise on our reputation for storytelling and creativity and bring international creativity here and export it.

And plenty agree with him, particularly in the US. “I’ve just come back from the States and no one questions why we ought to do this. They understand that Ireland’s heritage which produces world-class musicians, film-makers, writers and other artists, makes this a natural fit and that it makes sense.”

“Just as pharma and other companies have located here, it makes sense for international companies to locate in an small, English-speaking environment with attractive tax benefits and supportive legislation.”

“Everything is digitised now, so they no longer need to have the HQ in the US to distribute content,” he says.

The screen writer and digital entrepreneur was awarded €100,000 to set this up with a deadline of September, one year on from when he won the Your Country, Your Call. “The IFSC took just five years to set up and now it contributes to 7% of GDP so we need big ideas again.”

So how he is making it happen?

“We’re getting marketing propositions to attract companies to Ireland. We are aggregating all services from IT companies to  service providers.”

He hopes that the Government will collaborate given that the project is in the programme for government. “Bits of pieces of legislation to protect IP need to take place.”

He is aiming to attract a combination of US and European companies here such as Disney. “We would love to have Disney here. They are already have some R&D services in DCU but ideally would be great to see them centralise here which would enable them to deliver their content online to Europe.”

 “We would also hope to work with companies already here who are not actively doing content or distributing it such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon.”

Leydon is well used to bridging the gap between traditional creativity and the digital industry.

He is owner and manager of Calico Media, chairs the Digital Media Forum, a network of digital media companies in Ireland, and is on the board of a number of start-ups. He’s also project co-ordinator of Gateway Ireland – an initiative to connect the Irish diaspora online as well as being a course developer of Screen Training Ireland.

A former student of Blackrock College and UCD, Neil started his career at Windmill Lane Pictures in Dublin in 1995, working as both a scriptwriter and director in their corporate communications division. During this time, he also wrote his own film and television material and worked as a script doctor on various film projects for production companies.

He developed an early interest in digital media and was involved in the start-up of Windmill Lane's multi-media division. He became head of productions at Windmill Lane Interactive in 2000 and oversaw the development of some award-winning educational and corporate multi-media titles.

Leydon left Windmill in 2002 to concentrate on his writing career and to also pursue work as a digital media consultant for traditional television and film companies (through his company Calico Media www.calico.ie). In 2003, he set up the Digital Media Forum (www.digitalmediaforum.net).

In addition to developing an international content services centre, he is also working on live action and animation drama scripts, both feature and TV serial. His feature-length animation script, Alphabet City, is currently in development.

What advice would he give to other would-be entrepreneurs with good ideas? “Don’t give up. Become an evangelist and be proud of it. Money should not be the main criteria; it should come from your passion.

“Gather around you mentors, older or from your peers and listen to their advice. It’s also really important to make mistakes and learn from them.

 “There’s a can-do spirit in the USA whereas we think small and we’re risk-averse in this country and we have to get out of that.”

“Maybe one positive legacy of the Celtic Tiger is that it instilled confidence in young people to rise above this aversion to risk. They’re the generation who’ve travelled widely, are tech savvy and want to keep the good times going.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

posted by Neil Leyden @ 7:01 p.m.

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