Recipe for success: first, find a talented entrepreneur; second, add a good product, skilled team and finance; third, stir and wait. Simple. So simple that no one had done it systematically before - that is until a Northern Irish team calling itself Novatech came along.
The non-profit Novatech, directed by such personalities as Hugh Carey, former Governor of New York, Thomas Hardiman, chairman of IBM in Ireland, Short Brothers director Richard Gordon, and Art Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, launched into its first project last September.
As Novatech general manager Steve Harvey describes it, low-risk, high-reward companies are simple to germinate. First, ongoing research in the United States identifies young successful companies with new products that could also sell well in Europe. Agreements are made with some of these companies to research the prospects in Europe and, if this looks good, to manufacture and sell their products from a Northern Ireland base. Then the search is on for management.
Last year 300 applications were received from highly qualified managers who wanted the chance to run businesses of their own. From these, 30 were chosen and put through evening courses run by established entrepreneurs like Irishman Will McKee, founder of mini-conglomerate Broomhill Group. The chosen self-starters formed their own teams - each ideally including a finance, marketing and production-oriented person. Start-up finance was then arranged. Novatech, funded by the Department for Economic Development, the International Fund for Ireland and the Flax Trust, provides up to 60% of the funding.
Out of this first session three businesses have been formed so far, in amusement machines, stereo lithography and health foods. Another seven teams are working on business plans.
And there is more to come. Now Saville and Holdsworth manager Dr John Young wants to set up a research project to study the scheme's new entrepreneurs and follow them through to success or failure. The aim would be to prove a test which "might be capable of predicting the entrepreneurial types". An art made science. Many have tried, many have failed.