Ireland is a country that’s bursting with business opportunities, thanks to a low corporate tax rate and investor-friendly policies. In Forbes’ Lists of the Most Innovative Companies (2014), six of the top ten companies listed had locations in Ireland. If you are interested in establishing a business or startup in Ireland, you need to know:
- How Ireland fits into the global scene
- The background of Ireland’s economic transformation
- The top business opportunities in Ireland
- How to make your venture a success
International Relations in Ireland
Ireland, or more properly, the Republic of Ireland, constitutes the lower 80% with the remaining 20% making up the nation of Northern Ireland. While Ireland itself is not a member of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland has close relations with the UK, especially in terms of trade.
In 1973, Ireland became part of the European Economic Community (EEC) and is currently a member of the European Union and the Eurozone. Politically, Ireland takes a neutral stance and the army is focused on peacekeeping and self-defence. The currency of Ireland is the Euro and the official languages are English and Irish, continuing a proud cultural tradition that is being revived through education.
Ireland’s Economic Transition
Before 1999, Ireland’s economy was based primarily on agriculture. The country’s major food crop is potato and the country is also a large exporter of beef, poultry and eggs. In 1999, the corporate tax rate was lowered from 32% to 12.5%, making the country an attractive place for multinationals to invest. This brought about a huge influx of foreign investment that changed the economy from primarily agrarian to primarily knowledge-based.
Many businesses, including IBM, Ericsson and PayPal have had great success in the Emerald Isle and the economy is growing rapidly—at a projected rate of 5.1% in 2022 and 4.1% in 2023. For foreigners wanting to invest in Ireland, the main advice is to start small and persist. If you take advantage of the top business opportunities in Ireland, you could receive an excellent return on investment and soon have a profitable company on your hands.
Market Size and Demographics in Ireland
As of 20 December 2021, Ireland has a population of 5,020,474 (according to Worldometer) and a median age of 38.2 years. According to DATAREPORTAL, There were 4.51 million internet users in January 2021 and an internet penetration of 91%. E-commerce in Ireland generated US$4 billion in 2020.
As of March 2020, customers aged 16-44 were the most likely to browse e-commerce websites, with customers aged 16-24 displaying the highest frequency of views. Given that Irish adults typically have their first child at age 30 and purchase their first home at age 34, the demographic that shops online includes mostly students and young professionals as well as families with children and teens.
Small Business Ideas in Ireland
The most profitable business idea for your company will be one that:
- Experiences a high demand in Ireland’s economy
- Is a business that you know you can do well
- Can potentially be exported to neighbouring countries including those in the EU and UK
Remember that you’ll need a merchant service provider and a global payment gateway for doing business in Ireland. Merchant services should include multi-currency capabilities and fraud protection given that you will be dealing with Ireland’s neighbours as well.
E-commerce is a perfect small business idea for Ireland because many of the country’s top-selling products—such as clothing—are things that can be sold online. Remember to offer goods for export to the UK and the EU as well, as this will give you access to some of the $190 billion of annual exports from Ireland.
Ireland is a major producer of beef, thanks to its high rainfall and lush green pasturelands. In 2020, Ireland exported more than 1.03 million tonnes of beef for almost €3.8 billion, making this one of the top business opportunities in Ireland.
As a small business, you could partner with one or more farms and sell packaged raw beef to domestic and international customers online. Don’t forget related animal products such as poultry, eggs and leather to further develop your business’ offerings.
The life sciences industry accounts for €45 billion in Ireland’s exports each year across pharmaceuticals, medical devices and biopharmaceuticals. Nearly 50,000 people across the country are employed in the pharmaceutical sector and 25,000 in medical technology and research. In addition, 9 out of the 10 leading pharmaceutical companies have bases in Ireland, thanks to an upward-trending “cluster effect”.
If you have an interest in medicine and medical accessories, consider launching a profitable business selling:
- Medical devices
- Medical appliances
- Hearing aids
- Orthopaedic equipment
- Prosthetic body parts
Another idea for an online store is to open a clothing boutique. Fashion is the number-one selling product in Ireland via e-commerce as many young Irish customers purchase clothing online rather than visiting brick-and-mortar stores.
In addition to men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, you could break into niche markets with leather footwear, woollen garments or athletic wear for the many sports that Irish people love to get involved in, including:
- Gaelic Games
Instead of selling physical goods, you could also consider selling digital products from a base in Ireland. According to the Central Statistics Office, Ireland received more than €1 trillion from foreign direct investment in 2019, including just over €700 billion from the US—much of which came from leading tech companies.
IBM was the first American tech company to set up in Ireland in 1956 with Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Facebook and Google following suit. Today, Ireland has the fastest-growing tech worker population in Europe and almost 10% of Dublin-based workers are software developers, as reported by Stack Overflow in 2017.
Top business opportunities in Ireland in the communication technology field include SAAS such as:
- Cyber security
- Specialist software
Development and programming topics are also in high demand, including:
- Software development
- Artificial intelligence
- Internet of Things
- Virtual reality
- Data science
Don’t forget boutique services like digital marketing and web development as well—these services are always needed as the online business scene continues to grow.
Perhaps surprisingly, Irish liquor exports make less money than IT service exports in Ireland, generating €1.45 billion in 2019. However, liquor remains an important export and the industry continues to grow—seen by an 8% total growth from 2018 to 2019.
Entrepreneurs who are interested in exporting Irish alcoholic beverages should prioritise iconic spirits such as whiskey, cream liqueurs and gin. Beer is also exported from Ireland but is less profitable as an export than spirits because it’s less iconic and also has more competition from craft beer producers abroad.
Other Ecommerce Ideas
The above-mentioned sectors are some of the top business opportunities in Ireland. However, that doesn’t mean to say that you can’t experience success with other kinds of business ideas as well. According to e-Commerce Database, there are five B2C ecommerce sectors that account for online sales in Ireland and which you might consider for generating lucrative business ideas:
- Fashion (27% of market share by revenue)
- Electronics and Media (24% of market share by revenue)
- Toys, hobby & DIY (20% of market share by revenue)
- Furniture & Appliances (15% of market share by revenue)
- Food & Personal Care (14% of market share by revenue)
One of the fastest-growing e-commerce stores in Ireland is partycity.ie with global net sales of $1.2 million USD in 2020. This website in the Toys, Hobbies & DIY category sells party decorations and supplies, balloons and fancy-dress items—so you never know which idea might take off if you’re prepared to offer a winning experience.
Apart from selling physical goods, consider the many consulting opportunities in Ireland. Entrepreneurs can take advantage of the demand for professionals with unique skill sets who can offer virtual and in-person consultations.
The breadth of business ideas in this profitable industry is huge. You could offer consulting services in:
- Legal matters
Alternatively, you could offer services like:
- Wedding planning
- Event planning
- Financial services
- Legal services such as contracts and will-writing
Keep in mind that many of the top business opportunities in Ireland will require you to have a physical office and local employees as well as operating online.
If you might be interested in offering a more hands-on service to Irish customers, consider entering the cleaning industry. While it might seem surprising, the Irish cleaning industry generates millions of Euros each year and has remained stable even through the recession.
There are two main specialities within the cleaning industry:
- Domestic cleaning
- Commercial cleaning
Many Irish customers are happy to pay for domestic cleaning services. Service providers may offer any of the following:
- General cleaning and dusting
- Glass and window cleaning
- Bathroom and tile cleaning
- Carpet cleaning
- Upholstery cleaning
- Driveway brightening
Cleaning companies may offer other related services as well, such as:
- Insect and pest control
As part of the same or a separate business, you might also consider entering the commercial cleaning industry in both the public and private sectors. Commercial cleaning services include:
- Hotels and apartments
- Public and private businesses
- Light and heavy vehicles
- Swimming pools
- Public buildings
- Public toilets
- Drainage systems
While these tasks may not seem especially glamorous, there is a huge demand and service providers are paid very well for the work.
If you have the capital but don’t want to strike out on your own, you could also purchase a franchise from one of the leading companies in the sector, like Cleaning Doctor, Nationwide Cleaners or CleanBee. Alternatively, improve on the existing offerings by developing a strong online booking platform and adding other trades and services to the mix.
Tips for Your Small Business in Ireland
One thing is knowing about the top business opportunities in Ireland. The next is actually turning a profit. If you want to succeed in the Irish market, consider these all-important details:
Fluency in English
While both English and Irish (also called Gaelic) are official languages in Ireland, English is by far the predominant language that is spoken by the population today. When opening a small business in Ireland, it is important that your website displays an exemplary level of English and that your customer service representatives all speak fluent English.
In order to trade in Ireland, you must have a Registered Office where notices, letters and reminders can be sent. While this doesn’t have to be the same as your trading address (if you have one), it must be a legitimate, manned address that is located in Ireland.
To help new and foreign business owners, some companies offer a physical mailing address in Dublin for a small annual fee. This is an advantage for companies that have their headquarters abroad and for small business owners who wish to keep their residential addresses private.
If you will be shipping goods to domestic and international customers, you will need a reliable shipping service. The three most frequently offered shipping options in Irish e-commerce are:
- DPD (30%)
- An Post (30%)
- DHL (13%)
Desktop and Mobile Optimisation
According to a study from Retail Excellence, 48.4% of ecommerce sales in Ireland are made on smartphones and tablets compared to 51.7% on desktop. As mobile devices account for almost half of ecommerce sales in Ireland, it’s important to cater to this segment by optimising your site for mobile.
Ecommerce is encouraged in Ireland, and the country is a signatory to the EU’s Electronic Commerce Act of 2000. The most attractive aspect of doing business on The Emerald Isle is the low 12.5% tax rate. When opening an online business in Ireland, you will need to seek guidance on the applicable laws, including:
- Incorporation by the Registrar of Companies
- Registering your business
- Registering a .ie domain
- Intellectual property laws
- Electronic Signatures Directive
- Electronic Commerce Directive
- European Communities Regulations for data protection and privacy
- Taxation and value-added tax (VAT)
Once all of your paperwork is in order, you can start to trade.
Find Your Pot of Irish Gold
Trends and statistics from the last two decades suggest that Ireland is an excellent place to start a business. A low tax rate, a business-friendly climate, and the possibility of exporting to the EU are all advantages for the budding entrepreneur.
If you would like to harness any of the top business opportunities in Ireland, do your research, make a solid business plan and secure enough capital to begin. With hard work, persistence and a little bit of Irish luck, you might just find your pot of gold.