Trinity College Dublin

Published on November 1st, 2011 | by Padraic Coffey



This article was originally published on Trinity College’s Research and Innovation website in 2012.

  • One of the few humanities-based companies to have been formed in Trinity College.
  • Winner of 1st prize in the 1998 Irish Campus Company Development Awards

Eneclann is a history and heritage company, which provides genealogical and historical research for both corporate and individual clients seeking to explore their Irish ancestry. It was founded in 1998 by husband-and-wife Brian Donovan and Fiona Fitzsimons. Brian is currently the CEO of the company. He explains comprehensively what the company does: “Eneclann are involved in all aspects of historical records, whether it be researching them, publishing them, organising them or caring for them, but perhaps we are best known for our work involving family history, and for publishing historic records visually on the web, CD or other media. ”

The company’s origin lay in Brian’s frustration at the postmodernism which was then in vogue in academia, a sector in which he was involved. Sensing that it would take at least a decade for this trend to pass, Brian and Fiona, who had been a late medieval historian, set up Eneclann in 1998. They won 1st Prize in the Irish Campus Company Development Awards of that year. Reflecting on that early success, Brian suggests their methodical approach, honed from a background in academia, helped endear them to the other companies; “we took it very seriously”.

Nevertheless, immediate investment was not forthcoming. This owed to the fact that genealogy, despite being one of the most highly-searched subjects on the internet, had not been considered profitable in Ireland, despite international companies capitalising on it. As a result, Eneclann did not receive funding in the manner a start up company traditionally would. Their first rounds of investment came in 2002 in the form of a BES (Business Expansion Scheme) and Enterprise Ireland, though collectively both contributed less than €200,000. Brian advises future entrepreneurs of both the difficulties of the advantages of building a business organically: “It is possible to do so, as we have shown, but it is significantly less painful to start a company with proper financial support. Of course, the downside is that you end up losing a great deal of value in your own business when someone else is fronting the cash.”

The company also appeared before the now defunct BIC (Business and Industry Committee), established in order to approve campus companies in Trinity. They were met with a slightly sceptical attitude, as they stood out from the mainly science-based companies set up through Trinity at the time: “We were an exotic fruit; a humanities-based campus company, and so they weren’t entirely convinced. I hadn’t realised how touch-and-go it was at the time.”

Though undergoing the same process as other campus companies, Eneclann did not license its Intellectual Property through Trinity. It generated its own IP in terms of digitalised content, which it is still in possession of currently. While Brian is CEO of Eneclann, his role within the company has altered over the years, a side effect of the working in a collective management front with loosely defined roles. He became CEO in 2001, ending a business relationship that had begun by bringing in a third partner shortly after the formation of the business, who was subsequently bought out.

Brian describes their market as mainly the English-speaking world; Ireland, Britain and North America. Initially it was balanced quite heavily in favour of the corporate sector over individual clients, though the former has been heavily reduced due to government’s cutbacks. “Prior to the bust, 75% of our business was to the state sector – libraries, archives, museums, government departments and state agencies. That now equates to between 5-10% of our turnover. That has been a fundamental change.”

In terms of branching out into non-English speaking regions, the company’s uniquely Irish historical archiving presents a difficulty. “If we were to expand into a different market, it would either be into the provision of records related to a different ethnic group other than Irish, or into a different language. It is unlikely, but if we do so, I vote for Italy, for the wine and food alone!”.

Like most companies, Eneclann have peak times where they are especially busy, in particular Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. One of their side-projects is, a joint venture website set up by both Eneclann and Scottish-based company Brightsolid in May 2011.

As an academic who made the transition into the commercial realm, Brian is more than aware of the difficulties for starting up a business. “There is a phenomenal psychological change between the academic world and commercial world. Academics need to stop regarding what they do as having an intrinsic value in and of itself.  Most academics choose that career because they love the pursuit of knowledge, but in the commercial world that attitude is secondary, if not tertiary. The pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake is actually an irrelevancy in the commercial world.” Brian suggests that in order to possess the spark needed to start a business, an academic must not have the security of university tenure.

Measuring Eneclann against other leaders in the genealogical industry such as Ancestor shows that they are not immediate success stories. “Ancestor only reached a serious level of growth in 2007, after a significant level of investment. This business will take time, between 10 and 20 years.” Nonetheless, he does not rule out return to academia at a later stage: “Never say never! A part of me would just love to jump back into an archive, and research purely for the sake of research. I would dearly love to sell the business at some future point and secure some plum position in a university. Jobs don’t get that good very often!”.


About the Author

Padraic Coffey is a freelance writer and film critic who currently lives in Vancouver, Canada. He has written for the Sunday Independent, Ireland's largest circulation newspaper, and Trinity College, Dublin, ranked in the top 100 best universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings in 2014. Additionally, his film criticism has appeared on Volta - Ireland's first VOD website - as well as sites such as Taste of Cinema, Film Jam and Head Stuff.

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