This Irish ESTEEM Student’s Rendezvous with Entrepreneurship Led Him to Notre Dame

Author: Melanie Lux

Dylan Walsh Large Web Medium

After starting a company, pitching and then securing a grant to fund product development, hiring a team, and building a working prototype, Dylan Walsh had to shut down his failing startup. Did the native of Rathfarnham, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland, pack up his kit and slink away? Nope. The experience did something else altogether. It further fueled his desire to be a tech entrepreneur. A successful tech entrepreneur.

“Historically, I’ve always been a technical person. I enjoy electrical engineering, coding and maths, but I also love working with people, and this is one of the attractions of entrepreneurship,” Walsh says.

“My parents were always encouraging me to try new things, so I did,” he says.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at City College Dublin, Walsh volunteered to be a scout leader for high school boys. It’s hard to say who got more from the four-year experience, Walsh or the scouts. “Being part of something bigger than myself and helping others achieve more was powerful. It’s where I learned to be a leader.”

He also learned about business as he was in charge of the scouts’ annual Christmas tree sale, which raised money for the scouts, but also for a local cancer program, St. Luke’s Hospice. “It was not all snowmen and jingle bells,” he smiles. “We sold a couple thousand trees, and it was a lot of hard work. The best part was making sure we delivered the best possible Christmas experience to our customers and delivering the check to the cancer program.”

One of Walsh’s fellow scout leaders was Rónán Dowling-Cullen, a seasoned entrepreneur and startup founder. When not hands on with the scouts, Cullen was constantly on the phone, focused on building his company. Intrigued, Walsh asked a lot of questions and listened.

“Rónán taught me the ugly truth about entrepreneurship: the hard work, no days off, very little time for anything else. But he also said, if it’s the right project and you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter.”

Following Rónán’s lead, Walsh started his own tech company in September 2020 called Rendezvous. The idea behind it arose from the difficulty Walsh experienced when meeting up with a group of friends. “I had no idea when everyone was going to arrive. You could use WhatsApp or other messaging platform, but it was always hard to coordinate. I thought an app that showed everyone’s location on one map so you knew when others would arrive would be helpful.”

He put together a team of two programmers to help him build a prototype. Before getting too deeply into the project, Walsh realized they needed funding and entered the MyGalileoSolution competition hosted by the European Union Space Agency.

At this point, there was no app. So Walsh launched what he calls a “classic case of sell before you build.” He used his computer animation skills to produce a slick vision of what the app could be. It worked. Walsh and the Rendezvous team were awarded the $15,000 to fully prototype the app and do an investor pitch. Walsh calls the first few months of working on Rendezvous “terrifying and exhilarating.”

“We had to learn a completely new coding language and framework in a matter of weeks. As college students, this was a radically different experience. There were no guardrails. We moved the goal posts every day. Everything was completely up to us.”

Despite the chaos, the MyGalileoSolution organizers were impressed with Walsh’s progress. Buoyed by the feedback, he applied to a second accelerator, the Trinity College Launch Box in Dublin. Despite creating a solid social app, Rendezvous was not chosen, which ultimately led to the startup shutting down.

Walsh calls the failure an incredible learning experience but is acutely aware of the startup’s fundamental flaw: if you’re not solving a real problem, you won’t succeed. “I learned that you can build a great solution, but if it doesn’t solve a real problem, you don’t have a startup.”

Though he didn’t get into the accelerator as a startup, Walsh was invited to work as an assistant project manager. So for a summer, he had a paid gig mentoring ten student startups. The fast-paced, dynamic environment absolutely sold him on entrepreneurship and ultimately led him to the University of Notre Dame. After graduating with a master’s degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering, his plan had been to kick off his career. But after his stint working at the accelerator, he wasn’t so sure.

That’s when he attended an event at University College Dublin on the University of Notre Dame’s Master of Science in Engineering, Science, and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence (ESTEEM) led by David Murphy. “Everything David said about combining technology and entrepreneurship ticked my boxes,” Walsh says. “Having the ability to apply all of my skills in engineering and entrepreneurship was exciting.”

After his own due diligence on the ESTEEM Program, Walsh was even more impressed with Notre Dame, the program and the community. He applied, was accepted and arrived in South Bend in June. From the beginning, he knew Notre Dame was a match made in heaven. “South Bend is a people, not a place,” he says. “I enjoy that. This is a powerful community and that’s important to me.”

All ESTEEM students have a capstone project that teams them with innovative technology companies. Walsh applied and interviewed for a position with SpaceX’s Starlink division, whose satellite internet constellation provides coverage to over 60 countries. His background in engineering and startups and enthusiasm for space helped in securing a role as a graduate student consultant. In this role, he is applying the business skills taught by the ESTEEM program to deliver strategic insight to help further grow Starlink’s business.

Walsh admits to being a little starry eyed on visiting the corporate offices in Hawthorne, California. “Meeting the team and seeing the technology up close was exciting, but seeing the rockets was another level.”

When not focused on academics and entrepreneurship, Walsh is a keen player of Gaelic football. “It helps keep in touch with my Irishness.” But he’s taken to Fighting Irish football like a duck to water, saying he’s one of the biggest football guys on campus. “I love the energy of Notre Dame football and tailgating.”

Walsh is forever grateful for the experience he is gaining as a member of the ESTEEM Class of 2024. “I am learning so much. And it’s not just the courses, but what I’m learning from the many motivated people I’m meeting is what’s really meaningful. Coming to Notre Dame is an incredible opportunity; and with the scholarship I was given, a door not open to many. My goal is to do my best and give back.”

Asked about his future plans, Walsh says it’s a tough question. Notre Dame is opening up so many roads for him to go down. One thing is certain, his destiny includes entrepreneurship. He is currently working on a new startup that he is entering in Notre Dame’s McCloskey New Venture Competition. “I’m excited about this idea. I think it has incredible potential. My goal for the next year is to work with an early-stage startup. I want to build fast and deliver the most impact.”