Alumni Spotlight

Emerald de Leeuw - CEO, EuroComply

3 Apr
Emerald de Leeuw

Emerald de Leeuw is the CEO of EuroComply, a software company that helps companies manage their Data Protection compliance. She was recently named European Innovator of the Year 2017 by the European Commission, Parliament and EYIF in Brussels. Emerald is also a lecturer in Technology and Data Protection Law with the Law Society of Ireland.

Course/subjects studied in University College Cork:

I moved from The Netherlands on a full scholarship to do a masters in E-Law and Intellectual Property (1:1) at the Law Faculty in 2012. In 2015 I completed a second Masters in Business Information Systems (1:1).

Best memory of UCC:

Where do I start? I loved it all. My best memory is an unconventional one. I was sitting in the UCC library with two bachelor degrees in law and a masters in E-Law & IP under my belt. I had moved country to specialise in this area and I ended up specialising specifically in Data Protection, an area that is becoming increasingly important. It was shortly after participating in Cork Startup Weekend 2013 and my business idea was still marinating in my head. I had committed to studying for the FE1s to qualify as a lawyer but deep-down I knew this was not me. I had paid a lot of money for the course materials and I was reading about the Liability for fire in Ireland when I had my epiphany. I said to myself “What are you doing? You moved country to specialise and now you are generalising again so you can do a traineeship you don’t really want. You have a great idea, stop being a chicken and go do it (like)!”

I quit on the spot, plugged the gaps in my business and technical knowledge with a second masters and off to Eamon Curtin in Ignite UCC I went.

Recently I spoke to the MBS Business Information Systems at UCC students about being an entrepreneur and I received so many messages afterwards from the student about how they felt inspired to go do their own thing now. I can’t express how amazing that felt. It can be added to my great memories at UCC list.

UCC was so different as I moved from a very modern Tilburg University in the Netherlands to the ethereal world of Hogwarts, I mean UCC. The graduation ceremony for the first masters was quite something though. In the Netherlands you just wear informal clothes and shake the president’s hand and off you go. It took 3 graduations for me to finally get to wear a cap and gown. I loved it. People are so warm and welcoming that you are a lot more confident to tell them about your ideas and I believe UCC had a tremendous role to play in how my current life has turned out. The postgraduate phase really shapes you and the things you do during those years matter. Prof. Darius Whelan and Prof. Maeve McDonagh at the Law Faculty were great professors and mentors. I never felt like an outsider and there were always extra-curricular events to attend. I’m a big nerd, so I was in my element. At the MBS BIS, Simon Woodworth and Mary Daly supported me as I had a legal background and made sure I had the right preparation done to ensure I would successfully complete the degree. Brian O’Flaherty organised EUXCEL which brings together European Entrepreneurs to compete in an EU wide competition. I led the team that won in Spain. UCC always satisfied my need to be ridiculously busy.

How has your time at UCC helped you to get to where you are now?

I am the CEO of Eurocomply. We are a company that specialises in Data Protection compliance software. The idea for the business came from the Master Thesis I wrote on the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2012-2013 under Professor McDonagh’s supervision. Non-compliance puts companies at risk of fines of 4% of annual Worldwide Turnover or €20 million. The Regulation applies to organisations globally that process or store personal data of EU citizens. In other words: it does not matter where in the world the organisation is located. You are now also responsible for your data supply chain, which is tremendously difficult in practice. I saw the issues with GDPR compliance coming all because of having been submerged in the material during my masters.

EuroComply is Data Protection Compliance software (SaaS) that helps companies assess, track and demonstrate compliance with the GDPR. We take an accountability-based approach to compliance. With EuroComply it is easy to create visibility of risk and compliance issues across multiple sites and jurisdictions. The software aggregates compliance data from across the whole organisation and makes it available in a visual user-friendly dashboard. Essentially, it is the perfect tool for a Data Protection Officer (DPO) as it takes the pain out of compliance.

Eurocomply would have never happened, had the Law Faculty not suggested I take a look at the GDPR as a thesis topic.

What is your advice to current UCC students?

Get out of your comfort zone. Now. As someone who grew up in Holland with a Dutch dad and Corkonian mum, I really notice how the fear of being thought of as “direct” or “straight-forward” can stand in the way of your growth. There is a way to politely ask for help and it is a skill I would recommend you cultivate. A lot of entrepreneurs I meet are ridiculously smart, have amazing ideas and just a few asks stand in the way of them achieving their dreams. You have to be bold in this world and believe you can do it. Most of us can. I firmly believe it is not intelligence, looks or good ideas that determine our success: it is grit. If you have a great idea; tell everyone and ask for help. If they say no, do it yourself or find another person to ask. Keep knocking on those doors!

What person/people at UCC had the most positive influence on you?

Too many to mention. Darius Whelan made me feel at home immediately at UCC. This is something I won’t easily forget. As for the people who played a role in shaping my current career.

Mary Byrne, Diarmuid Cahalane and Eamon Curtin, all who I met through Ignite. Eamon was an amazing connector and a person who played a key role in helping me determine the first steps to take to move Eurocomply out of incubation into the real world. Thanks to him I met Diarmuid Cahalane who would take a call from me late in the evening if I was unsure about how to deal with a client and he still looks out for me when relevant things come up. It is a lovely thing to know people have your back.

Mary Byrne is a great mentor who basically tells me how it is. She also tells me to chill out and not always go a mile a minute. Unfortunately, this ‘chilling-out business’ is a skill I have yet to cultivate. She is someone who I now consider a close friend. Success and accolades are great but it’s the people I have met that make me feel most fulfilled.

Were you involved in any Clubs or Societies?

I was involved in the UCC Law Society. I co-organised the Law Society Annual Conference on Surrogacy sponsored by William Fry in 2013.

Favourite UCC legend or superstition:

I have no idea! I guess that is what happens when you grow up in The Netherlands: you wouldn’t be too familiar with legends and superstitions. Would a tradition do? I love the Christmas festivities and summer concerts. That said if I do have to mention some sort of legend, isn’t BOF a legend of sorts? The BIS students will know what I mean. 

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