Official Launch: Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit

These are very busy times in Ireland for determining key strategies for the future economic development of the country. Next week we have the Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland event organised by the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG). Key business leaders, investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will be coming to these shores to provide advice, mentoring, investment and a vision of what could be — the possibility, in these dark economic times that, that through innovation and endeavour we may well emerge stronger than before.

Following hard on the heels of that event is the Global Irish Economic Forum at Dublin Castle on the 7th and 8th of October which has three main purposes:

  • Engage fully with the Irish Diaspora in developing Ireland’s global business and trade relations.
  • Discuss face-to-face the Government’s priorities for economic renewal with key members of the international business community.
  • Strengthen ties with the Irish Diaspora as a key part of the Government’s efforts to restore Ireland’s international reputation abroad.

Kicking off this mini-season of reaching out was the launch of the Global Diaspora Strategies Toolkit at the Shelbourne Hotel last Wednesday.

Over 350 people gathered to hear the endorsement of the project by the Taoiseach of Ireland, Enda Kenny, in a keynote speech.

Kingsley Aikins of Diaspora Matters, a consultancy company established to advise individuals, companies and governments on strategic methods for engaging with diaspora communities, viewed the launch as a “national call to arms in this space. That is to say: every institution, corporation, organisation; every town, village and every individual actually has a role to play.”

While we at Technology Voice are primarily concerned about covering innovation and technology, there is no doubt that there is an inextricable link between the growth of the tech sector and the economic health of the country as a whole.

With the largest dispersed population of any nation it can only make sense to utilize the experience and knowledge that has been acquired by our compatriots and those of Irish descent so successfully over many years across the globe.

This is especially important when capable and deeply networked organisations such as the ITLG and Diaspora Matters are devoting themselves to making vital and productive connections within as well as beyond our geographic border.

To keep track of what is going on in this area in the following days and months please use:

Diaspora Matters: #diasporamatters @dmatters2011

Global Irish Economic Forum: #globalirlforum @gief2011

Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland: #svcti2011 @itlgorg

Tom McEnery on the Possibilities of the Role of the President of Ireland

While all hats have now been thrown into the ring for the directly elected office of President of Ireland, we thought at Technology Voice of the possibilities if certain other candidates had stepped forward to offer public service at the highest level to their country of origin. The Irish, like Ireland itself, can no longer be thought of as the inhabitants of a tiny Ireland off the north west coast of Europe. The myriad forms of the Irish Diaspora reflect in many ways modern Ireland as a global state. If only our leaders could see that.

The role of President of Ireland can in many respects be regarded as a ceremonial position as there are few absolute powers that come with the job, but to the world outside of Ireland the individual who holds this post has far greater recognition than even the Taoiseach itself.

What lies outside of Ireland – particularly in the form of the Diaspora – is as important as what is inside Ireland. Ireland, as small at it is and despite its recent and ongoing financial troubles, is a player in the global markets. The recently announced opening of an overseas office for Twitter in the Dublin area testifies to Ireland’s geographical importance and reflects wonderfully on the highly educated, well skilled population that inhabits these shores.

Internally, the tech sector has been growing at 6% a year and is creating jobs. Technological breakthroughs in the agricultural sector have the potential to have Ireland become a lead player in the food supply chain business. (Technology Voice will be covering this area in greater depth over the coming months.)

However, many of the current candidates and much of the politicking around selecting a leader for this unique role remains insular and dwells on a sense of a role that Ireland plays in the world which can only be viewed as outdated.

One possible contender for the role, should he be asked to step forward, is Tom McEnery, ex-Mayor of San Jose and occasional contributor to Technology Voice. We spoke to him last week in the offices of the Irish Innovation Center, a facility that Irish businesses can base themselves in and use as a springboard into Silicon Valley – the knowledge workshop of the world.

Apart from his many distinctions in public service he was instrumental in helping the IDA to open an office in California. In 1990 he joined the elite company of those who have received the “Lord Mayor of Dublin’s Award.” He has been honored in Belfast, with the assistance of Apple, for the award-winning Bytes for Belfast.

Our first question to him was how he viewed high profile roles such as being head of state of Ireland.

“What I think is important is how do you perceive these jobs? Are they just meaningless baubles? Are they merely symbolic? Are they relics of another time? Or, are they something that can play an active role in moving the people of the country forward? In Ireland there never has been a more important time to have sound leadership since the founding of the Republic. If it was inspirational too, even better.

“What Ireland needs now is not only to show a positive and entrepreneurial side to the world, Ireland needs to show it to the people of Ireland who have been so shaken in the last few years.

“You have got six million people in the island of Ireland which is just what you have here in the San Jose / San Francisco Bay area, and I think there has always been much in common. That is the basis of our San Jose and Dublin Sister City program. Although there were many differences between the two areas, there was one very important thing in common — the entrepreneurial, visionary aspects of the types of the people who live on that island and the people who have come to this area that has become known as Silicon Valley. There is much to learn and emulate.

“There never has been a more important time for a face that is hopeful, optimistic and has a plan. One to be implemented now, not through rhetoric but through action.

“You need a symbol of what Ireland is going to be, her hopes and dreams — what fueled both the Celtic Tiger’s good points and Irish Diaspora historically. What are the aspirations of the Irish people that the President can nurture and support? To me, it is all about quality of life. It is all about jobs and opportunity. Maybe, most importantly, it is all about preventing people from going to immigrant ships and leaving, as has been the bane of Ireland in the past.

“Right now, as I look at the situation, it seems like a truer honor for people like myself in America, Australia, England or wherever the Diaspora is located is to make sure that no other people like my grandmother ever have to emigrate.”

Nobody asked Tom to run for Presidency although many who know him and know of his strong ties to Ireland think it would be a very good idea. On closer questioning he revealed a track record that would have made him a very interesting and suitable candidate.

“I’ve always looked a politics a little differently than other people do. It’s a job to do. I don’t look on it as, ‘Gee, what I can I run for?’ but, ‘Where is there a role that I can make a difference in?’ I found one in San Jose for nearly a decade. I found it first as chairman of the local planning commission. First when we tried to encourage and nurture Silicon Valley in all its various incarnations to come here.

“I tried to fill another role in my economic work in Ireland with inward investment, Intel et al., and Belfast with the young people there who needed to know that they could change the world easier with a computer than with a gun.

“For those two terms and eight years as Mayor I had a rare opportunity to build a tax-base and create a vibrant, thriving center city. The accomplishment I feel most proud of is to make people feel good about being a citizen of San Jose.

“Apart from North Kerry and a few places in Dublin, I am far from a household name in Ireland. As I look at the different policies and programs that I have worked on here with the Irish Technology Leadership Group, (ITLG), along with the small venture capital fund that I am involved with and the 30 businesses that we have here at the Irish Innovation Center, I think we have done more than any other group coming out of the Farmleigh discussions two years ago.

“I particularly want to credit John Hartnett, founder of the ITLG and great entrepreneurs like John Ryan, founder of Rovi who was born in Tipperary. Also, Craig Barrett, former CEO of Intel and second generation Irish American. These are doers; people who follow the dream. It is still alive in Ireland but must be nurtured.

“In the most positive sense we are the great Irish dreamers, now we must implement those dreams.

“I think what is going on here in San Jose and with the Silicon Valley Diaspora is exactly the sort of policies that the next President and the government of Ireland ought to inspire to build upon — I plan on playing a role.

What policies are they?

“The policies basically are:

  • You support and nurture creative people in Ireland.
  • You support an eco-system of venture capital. You don’t worry about creating reports – you worry about creating companies.
  • You nurture the infrastructure. Not only the roads and systems like that but broadband as well.
  • Education is first and foremost — It is what built Silicon Valley.
  • Public Private Partnerships between government, private institutions and individual companies. This is the backbone of what really is the engine of the world today, and that is Silicon Valley.

“It is a program where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You have to look at what has been tremendously effective here in this valley and in the city of San Jose and understand that if you nurture those very creative aspects of a knowledge economy you can make some wonderful things happen.”

Although Tom, an Irish citizen of some years, takes a deep interest in Irish history and Irish current affairs and has worked tirelessly to build a bridge between Ireland and Silicon Valley, he remains an American who has lived all his life outside of Ireland. Could this be a handicap to him being President despite meeting the criteria for candidature?

“I think it is intriguing that someone from the vast Diaspora could play a role in setting a course for Ireland in a world now that is so clearly globalized. This is the proper time to call home the wild geese and see how they can participate. Many of the Craig Barretts and Hartnetts and McEnerys are ripe for that task — we owe it to our grandparents and the young dreamers of Ireland.

At this date, no person from the Diaspora will be introduced into the Presidential race, but the idea of a Craig Barrett or a John Hartnett, is not only fascinating, but could be one of the most significant movements to revitalize the Irish economy and once again restore the dream for young Irish men and women.

Silicon Valley Diaspora Comes to Ireland for Economic Forum and Tech Mentoring Sessions

John Hartnett will lead a delegation of Irish-American tech leaders to participate in the Global Irish Forum and meet Irish tech companies and universities. Picture: Hugh Cooney, Chairman of Enterprise Ireland; Brian McCraith, President of DCU; Enda Kenny, An Taoiseach; John Hartnett, President of ITLG.

A delegation of Silicon Valley tech executives and government officials will come to Dublin next month to meet Irish tech companies, academic researchers and political representatives during a series of tech mentoring workshops at the “Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” event, to be held just before the Global Irish Forum event in October.

One of the primary aims of the visit by the Silicon Valley delegation is to contribute to the Global Irish Forum – dubbed Farmleigh 2 – in order to aid with the recovery of the Irish economy through increased investment and job creation.

Craig Barrett, Chairman of the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), said: “Ireland’s recovery will be impacted by strong investment in research and development. It is imperative that there is a plan to invest at least 3% of GDP in innovation and we must also encourage involvement from successful global leaders from industry.”

John Hartnett, President of the ITLG, said: “San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley and we are currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of our sister-city relationship with Dublin. This invaluable connection has been instrumental in drawing significant investment to Ireland from companies in Silicon Valley including Intel, Cisco, Google, and Facebook.”

Before the forum, members of the delegation will mentor a selection of over 50 top Irish technology companies and carry out company investor evaluations in a series of private workshops. They will then judge the 2nd Annual ITLG University Challenge, sponsored by Cisco Systems, at Dublin City University (DCU). After the workshops and challenge, more than ten companies will be chosen to be showcased at the Annual ITLG/Irish Times Innovation Awards at Stanford University in Spring 2012.

Earlier this year, the ITLG signed a memorandum of understanding with DCU to promote market-led technology innovation, the latest in a series of alliances between the group and Ireland’s universities. DCU President Dr. Brian MacCraith commented on the forthcoming visit: “Experienced Silicon Valley technologists and investors coming to Ireland and engaging directly with emerging Irish technology companies will have a strong catalytic impact and can point the way to significant enhancements in our innovation ecosystem. Leveraging diaspora investment is key to the rapid global scaling of these companies.”

One successful Irish company is Mcor Technologies, established by brothers Conor and Fintan MacCormack. As part of the delegation, John Ryan, founder of Macrovision Corporation and recently-appointed Chairman of Mcor, will open a new facility and meet new staff at Mcor in Dundalk, following their recent $1M investment from the Irish Technology Capital fund. The fund has also invested in several other companies including Wavebob, Sisaf, Pirate Eye and StreamGlider.

You can register for the “Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” event at the ITLG website.

Seniors at Home: Unobtrusive Ambient Assisted Living

Tony Kehoe, a retiree in his mid-60’s, who had been volunteering with Age Action Ireland in Cork, set up a small group called Care and Repair who helped with small DIY jobs for people over 65. During his time on this project it became apparent to him that the main issue affecting these elderly people was living in isolation and not being in regular contact with their families or carers.

In response, he founded Seniors at Home three years ago. It is a company dedicated to assisting older people to live as independently as possible for as long as possible in their chosen environment while aiming to provide peace of mind to carers and family alike.

“Around the same time I had been playing around with sensors and while I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to see I wasn’t quite sure how to make it happen, that’s when I invited Dermot [Clancy] on board and with his technology background he added considerable weight to the project.”

Dermot says, “My background led naturally into what Tony was talking about and that’s when we started to feel we matched each others needs on the technology side.”

Tony had always harboured ideas of setting up his own company having worked for many years at senior levels in a number of large organisations; “This was a good fit as it was technology driven but for not for the sake of it, it had a social purpose.”

At this point in time Dermot and Tony recruited John Whelan who had a background in Marketing. After doing a couple of studies on the marketplace and attending a number of Ambient Assisted Living conferences in Europe, the three felt they had a clear view of what they wanted to happen next.

“We noted that the industry was pushing very hard on technology side,” says Tony, “But that it wasn’t very conscious of the actual needs of people and we hope to try to correct that with our product.”

Seniors at Homes, plan to introduce a range of assisted living products, the first being I’m at Home. The basis for this is a very simple concept that provides the complete technology in a box in the older persons home linked with a number of wireless sensors. Direct contact can then be had between the carers and the individual in the home without making the older person feel threatened by the presence of technology.

Seniors at Home is also the provider of the monitoring solution. I’m at Home will come with a basic computer, data logger and server in one single box so all there’ll be is a single unit and three sensors which will be placed in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. All they need to do is plug in the box and they’re immediately operational.

“What we do is install in the system a number of default settings. For example, if the older person you’re in charge of doesn’t get out of bed by 1o’clock in the afternoon, if there’s limited activity during the day or no activity in kitchen it will send you an alert. The initial program is for a number of alerts but the true benefit is the individual can set the activity pattern to suit the person they are caring for and can start determining their own sets of alerts.”

This product will enhance the relationship between the carer and the older person as it will introduce a degree of sensitivity into the relationship. When the carer sees something happening which is outside the normal pattern they can call the older person and ask how everything is, are you sleeping okay, are you eating properly, rather than saying I can something on my screen.

For a product like this to survive it will need to have a heavy emphasis on the carers and family members. Tony says, “There is no question the need exists however there is marked reluctance on the part of older people to connect with technology or connect with anything that will put them in contact with a stranger.

“Our target market is going to be the younger person maybe 40 or 50 years old who perhaps feels guilty about not being able to stay in touch with their elderly relative as much as they would like to.”

This is not a product that will tether the carer in one place either. The desire of Tony and Dermot is for the carer to be able to check on the elderly relative as often as they feel they need to and from wherever they might be. It is designed to operate via laptop, texts through a mobile phone and they are working on being able to interrogate the history from a mobile phone also.

“The significant differentiation features from other devices is that because we’re not in the health provider market, our basic focus is on improving the communication process and by the fact we don’t have a monitoring service it enables our system to be borderless, it doesn’t matter what language the customer speaks.”

On a grander scale for Tony, Dermot and John, Enterprise Ireland has recently bought a share in the company making them a promising new start up.

Dermot says that the platform they’ve developed is somewhat overkill for what’s needed at the moment but they have a desire to future proof their product for further features that can be added in as they grow and learn what’s needed.

“We’ve looked at GPS devices that can connect with this so if the older person is at that stage where there is a risk of them leaving the house and wandering the GPS system would be able to monitor their movements.”

As far as the technology behind this goes, the IP is readily available and the company have been able to combine existing technology with what they believe the market to be in need of.

“There’s loads of IP out there but all struggling to find a marketing niche and we prefer to think because of our experience of working with older people and having older parents ourselves we’ve a better understanding of what the market really needs and being able to provide this in the lowest cost and most advantageous way.”