The Silicon Valley 50

The 4th Annual ITLG Technology Awards will take place at Stanford University on April 5th and is being sponsored by the Irish Times and the Silicon Valley Bank.

The event will be hosted by Emily Chang, Bloomberg West Anchor and the keynote speaker will be Craig Barrett, ITLG Chairman and Retired CEO/Chairman of the Board, Intel Corporation.

Of especial interest this year will be the compilation of the Silicon Valley 50 – a list that gives recognition to the top 50 Irish American technology executives doing business in Silicon Valley.

A random sample of names from this list gives an idea of the extent of influence and depth of involvement that Irish Americans have had in shaping Silicon Valley into what it is to today – the gathering of the most creative minds in technology, marketing and management.

Many will have been aware of the massive changes that the economy of Ireland has undergone in recent years, from the heights of the Celtic Tiger to the depths of recession. These have been serious changes that have had and will continue to have an effect on economic growth for a little while more.

But all the gloomy news has hidden from sight one of the great success stories of the modern era – the incredible and remarkable story of the Irish tech sector.

According to ICT Ireland, (the voice of the Information and Communications Technology sector in Ireland), over 75,000 people are employed in the ICT area which is responsible for approximately 25% of Ireland’s total turnover and represents one third of Ireland’s exports by value.

Employment alone has grown by 6% in this area in 2010 and there is still the promise of more to come.

Any economy, anywhere in the world would crave for these sort of figures.

And the future looks better.

Three of the world’s leading research institutes are based in Ireland:

In a recent interview Barry O’Sullivan, Vice-President of Cisco’s global voice technology group, stated,

“Technology, by definition, is about the future – to the extent that you are in high tech then you are always in the next big thing.”

If one looks at what Ireland has been able to achieve in the harshest of economic climates then one can only begin to wonder at what can be achieved when the wind is set fair in the sails.

A major next step for many Irish companies is to take advantage of the world-renowned technological, marketing and management experience that resides in Silicon Valley.

The Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) was founded in 2007 by John Hartnett. He is a recent recipient of the prestigious Spirit of Ireland Award from the San Jose-Dublin Sister City program.

He says there are three overwhelming reasons why Irish companies should establish a presence in Silicon Valley:

“One, you have access to the greatest collection of technology companies in the world. These companies are all over the world doing things with sales and operations. But you want to come to the heart of where they’re at, and that’s their headquarters.

“Number two, if you’re going to get investment, a smart investment from someone who is going to change your organization and make you a true winner, these VCs, these angel groups are sitting here, not in Ireland.

“The third piece is access to talent. You have the world’s talent sitting here – guys that invented Google, guys that are running companies like Facebook or Twitter – if you want to build your organization and build some key leadership where you might be weak.”

The ITLG have set up an innovation center right in the heart of Silicon Valley as a launch pad for Irish companies to set themselves up, and to make it easy for them to do the necessary networking and have the essential face-to-face meetings.

The ITLG is determined to create the most powerful Irish network in the world. The Irish Diaspora is estimated to consist of over 40 million people. If this huge and powerful potential resource could be harnessed, organized and focused, then the door opens for all sorts of great and marvelous possibilities to occur.

To help facilitate this the ITLG can draw upon its network of 1,500 Silicon Valley executives and industry leaders who are either Irish or of Irish descent. Many of these people have had great success in their professional lives and view their contributions to the ITLG as a means of payback for their own good fortune.

These contributions vary in nature but can consist of:

  • Mentoring new Irish businesses coming to Silicon Valley.
  • Providing vital contacts for business development through their personal networks that would be very difficult to obtain by any other means.
  • Providing facilities such as the Irish Innovation Center to provide Irish businesses with a solid base from which to work from.

The rapidly growing Irish tech sector can only continue to succeed if it can take its place in the global marketplace as quickly as possible. The center of the global market place for high tech is Silicon Valley and the ITLG is ideally placed to facilitate and further the growth of Irish technology businesses.

The Silicon Valley 50 will be recognized at the 4th Annual ITLG Technology Leaders Awards at Stanford University on April 5th. You can register here for tickets.

Interview: Tim Smit on the Eden Project at the Social Entrepreneur Awards

Last Friday night the Social Entrepreneur Awards were held in Dublin, Ireland. The ceremony has been going for five years now and was well attended on the evening by a vibrant group of emerging Irish men and women active in the field of social entrepreneurship.

The rise of the social entrepreneur is a very visible and timely movement in Ireland coinciding with the greatest economic crisis that this country has ever witnessed. We need these type of entrepreneurs now more than ever, as we can expect a whole range of Irish social services and environmental initiatives to come under pressure during these challenging times. The Social Impact Programme that Social Entrepreneurs Ireland operates offers funding to high potential social entrepreneurs. It gives them the knowledge, support and expertise to assist them in delivering sustainable, long term projects.

The evening was a truly inspirational and educational one and I was delighted to be able to interview one of the speakers on the night, Tim Smit.

After a spell in the music business Tim conceived the idea of The Eden Project in the Celtic nation of Cornwall in the far South West of England. This intuitive impulse led him to an unused china clay pit and the eventual siting and construction of two vast biomes, both over a 100ft high and hundreds of feet across at the base. The larger biome contains tropical flora planted over four acres of carefully landscaped earth. Temperature and humidity in the dome varies with height and plants are planted at a level on the gradient where they are most likely to flourish. The smaller biome contains plants from mediterranean latitudes and is also landscaped accordingly.

The Eden Project has been a great success with over a million visitors a year since it opened in 2001. This is a huge endeavour by any standards and it all began with a beer or two and few notes on a napkin. After all, it had to start somewhere.

Tim tells the story, “The idea of the Eden Project was sketched in a pub called the Llawnroc, which is Cornwall spelt backwards, while we were drinking beer one evening, by the engineer Anthony Hunt and the architect Nick Grimshaw. A friend of mine went back to the pub and picked up the napkins that were left on the table and thought historically that they might be important and put them in his bag. He bought a new briefcase and left the other one in his house somewhere. About seven or eight years later he found them and we framed them. It was amazing because it (the Eden Project) was all pretty much there.”

He then went on to reveal more about the Eden Project and the importance of doing the things you love.

“Eden was a very natural evolution. The area looked like a moonscape and it was very depressed looking. I went up there and had a look, everyone had been telling me that nothing could have been done with the place. I thought actually, it’s beautiful in a funny way. You’ve got these ocean views wherever you are there. I thought it would be great to do something no one expects in a place like this. I’ve always worked on instinct and I had this sense that the idea I had for the place was just right.

“Loving things is a completely different proposition and what that taught me was that if I loved something that there would be millions of people like me, therefore the issue was only one of marketing. For something to work it requires influence and people to know that you are going to do it no matter what happens. People need to feel that you can do things with or without them. The moment people think you are dependent on them they treat you in a different way. It’s a bit like when you lend money to someone, even if they are your best friend, it damages your relationship. That’s why I can’t do fundraising in a normal way”

It is not only fundraising that Tim does differently. As you can imagine the Eden Project is special and something special is required of those who work there. Tim has nine rules which the people involved are obliged to follow:

Tim Smit’s 9 Rules

  • You must say good morning to at least twenty people before starting work.
  • You have to read two books a year that anybody you know would say are completely outside your realm of knowledge/interest and review them for your colleagues.
  • As above with one piece of music.
  • As above with one show.
  • As above with one film.
  • Once a year you have to make a speech explaining what makes you passionate about your work and why you love working here. If you can’t do it, you are honour bound to resign (apparently it helps to focus the mind…)
  • Once a year you must prepare a meal for your closest colleagues and the people that matter around you.
  • As fortune favours those who share it, you must share your good fortune by conducting a random act of kindness to a complete stranger once a year (and they must never find out that it was you who did it).
  • All staff members must learn to play the drums.

The Eden Project is not about the magnificent biomes or varied plant life or even as a lesson in the importance of biodiversity and our dependence on plant life for human survival. It is about symbolising our awareness to ourselves that our own consciousness is changing and that we cannot go on the way we are going and pretend not to know the consequences.

Buckminster Fuller whose original geodesic domes formed the basis for the design of the biomes said “I am convinced that human continuance depends entirely upon the intuitive wisdom of each and every individual.” Tim Smit’s initial impulse to create the Eden Project goes to show where intuition can take us if we choose to listen to and follow it. Don’t forget to have a pen and some napkins handy.