Perspective: Graham Royce & Irish Tech

True-colour image of Ireland on an extremely rare, cloudless day.

Out of a population of 4.59 million there exists in Ireland a potential workforce of just over 2 million people. (Currently, the unemployed account for a sickeningly large 14.3% of that number.) However, by virtue of education and temperament only a very small subset of those available to work are either willing or able to involve themselves in the challenges of entrepreneurship in the tech sector.

For the budding or experienced technology-based entrepreneur who feels compelled to make manifest an inner vision to create a great product or those who may simply fancy their chances, then there is no shortage of facilities and help. Enterprise Ireland contributes funding to 33 incubation centres. There are also a number of enterprise centres situated around the country.

For those moving from academia into the commercial world there are 10 Technology Transfer Offices. Each of them based in a third-level insitution.

Then there are programmes like Launchpad and Catalyser at the NDRC in Dublin and Endeavour in Tralee. These courses are designed to give a real-world shape to an entrepreneur’s vision within a compact time frame.

Of course funding is an issue but if (a big if) a project fits the right profile and is able to tick the right boxes then monies are available.

In 2010 (most recent figures) Enterprise Ireland (EI) was involved in the allocation of €463.6 million of government funds, “For the development and growth of Irish enterprises in world markets.”

EI contributes a portion of that money to a number of seed and venture capital funds. In combination with these other funding organisations over €500 million was available to Irish entrepreneurs of which just over €80 milion was disributed over the period 2007-2010.

Contrast with the US where in the last business quarter of 2011, $1.8 billion was invested in 238 software companies. Although, it is not fair to make a direct comparison due to the different sizes of the Irish and US economies, population and so forth. But in the global economy of tech innovation and enterprise these figures give a good indication of the size of the game being played and where Ireland really stands.

Graham Royce, Mentor at the Hartnett Centre, Limerick Institute of Technology, and Manager of the New Frontiers Programme which is run in collaboration with Enterprise Ireland.

At the moment he is currently assessing the potential of over 80 possible participants for the next Enterprise Start programme.

An essential issue with Irish tech entrepreneurs, he claims, is not one of brains or ability but of attitude, “To me the big thing is not so much about the money being there or not being there. It’s about get off your arse and do it. Those guys in the tech world who have an inkling of an idea of what it is all about and know where to go and what to do have literally got off their arses and done something. I don’t know what it takes to switch people on.

“If you talk to people in Silicon Valley it’s not a case of, “We’ll see.” It’s about how do we do this? Who do we need to talk to? We need to talk to that person there or this person here. Get that person on the phone.

“The attitude in America is completely different. They’ll give me a whole list of names of people I can talk to. It opens up the doors and sets things going. Whereas if I talk to someone here…It’s like the old-fashioned can of treacle, where you open the lid and stick the spoon inside to prise anything out.”

Despite the consequences of the economic boom having turned out to be so dire, Graham claims that not everything everything needs to be tainted by the fallout.

“The Celtic Tiger wasn’t all bad. There is this impression that all of the Celtic Tiger was absolutely horrendous and it wasn’t. Some phenomenal companies were produced in that time. Towards the end of the Celtic Tiger in 2007 and 2008 there were some really big hits. Also, it is the companies that started in 2008, 2009, 2010 that are coming to fruition.”

Despite the reluctance of many Irish entrepreneurs to step down from the stands and whole-heartedly engage with the game of business Graham emphasizes that raw talent is not the issue.

“Each month I go through the 25 top startups from Silicon Valley. Last month, eight of the companies had received between $5.5 and $8.3 million dollars. None of those eight companies would match what’s being done in this building, in Galway or in Cork but look at the money they have been given.

“Silicon Valley is awash with money but it is not necessarily awash with good projects.”

With that in mind, Graham says that we should focus on the creators and innovators, the people who have ideas and are able to implement them.

“We can put sales people on top but we cannot build techies. For techies to be in the position to start up companies it takes years upon years of work. What we want to do is understand the technical person, understand his idea and turn it into something people outside can see.”

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.