Interview With John Hartnett: ITLG Brings Silicon Valley To Ireland

On November 17th, the third annual “Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” event takes place. It is being presented by the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in partnership with the University of Limerick, NUI Galway and Shannon Development.

ITLG are bringing more than twenty Silicon Valley technologists and venture capitalists (VCs) to engage with, advise, and possibly invest in Irish technology companies. Twelve of these companies have been selected to participate in private workshops with members from the delegation. Two of these companies will then be chosen to attend as award winners at the Stanford University/Irish Times Innovation Awards event next March in California.

ITLG was established in 2007, and consists of a number of high-level technology leaders who have ties to Ireland of one type or another. Its mission is to help Ireland address the challenges and take advantage of the potential that new technological opportunities present.

As well as hosting an annual awards ceremony to showcase Irish talent, ITLG has had contact with over 200 companies working in or intending to come to Silicon Valley. It facilitates opportunities for Irish technology companies coming to Silicon Valley through its network of more than 1,500 senior executives from companies like Cisco, Intel, Apple, Microsoft and Google. ITLG also helps by providing advice, opening doors in a way that otherwise would not be possible, and offering Irish CEOs and entrepreneurs the opportunity to connect with major customers.

John Hartnett is President and Founder of ITLG, and he spoke to Technology Voice about his perspective on the relationship between Ireland and Silicon Valley. One observation that he has is on the lack of any kind of serious large-scale Irish company in the Californian technology scene.

“Ireland doesn’t really kind of hit the radar screen in any significant way over here. Countries like Israel, for example, hit the radar screen. Countries like Taiwan hit the radar screen, as does China. But Ireland doesn’t hit the radar screen and it hasn’t.

“Ireland historically has been a low-cost, attractive place from a business tax perspective. Hence all the big multinational companies located themselves in Ireland. So it was kind of being seen as an outsource destination… but it hasn’t been seen as a country that is generating its own high-tech multinationals.”

A direct comparison can be made with Israel: a country of roughly a similar size in terms of population but producing very different results.

According to John, “Ireland today has about three companies on NASDAQ. Israel has 127 companies on NASDAQ. Israel has really been very bold in what they have done. Whereas Ireland [has been] weak, Israeli companies come to Silicon Valley to be successful. Irish companies are not coming as they should to Silicon Valley to do business.

“Also, Israel comes to Silicon Valley to get money. 40% of all the VC capital that’s invested across the United States is done here. Irish companies aren’t coming here to take advantage of that.”

“Ireland is investing something in the order of 1 to 1.5% in R&D as GDP. Israel has been investing 4.5 to 5% of GDP. That’s a massive chunk of money. Ireland has a commitment to the Smart Economy to bring that [investment] to 2.5% by 2015, and ultimately get it to 3% by 2020, but guess what, we need to be at that now – not in 2020.”

For technology companies, Silicon Valley is the centre of the universe. As John points out, there are three reasons to go there:

“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 organisation 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 organisation and build some key leadership where you might be weak.

“Areas in Ireland that I believe are very weak are in the areas of sales and marketing and CEO leadership. You always want to get the best of the best in your company.

“So the three reasons to come to Silicon Valley are access to customers, access to capital, access to talent. If you want to understand what is going to shape your company in the future, it is your people, your ability to get customers, and your ability to get funded, and that’s all sitting here.

“We don’t need to replicate Silicon Valley, we need to be part of Silicon Valley. We can spend a lot of our time thinking about how to become Silicon Valley. The best thing to do is get on board, get with it. Let’s be part of Silicon Valley.”

ITLG have set up an innovation centre 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.

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, organised and focused, then the door opens for all sorts of great and marvellous possibilities to occur.