Fear of the New

There are long lines of students outside the US Embassy in Dublin these days, waiting for their J1 visa interviews and the chance to spend the summer working in the States. 20, 30, 40 people at a time in the queue. They’re eager, impatient, and maybe a little sleepy headed.

American politics may be hard to decipher at times but accessing the American market - huge, open and hungry for innovation - is an obvious goal for ambitious young Irish tech companies, the majority of whom already recognize it as their primary target.

It surprises me how frequently our young startups quote US market stats in support of their business models but when asked how often they travel there, they say they're not ready yet, travel is too expensive, or both.

Fear of the new may be another reason for their reluctance to go west, but without that experience in your back pocket you can't really learn about potential competitors, develop messaging that resonates with your US customer base or build relationships with the investors you want on board when your hard work translates into a quickly scaling business.

And what about product/market fit? Delaying that until the product is fully developed here in Ireland can be a recipe for failure in the idiosyncratic US - a slow and expensive failure.

You're ambitious, but you're broke? Been there. You’re building a team and need to stay home with them? We get it. But nothing trumps what must be your first order of business, and that's customers.

If the US is your market, it doesn't matter what tech you're selling, you've got to experience the market early and often to win in it.

So get your visa, jump on a plane and dive feet first into those competitive, dynamic and often welcoming waters.

Your fellow Irish men and women from New York to LA are pretty welcoming too by the way, so if you need a place to rest your head, take out your brass neck and just ask them.

Niamh Bushnell

Dublin’s New Concierge

For over a year now this office has participated in organizing itineraries to Dublin for visiting journalists, investors, governments, corporations and international startups.

We’ve learned a lot from this work, namely:

1. The more hands on we are, the more successful the visit

2. Visitors prefer a curated experience

3. Well prepped companies are (even) more impressive

4. Visitors also want to have fun - It is Dublin after all!

When Sarah Leahy joined the office in January this year, we finally had the perfect person to fill the role of resident Concierge. Sarah is a Dub herself, loves this city and knows it inside out. And she’s quickly getting to know our startups and innovation hubs inside out too.

So, if you’re coming to Dublin and want to learn more about our tech city, Sarah can guide you and introduce you. Sign up for the Concierge service here.

If you’re a Dublin Startup and want to meet visiting investors, media and partners, the next 1st Friday Brekkie on May 6th might be a good time to say hello to Sarah, hear Rhona Togher, CEO of Restored Hearing speak, and chow down on scones and coffee with other enthusiastic members of the ecosystem. See you there.

Niamh Bushnell

A New Era

Ciara O’Brien of the Irish Times tweeted me an article yesterday about Estonia’s rise as a tech hub. "More competition" she noted, and she’s right, but Ireland easily holds its own against startup hubs in Estonia, the Baltics, and across Europe for that matter.

In fact, Ireland’s startup boom is full throttle and the positive news stories just keep coming. 

In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen significant raises by great companies like Currency Fair, Boxever and Bizimply, topped off nicely by Intercom's new $50M funding round on Thursday. 

Gil Dibner, a London based VC and big fan of Dublin’s tech scene, ranks Ireland 5th of 25 countries in Europe for raising capital, just behind the behemoths of Germany, France, the UK and Israel. 

A recent Sunday Business Post supplement profiled 100 startups to watch in Ireland. Editor Tom Lyons said they could have easily profiled a thousand, there’s that much potential bursting out of this market right now.

With all this sustained activity, it feels like the dawning of a new era in Irish tech. We’re scaling, maturing and going global as an ecosystem and that’s really exciting. This new era also obliges us to think hard about how we support scaling companies to ensure that while they're "killing it" internationally, their connection to home remains strong. The future for our digital economy and next generation of success stories depends upon it.

To remain close to home, these companies need to be able to attract global talent to Ireland, execute strong exits and reinvest their earnings here as serial entrepreneurs and investors. In other words, they need Ireland's tax code around share options, capital gains, and angel investment to be much more competitive than they are at present. 

Government policy has played a significant role in Ireland's tech success story to date. A more globally competitive tax environment for our scaling companies could and should be their next major win for us.

The OECD says that Estonia has the most competitive tax system in the developed world. If we can level the playing field for Ireland through policy change, we’ll continue to speed past them and others in Europe fueled by our entrepreneurial spirit, hard work and our truly global perspective.

Niamh Bushnell

The People’s Republic of Tech

This month’s 1st Friday Brekkie was on April 1st so we played an April Fool’s joke.

After an engaging presentation on Built in Cork by its founder Donal Cahalane (DC), we announced that since the Cork tech scene was “on fire” the Dublin Commissioner for Startups office was moving to Cork! For a couple of seconds the air was sucked out of the room. Then someone said April Fools! and the gag was complete.

We had a lot of fun putting this joke together, working with DC, writing the press release, and tweeting about the “big announcement” to come, but as a number of people remarked afterwards, Cork really is a great tech hub and one that might benefit from a Startup Commissioner role that pulls all the pieces together.

I was brought up in Cork and love the city but I’m no expert on the needs of the tech scene there, having left at 18 years old - a long, long time ago. What I do know is that any city or town in Ireland can be a tech hub and earn a global reputation if it leads innovation in a specific industry or sector. Cork's reputation is growing as a global security hub where homegrown success stories like Trustev, Barricade and Jumble have gone global alongside established multinationals like Intel Security, Trend Micro, Malwarebytes and Fireye.

After 18 months in the role of Commissioner here in the Dublin I’m pretty sure about a couple of other things about tech hubs: that connecting the dots between all of the organizations within one is a full time job - even in a city where these organizations know each other well and where we’re really good at putting the interests of our startups first.

But, probably the most important thing I know (or have realised) over time is that no matter how strong our startups and how energetically we support them through organizations like mine and others, it's government policy - around funding, visas, education and taxation - that plays the biggest role in supporting the homegrown innovation story that will ensure Ireland has tech hubs, and that our cities and towns can thrive in the new digital economy. 

Right now, though, it’s time for a shoutout to the People's Republic and the great organizations supporting startups there -  Built in Cork, Cork Innovates, It@Cork, Tyndall, Ignite and others. Heard about Startup Ireland’s 2016 Gathering in Cork this November? Now you have. 

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