Now That’s an Ecosystem!

I love the broad brief of my role as Startup Commissioner but after two days at the IoT World conference here in Dublin I have to confess to feeling a tad wistful for one with a more defined focus. Dublin has become such an exciting place for IoT in such a short space of time. How cool it must be to focus on accelerating an ecosystem like that!

The ecosystem is what excites me most about IoT in Ireland. Tech cities the world over promote the power of their "ecosystems" but true ecosystems are hard to find since they require not only a density and diversity of players - startups, multinationals, investors, research and policy makers -  but also a commitment to a set of common goals.

Listening to Ronan Furlong from DCU Alpha at the conference today, the harmony and collaboration within Ireland's IoT ecosystem was clear. Almost every project involves an agglomeration of key players, and shines with early stage success. From city focused projects like Smart Dublin and Smart Croke Park, to hackathons that produce winning startups like Ayda, to the testbeds at EMC, IBM, Vodafone and Dell, to the national IoT infrastructure from VT Networks, to the IoT focused engineering and data science degrees at our universities, to new arrivals on our shores like Fitbit and PTC, to the Irish diaspora in global IoT roles at Cisco, ADI, Bell Labs, Google and Intel, to their spin outs like Cesanta, to the IoT funded research at INSIGHT and CONNECT, to the great developments ahead of us in 2017 like TechShop and the European Space Agency funded Satcom incubator.

And that's not even the half of it.

There are about 50 IoT focused startups in Ireland right now and the numbers are growing. Three of my many favorites are Davra Networks, Fire1 and Shimmer Labs who yesterday announced a new joint venture to bring remote patient monitoring to rural India.

In September this year Irish company Movidius was bought by Intel for $330M, while the biggest headline still belongs to Ireland’s original IoT company, Fleetmatics, bought by Verizon in August for $2.4Billion in cash.

For a couple of years now, I've heard people describe how Ireland dominates in TravelTech by saying that 1 in every 2 global travel platforms uses Irish technology. The world will have 30 Billion connected devices by 2020, and with the IoT ecosystem we're building maybe 1 in every 2 of them can also have an Irish connection. No pun intended:)

Niamh Bushnell

Friendship and Empowerment

It feels almost like a luxury to talk about the UK and Brexit in the aftermath of the recent US election, but when other European tech capitals like Berlin start to boast about luring companies away from London, it’s tempting for Dublin to break out with some shrill headlines of our own. But should we?

Brexit or no Brexit, in Dublin we understand that quality companies won't move lock, stock and barrel out of the UK market unless they’re forced to do so, and that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. VC investment remains strong since the referendum, as does the demand for exceptional talent visas. Just yesterday, Google announced another huge investment in London saying: "The innovation we see here, the talent we have available here and the cutting edge of technology here makes it an incredible place for us to invest,"

So, no. Dublin won’t be joining the hype bandwagon or engaging in the tone and language of fear that other cities claim is working. It's not our style and just doesn’t jive with the relationship we have with our neighbor and largest trading partner.

That said, we still have work, opportunity and a very interesting dialogue with the UK ahead of us.

Startups in London know too little about Dublin’s tech scene and we need to fix that. We also need to demonstrate to entrepreneurs over there that we care about their future and want to help them stay awesome no matter how Brexit unfolds. Dublin has been the EU destination of choice for American tech companies for decades and we can play a similar role for UK companies looking for access to capital, talent and customers in Europe. We can offer them the certainty of an EU tech hub to compliment their UK HQ.

Friendship and empowerment, that's our position with Brexit and the UK, and we're committed to it.

Post the Christmas holidays we’ll be announcing a series of workshops in London for startups - or should I say early stage scale ups - to tell them everything they ever wanted to know about the ecosystem, sectors, talent and investment base in Dublin. We’ll do the workshops in conjunction with local London based VCs while leveraging our extensive Irish business networks.

Best of all, the cream of Irish tech talent in London, people like Dylan Collins, Jules Coleman and Jon Bradford, will support us and help ensure that the workshops deliver, as well as the content that’s distributed afterwards.

We look forward to telling the story of Dublin to some of London’s best early stage companies. And in case you're reading this and interested, there's room for some of Dublin’s great startups and multinationals to tell their stories at the workshops too.

Niamh Bushnell

Irish Triumph

From the prompt to download the mobile app at the airport, to the billboards on the way into town, to the giant logo adorning Baixa Chiado square, to the pride in the faces of the people taking selfies there, Lisbon this week was wall to wall Web Summit and it was a triumph. 

And, you couldn't help but be proud of the Irish team on the ground who made it all happen; Maeve and Sarah and Brian and Declan and Richie, and of course, the founders, Paddy and Daire and David. Their decision to move Web Summit to Lisbon made sense from the moment I got there and by the time I left I couldn’t see the conference ever moving back to Dublin.

Lisbon can easily handle what’s now a 50,000+ person conference. It has a metro, inexpensive accommodation, good weather and cheap taxis. It also has a huge conference center with working wifi, although trying to get online at cafes and restaurants back in the city center proved a useless and frustrating endeavor. 

The Portuguese government, both city and national, is love struck with Web Summit and say they're already negotiating another two years of the conference on top of the 3 they’ve already secured.

With my Startup Dublin badge around my neck, I was asked many times how I felt about the conference relocating. And while I have to admit to a pang of bittersweetness, I’m also very happy for Lisbon to host the big conferences while Dublin continues to lap Portugal and most other European tech ecosystems when it comes to capital, startups, scale ups and tech talent. It’s good to know what you’re good at and in Ireland we’re good at tech, and at hosting smaller, relationship building conferences like SaaStock and InspireFest. According to the IVCA we also raised a whopping €734M in capital so far in 2016. Now there’s a standout number for Ireland, and even more so relative to our size. 

The formula in Lisbon was a familiar one: the VCs were networking away in their castle, the global leaders in their beautiful underground bunker and the startups in the noise and organized chaos of the main floor. Did investors from abroad actually meet more Portuguese startups because they were in Lisbon? I doubt it. But the model still works well for the vast majority of attendees. You may get some good business done but either way, you know you’ll have a lot of fun.

On Monday my taxi passed by a huge sign that said “This is not the new Silicon Valley. This is Portugal” and I saw the same sign over and over again at the conference and around the city. Lisbon can host Web Summit, that's fine, but I do covet the pride and confidence they’re exuding at every turn as a result. In Ireland, even where we know we’re great, we still only consider ourselves grand. At a government, startup and stakeholder level, that's an attitude that may hurt us more than we’re willing to realize.  

Niamh Bushnell

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