Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Last week, I was delighted to be invited to Dublin for the fourth Annual “Silicon Valley Comes to Ireland” conference, organised by the Irish Technology Leaders Group’s (ITLG).

This is a regular event in which senior executives from the world’s innovation hotspot come over to Ireland to engage with more than fifty Irish technology companies in a series of private investor workshops.

Earlier this summer, the University of Wales Global Academy opened an office in ITLG’s Irish Innovation Centre in San Jose, the capital city of Silicon Valley, to give Welsh firms access to the region’s investors and universities.

So this was a real opportunity to catch up with John Hartnett, the President of ITLG, and see the effect that his team is having on delivering a more innovative economy. As John suggested during the event, their aim is to help Ireland focus on enlarging its indigenous high-tech sector to drive economic recovery as there is significant opportunity for growth created by these firms.

And despite the previous gloom surrounding its economy, John believes that there has been a real sea change during the last few years in which there is a greater “go for it” attitude amongst new entrepreneurs in Ireland.

I certainly can understand what he was talking about, having attended a ‘Dragon’s Den’ style University Challenge organized by ITLG and sponsored by Cisco, in which three companies spinning out from the Irish higher education centre competed on stage at Dublin City University for a €100,000 prize.

To be honest, the three presentations, from Pilot Photonics (Dublin City University), ALR (University of Limerick) and InfiniLED (University College Cork), were far above the standard normally seen on the BBC programme and the usual panelists would have been falling over themselves to invest in these companies.

InfiniLED, the eventual winner, has developed a next generation Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology which produces light more efficiently than conventional LEDs and has the potential to make massive inroads into a market worth billions of over the next few years.

In the picture, from left, are John Harnett, president of ITLG; Joe O’Keeffe, InfiniLED and Richard Stokes of DCU.

As I wrote earlier this year, the link between Silicon Valley and Ireland is beginning to pay real dividends by bringing together experienced investors to Ireland to engage directly with emerging Irish technology companies and further ten young high technology firms will be showcased in Stanford University in 2012.  I can only hope that, through our office at the Irish Innovation Centre, we can also start introducing Welsh companies to the opportunities available.

Of course, the real advantage that Ireland has is the fact that all the senior executives in Silicon Valley visiting this week have Irish roots and want to come back to help their economy in its hour of the need. The ITLG itself has over 3,000 members with chapters in Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood to bring together the three critical worlds of money, entertainment and innovation.

The support that the diaspora can provide has clearly hit home with Irish politicians and policymakers who have organized a Global Irish Economic Forum, which is being held at Dublin Castle this weekend.

With 270 delegates from 40 countries attending, including former US President Bill Clinton, the event will see the world of business and government discuss practical initiatives that can help the economic recovery in Ireland, including ways of generating foreign direct investment, promoting culture as well as increasing export and tourism figures.

Some of the planned debate topics include "Ireland's image abroad: communicating the message" and "Making Ireland more competitive in new and emerging markets".

But this is not only a talking shop - the fifteen working groups at the forum have been asked to come up with two or three ideas which Irish embassies around the world will then be charged with implementing. In fact, the idea of the Irish Innovation Centre came from the first summit held back in 2009, an idea that has been put into practice with outstanding results.

Certainly, there is no reason why Wales could not do the same to bring together the outstanding talent that is out there all over the world. The Irish are happy to help and, more importantly, are enthusiastic about our chances of success.

As John Hartnett and I concluded over a pint of Guinness late on Wednesday night, imagine being in a room where you had Michael Moritz, Terry Matthews and Howard Stringer discussing how to get the Welsh economy back on track.

That would be very special and could be the very spark needed to create a new innovative Wales and the entrepreneurial and competitive economy we all hope we can achieve in the future.

Western Mail column, 8th October 2011