The Future of Dublin Tech, Part 2: Startups Look West, Grow Diverse
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enterprise software firm Logentries in Boston; anti-fraud company Trustev in New York; FieldAware, in Texas, which makes mobile software for remote workers; and in San Francisco, mobile-marketing company Swrve, customer management and analytics firm Intercom, and sales intelligence startup Datahug, to name a few.
And the one that got away? That would be Stripe, the digital payments company founded by two Irish brothers, Patrick and John Collison, who came to the U.S. for college (in Boston), pulled a Zuckerberg, and moved to San Francisco. They were last seen raising $100 million-plus from top Silicon Valley investors at a company valuation of $1.75 billion.
Which raises the issue that as a small ecosystem, Dublin needs to attract talent from outside to keep growing—and balance the flow of companies getting off the island.
The Irish government tries to do this in several ways: by securing foreign direct investment from multinationals through IDA Ireland, and by attracting foreign entrepreneurs at an early stage via Enterprise Ireland. (That last bit is one piece of what Enterprise Ireland does; it also invests in startups and venture funds, and helps Irish companies expand and export their products in new markets.)
“Attracting entrepreneurs [to Ireland] is kind of a new thing,” says Lorcan O’Sullivan, manager of overseas entrepreneurship at Enterprise Ireland. “There are no best practices yet, unlike foreign direct investment.” He adds that his staff “want to build diversity” and bring a “mix of nationalities” into the Irish ecosystem.
His colleague, project executive David Scanlon, says that “what we’re trying to do is push Dublin and Ireland as a credible competitor” to places like London and Berlin for attracting outside talent. “We’re hustling and we’re trying to do our best,” he says.
So far it seems to be working—in conjunction with the draw of big companies—at least if you look at the makeup of startups around town. Take Profitero, a Dublin company working on retail and commerce analytics. Its founders—Vol Pigrukh, Dmitry Vysotski, and Kanstantsin Chernysh—came from Belarus and Ukraine and previously worked at Microsoft, Google, and IBM. Their startup has grown to about 50 employees. Then there’s LogoGrab, whose founders Luca Boschin and Alessandro Prest moved from Switzerland to Dublin to build a startup that digitizes brand logos.
Guidecentral, which runs a website for crafts and décor, is another early example of an immigrant success story. Founder and CEO Gaston Irigoyen moved from Argentina to Dublin in 2009 for a job with Google. He met up with Israel San José González, a Spaniard, while working on a mobile app. In 2012, Irigoyen left Google to start Guidecentral, and González became chief technology officer there.
Dropbox Dublin executive Adrienne Gormley calls it “hugely energizing to see so many cultures here. It’s driven a lovely cultural vibe.”
Indeed, the presence of big multinational tech companies (see Part 1) seems to be impacting the homegrown startup community in many ways. “Having the likes of Google and Facebook here has really instilled understanding” of the broader tech and Web industry, Drop’s Harris says. “It’s given Dublin-based people expertise to build companies here.”
Yet it’s mostly been a serendipitous—or at least organic—phenomenon so far. Big companies make a splash, create jobs, and host entrepreneurial meet-ups. Their employees make friends in the community and leave to join startups or do their own thing. More tech and business talent is drawn to the area because of all of the above.
A big thing to watch over the next few years, observers say, is the relationship between foreign direct investment and Dublin’s startup community. Not surprisingly, private investors and entrepreneurs are calling for new tax policies, incentives, and other support that could make entrepreneurship more attractive and sustainable. There also seems to be a big need for more structure and mentorship around company-building and best practices for startups.
“If Ireland manages to unlock the foreign direct investment that’s here for the benefit of the companies starting here, that could be transformational,” says Will Prendergast, a Dublin-based partner with VC firm Frontline Ventures. “But it hasn’t happened yet.”
Coughlan from Atlantic Bridge adds, “That’s a 10-year cycle, not overnight.”
She calls the big multinationals in Dublin “a key validation here. But we’ve only scratched the surface between the research centers, accelerators, indigenous companies, and foreign direct investment. It’s a big opportunity over the next 10 years.”
[Editor’s note: Part 1 of this series looked at the current wave of U.S. tech companies that are growing in Dublin.]