New route likely to see more tech businesses flock to San Francisco

Direct flight from Dublin is having an instantimpact on companies and investors

The Dublin-San Francisco direct route – the first in five years – is expected to create new economic development opportunities for both Ireland and San Francisco

The Dublin-San Francisco direct route – the first in five years – is expected to create new economic development opportunities for both Ireland and San Francisco

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 01:10

“I already feel way better,” says Adaptics co-founder Jack Phelan. “You don’t have that apprehension that when you arrive, after nearly a day travelling, you’re going to lose a day or two to get back on track.”

Phelan is one of several customers on Aer Lingus’s first direct flight to San Francisco since 2009, happy to take advantage of the in-flight wifi to keep busy during the near 11-hour journey.

“It’s one flight, you sit down, get some work done, arrive in at just past 3pm local time and I can be in the office by 4.30pm,” he says.

It is, he tells The Irish Times , a “different world” from the stopovers, delays and long queues for customs that marked previous treks to the city where the company is currently looking for a “lead investor” to help push its “connected kitchen” technology.

Also among the two thirds-full flight are two Waterford-based engineers from Errigal Operations Software on the way to in-house training, while elsewhere there’s a mix of entrepreneurs, marketing professionals, golf enthusiasts, holidaymakers and people visiting relatives.

Added to the mix are five 13-year-old Cork CoderDojo members arriving in their hometown’s sister city for a once-in-a-lifetime trip that will see them meeting Silicon Valley hierarchy.

Leaving Dublin Airport five times a week, the new route may have had a somewhat cheesy send-off from Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, who talked about having images of “flower power” when he thinks of the new route’s destination, but on arrival in San Francisco Airport passengers received a hearty welcome from the city’s mayor Ed Lee.

Both Lee and Aer Lingus chief executive Christoph Mueller spoke to a crowd featuring masses of local media about the route creating new “economic development opportunities” for both Ireland and San Francisco, or perhaps more specifically Silicon Valley, a region that now represents 40 per cent of all foreign direct investment into Ireland.

Back in the city, at Market Street on the block between 8th and 9th, you can get a clear view of Lee’s offices from Runway – a start-up accelerator located a floor below the Twitter world headquarters and one above the base for enterprise social network, Yammer.

There, founder of planning platform BuildingEye, Ciarán Gilsenan, has set up digs as part of Lee’s entrepreneurship-in-residence programme, while the company’s research and development backbone remains in its Dublin office.

The company helps local residents, architects, and builders view the “DNA of a city” via real-time planning and construction data, with Gilsenan now working closely with San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency on the project.

“With the new direct route, I’m on an Aer Lingus flight which is a better plane, I’m not going JetBlue or United [Airlines] where I’m cramped into a seat for between four and seven hours and feeling wrecked on arrival,” says Gilsenan.

Martha Rotter, co-founder of digital publishing start-up Woopie, agrees the time saved is the big attraction for Irish technology companies using the new direct flight.


Connecting flight
Coming to the end of a four-month stint at the media-focused Matter start-up accelerator on Bryant Street, when Rotter meets The Irish Times she’s still recovering from jetlag having travelled on a Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta from Dublin two hours before the inaugural Aer Lingus route.

By the time she arrived in San Francisco after her connecting flight, Adaptics co- founder Phelan and Cork’s Coderdojo group had been in the city more than six hours. “Those lost hours are a killer,” she says. Echoing Gilsenan and Phelan, she tells how the city offers both a social and financial investment network unlike anywhere else.

“There’s a meet-up for everything in this city,” says Rotter. “My favourite that I saw is called ‘Big Dogs/Big Data’. I’m not making this up at all, it’s for people who have large dogs that want to talk about data visualisation.”

Phelan says: “There’s a meet-up or gathering happening every day, every night” in “almost any area of technology”.

He adds: “The cost of flights and bit of accommodation even for a week will extend your network by 10 or 15 people. Plus you’ll gain so much more experience and knowledge when meeting someone face-to-face rather than by email.”

For his part, Gilsenan adds that should Irish tech companies find investment here, their new partners will expect them to take the direct flight back as often as possible.

“If you’re thinking of coming over and raising a couple of million dollars you’ve got to be in the city whenever you can. Investors over here want to know that you’ll be nearby.”

Phelan agrees: “Most venture capital funds will insist you either move your entire operation there or have a significant, front-facing part of your company there or they wouldn’t invest.”

Back in Ireland, directors at start-up hubs such as Wayra Ireland, NDRC Launchpad and the Cork-based Selr8r all confirm to The Irish Times that they expect resident companies to use the new route frequently and that it will “likely benefit the Irish tech economy”.

Charlie Ardagh of online advertising start-up and Wayra resident, PropelAD, is “currently scanning the best deals” to use the direct route in the next few weeks.

Guitar software start-up Riffstation is joining Gilsenan in the Runway offices this week to show off its technology to a dozens of potential partners and investors.

Elsewhere, Soundwave co-founder Brendan O’Driscoll is using the new route this week too to help set up a San Francisco office.


Business development
Meanwhile, over at the IDA’s offices in Mountain View, California, vice-president for high-growth companies, Deirdre Moran, says San Francisco software firm New Relic told them “that the fact that the new flight is coming online cemented their decision” to set up offices in Dublin this February.

“It’s going to make a big difference,” adds Phelan, just before the first flight lands. In his company’s case, he says a “really senior business development person” they’ve been working with has been “put off coming over to Dublin because of the rigmarole they had to go through arriving in London”.

“I was only talking to her online just now and she said, ‘I thought you were flying today’. I told her I am but the wifi is really good and it’s the first direct flight in five years. She said, ‘Okay I’m definitely coming over now’. It completely changes people’s perception.”

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