Flying the Galway flag in the US

Tue, Mar 20, 2012, 00:00

Dr Jim Browne, president of NUI Galway, on a week spent networking in the US


This week is a busy one as I am attending a whole host of meetings and engagements in the US, with my colleague Tom Joyce, chief executive of Galway University Foundation, an independent organisation dedicated to generating financial support for NUI Galway.

The week begins with a breakfast meeting in San Francisco with Dr Tom McDermott of Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech is ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the US and NUI Galway has a partnership with the university around commercialising our research. It’s so important for Irish universities to be able to reach out to global giants like Georgia Tech to benefit from their experience and their network of connections.

Tom has plans to launch a new “cyber security” research centre with some of our leading researchers in web technology. We also want to grow our co-operation in biomedical engineering science. The possibility of a joint PhD programme in bioengineering with Georgia Tech is very exciting. It means that our graduates will have a truly global view of the biomedical engineering industry, which is such an important industry for Ireland.

Next up is a meeting with John Ryan, a former NUI Galway student who left Ireland in the 1970s and went on to become a huge success in the US, founding MacroVision, a top 50 Silicon Valley company. Like so many US-based Irish entrepreneurs, John is passionate about promoting a spirit of entrepreneurship in Ireland and is committed to helping to get the country back on its feet.

John is also a great supporter of the university and has helped us to build a relationship between our researchers and a start-up company based in Silicon Valley and focused on the rapidly expanding market for non-invasive optical imaging, measurement and analysis.

A busy day ends with dinner with the president of Stanford University, Prof John Hennessy, who is very positive about Ireland’s future and the role our universities need to play in getting us out of the current crisis. NUI Galway is already working with Stanford University on our Bio-Innovate programme, a postgraduate programme, which brings together teams of clinicians, engineers, bioscientists and business graduates to learn to design and bring to market new medical devices.


An interesting day at the ITLG Innovation Summit, a gathering of top executives, entrepreneurs, and venture capital investors operating in Ireland and Silicon Valley.

It is great to be among people who are committed to promoting new ideas, who value and applaud those who have the courage to be ambitious, who consider past failures to be a predictor of future success, because they know that smart people learn from their failures and mistakes; people who are optimistic and working to develop products and services based on emerging technologies. One of the companies nominated for an innovation award by ITLG has licensed intellectual property from NUI Galway to develop bio-fuel from marine bio-mass.

Minister Richard Bruton also attended the event and gave a very positive, upbeat and motivational message about innovation and entrepreneurship in Ireland. His announcement of an investment of almost €30 million in Irish life science and healthcare companies is very welcome news to NUI Galway, given our research expertise in that area.


I visited the Fogarty Institute for Innovation to meet Dr Tom Fogarty, its founder. This Institute is one of the world’s premier MedTech translational institutes and my interest in it is in learning how we can take NUI Galway’s expertise in biomedical science to the next level. He certainly lives up to his reputation as an inspirational figure. He is very interested in the Irish medtech industry and appreciates the level and quality of the investment by that sector in the west of Ireland. This evening I attended one of the most important events of my trip, a reception for NUI Galway alumni based in California. The NUI Galway diaspora is spread far and wide, but is very well represented in the US.

Tonight’s event was organised by Moyra Malone, a tremendously committed Galway engineering graduate, who has worked in Silicon Valley for many years. I am always humbled by the loyalty and dedication of NUI Galway graduates like Moyra who have left the university many years ago but who still feel an attachment to their alma mater and who treat other Galway graduates almost as part of their extended family.


Our visit to Chicago is facilitated by Billy Lawless, a Galwegian who has made Chicago his home. Billy makes it his business to welcome Galway visitors to the city. His connections here are legendry. Through Billy, I met Mayor Rahm Emmanuel at the Irish-American partnership breakfast and reminded him that his niece Rebekah Emmanuel completed her masters degree in Galway in 2010. A small world and NUI Galway grads are everywhere.

I attended another alumni reception, held in Billy’s restaurant, The Gage, on Michigan Avenue. Chicago is new territory for NUI Galway but I am interested in helping to grow the relationship with alumni based here.

For me this visit is about being able to show US-based Galway graduates that we are interested in keeping in touch with them and in helping them to make connections with other NUI Galway graduates. This ability to bring people together is becoming increasing important as graduates need to plug into an established network in order to do business and secure jobs.


St Patrick’s Day is a great day to be Irish in the US. I marched in the St Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago. Chicago is a sister city of Galway and I attended the parade as part of the sister cities group in order to build links between the two cities. On Monday it’s on to Washington for the final leg of my trip for more networking before an event on Tuesday in the White House.


READINGPort Mungo by Patrick McGrath

LISTENINGTo local US classical stations. Great music, very little talk!

BROWSINGThe trip takes in so many cities, starting with San Francisco (right) and ending in Washington so it’s maps and subway timetables.

WATCHINGNo time for TV this week.