Ireland must work to attract fresh talent, web summit told

PayPal founder Elon Musk tells Enda Kenny to make third-level education free for engineers

Ireland needs engineering talent to build technology companies, and should remove third-level fees to attract it, Elon Musk told the Web Summit.

The event went out on a high note as attendees crowded the main hall to watch PayPal founder and Tesla chief Musk in a fireside chat with Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Shervin Pishevar.

The speakers had some advice for the Taoiseach, with Musk suggesting that third level education for engineering skills should be free of charge and open to anyone in the world who wishes to study here, with the condition that they stay in Ireland and maybe create a company here.

“You need that concentration of technical talent,” he said.


Musk arrived at the main stage in one of his own Tesla cars, and talked of his fear of failure, the challenge of changing the perception of the electric car and his dreams of space travel.

"There needs to be things that are inspiring, that make you want to get out of bed in the morning," he said. "Having a bright future in space is one of those things."

The Taoiseach, meanwhile, tried to persuade the Tesla chief to set up in Ireland, emulating car maker Henry Ford.

Although it’s not yet clear if the Taoiseach’s ploy will be successful, there may be other companies willing to take a chance on Ireland.

Evernote's Phil Libin said the company was actively considering setting up a base in Ireland, although it wouldn't be in the next few months. He said it was inevitable that the company would have a good presence here.

Major centre
"Our strategy is to be where all the best innovation and design is coming from," he said. "One of the main reasons I wanted to come this time was to get a sense of the place. I think it's obvious that Dublin is becoming one of the major centres of the universe for entrepreneurship, so we need to be here."

Docusign, meanwhile, is also looking at Ireland as a potential location, with Tom Gonser saying that the presence of a lot of big tech firms in Dublin is grabbing attention.

The spectre of privacy raised its head a few times during the course of the day.

Dropbox founder Drew Houston was hit with a question on the company's relationship with the NSA, responding that the government shouldn't be listening into people's conversations

“We are going to do a much better job than the average company of keeping your data safe,” he promised.

Earlier in the day the founder of the Free Software Foundation Richard Stallman described the internet as a "massive surveillance engine" and asked that photos of him be kept off Facebook.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist