Silicon 50 event celebrates most influential Irish people in the valley
Praise for Irish wit, optimism and tax breaks but education remains a worry
Silicon Valley 50: at the event this week were (from left) president of ITLG John Hartnett; ITLG chairman Craig Barrett; Rob Leslie of Sedicii Innovations, receiving the ITLG/Irish Times Innovation Award; and John Stanton, president of Silicon Valley Global Partners. Photograph: Chris Ryan, Views of the World Silicon Valley 50: (from left) president of ITLG John Hartnett, ITLG chairman Craig Barrett, Rob Leslie of Sedicii Innovations, receiving the ITLG/Irish Times Innovation Award, and John Stanton, president of Silicon Valley Global Partners. Photograph: Chris Ryan, Views of the World
Long before there was an Intel or an Apple, Ireland was building links to Silicon Valley. Sunnyvale – now best known as the home of Yahoo and Palm – was founded, in 1844, by an Irishman. Ten years later, two Irishmen borrowed the name of their Galway village, Menlough, and gave it to the town that would become famous as the home of Facebook, Menlo Park.
Yet while the Irish on the east coast have long been harnessing their collective might to wield an influence in politics and business, it is only in the past decade that moves have really been made to rally the diaspora in Silicon Valley.
The organisation spearheading the drive to build stronger links between Ireland and Silicon Valley is the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG), which was established by Limerick man John Hartnett and now has more than 10,000 Irish and Irish-American members. Hartnett has been living in Silicon Valley for 16 years, where he worked at Apple and Palm, before leaving to found the ITLG and the spin-off venture-capital firm, SVG.
“When you look at countries like China, Israel and India,” he says, “they do a great job at leveraging their diaspora with organisations and networks that are business-centric and tech-centric. I felt in many respects Ireland was living on its history – I felt there was something much more important we could be doing, a better story to tell.”
And so the Silicon Valley 50 was born, an annual power list of the most influential Irish people in the valley.
This year’s list – celebrated at an event in Stanford on Wednesday evening – is its seventh and evidence of the number of Irish and Irish-Americans who have, often without much fanfare, been navigating their way to the top ranks of some of the biggest companies in the world.
The list includes several founders and chief executives, a number of vice presidents, and the names of most of the most recognisable technology and media companies in the world – Google, Intel, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Disney, Logitech, Belkin. It also includes 16 female finalists.
Up for ‘it’Lorraine Twohill
Jacinta Tobin, from Co Clare, is senior vice-president for global sales and business development at cyber-security company Norse. Being Irish is an advantage when doing business in Silicon Valley, she says, not necessarily because of Irish-American nostalgia, but because of the Irish sense of “irreverence and the ability to talk and have fun together. The first place I learned about business was in my parent’s pub in Clare. If there’s one thing I can do to help my own company, it is to make it a little bit more Irish.”
Kieran Hannon, chief marketing officer of Belkin, credits the “Irish wit, demeanour and ability to converse” with helping Irish people to make an impact in Silicon Valley.
However, Rory O’Driscoll of Scale Venture Partners, who is also from Clare, says it’s important not to overstate the power of the “Irish effect”.
“Being Irish might get you in the door for a meeting, but it won’t get you a deal unless everything else is right. Most of Ireland’s appeal is that it’s a great place to locate companies.
“Let’s be honest, the tax infrastructure is advantageous and the workforce is educated. We need to protect that core infrastructure and that critical mass of European headquarters located there, and the next step – the creation of indigenous tech companies – will happen organically.”
Ireland may not have the scale of countries like China and India, but it can compete by specialising, says Craig Barrett, former chief executive of Intel and current chairman of ITLG. “Size isn’t so important – if you pick a few areas to focus on and get really good in those areas, you can compete with anyone. That’s what the Israelis have done with their entrepreneurial system. Build on your strengths. You’ve got a good education system, and good links to the expat community here.”
Education continues to be a talking point in the wake of the recent Times Higher Education tables, in which Trinity College fell to 138th place and UCD fell outside the top 200.
“There are no silver bullets for the education system, other than hard work. You have to work hard to attract good teachers and foster high expectations,” says Barrett.
Hartnett, who earlier this year launched an initiative through ITLG aimed at fostering entrepreneurship among secondary school students in Ireland, agrees. “If you look forward the dark cloud that’s there is education. Education is really the cornerstone of the creation of an innovative tech ecosystem.”
Waste of talent
Overall, the feeling in the Stanford Faculty Club is that Ireland has a strong tailwind behind it, and that being Irish continues to open doors in Silicon Valley. Rory Dooley of Ultimate Ears, a brand of Logitech, says Ireland has “come out of the economic crisis and earned a lot of credit for that, and it is still a great place to do business from the point of view of the people here. Ireland just needs to make sure it doesn’t get too introverted or navel gazing, and keep looking out.” The Silicon Valley 50 include:
Lorraine Twohill, Senior vice-president, global marketing, Google
Michaely Beesley, CTO, Sky
Shane Buckely, CEO, Xirrus
John O’Farrell, General Partner, Andreeessen Horowtiz
Shannon Duffy, Head of Marketing, Facebook
Katie McMahon, VP and General Manager, Sound Hound
Niall Wall, senior vice-president and corporate development, Box
Liam Casey, chief executive, PCH International
Monique Meche, vice-president, Amazon
Chris Buddin, managing director, Goldman Sachs
Claire Hayes, managing director or emerging companies, PWC
Gina O’Reilly, COO, Nitro
Caroline Dowling, President, Integrated network solutions, Flextronics
John Galvin, vice-president sales and marketing, Intel
Claire Lee, head of corporate venure, SVB
Sarah Friar, CFO and operations lead, Square
Rory Dooley, head of music business, Logitech Ultimate Ears
Rory O’Driscoll, general partner, Scale Venture Partners
Jacinta Tobin, senior vice president, global sales, Norse Corporation
PJ Hough, vice president, developer division, Microsoft
James Carroll, senior vice president, international, GoDaddy
Adele Cooper, director global customer marketing and communications, Facebook
Patrick Collison, chief executive, Stripe
John Collison, co-founder, Stripe
Sean O’Donoghue, CTO, Madison Square Garden
Sean O’Sullivan, managing director, Carma & SOS Ventures
Margaret Burgraff, vice-president, Intel
Philip Moynagh, vice-president, Internet of Things Group, Intel
Andrea Mahon, vice-president, IT Group, Arvato
Roger McNamee, founding partner, Elevation Partners
Anita M Sands, board member, Symantec
Kieran Hannon, CMO, Belkin
Una Fox, vice president, Disney
Malachy Moynihan, vice-president, digital products, Amazon
Caroline Donahue, chief marketing and sales officer, Intuit
Des Bell, senior vice-president, Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Bill Sullivan, president and CEO, Agilent
Patrick McGivern, vice-president of operations, Fitbit
William S McKiernan, founder, WSM Capital
Trevor Healy, former CEO, Jajah
Brian Long, general partner, Atlantic Bridge
John Donahoe, president and CEO, eBay Inc
Sean Cunningham, director of strategic investments, Intel
Eddie O’Brien, vice-president of WWOC, Microsoft
Diarmuid O’Connell, vice-president of business development, Tesla Motors
John O’Grady, vice president, Eastman Kodak Co
Brian Maccraith, president, DCU
Nial Norton, CEO, Openet
Niall O’Connor, CIO, Apple
John McGuire, founder & CEO, WiLine