Third tech wave reflects vibrant Irish-Silicon Valley links

Founders of tomorrow’s big names are talking up Ireland

The Irish-Silicon Valley relationship has changed. On a recent trip out to Silicon Valley for a week, I was struck by this countless times.

I’ve been writing about technology, and going back and forth between Ireland and the Valley (where I have family, and where I grew up) for about 25 years now.

The feeling on the ground has altered.

Early work trips there were about the big multinationals that had offices or did business here in Ireland: Oracle, Intel, Cisco, Apple, HP – that whole Valley A-list roster that a visitor to IDA Ireland's website at the time could scroll through.


But the balance has shifted. Now, the same website in the 21st century boasts lots of small Valley companies many people might not have heard of, because Ireland has become a location destination for start-ups that aren’t yet making much money, if any, but which have promise.

And, of course, there's the updated A-list, featuring the "second wave" of what the IDA likes to call "born-on-the-internet companies" with offices in Ireland – Google, eBay, Facebook and so on.

Add to that Irish companies with bases in San Francisco and the Valley and it’s a new, layered, complex picture. And it isn’t just window dressing, or market froth, or plucky if misguided start-up aspiration. Nor is this just a tax-dodge landscape. There’s weight. There’s a broad, established business-scape of exchange between the two locations.

For me, certain indications were there from the start, as I sat for the first time on the restored Aer Lingus direct flight between Dublin and San Francisco. I flew this route quite a few times in the first incarnation. The planes were never packed, any time I flew.

I therefore understood the reasoning behind ending the direct flight, as much as I wanted it to remain. But it always seemed to me the direct San Francisco flight was axed just as the first step of this new, changed relationship had begun to occur, one that was likely to fill such flights.


Several years on, that seems to be the case. Many companies in many sectors pleaded to Aer Lingus and the Government for that flight to be restored. And they sure seem to be using the flight, as they promised.

The flights are running quite full. And it’s obvious, from just sitting on the plane, that it is full of a wide range of technology types travelling for work. Plenty of laptops were open to spreadsheets and business documents when I strolled the aisles. Business class was full. A flight attendant told me there’s talk of going to a seven-day schedule from five flights weekly.

All of that points in its own, background- signal way, to the change. So does a story ( that ran in the Bay Area newspaper the Contra Costa Times, the week after I got back from the Valley. Its a fascinating read as it is in some ways, the type of piece I'd have been writing from a different angle 25 years ago, about the arguments the big Valley techs made for basing in Ireland.

Except here, there are the founders of some of what will likely become tomorrow’s big names, talking up Ireland in a way we really should begin to take seriously (rather than, say, complaining in disbelief, as recently happened, when Ireland tops out on various international surveys).

The article notes: "Dublin looks a lot like home: a young and educated workforce, global business culture, population thirsting for new technology and Twitter and Facebook signs dotting the horizon. Labour and real estate are cheaper than in other European destination cities and, more than the familiar language or palatable food, the city's tech tenant roster makes Dublin feel comfortable to Silicon Valley transplants.

"'It feels a little bit like a mini-San Francisco,' said Patrick Moran, chief marketing officer of San Francisco big data software startup New Relic. 'All of our startup friends are there'."

Those comments, and others in the piece, signal what has changed.

We don’t just have a subset of tech multinationals these days. Ireland, for the first time, has a true, continually developing tech ecosystem that incorporates the gamut of technology businesses: the US and Irish start-up entrepreneurs , the internet-era companies of the first decade of the 2000s, and many of the biggest names from the dawn of the silicon era.

First wave, second wave, third wave. It’s really quite extraordinary. Sometimes you have to leave to get a clearer picture of what’s happening here.