PATRICK COLLISON (at right), known for his clever programming skills and for the successful sale of his start-up Auctomatic, suggests ways to foster innovation in a piece for the Irish Times. As an unsuccessful start-up person myself, I was interested in how Patrick saw the Irish tech landscape and how he'd change things. Although his ideas have stimulated discussion in the Irish blogging community, I'm less confident that his ideas offer the kind of roadmap that the Irish government can actually follow.
Patrick says, "The Valley, at its heart, is all about start-ups." Maybe--I think the Valley is all about the culture. When I lived in Palo Alto, I saw the research side of the Valley and I mingled with the moneyed side of the venture capital community. Both Stanford and Berkeley had significant amounts of federally-sponsored reasearch programmes. Some of those programmes kept talented university graduates connected to campus offices and a few of those researchers became members of start-ups. From what I saw while commuting on US-405, the start-ups often emerged from a foundation of funded research and if a start-up had a brilliant idea, an angel investor or VC analyst could pop in for a look. In Ireland, Science Foundation Ireland is trying to fund fourth-level research programmes for Irish graduates. SFI's budget is miniscule when compared to that of the US military, the source of many research programmes undertaken by Bay Area universities. And unless you're a regular to the Shelbourne or you have a Portmarnock golf club membership, you're not going to be in the same space as VC or angel investors in Ireland.
I've always felt that it's easier to make connections to a week's worth of billables over coffee in the lobby of a Dublin hotel than it is to scour the internet from a box closet office in an incubation centre down the country. In Ireland, every third level institution receives funding for start-up offices. This effectively means the start-up energy in Ireland is scattered throughout the country. You can see the energy that founders bring to the mix at industry events like OpenCoffee in Ireland. Barcamps, OpenCoffee sessions, and industry conferences happen regularly but not as often as frequent hook-ups in Silicon Valley, where people often live in the same apartment blocks, order at the same Starbucks or jog on the same trails. The Irish government is committed to dispersing the start-up culture throughout the State, in keeping with parish pump politicis that have worked so well.
I'm with Patrick when he cites the slow responsiveness from Enterprise Ireland about investment decisions. "Enterprise Ireland still take several months to make most investment decisions. This is crazy--it encourages good companies to get their money elsewhere."
Patrick Collison -- "The Grand Plan" in the Irish Times Innovation magazine, June 2009.
Fergus Burns -- "The Grand Plan by Patrick Collison" in the Web2Ireland blog, 8 June 2009.