20 years of SR: From past tech events to Future Human

25 Feb 2022

Backstage at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Paul Condron

To bookend Silicon Republic’s birthday celebrations, we look back at the events and conferences that led to Future Human.

Celebrating 20 years of Silicon Republic, 2001-2021

Many will have come to know Silicon Republic’s events arm from its annual flagship event Inspirefest, which ran until 2019, and now Future Human, which began in 2020.

But the team has run so many more events throughout its 20-year history, with the aim of addressing critical issues for Ireland’s sci-tech ecosystem.

A large group of people queuing at a stand at an event.

Inspirefest 2016. Image: Paul Condron

Digital Ireland Forum

In 2009, Silicon Republic launched Digital 21, a campaign spearheaded by publisher Darren Mc Auliffe and editor at the time John Kennedy to develop a national digital development plan for Ireland.

Digital 21 called for a decade-long programme of action to secure the digital infrastructure and services required for Ireland to build a knowledge economy. In 2012, the campaign included the Digital Ireland Forum, an event that ran twice a year until 2015.

“Darren and John had done an amazing job of gathering the thoughts of Ireland’s tech leaders on Silicon Republic,” said Silicon Republic CEO and co-founder Ann O’Dea.

“But we decided it was time to get them all in a venue together in person to hash out what we could do as an industry to advance everything from Ireland’s broadband infrastructure to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”

The events featured prominent speakers from Ireland and overseas, including then UK prime minister David Cameron’s ambassador to London’s TechCity, Ben Hammersley, and Oscar-winning producer David Puttnam, who was also named Ireland’s Digital Champion in 2013.

The twice-yearly Digital Ireland Forum was soon joined by four more events in 2013 focusing on jobs, climate, innovation and women in STEM.

Green Growth Forum

In January 2013, Silicon Republic hosted the first Green Growth Forum in the Convention Centre Dublin, where experts and leaders in finance, technology and policy came together to discuss the theme of fostering and financing green innovation.

Dr Eddie O’Connor, founder of Mainstream Renewable Power, delivered a keynote describing how a UK energy deal could power the industrialisation of Ireland’s midlands. A UK-Ireland memorandum of understanding had been signed the day before to progress plans for the trading of renewable energy between both countries.

O’Connor claimed this would be the biggest energy project attempted in Ireland since Ardnacrusha and predicted that Ireland could derive €2.5bn from the project by 2020. At the time, O’Dea asked O’Connor on stage would planning not present a challenge to this ambitious project and, alas, her question proved prescient.

Future Jobs Forum

In February, Silicon Republic brought together a selection of international and local leaders to examine the challenges and opportunities presented by the global battle for talent. This was the birth of the first Future Jobs Forum.

Dr Sue Black speaking at a podium.

Dr Sue Black speaking at the Future Jobs Forum in 2014. Image: Conor McCabe

“Even then we could see that the global battle for talent was only heating up and we wanted to get the best minds in a room to see what policymakers needed to consider when regulating for Ireland’s future,” said O’Dea.

In her keynote, Sally Khallash, founding director of the Centre for Global Talent Strategy, warned that sourcing tech talent from overseas is easier said than done. Highlighting the competition coming from emerging markets, Khallash said countries the world over needed to devise “defend and attract” strategies to retain existing skilled workers and attract new talent from abroad.

Innovation Ireland Forum

In October, Silicon Republic convened at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin for the Innovation Ireland Forum, which set out to examine how the future could be created here in Ireland.

One of its keynote speakers was Philip Moynagh, director of low-power embedded processors at Intel, factory manager of Fab24, and leader of the team that created the Intel Quark SoC X1000, a system on a chip designed in Ireland.

O’Dea said one area where Silicon Republic stood out was for the gender balance of its keynotes and panellists. One panel from 2014 featured Linda Doyle, who was CTVR director at the time and went on to become Trinity College Dublin’s first female provost, and Nuritas founder Nora Khaldi, whose biotech start-up recently raised $45m in Series B funding.

Female Founders Forum

2013 also saw the launch of Silicon Republic’s Women Invent Tomorrow campaign, which sought to champion the role of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The campaign expanded into a regular Women Invent series in which Silicon Republic regularly profiles amazing women in STEM, from inspirational leaders to incredible scientists, innovators and technologists.

As part of the initial campaign, Silicon Republic published its first 100 Top Women in STEM and subsequently gathered many of these women for a celebration in 2014.

Two men and two women stand in a line smiling at the camera at an event.

Kevin Hartz and Julia Hartz, Eventbrite co-founders, with Ann O’Dea and Darren Mc Auliffe, Silicon Republic co-founders, before the Female Founders Forum in 2013. Image: Conor McCabe

On the same day, the team ran the Female Founders Forum, with a keynote from Eventbrite co-founder and CEO Julia Hartz and numerous great panellists.

O’Dea said it was a major highlight in her long career of event curation at Silicon Republic. “When a smart young founder approached me at the end of the event to say it was the first time she hadn’t felt lonely in the tech sector, the die was cast. There had to be lots more of this, I thought.”

Inspirefest was born

By 2014, the desire to highlight women and minorities who had previously been underserved in the sci-tech industry coincided with the decision to focus on one flagship event.

This was the birth of Inspirefest at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, which became Silicon Republic’s first major annual sci-tech event in 2015.

A woman dressed in a theatrical red and cream dress with arms outstretched during a performance.

Ada, Ada, Ada, The Ada Lovelace Show, performed at Inspirefest 2016. Image: Conor McCabe

“We noticed we were getting different audiences for each event, and it really struck us that all these themes from talent to gender and diversity, from sustainable growth to climate, from digital infrastructure to transformation, they were all inextricably linked,” said O’Dea.

“The best way to break down these silos was to run one big annual event that would bring all these people together, the CEOs and country managers, the inventors and entrepreneurs, the developers and tech professionals. The conversations we needed to be having should include them all.”

The initial event had an amazing line-up included gaming legend Brianna Wu, world-renowned astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell and Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant.

The four years that followed included many more incredible speakers, from CNN’s Reggie Selma and Theranos whistleblower Erika Cheung to conductor Eimear Noone and Scissor Sisters singer, DJ and author Ana Matronic.

Ana Matronic stands at a podium on stage. Behind her is a sign that says Inspirefest 2017.

Ana Matronic at Inspirefest 2017. Image: Conor McCabe

“Over those five years, the calibre and diversity of speakers was matched only by the thousands of fascinating people in attendance from more than 50 countries,” said O’Dea.

The future is human

Once that five-year anniversary came in 2019, O’Dea and the team were looking to shake things up, leading to the creation of Silicon Republic’s newest event, Future Human.

As the Covid-19 pandemic rumbled on, the inaugural Future Human event went ahead in October 2020, aiming to be the first major international tech event in the world to go hybrid.

“The move to Future Human came from our belief at Silicon Republic that nothing is more important than placing the human at the centre of everything our industries do,” said O’Dea. “Our focus on science, technology and innovation is really all about creating a better future for all humans.”

A woman on stage facing a screen behind her where two people are on a large screen.

Dearbhail McDonald and Tony Connelly speak with Ann O’Dea at Future Human 2020. Image: Pawel Wach

That first event included speakers such as Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser, investor Brad Feld, former NASA astronaut Joan Higginbotham and more.

As we look ahead, Future Human will return for its second event on 12 and 13 May 2022 at the state-of-the-art Trinity Business School, with a dynamic, hybrid format for attendees both in person and online from around the world.

Attendees will hear from leading thinkers in science, robotics, AI, climate action, security, health and the arts, with plenty of exciting announcements to come. Tickets are available at the Future Human website and early-bird tickets are available until Monday 28 February.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic