25 sci-tech leaders who will be guiding the way in 2020

20 Dec 2019

Image: © 9dreamstudio/Stock.adobe.com

As the science and technology sectors continue to thrive in Ireland, we look at 25 leaders to keep your eye on in 2020.

Throughout the year on Siliconrepublic.com, we try to keep on top of everything sci-tech, from developments with the latest start-ups to cutting-edge science, and focusing on areas from finance to pharma.

Here, we round up 25 leaders in the science and tech sectors in Ireland who caught our attention this year – some who are new to their roles, others who have been guiding the way for some time, but all who will no doubt have plenty in store in 2020.

Paul McElvaney

Since 2006, Paul McElvaney, founder and CEO of Derry-based e-learning company Learning Pool, has grown his business from a team of five to an international firm with almost 200 employees in the UK and US. The company specialises in providing online workplace learning solutions for some of the world’s biggest brands and government departments.

A man in a blue shirt stands with his arms folded in front of a wall, overlooking a bridge.

Paul McElvaney. Image: Learning Pool

McElvaney completed Learning Pool’s third acquisition earlier this year and is now looking firmly towards to the US market. He told Siliconrepublic.com: “I started Learning Pool 10 years ago at my kitchen table, so it’s been a very personal journey for me to grow the business to where it is now.”

Edel Creely

In 2009, Edel Creely took “a leap into life as an entrepreneur” and co-founded Trilogy Technologies. As managing director, she has helped the managed services provider to grow and expand over the last decade, acquiring Zinopy Security in 2018 and winning Company of the Year at the 2019 Tech Excellence Awards.

A woman in a colourful blue blouse and dark hair stands outside in front of a tree and a green fence.

Edel Creely. Image: Conor McCabe

Earlier this week, it was announced that Trilogy Technologies has been acquired by Arkphire, creating one of the largest IT managed services businesses in Ireland. Creely will remain in her role, saying that together the companies will provide “a more compelling proposition” for customers.

Joe McGinley

It was a turbulent year for one of the major global workspace providers but, closer to home, Joe McGinley has been quietly expanding his empire. The founder and CEO of Iconic Offices said that “one of the largest challenges has been competing against global ‘unicorn’ competitors who are extremely well funded”, but added that 2019 was his most successful year to date.

A man in a casual suit sits on a green couch against a floral wall.

Joe McGinley. Image: Iconic Offices

Since the business was founded in 2013, Iconic Offices has opened 16 office spaces around Dublin, including locations on St Stephen’s Green and Mount Street. This year, it added the Lennox Building in Portobello and The Masonry in the Liberties to its growing portfolio.

Dorothy Creaven

With 18 years’ experience in the areas of enterprise software and digital transformation, working for both SMEs and multinationals, Dorothy Creaven has now become the managing director and site lead of Rent the Runway’s new European headquarters, which opened in Galway this year.

A woman with long, red hair, wearing a silver top, stands with her arms folded against a colourful wall.

Dorothy Creaven. Image: Rent the Runway

Creaven was previously listed as one of our top 25 women in engineering in Ireland for her start-up Element Wave. She co-founded and led the mobile engagement automation platform, which was operating from Galway between 2010 and 2017.

Noel Moran

It has been quite a year for Noel Moran of Prepaid Financial Services (PFS), who sold his business to Australia’s EML payments last month in a £226m deal. “PFS started life at a kitchen table and now we are so happy to be listed on the Australian stock exchange as a result of this transaction,” he said at the time.

A man in a blue suit stands in front of a blurry office space.

Noel Moran. Image: PFS

With bases in Ireland, the UK and Malta, PFS provides e-wallets, physical and virtual prepaid cards, and accounts. The fintech business has processed billions in payments since it was founded in 2008 and it announced multiple expansion plans this year ahead of the acquisition deal.

Sharon McCooey

As head of LinkedIn Ireland and a member of the company’s EMEA leadership team, Sharon McCooey is one of the country’s big names in tech business. She was one of LinkedIn’s first hires in Ireland, and is now overseeing the company’s continued growth and expansion here.

A woman in a red suit leans against a wall covered in cartoon designs.

Sharon McCooey. Image: LinkedIn

“This expansion has seen our headcount in Dublin grow from three people in 2010 to more than 1,200 people today, the opening of our new building in Dublin, and the current construction of a second office to house our growing team,” she told Siliconrepublic.com earlier this year.

Dáire Keogh

Earlier this month, Prof Dáire Keogh was named as the next president of Dublin City University (DCU), succeeding current president Prof Brian MacCraith when his term ends in July 2020.

A man with glasses in a suit stands in front of a grey, stone building.

Prof Dáire Keogh. Image: DCU

Although Keogh’s background is in history, he will oversee all areas of study and research at DCU. The university’s chancellor, Dr Martin McAleese, said that Keogh “will build on the progress that has been made to date and provide the leadership to drive DCU’s mission to transform lives and societies through education, research, innovation and engagement”.

Áine Kerr

After a varied career in the media – working for Facebook as its global head of journalism partnerships, for Storyful as its managing editor, and writing for the Irish Independent, The Irish Times and the Irish Examiner – Áine Kerr is trying to change the world of journalism with Kinzen.

Woman with long blonde hair wearing head mic and patterned dress speaking to crowd at Inspirefest 2019 in front of purple backdrop.

Áine Kerr. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Launched earlier this year, the app, which Kerr co-founded with Mark Little, provides personalised news products for readers and publishers.

“The journalism industry that I love is facing a moment of crisis,” she said. “But people are hungry for order in the chaos. And publishers are hungry for engaged readers. Kinzen is the bridge between the two.”

Phil Codd

At the start of this year, the newly rebranded Expleo announced plans to invest €8m in its Irish operation, creating 150 jobs in the process. Phil Codd, managing director of Expleo in Ireland and the company’s regional director for Ireland and the UK, described it as “the start of a bold new chapter”.

Phil Codd, wearing a suit, leans against a couch in an office building.

Phil Codd. Image: Expleo

Before Expleo, Codd worked with a number of US-owned software players such as Ingres, Oracle and Siebel, and SAP, in a career that has seen him go from “a trainee programmer to running a tech consultancy that employs hundreds of people”.

Elaine Murphy

While many of Ireland’s tech leaders are focused on what’s happening in the capital, Elaine Murphy is trying to get more people to look west.

Based in Sligo, Murphy is EMEA general manager at LiveTiles, which specialises in drag-and-drop technology so businesses can create bots, dashboards, portals or corporate intranets, with personalised AI and analytics. She was also previously site lead at EA Games in Galway.

A woman in a pink jacket and blonde hair stands on a beach.

Elaine Murphy. Image: James Connolly

“A challenge that I have placed quite a bit of focus on is getting the word out about Sligo and the north-west as a place where the right talent can do some of their best work with some amazing companies,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.

William Scanlon

After more than 30 years’ working in a range academic and industry engineering roles, Prof William Scanlon was appointed as the CEO of Cork’s Tyndall National Institute last year. In 2019, the institute announced a host of new projects and expansion plans.

A man in a suit stands outside a building that has 'Tyndall' written on the wall.

“We are entering a new phase of development, which will see a rapid expansion of the institute, not just in terms of our scale – which is set to double within 10 years – but also in terms of our technical focus as we move to a much more integrated hardware and software approach,” Scanlon told us.

Brian Duffy

Irishman Brian Duffy has risen through the ranks at technology giant SAP to become its north EMEA president, overseeing the UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the Baltics.

A man in a suit and white shirt sits at a table in front of a grey wall.

Brian Duffy. Image: SAP

Despite this wide remit, Duffy’s home country remains a key focus, particularly following the company’s $8bn acquisition of Qualtrics last year, which has given SAP “a pretty significant presence in Ireland”. With a new office building on the way in Dublin city centre, SAP plans to grow its team here to more than 700 over the next couple of years, Duffy said.

Sarah Bourke

Two decades ago, Dr Sarah Bourke co-founded Skytek, the Dublin-based technology company that has built software and tools for some of the most challenging industries – including aerospace. As chief executive, Bourke continues to lead the company as it sets its sights on new projects, working with organisations such as the European Space Agency and NASA.

Woman with long, dark hair and wearing a blue top sits in front of a white wall and a window.

Still from ‘2016 EU Prize for Women Innovators- Finalist’. Image: Digital Single Market/YouTube

Earlier this year, Skytek announced a major new deal, working with insurance giant Aon to offer the reinsurance industry space-adapted software systems to better manage marine, port and cargo risk. “These new products open up an exciting future for deeper risk insights within the marine reinsurance world,” Bourke said at the time.

Andrew Lynch

Another growing player in Ireland’s co-working space scene is Huckletree – co-founded by Dublin native Andrew Lynch. The UK-based company may have only opened its first Irish hub last year, but there are more developments in the pipeline.

A man in an off-white shirt is smiling and standing in front of a brown background.

Andrew Lynch. Image: Huckletree

Huckletree is focused on further expansion in 2020, with new hubs in Dublin, Manchester and Oslo, including a fintech-focused co-working hub in Ballsbridge. “Our hope is that this becomes a true town hall for all fintech players and an academy for future global success stories,” Lynch, who is the company’s COO, said.

Pat Burke

With almost 30 years’ experience in industry, Pat Burke is the new vice-president and general manager of Cook Medical’s Irish manufacturing facility, which is based in Limerick. There, he is leading teams that are developing the next generation of minimally invasive medical devices.

Man standing in laboratory with arms folded, wearing blue shirt.

Pat Burke. Image: Cook Medical

“We’re constantly looking for opportunities to develop new products that that will expand the range of conditions that could be treated in Ireland and globally,” Burke told us. “Innovation is key to the success in the industry and it means that we can continue to deliver life-saving solutions for patients.”

Aisling Hassell

As experience-based travel continues to rise in popularity, it’s creating plenty of work for Aisling Hassell, vice-president of community support at Airbnb and site lead for its Dublin office – the company’s largest base outside the US.

A woman in a checkered jacket and white blouse sits in a homely room in front of a dining table and indoor plants.

Aisling Hassell. Image: Airbnb

Hassell previously held senior customer experience roles at Vodafone and Symantec in both Europe and the US, but now she is focused on the hospitality sector, “which in general is seeing terrific growth”, she said, but also needs to deal with changing regulations and rising issues regarding short-term rentals.

Peter McCarthy

After Enet was acquired by the Irish Infrastructure Fund this time last year, Peter McCarthy became its group CEO. The wholesale telecoms network works with more than 70 different retail service providers to bring broadband and wireless to users around Ireland, and it has “just embarked on a new three-year strategy”, according to McCarthy.

A man in a dark suit stands in front of a screen that says 'enet'.

Peter McCarthy. Image: Enet

Last month, it was announced that Pure Telecom and Enet had signed a €12m deal to bring high-speed broadband to up to 242,000 premises in regional towns across Ireland, meaning that 2020 is likely to be another busy year.

Christian Kinnear

As inbound marketing platform HubSpot continues to expand, Ireland has become a key, growing base for the tech company. This is being led by Christian Kinnear, vice-president of sales and managing director for HubSpot EMEA, based in Dublin, who joined the company after stints working at Google and Oracle.

A man in a blue shirt stands outside at dusk, at a building overlooking Dublin city.

Christian Kinnear. Image: HubSpot

“I’m personally driven by the opportunity to break new ground; to innovate, launch new products and markets, and solve complex issues for customers,” he told us. “The tech industry is such a fast-moving and ever-changing environment that it ticks all those boxes.”

Faye Thomas

As our reliance on tech products grows, so does the need to properly dispose of devices. Faye Thomas is chief commercial officer of AMI, an IT recycling company that helps organisations deal with their end-of-life IT, mobile and electrical equipment to minimise the risk of a data breach.

A woman in a black jacket and red shirt stands in a dark office room.

Faye Thomas. Image: AMI

The company employs 60 people in Belfast and Dublin, but has plans to expand over the next two years. “GDPR has really driven demand for our services as organisations realise the importance of eliminating all residual data from old or unwanted IT equipment, while securely disposing of these devices,” Thomas said earlier this year.

Noel O’Connor

Earlier this year, Noel O’Connor became the CEO of Insight, which is the largest Science Foundation Ireland-funded research centre in Ireland. Here, he brings together universities, researchers and industry partners to focus on the future of data analytics.

A man in a dark suit stands with his arms folded.

Noel O’Connor. Image: Insight

This month, the Government announced an investment of €49m into the Insight centre, adding that it will secure a further €100m from industry and other international sources, such as the EU, over the next six years to further harness the power of data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “We have very ambitious plans for our next phase,” O’Connor said.

Chris Paul

This year, Spanish banking giant Bankinter completed its takeover of Irish consumer finance company Avantcard, which is led by CEO Chris Paul. Amid this change, however, the company still had time to launch new products and services.

A man in a dark suit and red checkered shirt sits in a bright, white room.

Chris Paul. Image: Avantcard

“Irish consumers are woefully underserved in terms of personal finance right now. Post-financial crisis, there’s been little innovation in the market,” Paul told us, adding that Avantcard is “focused on bringing about change”.

Sharon Cunningham

It was only last year that Waterford woman Sharon Cunningham co-founded Shorla Pharma, but she’s already making waves in the industry. In September, Cunningham was named Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur, picking up investment of €40,000.

A woman in a purple dress stands holding an award in each hand in front of a neon sign that reads 'The Foundry'.

Sharon Cunningham. Image: Julien Behal Photography

She and Orlaith Ryan started the business after identifying a significant issue in the pharmaceutical industry and are now focusing on improving existing treatments for children’s and women’s cancers to make them more accessible. Shorla’s first product was the redevelopment of a children’s cancer drug from a difficult-to-swallow capsule into an oral solution.

Des Traynor

After sailing past the $1bn valuation milestone last year, Intercom, a communication software company started in San Francisco in 2011 by four Irishmen – Des Traynor, Ciaran Lee, Eoghan McCabe and David Barrett – has its sights on further growth, including a new Dublin HQ.

A man in a black suit stands on a stage with a purple screen in the background that reads 'Inspirefest 19'.

Des Traynor. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

But how did they get there? Traynor gave the audience an insight at this year’s Inspirefest (now Future Human). “Ignore the top tips and hustle bullshit, you do you and whatever happens is whatever should happen,” he said. “And if you try to be somebody else, it ain’t gonna work.”

Sheila Donegan

Director of Waterford Institute of Technology’s Calmast centre, Dr Sheila Donegan, is perhaps best known as the co-founder of Maths Week Ireland, which runs activities reaching around 400,000 people annually.

A woman in a white jacket and red top stands in a room holding a glass award.

Dr Sheila Donegan. Image: Network Ireland

Donegan was awarded the Network Ireland National Businesswoman of the Year in STEM award back in September, recognising her contributions to the promotion of science and tech education across the country.

“This award endorses the importance of work in promoting STEM, which is benefitting women and wider society, and which needs greater focus particularly for young women,” Donegan said at the time.

Killian MacDonald

Last year, biopharma giant Gilead Sciences opened a new €9.5m facility at its plant in Cork, with the aim of improving treatments in areas such as HIV, Hepatitis C and oncology.

A man in a grey suit and blue shirt sits on a plush blue chair.

Killian MacDonald. Image: Gilead Sciences

Gilead’s commercial operations in Ireland are led by Killian MacDonald, a director with the company, who has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 15 years. “Gilead is investing not only in the traditional ways of R&D and M&D, but also in some interesting initiatives that are at the cutting edge of treatment discovery,” he told Siliconrepublic.com. 

Are you a sci-tech business leader with insights to share? Let us know by emailing editorial@siliconrepublic.com with the subject line ‘Leaders’ Insights’.

Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic