Our annual rundown of the key voices in sci-tech to watch in 2019 begins with those leading innovative teams and diverse ways of thinking.
A globally recognised expert in artificial intelligence (AI), Prof Barry O’Sullivan is the founding director of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at University College Cork (UCC) and president of the European Association for AI. He has been involved in winning more than €250m in research funding, of which €40m has directly supported UCC.
He is keen on examining how Europe can establish its own unique AI identity: “By and large, the consensus in Europe seems to be that Europe will develop AI technologies that have European principles and culture built in with respect for the citizen, as well as data protection, privacy, respect for lifestyle choice and other fundamental freedoms.”
As she comes up on the first year anniversary of her appointment as CEO at Eir, Carolan Lennon has made her priorities and mission for the company crystal clear. Following an acquisition by Xavier Niel’s NJJ and a €1bn investment in transforming its infrastructure, Eir’s path towards a lean, dynamic way of doing business is well underway.
Lennon summed up her aspirations for the company: “We want to be a modern, dynamic telco that has great infrastructure, delivers really good customer service, and one that has a really simple proposition stack that everybody gets and buys into.”
A major games services firm located in Dublin, Keywords Studios has been at the centre of several success stories of late. Recently, the studios made its eighth acquisition of 2018, snapping up Studio Gobo and Electric Square.
CEO Andrew Day is keen to position Keywords Studios as “a go-to game development partner, and give us ever greater visibility of games in the pipeline, at the outset of their development”. Keywords also reported stellar earnings in August 2018, with revenues for H1 rising by a massive 72pc. Describing company performance as “very encouraging”, Day looks set to help it stay the course.
One story that dominated the conversation in 2018 was the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The unprecedented EU regulation has transformed the online landscape and Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon found herself and her office playing a key role owing to the many multinational tech firms located here.
Since taking office in 2014, Dixon has seen a quadrupling of her office’s budget. Her main priority is protecting and educating citizens, “because tech is crashing up against social norms and forcing us to evolve”.
As co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan is a global leader when it comes to all things inbound marketing. But, for Halligan, marketing is just a fraction of what HubSpot does.
In a competitive global landscape where customer service has never been more important, he champions a holistic view of modern marketing. “We pivoted HubSpot a few years ago from marketing to how do we build a full suite that helps people to go to market in a way that is modern and fits with the way people want to buy.”
A self-proclaimed business romantic and founder of the Business Romantic Society, Tim Leberecht is passionate about nurturing the humanity at the heart of every organisation. Speaking at Inspirefest 2018, he told a rapt audience that the innate romance in humans is what makes every person and every organisation unique. “If you don’t have romantics in your organisation then you’re not going to be truly innovative.”
A man with a wealth of business experience, Eamonn Costello is CEO of PatientMpower, a company that helps patients document their health data, allowing them to have more informed discussions with healthcare professionals.
In January 2018, PatientMpower was named joint winner of the IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis) Catalyst Challenge in Chicago, splitting the $1m prize fund with two other firms. Costello stressed his commitment to “helping patients better manage their condition by combining objective data with subjective quality-of-life data so they can better describe how they are doing at their appointments”.
Henny Swan is a champion of accessibility and inclusion in technology. As director of user experience at the Paciello Group, Swan helps to ensure businesses keep inclusivity at the forefront of their projects. Swan’s career includes work as lead author on the BBC Mobile Accessibility Standards and Guidelines and web evangelism at Opera Software ASA.
For Swan, the key to inclusive design is “making sure we build things to be used by humans”. By embracing inclusive design, developers can create a warmer, more welcoming online experience for those with different ability levels. Her golden rule for design? “Never assume anything.”
Virtual reality (VR) is a technology most of us associate with the gaming industry, but it is making major waves in education. Co-founder and CEO of VR Education Holdings, David Whelan, is someone at the forefront of this blossoming area. Whelan’s key aim is to make education more accessible, regardless of financial constraints or physical ability, and improve student retention.
The company’s platform, Engage, hopes to provide the end user with the feeling of attending a traditional university. “The reason people attend universities and training institutes is to be taught by the best minds and to support each other in peer groups,” Whelan noted.
Finnish start-up HMD Global is revitalising mobile brand Nokia, a former stalwart in the mobile device world that many thought was a relic of the past. Sarah Edge heads up the UK and Ireland division of HMD Global and she and the firm have big plans to create must-have devices with the brand backing from Nokia.
While this may seem a tough ask, Edge is prepared to innovate and stand out: “It is a hard battle. We know the brand resonates really well, people trust the brand, and it takes so much money to build a brand.”
In his role as country manager of IBM for Ireland, Paul Farrell has a key agenda in mind: restless reinvention. Despite the storied legacy and achievements of IBM, Farrell knows there is no time to rest on one’s laurels in the competition-heavy tech field.
“Tech moves at such a pace that unless you are anticipating the next wave of development, you are going to be left behind by default,” he told Siliconrepublic.com. From quantum computing and AI to security and blockchain, Farrell and IBM are behind some of the most dynamic research labs in the country today.
Founder and CEO of SciFest, Sheila Porter is a champion of diversity in STEM education. Now in its 10th year, the project saw more than 10,000 students participate across Ireland in 2017. A former science teacher herself, Porter has received numerous awards for her work including the Educator of Excellence award at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition and the British Council Science Travel Award.
“A diverse population introduces fresh perspectives and new ideas, and I think it is uplifting to see students from different backgrounds and cultures sharing experiences and working together on their SciFest projects,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.
Mastercard is currently at the coalface of some major innovations in the payments world and Tammy Hawkins is a linchpin of its Dublin tech centre. As vice-president of security and decision solutions software engineering in its Dublin hub, Hawkins leads a talented team in creating cutting-edge solutions.
As well as her day job, Hawkins is actively involved in initiatives to boost young women in STEM, including Mastercard Start Path. Hawkins’ dedication and drive is admirable, particularly in such a fast-paced management role.
In the comms world, 5G has been the major buzzword all year long and Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary is one of the key figures in the area. As well as announcing the first 5G test site in Dublin’s docklands, O’Leary also unveiled a partnership with NovaUCD to help businesses take advantage of this new era in mobile.
While many simply think of areas such as streaming, O’Leary looks even further at 5G’s potential for many industries: “Whether it is healthcare with robotic surgery, whether it is autonomous vehicles talking to each other, whether it’s immersive gaming or smart cities – we see the connection of millions of devices and the ultra-fast speed, the low latency and the secure connectivity that it will bring for consumers and businesses.”
The provost of Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Dr Patrick Prendergast, has been a major catalyst in the exciting investments at the university this year. From plans for Trinity Business School and an E3 initiative, to its lofty ambitions for a €1bn second campus centred on innovation in Dublin’s docklands, the institute is serious about the future of learning.
Diana van Maasdijk
Diana van Maasdijk is executive director and co-founder of Equileap, a company born out of a shared dissatisfaction with the slovenly pace at which gender parity is being achieved in the world of work. Along with co-founder Jo Andrews, Van Maasdijk started producing a gender equality scorecard which rates large publicly traded enterprises on how well they are performing according to a number of different metrics for assessing gender equality.
The scorecard expertly blends a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to achieving gender parity. It names and shames the worst offenders while also elevating companies that are doing well, earmarking them for investment from investors curating gender-conscious portfolios in what Van Maasdijk calls “gender-lens investment”.
Past Inspirefest speaker and sometime Siliconrepublic.com contributor, Dr Anita Sands has enjoyed a broad and illustrious career across sectors such as finance, public policy, academia and cybersecurity. On this journey, she has always championed inclusivity and equality within the tech industry, especially in her current position as a member of multiple company boards. This quest to promote equality was thrown into sharper relief when becoming a parent revealed to Sands the unique burdens that can be put upon working mothers.
It is not only that Sands has achieved great heights, but it is her commitment to what she calls the “lift as we climb” approach to advancement that distinguishes her as an exemplary leader. Expect more from her in 2019, including whispers of a book in the works.
Recently appointed CEO of neighbourhood social network Nextdoor, Sarah Friar previously served as Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey’s longstanding deputy.
Originally hailing from Tyrone, Friar comes from a STEM background. She earned a scholarship to study engineering at Oxford and then pivoted to tech after moving to San Francisco and completing an MBA at Stanford. Since then she has arguably become one of the most influential figures in the Silicon Valley tech scene. With her new CEO position, it is likely that her incredible star will only continue to rise.
David Wachsman is a world-renowned blockchain expert and thought leader as well as the CEO and founder of blockchain professional services firm Wachsman. His firm has grown massively since it was first founded in 2015 in New York, expanding into both APAC and EMEA via offices in Dublin and Singapore. Emma Walker leads the Irish team and will represent Wachsman on the Inspirefest stage in 2019.
For David, the ubiquity of blockchain is an inevitability, and his excitement and extensive knowledge of the technology’s multiple use cases make us excited to see how his company, and the tech industry as a whole, develops over time.
ConsenSys Ireland managing director Lory Kehoe has certainly made his mark in Ireland’s emerging blockchain sector. Prior to joining ConsenSys, Kehoe headed up Deloitte’s EMEA blockchain lab. In 2015, he co-founded the Irish Government-backed industry group Blockchain Ireland.
Blockchain in Ireland is, as Kehoe puts it, “a growing ecosystem”, one that he cherishes being a part of and one that he is confident is only going to flourish with every new year.
As the chief information officer (CIO) of Workday, Diana McKenzie oversees the company’s IT organisation as well as being responsible for how Workday’s products are deployed internally. She previously was the CIO of pharma giant Amgen for 12 years and, before that, hopped between various IT leadership roles.
McKenzie has been vocal in her belief that “happy employees make for happy customers”. The firm’s people-centred approach, McKenzie argues, is what has led to the organisation having a 98pc customer satisfaction rating.
Work180 co-founder Gemma Lloyd wants to ensure gender equality in the workplace at the outset by pre-screening employers for how well they support women’s careers. On the site’s listings, jobseekers can sift through companies based on policies such as paid parental leave, flexible working and employee engagement scores. Through this, Lloyd hopes that workers can make more empowered career decisions and that enterprises can better reflect on how to make their organisations more inclusive.
After shuttering a failed enterprise, even the most determined of entrepreneurs may feel a little winded. That didn’t seem to be the case for Slack co-founder and CTO Cal Henderson. The now highly influential business app rose from the ashes of a multiplayer game called Glitch that was shelved in 2012.
Since then, Slack has quickly become one of the most influential and disruptive companies around. It is an application that has not only been quickly adopted en masse (the company now counts 8m daily active users) but has inspired a paradigm shift within the world of work.
Medb Corcoran was appointed the Ireland lead of Accenture Labs in November 2018. Corcoran now oversees a variety of exciting projects from the professional services firm such as the development of ethical AI tools for use in a broad swathe of industries including medicine and the police force.
The incredible potential of AI inspires an equally incredible burden of responsibility upon those tasked with shepherding this technological revolution. As AI becomes more widespread, so too does its capacity for harm if left unchecked. It is a responsibility that Corcoran will continue to shoulder, supported by a wealth of experience in the field.
Data scientist Vin Vashishta draws upon his years of experience in the now-booming field to ponder some of the most challenging questions facing data science professionals today. Why, Vashishta asks, don’t data scientists have an ethical burden akin to a psychologist given the scope of the technologies they create?
Vashishta’s knowledge and professional success have earned him a steadily growing following of fellow STEM workers eager to hear his perspective on an industry that is only going to grow in the coming years.
As co-president of mBolden (previously known as Women in Wireless), Farzana Nasser helps women leaders succeed in the male-dominated mobile and digital industries. As well as championing the many women involved in the organisation, she is a great proponent of the importance of championing yourself early on in your career.
“Whether it’s speaking at conferences, attending networking events or sharing your knowledge internally and externally, you need to be your biggest champion and advocate for yourself,” she told Siliconrepublic.com.
Prof Brian MacCraith was appointed the president of Dublin City University (DCU) in 2010, having first joined the university faculty in 1986 as a lecturer in physics. This year has been a significant one for DCU with MacCraith presiding over campus expansions, injections of vital research funding and a strategic partnership with Talent Garden.
As well as this, MacCraith is regarded as one of the most prominent voices in the discourse around STEM diversity in Ireland. He has worked extensively on making the field accessible to all by launching STEM education programmes aimed at younger students, announcing refugee scholarships and seeing DCU receive the world’s first autism-friendly university designation.
Ian Harkin understands that many of the most limiting and damaging cultural stereotypes are formed at a young age. Coupling this with the observation that many dolls on today’s market are created in the image of adults, not actual children, Harkin co-founded Lottie Dolls with Lucie Follett in 2012.
Lottie Dolls are modelled on real children and Harkin has been vocal about the importance the company places on allowing kids to have input on the doll’s designs. Inspired by kids, the dolls have been on STEM adventures around the world, to the International Space Station, and even involved in the Inspirefest conference since day one.
Sligo native Domhnaill Hernon is the head of Experiments in Arts and Technology (EAT) at Nokia Bell Labs. His musical roots coupled with his passion for the architecture of the future make him an ideal candidate for the job. Returning to the Inspirefest stage in 2018, he blew the audience away with an EAT demonstration featuring world-renowned beatboxer Reeps One and his AI counterpart.
Hernon’s role requires him to have skills far beyond mere technical acumen. He has to consider the tension between the digital and the physical, and examine how technology is impacting human relationships and societies.
Huy Nguyen Trieu
While fintech advances exponentially, the greater financial sector continues evolving to keep pace in the digital age. Embedded in this intense area of transformation and innovation is Huy Nguyen Trieu, who can speak with authority on the future of finance. He is a former MD at Citi Group; a founding partner of SuperCharger, one of Asia’s leading fintech accelerators; co-founder of CFTE, an education platform for professionals to acquire the skills for digital finance; and the CEO of The Disruptive Group, a business builder in finance. If that wasn’t enough strings to his financial bow, Nguyen Trieu also gives lectures on innovation in finance at Oxford Saïd Business School.
“If you can’t explain what a blockchain is, describe cloud computing or haven’t heard of Ant Financial, then you are likely to struggle in this new world of finance,” he told Siliconrepublic.com.