Stripe founders share St Patrick’s Day medal with cancer expert

16 Mar 2022

John and Patrick Collison. Image: Stripe

The award from Science Foundation Ireland was presented today at an event in Washington, DC.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) awarded Stripe founders Patrick and John Collison and Duke University’s Prof Donald McDonnell with its 2022 St Patrick’s Day Science Medal.

The annual award recognises outstanding contributions to science and technology from the Irish diaspora in the US.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin, TD, presented the medal to the three awardees today (16 March) at an event in Washington, DC celebrating Irish-US relations ahead of St Patrick’s Day.

“We are deeply proud of their inspirational achievements and the societal and economic impacts they have made on the global stage,” said Martin.

“This prestigious prize recognises the critical importance of US-Ireland relations, particularly in the areas of research, development and innovation. Through these enduring transatlantic links, we are creating new opportunities and furthering knowledge with the potential to address societal needs and economic challenges, as well as nurturing future talent in the areas of science, technology, engineering and maths.”

SFI director general Prof Philip Nolan congratulated the winners on their “outstanding research, innovation and leadership”.

“They are a shining example of the global reach and influence of the Irish scientific and technology diaspora,” he added.

‘With all the talent and ambition in Ireland, we’re convinced that many more young people will pursue a career in technology’

This year’s St Patrick’s Day Medal winners have all been hailed as significant supporters of STEM education in Ireland.

McDonnell is a visiting lecturer to NUI Galway and University of Limerick (UL), where he has held the position of adjunct professor of cell biology. He is also an external adviser for the graduate doctoral programme in cancer biology recently established at University College Cork.

The Collison brothers, meanwhile, have partnered with UL to develop the four-year Immersive Software Engineering programme, which places students in paid residencies at top tech companies such as Stripe, Zalando and Intercom.

“Patrick and I are honoured to accept this award,” said John Collison, president of Stripe. “With all the talent and ambition in Ireland, we’re convinced that many more young people will pursue a career in technology, and we can’t wait to see what problems they will solve. We will continue to do our bit, including through our partnership with the University of Limerick.”

The Collisons founded, built and sold their first tech company, Auctomatic, as teenagers. They then went on to found Stripe in the US in 2009, and this global payments giant has become one of the world’s most valuable private companies, worth $95bn.

Stripe is now dual-headquartered in both San Francisco and Dublin. It employs more than 500 people in Ireland, with many more to be added in the coming years.

The Collisons have also been recognised for their efforts to accelerate Covid-19 research through co-founding the Fast Grants programme in 2020. The brothers are also founding donors of the Arc Institute, a non-profit research organisation investigating the root causes of disease.

“The overwhelmingly positive response to the Immersive Software Engineering course and other projects like Fast Grants and the Arc Institute have proved that we have a long runway ahead of us in terms of the investments we will continue to make in science, in technology and in Ireland’s potential,” said John.

‘We can capitalise on shared insights and collaborate beyond borders’

Like fellow awardee Patrick Collison, McDonnell is a previous winner of Ireland’s Young Scientist competition back in 1978. He went on to earn a degree in biochemistry from NUI Galway before moving on to study in Texas, where he earned his PhD.

Lately, he wears many hats at Duke University in North Carolina, where he is director of graduate studies, Glaxo-Wellcome professor of molecular cancer biology, and associate director of translational research at the Duke Cancer Institute.

McDonnell was recognised with a St Patrick’s Day Medal for his work in the development of new treatments for breast and prostate cancers. Considered one of the world’s leading experts in the treatment of such cancers, McDonnell’s work has led to the discovery of several drugs currently being evaluated as well as the identification of tumour markers that enable personalised, targeted treatment.

“Having worked between industry and academia, I am keenly aware of the important role of mentorship and the opportunities for learning on both sides that it presents,” said McDonnell. “Similarly, through our US-Ireland partnerships, I believe we can capitalise on shared insights and collaborate beyond borders to deliver truly excellent science with global benefits.”

Established in 2014, the St Patrick’s Day Science Medal has since been awarded annually to US-based scientists, engineers and technology leaders with strong Irish connections. Awardees are recognised for their contributions to academia and industry, and support of the sci-tech ecosystem in Ireland.

Previous winners include Intel executive VP Dr Ann Kelleher and Nobel Prize-winning parasitologist Prof William Campbell.

Updated, 2.47pm, 16 March 2022: This article has been updated to include comments from the event.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.