Inspirefest announces first batch of headline speakers for Dublin 2017

19 Oct 2016

Busy times at Inspirefest 2016. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

It might still be months away, but already the first seven speakers for Inspirefest 2017 have been confirmed – with some fresh new faces as well as some welcome returns from around the world.

It was only just over three months ago that Inspirefest 2016 was wrapping up after its range of remarkable talks, panels and family fun at the weekend fringe festival. Now we look to Inspirefest 2017, taking place from 6-8 July next year in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.

It’s the line-up of world-class speakers that make Inspirefest, so today the organisers are offering a taster of the calibre of participants you can expect at the event. These speakers, along with many more to be announced, will bring their insights and pearls of wisdom to the lucky ticket holders.

Fresh new faces

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor and CEO, Sugru 

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, inventor of Sugru. Image: Dan Dennison

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh is certainly a familiar face to readers, having featured a number of times due to her meteoric rise with her UK-based company, Sugru.

Having moved to the UK to study at the Royal College of Art in London, Ní Dhulchaointigh had an idea that led to the first version of her now famous mouldable glue in 2003.

After six years and 8,000 lab hours, the formula for Sugru was complete and since launching in December 2009, its community of users has continued to grow, reaching millions of customers in over 170 countries.

The glue has been found to have a multitude of different uses: from fixing broken items to making whole new objects to use around the house and tool shed.

She has spoken a number of times about her passion to promote a culture of creativity and resourcefulness, seeing it as an antidote to the throwaway mindset.

Previous accolades include Sugru being named one of the ‘50 Best Inventions of 2010’ by Time magazine, which dubbed it ‘21st century duct tape’, and being named by CNN as one of the top tech superheroes to watch in 2015.

“We’re thrilled to have Jane on board for 2017,” said Inspirefest founder Ann O’Dea. “We’ve been talking to Jane about Inspirefest since year one, but events conspired against us until now.

“She embodies so much of what Inspirefest is about, as a remarkable inventor, designer and entrepreneur. We just know our delegates will love her.”

You can follow Ní Dhulchaointigh at her Twitter handle @janeonbike.

Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner, Backstage Capital

Arlan Hamilton

Arlan Hamilton, founder and managing partner, Backstage Capital. Image: Unlimited Style Real Estate Photography

Another fresh new face to Inspirefest 2017 is the founder of Backstage Capital, Arlan Hamilton. Her story of how she went from couchsurfing to managing a $5m venture fund is not to be missed.

As well as an emerging venture capital fund manager, Hamilton is tour manager to Atlantic Records’ recording artist Janine.

Having founded and published the internationally distributed indie magazine Interlude, and toured extensively as a live music production professional, she entered the venture investing world from an unconventional path.

For years, Hamilton has been dedicated to minimising funding disparities in tech by investing in high-potential founders who are of colour, women, and/or LGBTQ.

She has achieved all this following a remarkable turnaround, when she went from being homeless in September 2015 to getting her first backing from tech veteran Susan Kimerlin to help Hamilton boost diversity numbers in tech.

You can follow Hamilton at her Twitter handle @ArlanWasHere.

Susan O’Brien, founder, Smigin

Susan O'Brien

Susan O’Brien, founder, Smigin. Image: Nuala Purcell

Susan O’Brien is the founder of Smigin, a language-learning company with a focus on conversation skills. She is also a graduate of University College Cork, co-chair of the Irish International Business Network, NYC and Executive Director of LEAP.

Having lived and worked in eight countries, O’Brien realised that there was nothing on the market that helped users with simple, everyday conversation, as most products focused heavily on grammar and structure.

Now based in New York, Smigin NYC is offering its services via iOS and Android apps. Users can avail of a suite of products such as an iOS/Android app for travellers and a browser-based language-learning product, available in multiple languages.

Now available in over 175 countries, Smigin recently made headlines having been named the winner of the ATech Conference pitching contest in the Caribbean last September, with a prize of $20,000.

O’Brien’s attitude to perceived unfairness towards women entrepreneurs within the venture capital and angel investment scene is that women have as much right as anyone to pitch to investors and shouldn’t be put off about the effort required to get it.

You can follow developments at Smigin at its Twitter handle @Smigin.

Philip King, curator and producer

Philip King

Philip King, curator and producer. Image: Tara Thomas Photography

Probably most famous these days as the founder of Other Voices, Philip King is a producer, film director, writer, musician and broadcaster.

He is also a commentator and contributor to national and international forums on the role and contribution of culture and arts in a world where we are more connected and more isolated than ever before – hence his deep interest in the collision of the arts and technology.

A former member of the Arts Council of Ireland, King’s achievements in broadcasting since the 1980s include The Full Set, a series on Irish traditional music, as well as documentaries on classical violinist Nigel Kennedy and novelist John McGahern. He is also known for the groundbreaking Sé Mo Laoch series for TG4 television channel, which documented and celebrated the lives and achievements of some of Ireland’s greatest traditional musicians.

King is the driving force behind Other Voices, the documentary and music series featuring some of the biggest names in music, from Amy Winehouse to Ellie Goulding.

He continues to tour with his band Scullion and presents a weekly radio show, South Wind Blows, from the RTÉ studios in west Kerry.

You can follow King’s work at the Twitter handle @OtherVoicesLive.

Back by popular demand

Kelly Hoey, investor, Laconia Capital

Kelly Hoey, an investor with Laconia Capital, found herself being one of the most quoted speakers at this year’s event – which says a lot given the calibre on show.

The comment that struck a chord with the audience was her twist on a clichéd, but largely true adage: “It’s not who you know or what you know, but who knows what you know.”

Describing herself as a networking expert, she has been named by Forbes as ‘One of Five Women Changing the World of VC/Entrepreneurship’ and Fast Company’s ‘25 Smartest Women on Twitter’.

Hoey continues to mentor a number of start-ups through her involvement in selected accelerator programmes and is an advisor to several start-up initiatives. She has advocated for more women diversity and inclusion in tech.

Speaking to, Hoey described what she’d like to see happen in STEM careers.

“I’d like to see more focus on positive role models. Let’s let women talk about what they are building or creating, why they love tech and what makes their STEM career fulfilling.

“All the talk all the time on the negative aspects of careers in STEM sectors can’t be fuelling the talent pipeline and contributes to the ‘where are the women in STEM’ story gap.”

You can follow Hoey at her Twitter handle @jkhoey.

Brenda Romero, co-owner, Romero Games

Brenda Romero found herself one of the unexpected stand-up comedians of Inspirefest 2016, causing much of the audience to erupt into fits of laughter as she recalled her background in gaming.

Beginning her game development career in 1981, Romero was one of only five women in the industry at that time, but noted that the advent of mobile gaming has seen greater numbers of women enter the fray.

“For the first time in my career, I was hearing things like ‘We would really like to talk to you because you’re a female game designer’, not ‘We would like to talk to you even though you’re a female game designer’,” Romero said on stage this year.

She is now working with her partner and co-founder John Romero – a legend in game design in his own right – on developing their studio in Galway, having taken the decision to move here after falling in love with Ireland.

You can follow Romero at her Twitter handle @br

Dr Sue Black OBE, founder, TechMums and author, Saving Bletchley Park

Dr Sue Black will mark her third appearance at Inspirefest, having wowed the audience previously with the story of saving Bletchley Park through the power of social media and community.

On stage, Black detailed how she campaigned from 2008 to 2011 to save Bletchley Park, and was instrumental in the campaign to secure the Turing papers for the UK, all of which became the subject of her highly regarded bestselling book Saving Bletchley Park.

It is for this campaign and her services to technology that Black was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) as part of the 2016 New Year’s Honours list.

Black is an honorary professor in the Department of Computer Science at University College London and a mentor at Google Campus for Mums.

A champion for women in computing, she is a founder of BCSWomen, the UK’s first online network for women in tech, and Techmums, a social enterprise empowering mums and their families through technology.

You can follow Black at her Twitter handle @Dr_Black.

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Ultra-early bird tickets sold out fast, but the super-early bird rate (half-price tickets) are still available until 15 December. Be quick to pick them up here.