8 historic heroes entrepreneurs would like to spend five minutes with

17 Aug 2021

Image: © Konstiantyn Zapylaie/Stock.adobe.com

We asked start-up founders and leaders to name a hero of innovation. Here are some of the figures from history that cropped up.

Throughout our Start-up of the Week series on Siliconrepublic.com, we regularly chat to start-up innovators from Ireland and further afield about their personal journeys and what’s happening in their sectors.

We also ask entrepreneurs which hero of science, technology and innovation they’d like to spend five minutes with. While many turn to big names in today’s world of tech and business, others have taken their answers to this question beyond the bounds of time, space and death.

Here are just some of the historic heroes that have been highlighted over the past year.

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci may be best known for paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but he was also a polymath who made strides in areas of science and engineering. That’s why Michael Kisch, CEO of Swiss start-up Aktiia, would like to spend five minutes with the Renaissance man.

“I’m a big fan of polymaths and their ability to integrate diverse perspectives and skills to solve intractable problems,” Kisch told us.

“It would be fascinating to hear what inspired him to design flying machines, robots and submarines hundreds of years before they became technically feasible.”

Nikola Tesla

The pioneer of alternating current electricity, Nikola Tesla was an inventor, engineer and futurist.

“His drive and constant innovative work is something to be marvelled at,” said Jack O’Regan Kenny, CEO and co-founder of Irish student tech start-up Mirr.

“I would want to speak to him to ask him about why he decided to spend his life making things. Hear his reason. I’d want to know whether it was toward a specific goal or if he just had this impulse to build things.”

John William Strutt

“This British scientist is science.” Dr Tony Robinson, co-founder and chief science officer of Trinity spin-out Nexalus, told us he’d like five minutes with John William Strutt, the third Baron Rayleigh.

“He specialised in theoretical and experimental physics, as well as fluid dynamics. Much of what we know today, and the scientific laws we apply when researching, started with this man. Rayleigh number, Rayleigh waves, Rayleigh-Jeans law – yes, you guessed it, all from the mind of this genius.”

Rayleigh was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1904 for the discovery of argon, and a phenomenon he theorised, now known as Rayleigh scattering, explains why the sky is blue.

“Top that with the fact that he was also apparently a right honourable rogue, so I think we’d have the making of a very memorable five-minute chat,” Robinson added.

Marie Curie

Mitchell O’Gorman, CEO of Dublin-based health-tech start-up xWave Technologies, said his pick would definitely be Marie Curie.

With her pioneering radioactivity research and discovery of polonium and radium, Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and is the only person to win the prize in two scientific fields – physics and chemistry.

“I would love a glimpse into her intelligence, how she thought about the world and her work, and her personality,” O’Gorman said. “She made the ultimate sacrifice to make the world a much better place.”

Claudius Galenus

Reaching further back into history was Eddie McDaid, CEO of NUI Galway spin-out Galenband, who picked “the Roman Empire-era physician who is credited with first describing the human pulse”.

McDaid said he’d love to hear Claudius Galenus’ thoughts on Galenband – a wrist-worn heart monitoring device that was named after the ancient physician and philosopher.

Galileo Galilei

Italian astronomer, physicist and engineer Galileo Galilei is known for his breakthroughs in astronomy and his championing of heliocentrism – the model developed by Copernicus that put the sun at the centre of the universe, with Earth rotating around it – that brought him into opposition with the Catholic Church.

“I would like to travel back in time and tell Galileo Galilei that eventually over time his heliocentrism theory was going to be acknowledged by scientists, general public and even by the same religious institution which put him on trial because of it,” said Daniele Novara, founder and managing director of Trinity spin-out Easy Hydro.

Alan Turing

Julian Chesterfield, CEO and founder of virtualisation tech start-up Sunlight, named one of history’s most famous codebreakers as his pick for a five-minute chat.

“It would have to be Alan Turing as one of the pioneers of AI and cryptography – both areas that are driving some of the massive performance requirements that Sunlight is addressing,” Chesterfield said.

English mathematician Turing is known for his work in the development of modern computing, for cracking the Enigma code during the second world war, and for proposing what is now known as the Turing test – a way of determining if a computer is capable of thinking like a human.

“I would be fascinated to get his perspective on today’s world of cryptocurrency bull markets and self-driving cars. I also wonder if the progenitor of the Turing test would find it amusing that we use a derivative [CAPTCHA tests] to tell if website visitors are really humans.” 

Keeping it in the family

While many entrepreneurs turned to the history books for inspiration in science and tech, Tim Jones’ hero has always been his grandad.

“He was an electrician who worked for a large company for many years after leaving school until he started getting ideas to set up his own business,” said Jones, who is CEO and co-founder of Galway-based SymPhysis Medical.

“He eventually built up a very successful florist business and was a highly active and respected member of the community. He was a great listener and believer in people, always trying to put himself in other people’s shoes and felt no cog in the machine was too small.

“He died before I was born, and my nan said I was the cut of him. I wish I could spend five minutes with him.”

With additional reporting from Elaine Burke

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Sarah Harford was sub-editor of Silicon Republic