Ireland’s ‘Silicon Valley’ will need to be known for wealth creation

22 Sep 2009

If Ireland really wants to become the “European Silicon Valley” then it will need to be known not only as a place that firms can come to generate intellectual property and innovate but a place they can generate wealth, said Iona co-founder Chris Horn.

Horn, who is president of Engineers Ireland and sits on the Government’s Innovation Task Force, was speaking at yesterday’s 16th annual Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) conference at Dublin Castle.

One of Ireland’s best-known software entrepreneurs, Horn’s Iona Technologies became the fifth-biggest IPO in Nasdaq history; achieving a valuation of US$329m in the 1990s. The company was sold last year for US$162m to US firm Progress Software.

“People should come to Ireland because they can make money here, that’s what it’s all about and culturally that’s what the country needs to focus on,” Horn told more than 200 senior telecoms industry executives.

Horn said that attracting start-ups to locate here would be pivotal and creating the right environment for start-ups is something we need to finally get right.

“It’s not just about salaries – it’s about the exit valuations you get from start-ups; wealth can be recycled, angel networks can be established and the funding can be put back into the economy.

“Wealth creation is what the real target and goal of our smart economy should be.”

In its quest to become a “smart economy” Horn says Ireland’s come a long way from the vaunted plans to turn Dublin into an eCity in 2001.

“We should not do ‘me, too’ strategies just because other countries are doing it. We need to try and think further ahead than that. If we roll out new infrastructure, we need to ask ourselves could it create new opportunities for companies to compete on the global stage, not as ‘me, too’ players but as companies that can truly disrupt technology and change the world.”

Horn told the story of Taiwan, an island off the coast of China, that, having broke with mainland China in the 1950s was an economic backwater.

“They had few local resources but managed to disrupt the global semiconductor industry very cleverly by building a state company called Taiwan Semiconductor, established a wafer fabrication foundry and this led to the revolution in fab-less chip companies.

“Through focused State investment, Taiwan created an interface that allowed new start-ups and repositioned Taiwan in the global economy. It was an incredibly smart infrastructure play and an example of how a State can intervene.

“For Ireland in 2009, we need to look at better ways the State can intervene. The question should always be: ‘Can we go further, are we doing enough to create opportunities for companies here in Ireland in terms of new products and services?’ No more ‘me, too’ stuff, we need to go further than that,” Horn said.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Iona co-founder Chris Horn says people should come to Ireland to make money in the country.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years