Irish Innovation Centre for start-ups to open in Silicon Valley

12 Mar 2010

This Sunday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD will formally open a new innovation centre in San Jose, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley, which is the brainchild of the Irish Technology Leaders’ Group (ITLG) and described as a “concrete” outcome of the Global Irish Economic Forum at Farmleigh.

Cisco senior vice-president Barry O’Sullivan told that the Irish Innovation Centre will be capable of hosting up to 30 Irish tech start-ups at a time and has been supported by a grant from the Department of Foreign Affairs of €250,000 which the will use to pay an executive team to run the centre.

Gordon Ciochan, former COO of Symantec who has 30 years of experience of working in Silicon Valley’s technology sector, has been appointed executive director of the centre.

About the Irish Technology Leaders Group

The Irish Technology Leaders Group (ITLG), consisting of senior management from major Silicon Valley companies such as Cisco, Intel and Palm, consist of Irish executives who have decided to pool their resources and help local technology companies succeed.

On Sunday, Cowen will be accompanied by the former CEO and chairman of Intel Craig Barrett as well as the Mayor of San Jose Chuck Reed.

“This is primarily about Irish start-ups who want to go global and make that leap from product development to go-to-market,” O’Sullivan explained. “What you need at that point is to scale up and have somewhere to park when you’re in pivotal locations like Silicon Valley. You need an address. You need friendly, connected people who will help you to meet customers and partners. That’s what we can do.”

O’Sullivan described the innovation centre as an ITLG initiative that is a concrete outcome of the Farmleigh forum in September. The ITLG members will partner with the centre to provide its residents with access to a built-in network of successful Silicon Valley executives from the leading technology companies.

“The ITLG members are personally investing here but the support from the Department of Foreign Affairs was essential. The companies can either pay regular rent here or we can invest in them or help them to find other investors. There are a few different models we can pursue.

“We kind of had the idea but what pushed us to do this was Farmleigh – the amount of support and goodwill gave us the impetus. It’s a real example of doing something concrete and solid.

“We can support up to 30 companies at any one time and provide them with essential services like IT on site, administration, access to legal services, banking, you name it. A new company green off the boat in Silicon Valley would need these things. We can bridge that need.

“It’s a combination of timing and support from the Department of Foreign Affairs and we are looking at a pipeline of companies and we’re confident we can make this a success.”

Irish Technology Leaders Group fundraising

O’Sullivan, who was a member of the Innovation Taskforce that delivered its report to Government yesterday, said that ITLG’s plan to create its own US$100m venture capital fund is proceeding but in a tough environment. “We’re in the middle of raising funds right now. It’s more difficult to raise funds in the valley than we had expected but the plan is still in progress.”

In terms of the innovation centre, O’Sullivan said the ITLG will be selective in the kind of companies it will support and will predominantly focus on companies with “differentiated” technologies applicable to a “global opportunity.”

“There will be a certain amount of filtering and selection in order to ‘up’ the chances of success.

“We’re not going to get 30 Googles but if we got one or two we’d be very happy. You know what? That’s fine, that’s what happens in Silicon Valley all the time.”

O’Sullivan said it was paramount that nations like Ireland with a good technology stable make better use of their diaspora overseas, in the same way that Israel does so effectively. “This (innovation centre) is a small example of what could be done. We are very focused on technology and Irish companies and we want to go global.

“This can be done across all the sectors of the Irish economy, not just technology. We genuinely think that Farmleigh provided the impetus for this new movement.

“Ireland is behind in its global network. We haven’t as a country given it the priority it needed. The way the world has changed, all of this is coming together at the right time. That’s the key to it. I still think Irish companies need to continue to focus on the US. Great things are happening in China and elsewhere but to go global you need to make it in the US first.”

By John Kennedy

Photo: Cisco senior vice-president Barry O’Sullivan

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