10 essential players in the Irish start-up ecosystem

1 Dec 2015

It takes more than just entrepreneurs to create a start-up ecosystem, and these 10 leaders have helped to lay the foundations underpinning Ireland’s growing scene.

Ireland's Sci-Tech 100

Underpinning structures can all too easily blend into the background, but here we have 10 cornerstones of the Irish start-up community worthy of your attention, marking the second instalment of Ireland’s Sci-Tech 100.

1. Niamh Bushnell

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups

Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups, pictured at Career Zoo in 2014

Niamh Bushnell was named the first-ever Dublin Commissioner for Start-ups last year. An experienced entrepreneur, she founded her first company, Pan Research, in Dublin in 1996, and is also co-founder of IDIRUS, a purpose-built peer-to-peer networking and mentor-matching platform.

Bushnell spent 16 years in New York and is an expert on doing business in the US. She was instrumental in the creation of an Enterprise Ireland-backed online resource to help Irish companies planning to enter markets in the US.

As Dublin Start-Up Commissioner, she works with Dublin City Council, Enterprise Ireland and other bodies in developing Dublin’s reputation as a great start-up city, nationally and internationally.

2. Brian Caulfield

Brian Caulfield, IVCA

Brian Caulfield, IVCA chair and partner with Draper Esprit

Brian Caulfield heads up the Dublin office of Draper Esprit and is also chair of the Irish Venture Capital Association (IVCA).

Before joining Draper Esprit – a subsidiary of the $9bn Draper Fisher Jurvetson venture capital syndicate – Caulfield was a tech entrepreneur, and a successful one at that. He sold e-payments company Exceptis Technologies to Baltimore Technologies for $26m in 2000 and, six years later, sold data quality company Similarity Systems to Informatica Corporation for $55m.

Caulfield has sat on both sides of the table when it comes tech investment in Ireland, and he continues to shout for entrepreneurs, including slamming the Government on missing the opportunity to put right a discriminatory tax regime with Budget 2016.

3. Elaine Coughlan

Elaine Coughlan, general partner, Atlantic Bridge

Elaine Coughlan, general partner, Atlantic Bridge. Photo via Women Mean Business

When it comes to entrepreneurial support, VC funds are largely where it’s at. In this regard, Elaine Coughlan’s role as co-founder of both Atlantic Bridge Capital and Summit Bridge Capital is significant.

Atlantic Bridge has $500m of assets under management, with Coughlan as a general partner, while Summit Bridge (co-managed by both Atlantic Bridge and WestSummit Capital) is a $100m fund aimed at scaling Irish businesses in China.

Coughlan has supported numerous technology businesses in Ireland, Europe and the US and has been appointed by the Irish Government to the board of Enterprise Ireland.

4. Val Cummins

Val Cummins, IMERC

Val Cummins, co-founder and director, IMERC. Photo by Connor McKenna

If ever there were an appropriate pun, it would be that Val Cummins, the co-founder and director of the Irish Maritime and Energy Resource Cluster (IMERC), is certainly ‘making waves’ in the Irish marine sector.

According to her, Ireland’s marine economy could create as many as 3,000 jobs by 2025 and, though Cummins says the entire multinational technology sector in Ireland needs to be availing of the opportunities therein, she has not neglected the value of start-ups in this space.

Earlier this year, IMERC proudly launched The Entrepreneur Ship, a dedicated marine innovation centre in Cork’s Ringaskiddy harbour facilitating an ecosystem of training, talent, research and test bed facilities.

5. Ben Hurley

Ben Hurley, NDRC

Ben Hurley, CEO, NDRC

As CEO and director of NDRC, Ben Hurley has led the organisation’s investment activities since its inception in 2007.

With a wealth of experience in the ICT sector, Hurley is uniquely qualified to support start-ups and entrepreneurs through all stages of maturity. At NDRC, he maintains his track record of nurturing enterprise through investment, monitoring and expertise.

Hurley continues to lead NDRC to constantly evolve in order to “unearth, enable and invest in the very best technology start-ups”. Outside NDRC, he regularly contributes nationally and globally in seminars on early-stage investment.

6. Bill Liao

Bill Liao

Bill Liao, SOSV partner and CoderDojo co-founder

Bill Liao is one of Ireland’s most familiar faces in the entrepreneurial and tech fields, having played an instrumental role in kickstarting a global coding revolution, though these days he spends much of his time supporting commercial ventures in some of the more advanced scientific fields in recent years.

Along with James Whelton, in mid-2011 Liao co-founded the coding outreach programme turned international phenomenon CoderDojo, which helps children discover the wonders of coding.

As an SOSV partner, Liao is no stranger to giving early-stage innovators a boost, and his most recent venture is IndieBio, an accelerator for the development of synthetic biology (synbio) technology that he co-founded.

7. Gerry Macken

Gerry Macken, Digital Hub

Gerry Macken, CEO, The Digital Hub

In an interview with Siliconrepublic.com last year, Gerry Macken reiterated the main focus of The Digital Hub: to “grow and develop a world-class cluster of digital enterprises”. Under his leadership, the Liberties-based tech start-up space has done just that.

With Macken at the helm, The Digital Hub continues to expand to create valuable and much-needed space for entrepreneurs and new businesses, developing numerous new facilities, including the recently opened Grainstore.

Macken’s support for entrepreneurs and fledgling companies was solidified in early 2015, when The Digital Hub became an independent company operating under Dublin City Council.

8. Joan Mulvihill

Joan Mulvihill, IIA

Joan Mulvihill, CEO, Irish Internet Association

Joan Mulvihill has been CEO of the Irish Internet Association (IIA) since November 2009, where she has worked with tech start-ups and traditional businesses in their adoption of web-based technologies.

Under Mulvihill’s leadership, the IIA has led new initiatives and programmes to help bridge the digital divide, as well as developing policies on digital skills and open data. In recognition of her efforts to stimulate the Irish digital ecosystem, Mulvihill received a special Irish Innovation Champion Award in 2013.

Prior to joining the IIA, Mulvihill spent eight years working in retail within the Kingfisher Group in London and Amsterdam before returning to Ireland in 2002 to work with Becton Dickinson and then BDO International.

9. Julie Sinnamon

Julie Sinnamon, Enterprise Ireland

Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, pictured at Inspirefest 2015. Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

CEO of Enterprise Ireland for a couple of years now, Julie Sinnamon is a hugely significant operator in the Irish entrepreneurial sphere. An experienced hand, she has spent 30 years in the public sector, working with both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.

During the summer, Sinnamon was among those honoured at the Ireland’s Most Powerful Women event, just weeks before she took to the stage at Inspirefest.

There, Sinnamon spoke of Enterprise Ireland’s female-only fund last year, and the oddity arising from the option, in that no female entrepreneur sought the maximum backing, in stark contrast to their male counterparts.

10. Patrick Walsh

Patrick Walsh, Dogpatch Labs

Patrick Walsh, managing director and owner, Dogpatch Labs

Thanks to Patrick Walsh’s drive and ambition Dogpatch Labs has emerged as a globally recognised brand in the tech community and has become the go-to place for start-ups – as well as Silicon Valley companies such as Pivotal and Twilio – to scale up.

Located in the heart of the Dublin Docklands in the historic chq Building, Dogpatch Labs houses a mix of leading Irish Enterprise Ireland-backed start-ups and international IDA client companies that are scaling operations in Europe for the first time.

Originally brought to Dublin by Noel Ruane, Dogpatch Labs is now under Walsh’s ownership, filling a need in the Irish start-up scene for pay-to-play space for growing young businesses.

Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic

Player 10 image via Shutterstock