Emmet Ryan: Connecting Dublin Tech

The Big Read, powered by Vodafone: Emmet Ryan is a busy man, and then some.

By day, he’s the editor of The Sunday Business Post’s Connected Magazine, and a regular contributor to the Post’s tech pages. But that’s only the beginning; he indulges his twin passions for sport and craft beer via his YouTube series The Pint Of View and the two sports sites he edits: European basketball site BallinEurope and one-stop sports presence Action81.

We interviewed Ryan as part of our ongoing series of interviews with prominent Irish tech journalists.

What do you think has contributed to making Dublin the tech destination that it is right now?
It helps that we are pretty straight talking people. And Dublin’s come a long way. On a basic level, socially, there’s a lot more variety in terms of things to do, places to drink, places to eat, and it’s really compact. To me, Dublin is big, but then I grew up here. If you think an office is close in the Palo Alto region, you’re probably still talking about a serious drive. Here, it’s usually a ten-minute walk. At that’s at my pace (laughs), for most people it’s probably five.

The tax thing has been completely overplayed. There’s a number of reasons why Dublin is happening. We’re cheaper than London, for example, but we speak the same language, we’re in the same time zone and we’re reasonably well-educated.

Do you feel like there’s been a fundamental change in how we view ourselves, and how we do business?
Yes. Someone like Liam Casey twenty years ago, wouldn’t have had the confidence that Liam does today. He works in an environment where he doesn’t have to apologize for being the best at what he does. Chances are, back in the day, someone Irish like Liam would have said “I make stuff.” And probably left it at that. And that’s a massive shift.

With so many startups in Dublin, what makes a company interesting to you as a journalist?
Truthfully, I try to ignore the companies who use the word ‘disrupt’ a little too much. I like the ones with great ideas. Companies like StatSports in Dundalk; when I saw that they got shortlisted for the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year I felt a bit smug, as I’ve been the only person covering them heavily for the past two years. They are an Irish-made company that creates hardware for sports monitoring, they’ve got a bunch of international clients from Man City to the NBA, and they’re making a real thing, software as well as hardware. They’re hi-tech, they’re really good at what they do, and I can explain it to my Mum, who’s not remotely techie. To me, that’s the dream company to cover. And now they’re on the same shortlist as the Collisons. I’m like ‘I told you!’ I like taking a punt, fighting to get a company in there. It’s usually paid off.

One thing that Connected does very successfully is to address the different levels of tech activity in Dublin, from multinationals to startups to SMEs…
Take the Mattress Mick story we did. I knew that was a risk, but he’s a really interesting dude, and it’s a great story. He’s not going to be a billionaire, but he represents a lot of the SMEs out there, working away, embracing technology in different ways. If you’re doing something interesting, then I want to talk to you. I’m all for capitalism, but if your reason isn’t singular, say a mix of capitalism and altruism, and if you’re a little bit complicated and weird then chances are I’m interested.

You’ve also made a point of utilizing a new generation of female tech journalists.
It’s really important to me. When I started we had a 4 to 1 ratio with male and female writers, now we’ve got a 7/6 split. And I’m not doing this for token reasons; commercially, we’re missing out on a huge market with women readers, and using the Moneyball principle if the market is dominated by male tech writers, then I’m seeing a huge gap there waiting to be exploited. Also, it’s the right thing to do.

We need more female founders in tech in Dublin. I see Tracy Keogh, who’s selling the Galway story hard, there’s Jayne Ronayne covering the Cork end, and then there are companies like Opsh and Love And Robots… The problem is that I can name almost all of the prominent female founders in Dublin, and I’m terrible with names (laughs).

At the last count, there apparently were more than 2000 tech startups in Dublin…
And that’s good. I always think of it in sporting terms. I’m a sports guy. The more startups we have, the more likely we are to have good ones. New Zealand happens to have the best rugby team in the world, because it’s their number one sport. It’s a numbers thing. If you’ve got a certain environment, with certain things in place, then it’ll happen, and that’s the way I feel about the startup world in Dublin right now. You’ve got more companies thinking internationally from day one, and sticking with it. Some ideas are going to take more time to work. I look at a place like Versari Hub (a dedicated facility for early stage EdTech companies) which is a much slower burn, and a long game. So you’ve got to know your territory, and your burn rate; if you’re a new messaging app, and you’ve gotten nowhere in three months, then you know where to go.

Is all this activity sustainable?
If anything, it’s going to accelerate. The IDA are already talking about this being its biggest year ever, and that’s because they basically kept bringing companies in, even during the bust. Tyco are coming back to Cork, for example, they never technically left because they kept a skeleton crew, but they went from hundreds of employees to about as many as are in this coffee shop right now (not many), and now they’re going back to hundreds again, in a much more central location. So if you see that with one company in Cork, then that’s a very good sign for Dublin.

You’re writing the tech narrative for Dublin on a weekly basis. Where do you see it going?
The big thing is making sure that we keep the IP here. I agree with the Startup Commissioner on that one. If you’re going to go to market, then go to the market, don’t just talk about how great it is. Get your sales teams over there. Get yourself over there, at least some of the time. But we have to keep the intellectual property right here, so we can build up, and keep building. That’s what someone like David Coallier is doing in Barricade, and doing really well. And it’s not just Dublin, either: there’s an amazing tech hub growing in the border counties, with companies like Performa Sports in Portadown, they’re doing some crazy stuff. And then you see the Skibbereen guys, with this Ludgate project… Dublin can tie it all together. As long as we can get the broadband speeds sorted (laughs), we’re good.

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