Dublin Tech Diary: Shelly Porges

Shelly Porges Inspirefest DublinGlobe.com

Landing in Ireland on a bright, sunny day, over green fields, I was welcomed to Dublin in the best of ways.

Over the years, I’d read that Ireland was a great place for techies and entrepreneurs. Since I am a serial entrepreneur, investor and global entrepreneurship advocate, who had led the Global Entrepreneurship Program at the U.S. State Department, I was intrigued and knew that one day, I’d need to get to Dublin.  None of what I’d read prepared me for the wonderful people I met and things I learned during my quick immersion course.

Day One, I arrived to a welcome lunch with Niamh Bushnell, Dublin Commissioner for Startups.  I was delighted when I got to sample one of Dublin’s many cool food startups, Hatch, an eatery located on Stephen’s Green, serving modern takes on traditional Irish food.

Niamh and I first met in 2011 while I was still at State.  At the time, she was an Irish entrepreneur in New York City and she approached me about using her technology to connect diaspora investors who might want to link back to entrepreneurs in their countries.  I was intrigued.  She was smart and scrappy and totally confident that she could make a difference with her company.  Fast forward, four years later, Niamh is making a bigger difference than ever.  After building her company, she is now transmitting her lessons learned to build up Dublin’s startup ecosystem.

Looking to elevate Dublin on the world stage, and working with Enterprise Ireland and other governmental organizations, she is building public-private partnerships with entrepreneurs, investors, big companies, universities, NGOs, media and others to ensure that Dublin’s startups have access to the resources they need to thrive.  She is also hosting events that bring the ecosystem players together to advance Dublin’s great startup scene.  Finally, she is attracting media attention to shine a light on all of the innovation, excitement and jobs that startups are bringing to Dublin.

After an afternoon walk through the Temple Bar area, browsing the cafes and shops, I met up with another friend, Anne Ravanona, for dinner.  Anne is the CEO and founder of Global Invest Her, a company that helps women founders access capital for their businesses.  Another great Irish entrepreneur, Anne is bringing a much-needed focus on the imbalance in available funding for women-led startups and providing much-needed insight with her interviews with leading women entrepreneurs and investors published in the Huffington Post.  Perhaps most importantly, Anne is a tremendous connector, helping founders connect to resources.

The next day, I took the advice of a half dozen friends and hopped on a bus tour of Dublin.  Stops at the Guinness Storehouse, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Phoenix Park and Trinity College to see the magnificent library and The Book of Kells gave me a sense for both Ireland’s past and present glory.  The common factors among these and other exciting sites were the creativity and energy that has driven Ireland forward and the pride of the locals in their heritage.

The evening saw me at the first event for Inspirefest 2015, the main reason I had come to Dublin:  to keynote this conference.  A welcome reception at Farmleigh House for all the speakers was fantastic both because of the beautiful setting, and also for the great mix of folks in the room ranging from world-famous journalists to astrophysicists to men who invest in women-owned enterprises to entrepreneurs solving some of the world’s great problems and more.  The welcome by the Irish Minister for Commerce also highlighted the importance of entrepreneurship to the future of Ireland.

And, as for the Inspirefest gathering itself, it didn’t disappoint.  Huge congratulations to Ann O’Dea (CEO and founder of Silicon Republic) and her team (the organizers) for assembling a truly diverse, disruptive (in the best way) and daring group of speakers who challenged and inspired us to forge a new frontier for women in technology.  Speakers who ranged from Lauren Boyle, a 10-year old who has been coding for 3 years, to 70+ year-old Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell who, as a young scientist, discovered the stars that became known as pulsars for which her supervisor received the Nobel Prize in Physics.  With topics ranging from leadership to women in space to advancing women in science and technology, the audience was presented with a cornucopia of challenges, opportunities and, above all, inspiration.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is not that there was so much talent featured in the hall.  After all, as my ‘she-ro’ Secretary Hillary Clinton always says:  “Talent is universal but opportunity is not.”  Rather it is that Ireland has developed so many exciting opportunities for talent to emerge and express itself.  For example, organizations like CoderDojo, started by young Irish entrepreneur James Whelton when he was 18 to teach young kids how to code and literally design their own futures, are now a movement in over 50 countries. Or Enterprise Ireland, a government agency led by CEO Julie Sinnamon and responsible for the growth of Irish-owned businesses in global markets.  Or Dublin City University, an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, led by physics professor and President Brian MacCraith, who is deeply committed to student entrepreneurship, both social and commercial.

To the degree that this conference helped highlight today’s tech scene in Ireland, it left me with a sense of hope and excitement that Dublin will emerge as one of this decade’s leading cities advancing entrepreneurship, creating opportunities not only for Ireland but for the world.

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