Last week, I toured Dublins startup ecosystem with a group of top US university students who will spend eight weeks working with Irish startups in Dublin as part of Sage Corps 2015 summer program. I was amazed: we run similar programs in South America and Asia, but all appear far behind Dublin.
During my visit, I observed three aspects of Dublins startup ecosystem which, in my view, allow it to punch above its weight:
The Irish are truly determined to create a global tech hub in Dublin. You feel this commitment when you see the wave of co-working spaces and tech incubators in Dublins city centre. I also noted successful public-private partnerships like Startup Ireland, and the office of the Dublin Commissioner for Startups, which bring together bigger corporates and government bodies in supporting the startup community.
There is no hack for scaling a tech hub. Without a commitment from its major stakeholders to spend time and effort, opposed to merely money, no ecosystem can grow. It takes old-fashioned hard work from dedicated experts.
Dublin has a relatively strong local talent pool. The advantage of producing home-grown talent is that the startup community shares a strong cultural continuity. In contrast, other ecosystems must import foreign talent to jump-start the community. While there is certainly merit, and necessity, to this strategy, the result can be a culturally disjointed and fragmented startup ecosystem.
Israel is the best example of this key community-building trait. Today, Israel develops arguably the best technical talent in the world local universities and the Israeli armed forces deserve credit for cultivating this talent. The result: a distinctly Israeli startup ecosystem. Ireland appears to be on a similar path. Although we met a handful of international entrepreneurs who built companies in Dublin, they clearly bought into the Irish startup scene wholesale.
In any startup community, you expect to find competition among the various clusters of companies that typically affiliate with a co-working space, incubator/accelerator, and later a VC fund. In other markets where we send Sage Corps cohorts, some admittedly three times as large as Dublin, I see too much fragmentation. In Dublin, however, we heard from executives at the NDRC, Frontline Ventures, and Wayra Ireland that the community collaborates every day. Multiple people told me that everyone knows everyone in Dublin. And when I attended a breakfast hosted by the Dublin Commissioner for Startups, I saw this collaboration firsthand.
Like many other startup communities around the world, Irish entrepreneurs must build global startups from day one to capture a sufficient market. Few international markets successfully export their startups. Without a collaborative community that is committed to internationalizing its products, none will follow in Israels footsteps.
The United States presents the best opportunity for the Irish startup ecosystem to go global. Although the US is the biggest English-speaking market and only six hours behind Dublin, I think there is a more compelling advantage at play. There are almost forty million Irish Americans living in the United States, mostly concentrated in the major cities. Thats forty million potential customers who have a deep cultural connection to the seller. If Irish entrepreneurs can start telling tech tales to their US-based extended family, they could access an initial customer base that represents more than ten percent of the US population.
In the meantime, Im excited to send Sage Corps fellows from the US to work with Irish entrepreneurs. Assuming all goes well with our pilot program this summer, I hope that Sage Corps becomes a long-term partner for Dublin startups. And soon enough, I suspect well see a litany of new products and services arriving in the US with a strong Irish accent.