Thank You Dublin: What A Difference 5 Years Makes!

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Dave Barrett, Managing Partner of Polaris Partners, celebrates their role in Dublin tech’s coming of age.

A table of young twenty and thirty-somethings beside us talking about an imminent ‘release’… Casual attire at every table… US, French, German, Indian, Irish accents all vying to be heard. It was hard not to be enthralled by the energy that evening in this little Italian restaurant, Lucio’s.

It was a Tuesday night in 2016 and I was in Dublin.

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I’m a frequent visitor to Europe’s most westerly capital city where I regularly connect with my partner, Noel Ruane. Now entering his sixth year leading Polaris’ European efforts out of Dublin, Noel established our first Dogpatch Labs and office outside the US, on Barrow Street back in 2011. That first outpost became home to the founding teams of Intercom, Riffstation (acquired by Fender), NewsWhip, CoderDojo and over twenty other then-fledgling companies.

I’ve yet to meet a founder of a Dogpatch Labs Dublin company who hasn’t been effusive in their praise and gratitude for the opportunity to be part of that community in The Warehouse. It was something no firm had done before, and it meant something to these entrepreneurs professionally and personally.

Since that time, Noel has been leading investments in many great Irish companies including Logentries which was recently acquired by Rapid7 (Nasdaq: RPD), Boxever, Profitero. Among other projects, he is currently working on another UCD spinout investment. Stay tuned.

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Polaris believes strongly in the Irish entrepreneurial ecosystem. In fact, over the last five years, we have been the lead investor in eight Irish companies. We’ve created syndicates with several other US investment firms including Floodgate Ventures, Lerer Ventures, Google Ventures, Greycroft, Maveron, Arch and others. For most of these firms, their co-investments with us represented their first Irish investments. Perhaps we should have kept this amazing market opportunity to ourselves, but we also believe that the pie is certainly big enough for everyone.

To that point, we spent some time looking at our activities across the Emerald Isle and I thought the following snapshot was compelling:

At year-end 2015, Dogpatch Labs Dublin companies (the Barrow Street Cohort only) employed 679 people. As of this writing, that number is now well north of 700 people. When these companies started off in The Warehouse, they employed a combined 84 people! And they are forecasting almost 2500 full-time employees by the end of 2018!

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Led by Noel who began actively investing in 2012, Polaris expects to have north of $100 million put to work in Irish companies by the end of 2016. These companies span both the technology and healthcare spaces, mirroring our US investment strategy of focusing on sectors where we possess significant operating and investment expertise which we can bring to bear on company growth.

Our US-headquartered portfolio companies such as Quantcast and LogMeIn continue to leverage Ireland as a European beachhead for expansion opportunities. Michael Simon, Chairman of LogMeIn and its former CEO, often comments on the quality of his team in Ireland Last year, the company announced plans to hire an additional 100 people in Dublin. And we encourage ongoing the next wave of rising stars in our US portfolio to locate their business and technology hubs in Ireland, a strategy that continues to be strongly considered despite the increasingly aggressive efforts of other European countries trying to mimic the IDA model.

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So, as Noel and I sat in Lucio’s that Tuesday evening, I couldn’t help but reflect on a dinner in that same restaurant in early 2012. The restaurant – under a different name and management then – wasn’t even a third full, with an older, formally-dressed, non-tech-oriented clientele talking in hushed tones. A pretty solemn atmosphere to be honest.

Ireland was a great leap of faith for Polaris. It isn’t easy to be one of the first US venture firms to establish a presence in Europe – not a franchise – with an active investing partner on the ground investing out of our US fund. Yet, we couldn’t walk away from the possibilities. The palpable positive attitude in the dining room in Lucio’s that evening was, in our opinion, a microcosm of the technology ecosystem in Dublin in 2016 – vibrant, energetic, positive, and thriving. The banter around the restaurant included many references to ‘yer man’ – the meaning of which I now understand!

In the venture business, we move very quickly. While we spend a great deal of time looking back and analyzing where things went wrong, we rarely take the opportunity to reflect on what went right. Ireland has been a hugely positive experience for Polaris as a firm. So, I’d like to say an appropriate and overdue Thank You to Ireland Inc. for a wonderful 5 years. In particular, we greatly appreciate:

Our partners in the always forward-looking Ireland Strategic Investment Fund
The founders and CEOs of not only all the wonderful Dogpatch Labs companies that originated in The Warehouse, but also to the many more we meet each and every day
Our local venture partners in firms including Frontline Ventures and Atlantic Bridge
The teams on the ground in Dublin at Arch and SVB
The universities – and in particular UCD – for their phenomenal output of talent
Paddy Cosgrave, Daire and Dave and all the team at Web Summit & F.ounders.

And a special thanks to my partner Noel Ruane, who has built an incredible and important foundation over the last five years. Here’s to the next five years and beyond!

Go raibh maith agaibh go leir!

Dave Barrett is a Managing Partner of Polaris Partners and leads the firm’s early stage technology investing practice.

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