Business Technology

Thursday 18 September 2014

Office space and tech graduates top of IDA wish list

Published 16/02/2014 | 02:30

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Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton (left) and Barry O'Leary, chief executive of the IDA. Photo: Jason Clarke.
Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton (left) and Barry O'Leary, chief executive of the IDA. Photo: Jason Clarke.

WHAT do you think of at the mention of the word 'IDA'? A wad of cash waved at foreign IT and pharmaceutical companies? Tech seminars organised in breweries?

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This may be the case for big, marquee 'clients'. But for the 30-plus smaller tech firms it attracts into Ireland annually, it's a completely different story.

In fact, four-fifths of IDA-supported small-to-medium sized tech companies never see a penny in aid. That's because most incoming tech firms don't actually want money: they want a supply of senior executives that can grow their company very quickly.

Here, the nuts and bolts of what the IDA does is interesting. First, it helps to fast-track visas, paperwork and bank accounts. That means that a strategically important non-EU executive can arrive here and start working, with access to ATMs, within a couple of days.

Don't underestimate how important this kind of lightning flexibility is to the 20- or 30-something tech founders: they often measure milestones on a weekly basis.

Secondly, the IDA basically tees up top talent that can be hired immediately. This may be the most important single element for any small inbound tech firm: they need a seriously talented project manager that can handle an office and product development.

If they have a few realistic options lined up without having to trawl through endless executive searches, they are half-way there.

How do I know this? From endless interaction with small to medium US and European tech firms which have recently arrived in Ireland. Companies like Dropbox, MongoDB, Nitro, AdRoll, Zendesk and others. These companies are important.

While it's great to have Google, Facebook and the rest as marquee tech operations here, the smaller arrivals – who usually don't get a penny in aid – are an important constituency.

However, there are a couple of genuine problems for the IDA looming. Basically, tech firms here are growing very quickly and are now struggling to find bigger offices and new, junior recruits.

Take Nitro, the high-growth Australian online PDF and document management company. When it arrived in November, it said it intended to set up an office of 50 people. Then two weeks ago, it announced that it will need more than double its initial workforce estimate.

This is great. But where will they work? And where can they find people to hire?

Decent office-space in Dublin – especially around 'Silicon Docks' – is increasingly scarce. And tech firms are starting to wonder about the quality of our computer science graduates emerging from our third-level institutions.

The former issue is something that Nama might be able to address. The latter is one that will take longer, but needs to be looked at badly. For while Dublin is currently beating London on a pro-rata scale for attracting tech companies here, London has a better stream of graduates for IT jobs.

If Dublin's tech scene continues to grow at its current pace, this is going to bite.

And there's not much the IDA can do about it.

Anyway, who's coming next to Ireland? There are three likely candidates I think we should look out for.

* Viagogo: The online ticketing giant, currently based in Switzerland, may be on the way to these shores. Other than the growing ecosystem of web-based talent here, the company might also find Ireland a comparatively attractive place next to its current headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The firm is currently recruiting for several jobs which may or may not be listed only as being "Europe"-based.

* Hailo: The app world's favourite taxi-ordering service is understood to have its eye on an Irish base.

The firm's top brass are reasonably frequent visitors here and Ireland is already one of the countries that Hailo has spread its services in. This is exactly the kind of company that is currently flocking to Ireland.

* Fitbit: The sports and fitness wristband company recently posted a senior management position ('Europe Logistics Manager'), to be based in Ireland.

The company, based mainly in California, is a relatively small one. However, in the year that 'wearable technology' is tipped to take off, this would be a nice (if relatively small) addition to the Irish tech landscape.

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