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From Ireland to Silicon Valley: How to cut through the noise

California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world and home to the likes of Apple and a host of startups


Silicon Valley is home to giants like Apple, startups and venture capitalists

Silicon Valley is home to giants like Apple, startups and venture capitalists

Silicon Valley is home to giants like Apple, startups and venture capitalists

Silicon Valley is the global epicentre for technological innovation.

Located in the San Francisco Bay area on the West Coast of the United States, it is home to an estimated 40,000 startups, 3,000 VC firms and more than 125 companies with a valuation of over $1bn, otherwise known as ‘unicorns’.

Silicon Valley has developed this distinct innovative ecosystem as there are few places in the world as ideal for targeting corporate consumers who embrace disruptive technologies.

North America is a strategically important market for many Irish companies operating across multiple sectors, and Ireland and the United States share a historically warm friendship. New data published by Enterprise Ireland recently showed that in 2021 exports to North America by the client companies we work with increased by 14pc last year, bringing total exports to this market to €4.78bn.

Essential for an Irish start-up looking to enter the North American market successfully – the West Coast in particular – is being able to cut through the noise by careful planning and strategising and getting the fundamentals 100pc right.

The first step towards success in the San Francisco Bay Area is the ability to gain market intelligence and assess local opportunities.

By analysing the competitive landscape, you can determine the strengths and weaknesses of the dominant players, allowing you to understand where your business stands and its key differentiator.

Opportunities and threats exist in every market. But by adapting to market trends and competitors’ tactics, Irish businesses can guard against them. Using a data-driven research strategy to map the market reveals critical customer segments and allows both product comparison and market forecasting – enabling entrepreneurs to strategically position their business within the market regarding features, quality and price.

Success in Silicon Valley requires strong proof of product-market fit. Founders need to ask “what problem are we solving”, “for who?” and “what differentiates us and why?”.

A practical value proposition defines what benefits your company can deliver regarding tangible commercial results for a customer.

To make an impact in ‘the innovation capital’, Irish founders must seek to solve the needs of their sweet spot customers through their leading-edge technology. This is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and entrepreneurs must create value propositions that match the individual needs of different prospective clients.

California’s economy is the fifth largest in the world, and there are immense scalability opportunities on the West Coast. Even a small segment there may represent more than the entire Irish market. Irish entrepreneurs should be cognisant that consideration should be given to ‘where does our value proposition resonate the strongest?’ and focus on that.

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Trust and interpersonal relationships are a vital bedrock of that ecosystem in Silicon Valley.

Building your network in the Bay Area requires a presence on the ground, even just as a frequent visitor. Ambitious entrepreneurs looking for opportunities in this area should never underestimate the power of networking events, having discovery calls with contacts and other Irish companies that have been successful in the Valley. The best way to get connected to someone is to be introduced to them by someone they trust via referrals.

Another essential element is funding. Irish companies considering setting up a presence here must be adequately funded.

In San Francisco, the most promising seed-stage companies might raise $5m to $7m on a $50m valuation, often involving giving away 10pc to 25pc of the company’s equity.

To cut through the noise of the investment landscape, a company must carry out due diligence – crunch the numbers, have a strong business plan and have a coherent business narrative.

Enterprise Ireland’s San Francisco office is committed to supporting early-stage Irish ICT start-ups trying to win their first exports in California. It is also helping Ireland’s leading digital technology companies achieve scale through further growth and expansion.

To cut through the noise in Silicon Valley and really make a mark in this market, it’s necessary to plan, prepare and strategise.

Niamh O’Donnell is the trade development executive with Enterprise Ireland on the west coast of the United States in San Francisco, California

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