Thursday 13 December 2018

Innovation book is new chapter

Niamh Bushnell
Niamh Bushnell

Niamh Bushnell

This time last year I was doing a lot of explaining to a lot of people. It was the waning days of my role as Dublin commissioner for startups and I had decided that as a follow-on project I'd build a data-driven public record of all innovation happening in Ireland.

People thought that was a fancy way of saying I was building a database and they were right, even if in my mind its potential made it a much more compelling story. I'd been two-and-a-half years back in Dublin already and my search for a listing of Irish companies was still coming up empty. I'd also spent way too many years in America trying to persuade colleagues that Irish innovation went beyond the Book of Kells and great Irish brands like Guinness and Kerrygold. Nothing less than a database of Irish innovation, drawn out company by company, was going to do the big job of explaining what was happening here these days.

By December 2017 we had nine months of data-gathering behind us and we'd managed to entice some great advisers to our cause as well as support from Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Bank of Ireland, Google and others.

The data was strong enough to showcase by itself but the stories it told about Irish innovation glowed warmly and brightly so we decided to give them a stronger spotlight.

We released our first annual report on Irish innovation in January 2018 and it's been downloaded over a thousand times since. If they love it digitally why don't we make it into a coffee-table book we asked ourselves? The book, Innovation Nation Edition 2018, will be available to the public this week and is also being dispatched by the Department of Foreign Affairs to Irish consulates and embassies all over the world.

I love the idea of this physically beautiful and factually-irrefutable guide finding its way into the hands of global decision makers and influencers just in time for Paddy's Day.

Whether they spend hours diving into the details of Irish companies or just a couple of minutes flicking through its 140 pages, Innovation Nation will leave them with a powerfully-positive impression of modern Ireland and that ticks the success box for me, the team and all of our supporters.

So what does Innovation Nation tell us about Ireland? It looks at Irish innovation at a moment in time - 2017 - and celebrates global winners and up and coming Irish companies whose technologies and products are prompting others internationally to take notice.

The book offers a tip of the hat to established players who've had another great year like Swrve, Cubic Telecom, Fexco, Monex and TransferMate and creates fanfare around newer players like Soapbox Labs, Gecko Governance, Artomatix, Coroflo, Cainthus, RecommenderX and Plynk.

In total, itfeatures over 100 companies we've been tracking during the year and reminds the reader that these are Irish companies, building and expanding out of Ireland.

For readers like me who are based on home turf, the most compelling story might be the story of the regions in Ireland. We talk a lot about "the regions" here in Dublin but we also tend to go quiet when it comes to the details.

TechIreland tracks innovation across all 26 counties but the book focuses on a group of eight counties in particular. There are chapters dedicated to Cork, Limerick, Galway, Louth, Waterford, Kildare, Kerry and Donegal and again there are tips of the hat to companies like Teamwork and DroneSAR, Alison and Salaso, AQMetrics and Nova Leah, all of them leading the way for their counties when it comes to products, technology and funding.

When the report was first launched in January, one of the headlines picked up most frequently was that Limerick received more funding in 2017 than any other county outside of Dublin.

Some people protested that Limerick's first place was due to one company and one round of funding - Arralis which secured €50m funding in 2017 - but is that not a great reason to give kudos in itself?

Our data shows that Limerick is building and scaling Irish-born companies of the magnitude and power of Arralis, AMCS and others and these companies have created a platform for themselves and their county, and a slipstream for others to follow in their footsteps.

In fact, one of the trends we noticed when we first knuckled down to this work on the regions was how often local companies we were tracking had upped sticks and moved to Dublin. Migration to the city is natural and even critical for companies if a culture of innovation is thin on the ground at home. Regional enterprise funding, the presence of multinationals and other initiatives, like the recent launch of Crystal Valley Tech in Waterford, are starting to change this.

I'm excited about our book but the power of TechIreland's live database to showcase and connect companies to each other here at home is one of my favourite features. The Irish may be well networked in the States and even in Asia but we're divils for making those connections here at home. Want to build a community around what you do and what you need to be innovative? Find your neighbours using TechIreland, then ask us about them and we'll make some introductions.

Niamh Bushnell, founder and CEO of TechIreland, is a former Dublin commissioner for startups

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