So you may know that I’ve been in San Francisco a little bit this year, firstly meeting with our US friend and investor David Kirk after the fun that was SXSW and then again to get married in the amazing surroundings of San Francisco City Hall. This has meant many round trip flights, long layovers and general travel mayhem that has got in the way of both our fun and our business.
So it’s heartening to see a heavy push for direct flights from Ireland to Silicon Valley led by John Hartnett of ITLG and the Irish Innovation Centre in San Jose among other things. In fact it’s surprising that such a flight doesn’t exist already. The business case is crystal clear and obvious, so I feel no need to restate what’s been said.
If you’re interested in helping to push the case join the Facebook group here and make your voice heard…
What a week it’s been in Belfast. From Monday until yesterday we had the privilege to have the presence of the ITLG, the Irish Technology Leadership Group, a Silicon Valley based group of CEOs, VPs, VCs, private investors and people who are and have been at the very peak of the world in technology, digital media and ICT.
Why were they here? Well they have a long term plan to help accelerate Irish tech companies to a new level through mentoring, infrastructure and investment. It’s been a week of flowery language (boil the sea, hurricane the forest) and big big thinking on both their behalf and on behalf of a shedload of Irish companies energised by their presence, open approach to business and world view. What we all learned fundamentally was simple; we set our sights too low and underestimate our talent and ability to compete on the world stage and this must change.
We had many many meetings with Invest NI, NISP, Momentum, NISINE, the Universities, ministers and too many organisations to mention really all of which were intense but overall positive in their content and outcomes. The ITLG came to help make things better, and from where we sit that’s already a job well done. Many of us will never regard our businesses, opportunities and ultimately our outlook on life quite the same way ever again.
I learned personally when to keep quiet, when to speak and that passion is no crime. I also learned to look higher for what we are trying to achieve and that I’m 33 and not 21 anymore when the exhaustion started to bite!
One moment that resonates was at a drinks reception at Stormont where the First Minister and Deputy First Minister encapsulated the importance of what was going on and welcomed the continuance of what had been set in action with open arms. For two former sworn enemies to come together with a common message and set of goals was an inspiration to everyone who witnessed it, and they understood the gravity of the ask and the task at hand to make it all happen. Let’s help them to roll up the sleeves and muck in with the rest of us, they’re needed if we are to try to reach the goal of having five 50 million plus turnover companies in Belfast within five years. The roadmap for how that is achievable has been drawn in pencil and it’s now up to us to fill the colour and the shape of this for years to come. We have help from the best in the world, and no excuses for not taking it. But we must ask…
And on failure? What’s our alternative? We know that our current approach isn’t working and that we need to up our game. That’s a given. We’re too insular, too inward looking and too fearful of falling over to ever move at the pace required to keep up. The public sector can help us in some ways but it moves too slow to fast track, and that’s what’s needed. It can find a better role though, and support us better in our goals and we’ll start building that route too.
To look down the road and see only stop signs is a worthless approach and not something we should be passing on to the young people who are staying in Belfast for the first time in 40 years, for them and for ourselves we all must do better.
So here’s to you Mr Robinson, Mr McGuinness, Mr Kirk, Mr Gilmore, Mr Hartnett, Mr Johnston, Mr McMillan, Mrs Foster, Mr Hamilton, Mr Orr, Mr Watts, Mr Richardson, Mr Moran, Mr Simon, Mrs Clinton, Mr Kelly, Mr Elchenlaub, Mr McGrath, Mr Sims, Mr Murphy and every other Mr and Mrs with the heart to believe we can get there. Belfast loves you more than you will know…