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Ireland as a barometer for Europe’s startup scene

There’s a lot of debate about where the European startup scene sits on the global investment spectrum. It’s interesting to look at Ireland as a proxy over the last ten years.

Ten years ago when the second generation of Irish Internet startups were launching, the mentors and reference figures were unsurprisingly the founders of nineties-era technology and software companies. In general they were much older and generally didn’t go out of their way to publicise their experiences (although people like Chris Horn are a notable exception). There was a lot less writing on startup culture and the VC scene was limited. A search for ‘Ireland startup’ across 2000-2004 paints a very different picture to the articles thrown up by the same search today.

Mark Suster’s glowing post about Paddy Cosgrave’s Web Summit clearly marks a milestone and it’s a good opportunity to take stock of how much the startup scene has matured in Ireland over the last ten years;

  • Today’s startup mentors, advisors and angel investors are far more visible and active (e.g. Ray Nolan, Eamon Leonard, Liam Casey)
  • While raising capital is still a challenge, the nature of new funds investing in Ireland (e.g. Highland, Tribal, Frontline, Polaris) are generally much more founder-friendly and Valley-connected than their predecessors
  • High-growth Irish companies are now capable of securing meaty Series A levels of finance with local lead investors e.g. Logentries ($10M), ACMS (€23.5M) and Fieldaware ($12M).
  • Exits (the ultimate measure which people tend to forget about) are still slow but the quality is certainly rising  with deals by News Corp (Storyful), ITV (Simply Zesty), IBM (Curam), Research in Motion (Newbay), Engine Yard (Orchestra).

When I’ve time (ha), it’d be fascinating to look at a quantitative comparison of Irish startups over the last five years versus ten years ago across a few metrics (quality of capital, staff by nationality, rate of growth etc.). Although if anyone would like to dive into that data in the meantime, I’d be enormously grateful 🙂

A lot of people beat up Europe saying that it won’t (or can’t) produce the kind of companies which Silicon Valley does. But if Ireland is any kind of proxy, the dial is certainly moving.

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