Silicon Valley tech firms’ role in Ireland growing

By Kristen V. Brown, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer:

Irish PM

Photo by Eric Vidal, Associated Press

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny shakes hands with a protocol official at the European Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. European Union leaders on Tuesday sought a way to bounce back from the weekend’s landmark elections that saw a partly hostile and largely apathetic public question their project of closer cooperation as never before. (AP Photo/Eric Vidal)

On a trip last week to California, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny made the rounds at companies like Google and Facebook, Silicon Valley darlings whose Irish operations have been a boon to Dublin’s growing tech scene.

But he also dropped by New Relic, a small software analytics firm that just opened a Dublin office this year. Kenny was on a three-day trade trip to woo tech companies – and Ireland is looking to import startups alongside tech giants.

“This is the newest and smallest company I’ve come to see here in San Francisco,” the prime minister told employees at New Relic, who raised a glass of whiskey in honor of Kenny’s visit. “I like to think that what you’re doing here will be replicated in Ireland.”

Three years ago Ireland began targeting startups, said Barry O’Leary, the chief of Ireland’s Industrial Development Authority, an arm of the Irish government that handles direct foreign investment.

Ireland wanted to add to its tech economy companies that had only raised a few rounds of funding, businesses like New Relic, which is growing quickly but still relatively small with less than 500 employees in the U.S. and about $214 million in funding.

Companies based on the West Coast presently employ about 36,000 people in Ireland. The country’s low corporate tax rate has helped turn it into what is likely Europe’s most bustling tech hub, despite the country’s economic woes.

The Grand Canal Docks, an upscale Dublin business district where Google and Facebook have set up home, has earned the nickname Silicon Docks. LinkedIn, PayPal, Amazon, Twitter, Zendesk and Dropbox all have Irish offices.

Kelly told the crowd at New Relic that 40 percent of new jobs created last year in Ireland were at companies less than five years old.

The IDA tries to lure young, new companies in part by providing detailed guidance on how to open an international office.

As Patrick Moran, New Relic’s chief marketing officer, put it, “the IDA helped us navigate every step of the way.”

The company currently has about 25 employees in Dublin, but expects that number will double by the end of the year. Having a European office, Moran said, has made it easier to do business with European customers. And Dublin has a pool of quality talent to draw from, as well as being “hip” and “fun.”

Startups, said O’Leary, are a necessary part of developing a complete tech ecosystem in Ireland. Attracting new, fast-growing companies like New Relic could give Ireland an early-in on the Googles and Facebooks of tomorrow.

“To build a critical mass,” he said, “We need to bring in companies that can help support our indigenous companies.”

Kristen V. Brown is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: Twitter: @kristenvbrown

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