Ireland’s link to valley is stronger than ever

Ireland has long been a land of emigrants and our valley has always welcomed them; The links go back to the earliest days. In 1844, Martin Murphy crossed the Sierras and founded Sunnyvale. Menlo Park was begun by two Irishmen who named the area after their native Menlo near Galway. The chief lieutenant of the legendary, Michael Collins, lived for 30 years in Los Gatos.

Yet the bonds that really tie are those business and cultural ones between San Jose and Dublin, Silicon Valley and Ireland. The rich past was but a prelude to a connection that has long been the European base of choice for American technology companies such as Intel, Apple, Cisco, Seagate, Google and many others calling it home. I was honored to be at Intel’s seminal groundbreaking 25 years ago.

Our local companies now employ 115,000 workers in Ireland, but the surprising thing is that the employment balance favors us. Many Irish tech founders and CEOs make our area their home.

Patrick and John Collison from Limerick chose to start their payments company, Stripe, in Palo Alto. With investments from Khosla and Sequoia, they are valued in the billions. Other hot Irish companies, like Trustev, Viddyad and Intercom, are establishing bases here.

This is good for them and great for the Silicon Valley ecosystem. It continues well the litany of success. It also continues the pioneering tradition of immigrants from all over the globe in the. vanguard of this valley’s innovative mosaic.

The driving force behind this Irish explosion of hot tech companies is first and foremost an amazing crop of founders such as the Collison brothers, Pat Phelan of Trustev and Grainne Barron of Viddyad. Enterprise Ireland has pitched in with its ‘Access Silicon Valley’ program specifically designed for such stalwart founders.

Perhaps most importantly, the Irish here have established the strongest technology business network of any nation. Founded by John Hartnett and Barry O’Sullivan, the Irish Technology Leadership Group (ITLG) in Downtown San Jose connects founders with executives and venture capitalists.
Chaired by former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, it has more than 10,000 members and has tentacles that reach into boardrooms, Sandhill Road offices and governments in Washington and Dublin. Harnett’s amazing crusade created a direct flight from the Bay Area to. Dublin.

Their story is so American — so like the many successes of other immigrant groups that it is heartening to recount.

The announcement last week of Barry O’Sullivan’s new company, Altocloud, has caught the imagination of the technology world. In many ways, O’Sullivan is an avatar of this group.

He sold his car as a 19-year old engineering student to buy an airline ticket and get an internship here; he rose to senior leadership with Cisco’s software team. With Altocloud, he hopes to revolutionize how companies communicate with customers. With a foot in Galway and one in Mountain View, this world of Irish-American connections has again come full circle.

So let’s celebrate the new wave of pioneers crossing the Atlantic just as they once crossed the Sierras. From covered wagons and Guinness to gigabytes and Google, it is a story to be told and retold.

Just like the early immigrants and the Silicon Valley icons, these Irish tech founders followed their dreams and are continuing to change the world. With a bit of Irish luck, I would not bet against them. It would surely be a nice to move beyond shamrocks and pints to this vital vision for St. Patrick’s Day. Ah, let’s raise a glass.

Tom McEnery was mayor of San Jose from 1983-1990 and has since been involved in the family business at San Pedro Square. He wrote this for this newspaper.

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