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All Snap, Crackle & Pop

The National College of Ireland (NCI) is running a series of breakfast talks over the next few months featuring ‘outstanding, innovative speakers on a range of thought-provoking topics in the areas of management, marketing and human resource management’. And they got off to a flying start last Friday morning with Norah Casey, Harmonia CEO and sole female on Dragon’s Den.

Norah started with a brief background on how she got into publishing and spoke at length about the publishing business and how the industry has been struggling with online revenue. It would appear that print is still a force to be reckoned with thought, even in the digital age. For example, in Germany 50% of all advertising spend is still with magazines. Not surprisingly, when Norah was speaking about the costs involved in publishing magazines, the top two were printing and marketing. Never really going to be able to get away from those costs in this industry I’m afraid.

She spoke about how Harmonia’s prize title in the publication stable, Irish Tatler, has been using the brand to expand with such ventures as iVenus, Women of the Year Awards and the Beauty Awards, and the Spa Awards and the Designer Showcase which is now an international project. Similarly, Food & Wine magazine has spawned the Christmas Show, the Club Card and the Blue Plaque Awards.  In addition to the revenue streams these bring in, the events are as much about building the brand as anything else.

The second part of the talk was Norah’s top ten pieces of advice on how to make it in business and I’ve listed them below for you to mull over. All very practical and worth taking on board.

  1. Do your homework
  2. Prepare to work hard
  3. Work on the business model
  4. Get everything free
  5. If you fail, move fast
  6. Decide on how to fund growth
  7. Review strategy
  8. Maintain harmony in your life
  9. Realise that money is not a dirty word
  10. Never stop learning (well I suppose we were in the NCI)

Looking forward to the next talk – Helen Tynan, Director of People Operations with Google – on 6th July.

And with a title like ‘Corn Flakes and Commerce’ who do you think sponsors these events? That’s right…Kellogg’s of course (oh and MetroHerald too). So it was bowls of Rice Krispies all round.



We’re an inventive lot really

So it was World IP Day again last week. And as is customary, William Fry hosted an evening talk. to mark the occasion The highlight of the event was a talk by Alfie Kane, Director of KCCS, CEO-in-Residence of Baker Capital Inc New York and Former Group CEO of Eircom (don’t mention the war). Some very interesting points on inventions and patents from Alfie. I have to agree with him that the intellectual property is sometimes the only asset a start-up has but most companies don’t have an IP policy or IP management system in place. Now there is the school of thought that patents don’t really matter for most software companies (what start-up company is going to try and defend against a multinational software company?) but the fact is that investors will want the box ticked in relation to filings so it really is worth the time and effort to properly manage your company’s IP. And besides, patents are valuable. Just ask Qualcomm. Nowadays, pretty much all this company does is exploit its list of patents for multi-million dollar profits through licensing (check out Dave Mock’s The Qualcomm Equation for the full story).

Anyhow, I was inspired by Carol Plunkett, Partner at WF, who mentioned a few famous Irish people whose inventions may not be so familiar to us but have really had a huge impact on the world around us. So below are a few of Irish people and their inventions. Far too many to mention all Irish inventions here so I’ve stirred away from the obvious ones like Boyle and Hamilton, and opted for some people you may not have heard of before. Oh and as a bonus I’ve included some other ‘Did You Know?’ facts at the end:

  • Louis Brennan (1852 – 1932) From, Castlebar, Co. Mayo, inventor of the world’s first guided missile – a torpedo like device which was used as an early coastal defense mechanism. Brennan also designed a monorail and helicopter.
  • Lucien Bull (1876 – 1972) Prolific Dublin innovator responsible for pioneering high speed photography in order to view images in slow motion. Bull also patented an improved version of the electrocardiogram (ECG) in 1938.
  • Rev. Nicholas Callan (1799 – 1864) Born in Dromiskin, Co. Louth, Rev. Callan invented both the induction coil (1836) and the self exacting dynamo (1838), both of which are still being used today.
  • Agnes Clerke (1842 – 1907) Clerke, a Skibbereen woman, was a prolific astronomical writer whose esteemed reputation earned her the distinction of having a crater on the moon named after her in 1881 – Clerke Crater, at the edge of the sea of Serenity.
  • Aeneas Coffey (1780 – 1852) Dublin man Aeneas Coffey invented the world’s first heat-exchange device in 1830. Coffey’s patent still was a very efficient apparatus that led to many advances in whiskey distilling.
  • Sir Samuel Davidson (1846 – 1921) Belfast’s Sir Samuel Davidson was accredited with many inventions such as tea-drying equipment, the forward bladed centrifugal fan and even a hand held Howitzer gun.
  • Harry Ferguson (1884 – 1960) Nicknamed the ‘mad mechanic’, Harry Ferguson designed and built a new plough which was coupled to the tractor in three-point linkage, so that both formed a single unit. This Ferguson System, patented in 1926, was to revolutionise farming. Ferguson also designed and built his own motor cycle, racing car and plane – becoming the first Irish man to fly in 1909.
  • John Phillip Holland (1841-1914) Liscannor man, John Phillips Holland, is accredited with launching the world’s first successful submarine, the ‘Fenian Ram’, in 1881. He also invented a mechanism for submariners to evacuate their sinking vessel.
  • John Kyan (1774 – 1850)   Inventor of an early wood preservative used in various timbers. Patented in 1832, the technique still bears his name today – ‘kyanisation’.
  • Robert Mallet (1810 – 1881)   Explosion seismology was born in 1851, when Dublin man Robert Mallet used dynamite explosions to measure the speed of elastic waves in surface rocks – pioneering and coining the word ‘seismology’.
  • Sir James Martin (1893 – 1981)    Sir James Martin, an engineer from Co. Down, invented the world’s first ejector seat. His device was first tested using a crash dummy in 1945, and the following year Bernard Lynch became first person to participate in a live test. His invention was soon adopted by the RAF as a standard safety device.
  • Francis Rynd (1811 -1861) In 1844, Francis Rynd, a Dublin-based doctor, invented the hypodermic syringe and administered the world’s first subcutaneous injection at the Meath hospital.
  • Lord Kelvin (William Thompson) (1824-1907) born in Belfast.  Thompson was knighted for his work on the laying of the Atlantic Telegraph Cable which stretched from Newfoundland to Valentia in Cork in 1865.  His interest in the measurement of temperature and thermodynamics led to his creation of the absolute scale of temperature (the Kelvin scale) which is named after him.
  • John Tyndall (1820 – 1893)    The founding father of nephelometry and a native of Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, John Tyndall was one of the first scientists to recognise the greenhouse effect, and his invention of the light pipe also laid the foundation for developments in fiber optics.
  • John Walker (1841 – 1901)    A native of Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, John Walker invented a prototype of the caterpillar track to assist him in transporting logs over rough terrain to his saw mills.
  • Earnest Walton (1903 – 1995)  In 1932, Earnest Walton (from Dungarvan, Co. Waterford) in collaboration with John Cockcroft, became the first people in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age. Walton and Cockcroft had vindicated Einstein’s famous equation (E=mc2) and successfully converted matter into energy. In 1951 they were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics – making Walton Ireland’s first and only Nobel science laureate.

Did you know…?

  • The first ever patent registered in Ireland was a starter cage for racing dogs and the like in 1929.
  • In 1902, German-born Arthur Korn (1870-1945) invented telephotography, a means for transmitting still photographs by means of electrical wires. In 1907, Korn sent the first inter-city fax when he transmitted a photograph from Munich to Berlin.
  • In 1933, Charles B. Darrow played a game on oil cloth on his kitchen table. He played the game with his family and friends and soon fell in love with the game’s exciting promise of fame and fortune. Today, an estimated 500 million players from around the world have been mesmerized by the MONOPOLY® game.
  • In 1843, after ten years of tireless work and abject poverty, Charles Goodyear perfects his process for “vulcanizing” rubber, or combining it with sulfur to create a soft, pliable substance unaffected by weather.
  • In 1884 George Eastman, American inventor, patented the first film in roll form to prove practicable. In 1888 he perfected the Kodak camera, the first camera designed specifically for roll film, and in 1892 he established the Eastman Kodak Company, at Rochester, New York, one of the first firms to mass-produce standardized photography equipment.
  • One day in 1849 Walter Hunt wanted to pay a fifteen-dollar debt to a friend. So he decided to invent something new. From a piece of brass wire about eight inches long, coiled at the center and shielded at one end, he made the first safety pin. He took out a patent on his invention and sold the rights to it for four hundred dollars.
  • The inventor of Coca-Cola was Dr. John S. Pemberton, in 1885. The formula changed hands three more times before Asa D. Chandler hit upon the idea of carbonating the original drink. The bubbles made all the difference, and he struck gold. The Coca-Cola Company was founded in 1892 and has never looked back.
  • The Rubik’s Cube was invented by Erno Rubik in 1974 when the first working prototype came into being and a patent application was initially drafted. Rubik’s invention was born out of his passionate interest in geometry, the study of 3D forms, and in exploring the hidden possibilities of combination of forms and materials.


(My thanks to the Patents Office website for the above information)

For further reading and information on Irish Scientists and Inventors, check out the following:

Mary Mulvihill: Ingenious Ireland, TownHouse & CountryHouse Ltd. Dublin, 2002.

Charles Mollan, William Davis and Brendan Finucane: Irish Innovators in Science and Technology, Royal Irish Academy and Enterprise Ireland, 2002.




Something to celebrate for St. Patrick’s week

Four events stood out for me during last week:

  1. The announcement that O’Bama is coming in May this year. Great news for Ireland Inc as there’ll be masses of media coverage as the world tunes in to follow his visit and to see how Ireland has been doing. It will hopefully make a nice change from the usual reports of late. And of course Moneygall in Co. Offaly is now well and truly on the world map and will take centre stage for a portion of the trip at least, as Barack takes a tour of the town where a branch of his family tree starts. Judging by the expression on Enda Kenny’s face when the announcement was made at the White House on St. Patrick’s Day, I’m not too sure how much he knew about the planned visit beforehand.
  2. QVC gave over March 17 to all things Irish for 24 hours, with the likes of Bewleys, Tipperary Crystal and Waterford all selling their wares both through the TV channel and online. I actually think this is something QVC do every year but it got more coverage this year thanks to the efforts of Enterprise Ireland to promote it. I believe US sales for Irish companies who took part were in excess of €12 million in that 24 hour period. A great exercise.
  3. SXSWi (i for Interactive) is part of the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW) held each year in Austin, Texas. SXSWi focuses on emerging technologies in the digital media and gaming arena and is seen as a Mecca for ambitious tech companies. So it’s good to see Enterprise Ireland showcased 17 Irish companies there last week, both established and start-up companies. The whole SXSW conference is attended by about 40,000 over the course of the 5-day so it provided great exposure for Irish companies and an excellent opportunity for networking with some of the top industry leaders. The Irish companies that were there included Seevl, OWJO, Storyful, Trezur. You’ll find the full list of the companies here.
  4. Finding out the Irish companies that attended SXSWi was pretty straightforward. Trying to find out what 20 companies were in New York last week with Enterprise Ireland to meet with Bank of New York at the Technology Transfer Forum was not so easy. The companies got a chance to meet with the bank’s leading technologists and the hope is that it will better position them for potential partnerships with the bank in the future. I did manage to find out that Cloudium Systems was there… but the rest of the company names remain a mystery for now.

So apologies of this post sounds like it’s ‘proudly brought to you by Enterprise Ireland’. The fact is that they are doing an exceptional job and entrepreneurs are reaping the rewards of their efforts. It’s becoming clear that the support being given to start-ups in Ireland is better than ever. And not just the support from EI, but people like Jerry Kennelly and his Endeavour programme in Kerry are also driving start-ups forward with advice and mentoring from people who have been there, done that. Long may it continue.



[I should probably point out at this stage that as an Associate with PA Consulting I work with EI on the Propel Programme, but nevertheless, the above still holds true; just ask any start-up or early stage growth company who deals with EI and they’ll tell you the same thing.]

The Need for Positivity

So now we know.  It’s to be a Fine Gael and Labour marriage, but perhaps not exactly a marriage made in heaven. In trying to come up with a programme for government in the last week, I have no doubt that both parties will be looking back on the election itself as possibly the easiest part of the whole process. The illustration on the front page of the Irish Independent last week said it perfectly: these two parties couldn’t agree on anything before the election, so what’s to say that will change now? Each party made promises to the electorate (FG’s 5 point plan was a brilliant stroke) and each has to be seen to stick to their guns.  I have a feeling it’s going to be quite difficult to get anything done by this Government. Let’s see what the first 100 days bring us.

But enough about all that election and government stuff. Today, I’m here to share some positivity with you. And we all need some positivity especially when it comes to selling Ireland internationally as a place to do business. We’d all agree that our exports are doing well. Very well in fact. And the Ernst & Young Globalisation Index 2010 has ranked Ireland as the second most globalised economy in the world. Not too shabby.

But what about brining companies into Ireland? We’ve been punching above our weight on the tech front for years, all the way back to Dell and Intel, and foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to be extremely strong (we’re currently the second most attractive country in the world for FDI according to the National Irish Bank/FDI Intelligence Inward Investment Performance Monitor – quite a mouthful!). We can now claim the European headquarters of Google, Facebook, and You Tube. editor John Kennedy has said we have earned the right to call ourselves the ‘Internet Capital of Europe’.  And he’s right. All that’s missing is Twitter and we’d have a clean sweep of the ‘Big 4’. Although given they’ve started to hire sales people in the UK already, this is looking less likely. But you never know; they might just take some of JP Morgan’s investment of $450 million and buy a building off NAMA (well if Google can do it…). And away from the bright lights of the ‘Big 4’ tech companies, there are plenty of other tech companies setting out their stall in Ireland.

And we’re no slouch when it comes to the gaming industry either. Big name companies such as Vivendi, Microsoft Games, Zynga and Activision, to name just a few, have been opening up operations in Ireland over the last number of years, and are quietly growing their presence here. It does provide a compelling argument for an international gaming centre, along the lines of the IFSC.

Why is it important to be attracting these types of companies? Apart from the much needed jobs they bring and the recognition Ireland gets as a leading country in these sectors, there’s the long term ecosystem developing here from having firms located here. And that’s exactly what is needed for start-up companies to emerge, and these in turn, it is hoped, create more employment.

So here it is; my positivity vibe for the day. You may have already seen the video below as it did the rounds a few months ago. But always worth reminding ourselves just what it is we have to offer. International journalists haven’t been doing Ireland any good with recent articles, and to read them you’d swear Ireland had turned into a barren wasteland overnight. Newspapers around the world, such as the FT and the Wall Street Journal, love a good meltdown story and have probably just been waiting to pounce once they saw the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. So let’s hope that the tough decisions that lie ahead in the next few months and years we can give them something positive to write about again.

Ireland by the Numbers