Two interesting events have just been held a year apart here in Dublin. I was invited to both, invited to speak at both, but was unfortunately overseas both times!! My thoughts here are thus based on what I’ve heard from people who attended one or the other, and what I’ve read on the web and elsewhere.
F.ounders culminated a 2.5 day web summit on the evening of 29th October last. It essentially was a grand party: nevertheless an opportunity to network, celebrate and explore. It included some of the “great and the good” of the international web community, including YouTube’s Chad Hurley, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Bebo’s Michael Birch.
Farmleigh, or rather the Global Irish Economic Forum, was a 2.5 day symposium almost exactly a year earlier, over 18th-20th September 2009. It essentially was a think tank: nevertheless an opportunity to network, celebrate and explore. It included some of the “great and the good” of the international business community, including Intel’s Craig Barrett, Qantas’s Alan Joyce, and Citigroup’s Anita Sands.
There were two broad objectives for Farmleigh:
to explore how the Irish at home and abroad, and those with a strong interest in Ireland, could work together and contribute to our overall efforts at economic recovery; and to examine ways in which Ireland and its global community could develop a more strategic relationship with each other, particularly in the economic sector.
The objective for F.ounders was less prescriptive. Originally, I believe it was conceived as an event to host budding young (under 30 year old) European web entrepreneurs to network and share experiences – and meet one or two old hands who had “seen the movie before”. In practice, it eventually emerged as a celebration of web entrepreneurship and counted amongst its cohort a very considerable number well over the 30 threshold…
Both events had a relatively small number of the fairer race, probably less than 20% of participants in each case. However perhaps this is a (sad..) reflection of the global leadership of the web community and of the general business community.
The F.ounders participants were almost entirely European and American, with a tiny participation from Asia. In contrast, the Farmleigh event had a strong participation from Asia, and one of the key themes of the event was the immense opportunity for the Irish economy in Asia.
I’ve however heard a criticism common to both events: that arguably, there were too many speakers, and too many invitees. Each had just over a hundred. Perhaps a more valuable outcome might have resulted in each case had a more focussed group of speakers and facilitators been chosen.
As far as I am aware, the attendees at both events met their own expenses and travel costs. However attendees at F.ounders – even the multi-millionaires – were each given a gift by the Irish Government of two return airfares to Ireland (from where ever on the planet they happen to reside..) to be used at their option should they return to found businesses here in the future (see 4th paragraph here) – presumably for only for those living outside of Ireland. This has proved to be controversial in some tweets.
The outcome of Farmleigh was well documented in quite an extensive 55 page report and an additional 37 page annex. However the media were denied access to much of the event or its participants, creating at the time a degree of skepticism in the Irish public, as expounded for example here. Some of the discussions were nevertheless subsequently widely reported in the press, especially Craig Barrett’s reputed reflections on the diminished attractiveness of Ireland after 20 years of Intel’s major investment.
By contrast, certain journalists and a number of bloggers were explicitly invited to the F.ounders event, and indeed I believe that in some cases their costs (including airfares) were met to bring them to Dublin – see for example the second paragraph here. Some international reporters gushed, and others were more reserved. In addition, celebrity attendees were interviewed live on Ireland’s premier TV chat show. However unlike Farmleigh, there is no formal document capturing the outcome of the event and indeed it would probably be inappropriate: it was after all a party with photos to prove it.
The Farmleigh folks were of course offered a social programme. There was a reception hosted by the President of Ireland, a formal dinner, and an opportunity to go to the all Ireland GAA football final at Croke Park.
What then has been the value of these two events to date ?
In my view, both were interesting experiments, possibly to be repeated in due course with appropriate improvement. Some of the recommendations arising from last year’s Farmleigh have been implemented by the Irish Government, and other people and organisations. I am aware that further recommendations are in progress – not least the Gateway Ireland initiative led by John McColgan, and the Dublin smart city initiative.
Both events have helped promote Dublin, and indeed Ireland as a whole, as not just a business location, but also as “cool” (for under 30s) and “cultured” (for the rest of us). Our vibrant theatre sector, our incredible music scene, our national sports, our pubs and night clubs, and our literary tradition collectively are an excellent synergy for innovation, science and technology – “where ideas meet, and science and art collide“ – and in my view, a far far richer backdrop than for example San Francisco’s art scene is to the high technology of Silicon Valley.
The two events also illustrate the fundamental interplay and the opportunity that best exists pretty much only in Ireland. I have previously posted that Ireland is globally unique in having a very high density of global multinationals, in many different sectors (from pharmaeceuticals, to bio-medical devices, to electronics, to software, to renewables..) – no other jurisdiction or territory, including Silicon Valley itself, has such a breadth and concentration. In turn, this provides a tremendous opportunity for innovators and entrepreneurs to work alongside established players, in context of the relatively open and friendly business environment and personal networks that exist amongst the Irish. If you are a European technology entrepreneur, Ireland should definitely be on your “radar screen” as a possible location from which to build your venture, and F.ounders certainly helped reinforce this message.
If anything, Farmleigh represented the “old economy”. F.ounders represented the “new economy”. In the new decade, Ireland provides a unique location where these two meet, collide, and catalytically spark.