Ireland: New dawn, new opportunities
Irish companies are reacting to COVID-19 and Brexit with more innovation
One hundred years ago, Ireland was an impoverished agrarian nation on the brink of independence from the U.K. Today, it’s a wealthy, dynamic powerhouse that was the only European Union member to achieve economic growth in 2020. What lies behind this dazzling transformation?
“A major factor in its success has been our determination to become a hub for innovation,” says Julie Sinnamon, CEO of Enterprise Ireland, the agency responsible for the development and growth of Irish companies in international markets. “As a small country, we know that research and innovation are key to competitiveness. They are cornerstones of Ireland’s economic policy, which is now a world leader in generating and using new knowledge for progress.”
Ireland’s extensive innovation ecosystem contains many multinational giants in sectors like technology, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and medtech. Google, Apple, Facebook, Intel, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and numerous others like them have substantial operations in the outward-looking, English-speaking country, where they benefit from pro-business and research-oriented policies, a brilliantly educated workforce, plus easy access to European and global markets. But Ireland has also built a strong base of homegrown companies in the same sectors, which made a significant contribution to export levels in 2020, a year that saw both COVID and dawn breaking on a post-brexit trading relationship with the U.K.
With 40 offices worldwide, Enterprise Ireland has played a crucial role in this. “We invest in the most innovative Irish companies through all stages of their growth and connect them to international customers,” explains Sinnamon. The agency is a key driver to support Irish companies to start grow, innovate and win export sales in global markets that has given Ireland a burgeoning reputation as a startup nation. “Enterprise Ireland was ranked first in the world in Pitchbook’s 2020 league table of venture capital investors. That year, we invested over €48 million in Irish startups,” she states.
Years of nurturing Ireland’s entrepreneurial spirit has paid off, the CEO asserts. “Irish businesses are now at the center of technological innovation, driven by a global mindset, commercial imperatives and developing solutions to meet the toughest challenges. This was evident when a large cohort of our companies responded to the pandemic with innovations that have positioned Ireland fifth in the world for global exports of Covid-related goods and services, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.” Among those using the crisis as an opportunity to hasten their development are Nearform that built the world’s most widely adopted contact-tracing app; Daon, creator of the VERIFLY biometric mobile-health passport; medical-equipment supplier Aerogen; Aalto Bio that engineered the proteins in many tests for the virus; clinical research organization ICON, which carried out vaccine trials; and healthtech outsourcing experts Relatecare.
The crisis accelerated trends and created opportunities for a number of Irish exporters. For example, Workhuman’s social recognition software allowed the rising numbers of teleworkers to stay connected with colleagues. Smurfit Kappa, the recycle-oriented global leader in paper-based packaging, supported logistics pressure. “Our business is in extremely good shape because the pandemic accelerated the trends toward e-commerce and sustainability,” reveals CEO Tony Smurfit. As the planet emerges from COVID, many of the next-generation of Irish firms tipped to become worldwide names are also focused on the environment—ireland ranks fifth in MIT Technology Review’s Green Future Index and it boasts a plethora of green-technology innovators in diverse sectors. As Smurfit points out, “Ireland has always had very creative, open-spirited, clear-thinking people. We’ve had so many successes relative to the country’s size, it’s truly astounding.”
To learn more about how Ireland’s successful innovators are transforming the world, access our full-length special with the QR code or visit www.newsweek.com/ newsweek-country-reports.
“Our companies responded to the pandemic with innovations that have positioned Ireland fifth in the world for global exports of Covidrelated goods and services.” Julie Sinnamon, CEO, Enterprise Ireland