Galway’s Innovation Heritage and its Role in Ireland’s Future Prosperity. #36 #cong17

By Damian Costello.

We have been talking about Ireland having a unique position in the globalised economy for years. We have congratulated ourselves on how good we are at interpersonal communications, sure aren’t we great craic. We boast about the corporate inhabitants of Kildare, Cork, Dublin, and Galway, but what are we really doing to maximise these natural advantages? It’s time for professionals in all sectors to start meaningful conversations with professionals in the other amazing industries we have on this island. Forums like Congregation offer a unique template for the type of inter-disciplinary, cross-sectoral conversations that we should all be so much better at.

Galway is proof that Ireland has a world-class innovation ecosystem. With no track record in Medical Devices, Galway evolved to become a Medtech hub of real global significance. Just imagine what Galway will make out of the next wave of Medtech innovation, now that it has a maturing start-up infrastructure, multiple academic centres of excellence and first-hand experience in US corporate strategy. 

Galway of old has a lot to teach the ambitious Ireland of today. As far as I can gather, Galway stumbled into the Medical Device Industry in the wake of the collapse of the now legendary US multinational, Digital. A generation of senior managers trained by an exceptional US corporation, found themselves in various industries after Digital pulled out. As the Medical Device industry started to take off two local brothers, who produced metalwork for the diminishing Irish electronics sector, took on a medical device challenge for some old Digital connections. Although the problem was at a more minute scale than they were used to, Niall and Ian Quinn solved it with a machine capable of efficiently producing components of unprecedented quality. Two years ago, their company Creganna was sold for close to a billion-dollars.  This would never have happened had they not found themselves operating in a unique culture of cross-sectoral openness. This culture, that had emerged by chance in response to a disaster, still exists in Galway today.

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to facilitate a number of strategy sessions with Galway based Start-up Neuravi. This Irish team of medical device innovators had taken on next generation brain surgery. They found an underserved challenge and made themselves the global authority in a small, but critical, science. However, their technical achievements were not the most impressive thing about their success. Their understanding of how the seller could influence the outcome of large corporate acquisitions was a new thing for me, even after my 25 years in innovation. Granted CEO Eamon Brady had sat at the other side of the big business table when vetting international acquisitions in the multi-national he previously worked for, but knowing and doing are two different things. 

The following year, it was announced that Neuravi had been sold for an undisclosed sum. The actual figure is the biggest secret in Galway even today, but it was described as the biggest privately-backed trade sale in Europe since 2008. I don’t care so much about the figure, what excites me the most about this story is what is going to happen when some of these innovation veterans decide they are ready for their next challenge. I believe Neuravi represents a tipping point in Galway’s innovation journey because they make this level of deal-making a trend. Now when I find myself in traffic in Galway, I look over the walls at the logos on the buildings and wonder who is going to be next.  

What is true of Medtech in Galway; is true of Financial Services in Dublin’s Docklands, Pharmaceuticals in Ringaskiddy, Energy in Dundalk, Automotive in Tuam, and Food and Agriculture right across rural Ireland. All industries are going through a profound digital revolution and Ireland’s long-established, Information Technology multi-nationals are fighting to collaborate with other sectors on the next big thing. The companies who understand the technologies behind the impending digital revolution are well represented in Ireland with a surprising number of Irish decision-makers based in various company headquarters all over the US and an even more impressive number of international decision-makers based here at home. 

My argument here is simple. We have already done it once by accident, how much further will we go if we can do it deliberately this time? We can take full advantage of the fact that some of the world’s best companies are in closer proximity here than almost anywhere else. We can recreate a similar culture of openness across the whole island. After all, we really are great craic. 

CongRegation © Eoin Kennedy 2017 eoin at congregation dot ie