Creative Ireland: Town and Country

I spent last week in Ireland and have come away amazed–no, more like blown away–by the creative and entrepreneurial people I met. I am eager to tell you about them.

I was invited by Michael Campion, a lecturer at the National University of Ireland, in Galway, to come speak to his students. Michael teaches a sequence of courses on ‘Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship’, and we found we take a very similar approach: we need to develop these generative qualities in everyone, not just those who want to be start-up entrepreneurs.

Eamon Howley, a great friend of mine from the year I lived in Galway in the late 90’s, helped arrange the trip–his company, BEM Ireland, is one of the leading events and tour companies in the West of Ireland–and when he helped me understand just how vibrant the start-up community has become in Galway, I invited Mark Bowles to join us. Mark is a very successful entrepreneur from San Diego and my close friend and brother-in-law; his most recent start-up, ecoATM, sold about 18 months ago for $350 million and he’s as skilled in the start-up world as anyone I know.

By the way, that’s Eamon in the photo above, sitting closest to me over my right shoulder.

I had a blast sharing some of my content about us all being born creative geniuses and how to become one again with over 300 of Micheal’s students, and earlier met with a small group of faculty and staff where we discussed how we introduce the concepts of complexity to our students.

Then Mark, Eamon, and I were led by John Breslin on a two day tour of the amazing start-up world happening in Galway. John, also of NUI/Galway, arranged for us to visit a bunch of start-up and early stage businesses. The university calls it’s campus incubator IGNITE and John helped set it up, runs it, and provides mentoring. He introduced us to a half dozen great companies. We then headed into Galway City Centre where we met Dave Cunningham, a successful entrepreneur who has started another incubator, StartX6, where once again we found top quality start-ups being nurtured and developed.

Later we caught up with Oliver Daniels, who heads up a third incubator, Insight, and capped it with the New Frontiers program at GMIT, led by Tony O Kelly.

That’s John, me, and Mark, at Insight.

At each stop we met innovative thinkers developing great businesses.

All these incubators are networking with each other, supporting each other, actively, with their time and effort, and all are anticipating the launch of yet another incubator, taking over some old Guinness Brewery facilities, to be named the PorterShed. There we met Maurice O’Gorman, a former investment banker, who is leading this initiative.
That’s Dave from StartX6 on the left, Eamon with his back to you, and Maurice on the right.

Mark Bowles was in the spot light twice–he put on a standing room only talk at Monroe’s Pub one night, sharing with the local entrepreneurial community his experiences launching and developing ecoATM, and then he helped judge the finals of NUI/Galway’s start-up challenge where four final teams–Episafe (the winning team), MATE, Alumni Networks, and Retractipull–simply wowed us with their ideas.
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Mark is very involved in the accelerator/incubator world in the States and it was interesting watching his reaction to all these great companies and entrepreneurs we were meeting: first he was saying something like “wow, for a city of 70,000 people there are a lot of great start-ups here” and by the end of the second day it sounded more like “there’s no need to qualify my remarks, this start-up community has a density of great companies that takes a back seat to no one.”
burren college of art

At one of the events I was fortunate to meet Barry Walsh, from the Burren College of Art. The Burren is a magical ecosystem just across Galway Bay and the College has attracted wonderful faculty to an old castle there for their school. Barry is a skilled creative leader, and is helping the Centre attract and serve business leaders who want to become more creative.

Our last couple of days Mark, Eamon, and I headed into County Mayo, to visit some sites for a work-in-progress novel of mine. There we met the form of entrepreneurship I was more used to during my year in Ireland–when people create their own jobs that allow them to pursue their passions. We met two local historians who fit the bill. Paul Harmon, of Electric Escapes, has a fleet of ebikes and conducts guided tours of the area around Clew Bay, an area that held out much longer than most against the Brits when they finally took over the rule of Ireland in the 1500’s.

Paul added greatly to my knowledge of the area.

And Sean Carolan has a day job working with a pharmaceutical company but his ‘start-up’ is a very interesting project, the recovery of a recently discovered population of prehistoric goats that live around Clew Bay, with another population near Killary Harbor, Ireland’s only fjord. Everyone had assumed these goats–tremendous horns, long shaggy coats–were domesticate goats gone feral. Four years ago scientists from the University of Boston tested their DNA and determined that they are remnants of goats that lived there since the last ice cap retreated.

Sean is part of a team of volunteers helping with a breeding plan and trying to raise money to get a sanctuary established. They have named it the Old Irish Goat.

Finally we met the Collins family, of Cong. Cong is where the classic movie ‘The Quiet Man’ was filmed. Gerry Collins runs The Quiet Man Museum and has guides who take tourists to the sites the film was shot. He and his wife, Margaret, run a B&B just outside of town, Michaeleen’s, named after one of the characters. And their daughter, Lisa, has returned home after being an attorney in Dublin for ten years, to write and produce a musical based on the movie.

My reading at The Quiet Man museum.

Add in the wonderful music we found in every pub (every night), the quality of the arts and crafts found in even the smallest stores, and the great story telling everyone offered, and I believe Ireland is an exemplar of the Creative Populist message–we are born creative genius with ready-for-action entrepreneurial instincts and it’s there to serve us when we call upon it.

The creatively entrepreneurial folks of the West of Ireland are sure having fun doing it.

I can’t wait to go back and see what they do next.

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