Indianapolis tech scene has Irish eyes smiling

Ireland is interested in attracting fast-growing U.S. companies looking for a European outpost and has turned its attention to Indianapolis.

In particular, the Emerald Isle has interest in the city’s growing number of tech startups and scaleups.

Lynch

“We’ve seen very positive trends emerge in Indianapolis,” said Suzanne Lynch, vice president of emerging business for IDA Ireland, the Irish government’s investment agency. “Venture capital funding is a trigger for us, and we’ve seen very positive signs [in Indianapolis]. We’ve also seen a growing number of young tech companies and a growing tech workforce.

“We see Indianapolis as an emerging tech hub, and we’re eager to talk to companies there.”

Lynch, an Irish citizen who works out of an office in Chicago, emphasized that Ireland is not interested in relocating companies from Indy to Ireland, but merely providing a European outpost where globally minded companies can springboard their activities across the Atlantic Ocean.

“We never replace a job here,” Lynch said, referring to the United States. “It’s all about growing internationally.”

IDA Ireland has sought to increase its visibility in central Indiana, in part with a prime sponsorship of the Mira Awards—Indiana’s biggest and oldest awards program for tech companies—that began in 2019. This year, IDA Ireland was the presenting sponsor for Scale-Up of the Year award.

IDA Ireland also is working with TechPoint, the tech advocacy group and accelerator that runs the Mira Awards, to make companies aware of the international opportunities in Ireland.

There are important similarities between Ireland and Indianapolis that could make it attractive to local companies, Lynch said.

With a population of about 5 million, Ireland, like central Indiana, is moderately sized. Ireland also has a growing tech scene with numerous young tech companies and a growing number of tech workers

“The way people describe Indianapolis is the way you would describe Ireland,” Lynch said. “Ireland’s cultures and traditions mirror the hard-working people of Indianapolis.”

She said the top reason companies tend to open European headquarters in Ireland is the talent they find there. In addition, Ireland serves as a “good gateway to the European market.”

“As an English-speaking country, there’s a measure of comfort when making your first entry into the EU,” Lynch said.

Like Indianapolis, Ireland is a sports hub, she added, with a proliferation of esports, analytics and other sports tech companies.

There are already several companies with Indianapolis ties located in Ireland, most notably Eli Lilly and Co., which opened an Irish operation in 1978. More recently, tech firms Salesforce and ActiveCampaign have opened operations in Ireland.

They could be joined by other Indiana-based companies soon.

“We are having very exciting conversations with several young tech companies in Indianapolis,” Lynch said, although she declined to name them. “We’re working on building relationships with the venture capital community in Indianapolis as well.”

Fitzgerald

Mike Fitzgerald, a serial entrepreneur and partner at Indianapolis venture studio High Alpha, said there’s good reason why growing Indianapolis tech companies would have interest in a European presence.

“Later stage investors value the proof point of a solution working in more than one geographic market,” Fitzgerald said. “Revenue growth is king for most scaling tech companies and accessing the European market is a great way to accelerate that.”

Fitzgerald said most startups stay focused domestically, but “as a company scales, let’s say above $10 million to $20 million in revenue, they may very well have customers in Europe and would like to grow that market.”

“High Alpha has a few companies in our portfolio that operate globally today and others, including some based in Indy, that will likely have an office in Europe within the next 24 months,” Fitzgerald added.

Ireland and the United Kingdom are great locations for U.S. companies to set up an office, Fitzgerald said.

“While these locations are English speaking and therefore easier for U.S. companies to operate, they also offer close proximity to mainland Europe,” he explained.

Former Indianapolis-based company ExactTarget, an email marketing firm that sold to Salesforce in 2013 for $2.5 billion, “employed this approach, initially locating in London and later opening offices in France, Germany and Sweden,” Fitzgerald said.

Moralez

Oscar Moralez, founder and managing partner of locally based venture studio Boomerang Ventures and angel investor group VisionTech Partners, thinks Ireland’s interest in Indianapolis is a strong sign for the city.

“I think generally, Indy is creating an ecosystem that is causing others to take note and become interested in what’s going on here,” Moralez said.

“The tech community has done an exceptional job of generating successes that are significant enough, in scale, to garner outside interest and to leverage that success to build and fortify the tech ecosystem,” he said. “Life sciences and health care are also beginning to generate similar interest and build out the infrastructure required to get outsiders to notice.”

IDA Ireland “works as a concierge service,” Lynch said, to help make a move to Europe and into the EU markets easier.

“We’re here to help [U.S.] companies with work visas, helping their employees get settled in Ireland and help them with hiring in Ireland,” she said. “The needs change from company to company. No request is ever too big or too small. We’re always happy to get them whatever in-market data they need.”

Lynch said her agency helps U.S. companies look at a variety of regions including Dublin, Limerick and Cork, where she’s from.

“In Ireland, you’re never any more than two to 2-1/2 hours away from any other city, and we have an abundance of international airports and universities,” she said.

LaMothe

Chris LaMothe, CEO of Indianapolis-based Elevate Ventures, said Ireland will likely be the first of several countries that will recruit Indiana tech companies.

“Indiana is getting some notice as we build some critical mass in tech startup and growth firms,” LaMothe said. “Having said that, we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do across other key business verticals important to our state.

“Ireland is smart and early,” he said, “but I believe we will see more countries and some states looking to attract some of our more promising startups.”

A cycle of success has developed here in Indianapolis, Fitzgerald said, which has dramatically raised the city’s tech profile.

“You can really see the flywheel working here in Indy,” he said. “More companies are formed, more companies are funded, more companies relocate here and when there is a success, very often the people involved will start a new tech company in Indy.

“The flywheel is what attracts the economic development leaders from Ireland and elsewhere to focus on Indy,” Fitzgerald added. “The critical mass is building and businesses who choose to grow in Indy will receive increasing attention from around the U.S. and abroad.”•

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