AiThority Interview with Brian Conroy, Executive VP and Director North America at IDA Ireland
Hi Brian, please tell us about your current role in IDA Ireland and how you arrived here.
I am executive vice president and director of North America at IDA Ireland, which is the Irish Government agency responsible for bringing foreign direct investment to Ireland. We have a team of over 40 executives in the market in North America based in 9 office locations and work with US MNC’s who have chosen to use Ireland as a base for European and Global operations. I have been based in our New York office since September 2020 and previously worked as lead for our Engineering and Industrial team based in Ireland and as Head of our Asia-Pac team based in Shanghai.
Which industries have been leading in their efforts to invest and grow their business in Ireland?
Companies from a wide range of industries have invested in Ireland, as evidenced by the fact that more than 700 U.S.-based companies are operating in Ireland today. Some of the most active industries investing and expanding in Ireland are the technology, life sciences and financial services sectors. Companies in these industries appreciate that Ireland offers them a strong talent base, a stable and business-friendly environment, and an entry point into the EU’s single market.
What opportunities for growth do companies belonging in these technology domains have in Ireland?
Ireland has a long track record of attracting and supporting the world’s leading technology companies. The top 10 largest UStech players all have chosen to establish operations in Ireland, taking advantage of our resilient business environment, world-class talent, high-quality innovation, and open economy to invest, grow, and add value to their global operations.
In particular, we have a vibrant and open ecosystem for companies involved in the AI and machine-learning space. Multinational companies of different sizes and from different industry sectors are conducting diverse functions from Ireland. These activities fall directly within tech verticals, like R&D, software development and data analytics. Activities also span the value chain to include functions like multilingual customer support, business development, and inside sales.
We also continue to see strong activity in the life sciences sector. For example, the top 15 biopharmaceutical companies in the world all now have operations in Ireland. Many life sciences companies are using their Irish operations to support the next wave of innovation. For example, companies are producing components of the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines here.
On the financial services side, Ireland has long drawn activities in areas like investment banking, funds administration and insurance. We’ve also worked with many financial services organizations to help them maintain access to the EU single market in a post-Brexit world.
What makes Ireland one of the most attractive destinations for AI development and research?
The innovation ecosystem in Ireland is truly collaborative. Our network of world-leading research institutions brings together academia, industry, and government to provide pathways for innovation. This network spans from fundamental research to applied, industry-driven research. And it gives companies seeking R&D support a breadth of collaborative partners and support.
Within the AI space, multiple centers are partnering with industry to develop applications in areas like machine learning and behavioral analytics, natural language processing, robotic process automation, statistical modeling, and more. Ireland currently has the highest per capita number of European AI fellows working within our academic institutions. This attests to the quality of research being conducted within the centers. Multi-national corporations conducting research through the centers gain advantages like access to talent, testbeds for experimenting and proof-of-concept piloting in real-world environments, financial supports to de-risk high-cost projects, and more.
To date, over 250 companies have collaborated with our AI-focused centers. These companies include leading international players, like Fidelity Investments, Analog Devices, SAP, IBM and more. For example, one of Deutsche Banks’s global centers of excellence for data has worked on several projects with the ADAPT Centre, a research center for AI-driven digital media technology. One project involved the development of a novel visualization tool for monitoring and authenticating suspicious financial transactions that used AI to assess transactions in real time.
The Irish government has also committed significant investment to AI in recent years, particularly for funding R&D and securing the talent pipeline. And in July, the government published our National AI Strategy, which sets out a clear policy framework for the sector’s development in Ireland.
What kind of support do you provide to businesses in furthering their AI ambitions?
Through IDA Ireland, international companies have access to a range of supports when investing in Ireland. These range from funding programs and financial supports, as well as “softer supports” targeted at creating a smooth experience when investing into Ireland. Additionally, there are a range of further investment schemes and supports available from the Irish Government, EU, or other Irish state agencies, which IDA Ireland can advise on the best methods to access.
For companies pursuing an AI agenda in Ireland, particularly for R&D activities, there are two main programs that are regularly used by IDA clients. These are:
The IDA RD&I Grant Incentive Program: IDA can make a significant percentage contribution towards a company’s R&D budget in the form of direct grant payment against eligible budgetary expenditure over a three-year period. The range of grants on offer is on average between 15% to 20% of eligible expenditure and is subject to eligibility criteria as well as IDA Board approval. An IDA executive and technologist are available throughout the process to provide guidance on the application.
A 25% R&D Tax Credit: The Irish Government operates a 25% tax credit on eligible R&D expenditure in Ireland. It can be used to reduce a company’s corporation tax rate. The credit is applicable to eligible R&D expenditure, such as wages, related overheads, machinery, buildings, and more.
We saw a major shift in the global economy towards remote working practices. Could you tell us how Ireland’s strong technology infrastructure helped the country sail through the pandemic?
Ireland has long been viewed as a strong, stable place to do business, and that reputation has carried on through the pandemic. The Irish government has assisted companies over the last two years with wage supports and support for people working from home including building out the broadband infrastructure in rural communities and smaller cities and towns. The Government has been very active in promoting the vaccination take-up resulting in Ireland having one of the highest rates in the EU, with 89% of those older than 12 years now fully vaccinated. The government also put in place contingency plans for freight operations to keep supply chains moving.
How did you personally prepare against the COVID-19 pandemic? How did you utilize your leadership and experience to ensure your colleagues at IDA Ireland overcome the pandemic challenges?
Communication was vital.
We have offices located around the world and we had to keep our employees in those offices informed about changing policies and protocols as the pandemic spread.
We also recognized the challenges that our employees in our global offices faced. They were isolated from not only their colleagues in their offices but also from their families back home. Significant time zone differences could make it challenging for these workers to even stay in contact with people back home by phone. Our CEO did regular townhall meetings to keep engaged with the workforce. And we encouraged our employees to work closely with each other.
At the same time, pivoting to a 100% virtual approach with our clients upended how we’ve always operated. Investing in countries abroad is a major decision that comes with a lot of questions. We’ve always relied on face-to-face meetings and in-country visits to provide the answers and assurances that clients need. With the pandemic’s arrival, however, we needed to do all this virtually.
Fortunately, we had just made investments in new technology prior to the pandemic. This, combined with the closer collaboration that our employees embraced during the pandemic, has helped us continue to meet the needs of our clients and secure new investments.
There’s a lot of noise about newer ways of doing and promoting business in the 2020-2030 period. For instance, Zero Carbon, Clean Tech, and Sustainability are some of the key technology-backed trends now. How does IDA Ireland promote the idea of Clean Tech to shape Ireland’s future?
At IDA Ireland, we’ve identified sustainability as one of the five pillars that will drive our 2021-2024 Recovery and Growth strategy. Wind energy in particular is a key opportunity for Ireland given the country has one of the largest marine territories in the E.U. Two new wind farm projects that are in the works, for example, will bring nearly 3 GW of offshore wind capacity to Ireland. The Irish government also passed a bill this year that puts Ireland on the path to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and achieving a 51% reduction in emissions by the end of this decade.
At the same time, we still believe the primary reason companies will continue to invest in Ireland is because it simply makes the most sense for their business.
We are the only English-speaking country within the EU with full access to the single market’s 450 million consumers and the EU’s talent pool of 250M workers. We also have strong cultural ties and similarities to jurisdictions like the US and UK And we’re noted for our long-established pro-business environment and policies, which have been maintained across successive governments and provide assurance of a consistent and stable environment.
Availability of talent and tech skillsets is another key reason why companies are successful here. Ireland has some core demographic strengths, with the youngest and fastest-growing population in the EU. For instance, one-third of our population is under the age of 25.
We also have among the highest proportion of EU higher education attainment. About 55% of people aged 25 to 34 hold a third-level degree compared to a 40% EU average. And we have among the highest per capita numbers of software developers and women in tech roles.
In addition, we have some advantages when it comes to AI and ML skillsets. That includes having the highest ratio of AI professionals working within the EU and the largest proportion of enterprises that have incorporated AI into their operations. These factors have contributed to Ireland being identified as an ‘AI Rising Star’ by the World Economic Forum for its solid talent base and scientific excellence in AI research.
Thank you, Brian! That was fun and we hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
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Executive Vice President and Director North America at IDA Ireland, the Irish government agency responsible for business development and investment into Ireland. Conroy is based in IDA Ireland’s New York office and oversees offices in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Austin, as well as California-based offices Irvine and Mountain View.
IDA Ireland encourages investment into Ireland by foreign-owned companies. The Irish government agency works as a strategic partner and provides consultancy and support services free of charge to help organizations set up and grow. Its success is measured by the impact of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and IDA-supported companies on the Irish economy. Ireland has extensive experience, built up over 50 years, of working with international companies – from all over the world – to grow and support investment in Ireland. IDA Ireland’s strategy, ‘Driving Recovery and Sustainable Growth 2021 – 2024’ is delivered through a focus on five pillars: Growth, Transformation, Regions, Sustainability and Impact. These interlinked pillars align with and are guided by the UN Sustainable Development Goals.