If there’s one word that captures the aims of ambitious high-tech companies, it’s scale. It’s about hitting big numbers – whether that’s customers, ARR or valuation – fast. Scale is embedded into the DNA of founders and the VCs backing them with the financial firepower to reach their ambitious goals.
Yet tech companies can only scale so much from their starting base. They may think global from day one, but to truly be global, they need a physical presence in key markets to grow and better serve customers there.
The European Union is one such market with huge potential for Canadian companies with global ambition. It’s sophisticated and mature, with 500 million consumers and a potential talent pool of more than 250 million people. The CETA free trade agreement between Canada and the EU has removed almost all tariffs which has brought the European market opportunity into even sharper focus.
Next comes the decision of where to locate an office within the target market. In the past, Canadian companies thought of the UK as the go-to location for expanding into Europe, given the historical links between the two countries. However the ongoing uncertainty that Brexit brings around free access to the EU market – both from a talent and customer perspective is giving them cause to pause.
Ireland offers a very attractive alternative as a European base and in fact is already the European base for many successful Canadian companies such as OpenText, Telus, Optel Vision, Couche Tard, TD Bank, Sun Life and Teknicor to name but a few that have established European sales, support and development teams there,
Over decades, Ireland has focused on attracting international companies to its shores and has invested in and developed the supports and infrastructure needed to draw and grow international businesses, leading the Emerald Isle to be consistently voted one of the most pro-business countries in the world.
Today, Ireland remains a core member of the EU single market and the Eurozone, providing companies located there with easy access to the market from an English-speaking location. Ireland is physically the closest European country to Canada and there are direct flights from Dublin and Shannon airport to Toronto, Montreal & Vancouver.
Like Canada, Ireland shares a high level of openness to foreign ideas, as ranked in the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook. It provides access to the talent and skills that tech companies need in order to scale their operations. Its highly educated and increasingly multicultural labour force is sourced from domestic universities and colleges, and from foreign nationals attracted to live and work there. Today, around 16 per cent of Ireland’s workforce is international, and many speak multiple languages. That’s a key asset in doing business in a market as diverse as the EU.
For example, in February 2018, Google opened a new building to support growing teams that support its customers, users and developers in over 60 countries from its Irish base. Ireland consistently scores highly for ease of doing business; it’s easy to start and grow an operation from Ireland at relatively little cost compared to other locations. For the past four years, Ireland has been the fastest-growing Eurozone economy, resulting in high levels of investor confidence and an A rating from all major credit agencies.
Its inward investment agency, IDA Ireland, has successfully used these advantages to land projects from established technology names such as IBM, Intel and Microsoft as well as Google, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Always conscious of changing trends, IDA Ireland began to target earlier stage high-growth companies that think global from day one. It specifically sought out these companies and met them with a compelling proposition that shows how Ireland can help those enterprises to scale. This strategy has paid off and Ireland is now the number one location for scaling companies like Pluralsight, Docusign, Dropbox, Zendesk, Slack, New Relic, Looker and Pivotal. Many of these chose Ireland as a base from which to scale their European or global businesses prior to IPO – maximising shareholder value as they did so.
Companies arriving in Ireland will quickly find themselves in a hive of activity. There are already established hubs in some of the hottest areas in tech including fintech, analytics, AI and gaming. That makes Ireland especially well matched to the activity the StartUp Genome project has identified in Canada right now. Montreal and Quebec have clusters dedicated to AI and machine learning. There’s a strong level of fintech activity coming out of Toronto. Vancouver is strong in cleantech and gaming.
The links between Canada and Ireland are strong and growing. Between 2010 and 2016, trade in goods and services between the two nations rose from $4.06 billion to $6.6 billion.
And now Ireland is attracting high growth, scaling companies from Canada that need access to diverse talent, a pro-business environment & full access to the European market. Recent wins from companies like Kobo, Shopify, eSentire and PressReader show this. Shopify Ireland has grown from a team of 50 to over 200 people across the West of Ireland providing support to their European customer base and they continue to hire.
These companies are lighting a path for others. While in scaling mode, choosing where to locate is a critical decision. Increasingly, for Canadian companies, Ireland is that location.
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