Bringing work back to Belfast
I thought my Buddhist chaplain Ryushin Paul Haller, in his adopted city of San Francisco to welcome our Belfast Tech Mission, put it best at the opening reception for our delegation.
“Like many an Irish guy before him, Máirtín has come west looking for work,” he told a gathering of expats brought together by Norman Houston of the NI Bureau on Monday past.
Though on this occasion of course, the goal was to bring work back to Belfast in order to build the blossoming peace with jobs.
And as our five-city-six-day odyssey came to a close, I’m confident that the 20 start-ups and early-stage companies who made the journey to Silicon Valley are going home with the contacts, orders and new partnerships which will help grow their businesses.
There was good news for Brewbot which surpassed its Kickstarter £100,000 fundraising target during our mission and for University of Ulster spin-out Sisaf which announced a new $800,000 funding round during our visit to the Mayor of San José.
At every turn, we were met with the legendary generosity, warm welcome and great good humour of Irish America.
In San Francisco, Oakland, San José, Berkeley and Portland we received a gracious reception from Mayors and elected officials who were keen to build golden bridges of mutual benefit connecting the west coast of America and Belfast.
A special word of thanks goes to husband and wife team Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley and his wife Senator Loni Hancock who took time out to bring us onto the campus of UC Berkeley where we stood on the spot where the Free Speech Movement was born.
And we finished our mission by meeting Governor Jerry Brown of California yesterday to discuss how best our peoples can co-operate in job creation. We literally went out on a high note when our driver Dónal O’Sullivan brought the meeting to a close with a moving song about An Gorta Mór – which precipitated the exodus of the Governor’s ancestors to San Francisco almost two centuries back.
Expect to hear more from Silicon Valley and our many friends on the west coast now that our longstanding relationship with Irish America has been refreshed and strengthened.
And from the number one start-up per captia city in the US — Portland — where Mayor Charlie Hales and a welcoming party of Belfast expats, including Mark and Aisling Coughlan of Winning Mark, David O’Reilly of Owen Roe wines and Gerard and Lucille McAleese of Kells Bar — rolled out the red carpet for our delegation.
This was the first-ever Belfast Tech Mission. I suspect it won’t be the last.