Digital Irish is a community of Irish people living Stateside who have taken it upon themselves to utilise the business connections they’ve built up to help start ups expand and also to help young Irish graduates find work placements.

We recently spoke with Gavin McMahon from Digital Irish to find out more about this commendable initiative and how it came about.

Can you explain what Digital Irish is?

Digital Irish is a non-profit community that aims to promote Irish startups and help them expand operations into North America by providing a soft landing in NYC and accelerating access to talent, customers, partners and potential investors, through regular fast-pitch meetup events and networking opportunities. We also host regular industry expert talks and make professional introductions for those in our community. We are Irish expats and Irish-Americans involved in social media, mobile, online advertising, digital agencies, search, analytics, video, e-commerce or other online-centric B2C or B2B plays.

Since 2013, Digital Irish has had over 65 Irish startups present at our events and has reached membership of over 1,000 people that range from c-suite executives, to angel investors, to J1 students.

Who are the people behind Digital Irish and what inspired them to start it?

Feargall Kenny originally founded the group in late 2013. He had spent most of his career in sales and sales management with venture backed startups and had set up three companies – including his current firm, Glenborn, an executive search firm.

Feargall saw first-hand the benefits of introductions from influential people for his own ventures and thought it would be beneficial to pave the way forward for others – especially those with no native networks in New York. So, in 2012 he setup PitchOutOfWater, a group designed to help foreign firms break into the US by introducing them to other expats who were open to making connections.
In 2013, Feargall sensed there was a critical mass of Irish firms, to the point where it made sense to set up a group dedicated to Irish startups.
From the start, the group’s primary focus is to make effective introductions to Irish startups.

Subsequently, the team has grown to incorporate other prominent members in the NYC startup space including Aisling Keogh, Barry Navan, Shane Lennon, Gavin McMahon and Dublin’s Commissioner for Startups, Niamh Bushnell. The Board is further supported by Aisling McMahon and Breiffni O Domhnaill who are managing the rollout of the Career Development Program.

Who can apply for the programme?

The program is open to all Irish graduates who are eligible for the J1 Visa and are serious about advancing their career.

Right now, we’ve about 25 positions available in sales, marketing, engineering, business development, account management, journalism and social media management roles. We think we’ve a nice blend of opportunities for the majority of graduates to avail of.


Is there any plans to expand this past J1 candidates in the future?

This is the first year of the program so we’re really testing the waters to gather feedback about how we can better help Irish graduates in the future.

The objective of the program right now is to help Irish graduates gain professional work experience as it is likely something fundamentally lacking from their CV / resume. Ultimately, the most cost and time efficient way for an Irish graduate to come to the US is through the J1 visa. It is expected that Irish graduates would return to Ireland, following the duration of the program, with better contextual awareness of the global business environment or have found visa sponsorship to remain in the US after one year.

Visa sponsorship (e.g. H1B) can be time consuming and expensive to both the employer and potential employee, immediately creating a barrier. Approximately 85,000 applicants received their H1B visa last year, due to limited availability, from the 172,500 people that did apply.

Can you explain how the process works?

We’ve all the program information available on our website at From there, you’ll find an application form to apply through Jobbio – a fantastic recruitment platform from a Dublin-based startup that is helping us with the process.

We’ll review the applications on Jobbio and match graduates with the types of companies in industries they would be interested in. Our role is to create introductions and allow the graduates to take ownership of the opportunity.

For successful candidates, we expect them to start towards the end of September 2015. We’ll try to provide guidance as required about moving to NYC.

What are the key dates people need to be aware of?

US firms are constantly hiring, there’s no defined period that is significantly busier than others. But for J1 students there are some considerations to take into account.

If you are looking to work here for just one year and then go home, then you can really come over at any time. But if you come over in the hopes of being sponsored when your J1 expires then you’ve to be conscious of the following:

October 1st is when you would get an H1B visa if you are a) lucky enough to actually get sponsored and b) of the 50% that actually get it. Therefore, you should make sure you don’t come to the US until September 15th or you would end up going home while it is being issued and your J1 has lapsed.

At the same time, you also want to make sure you have enough tenure under your belt to convince your employer you are worth sponsoring so don’t come over much later than October, November 1st at the latest. They need to sponsor you by the end of March.

For anyone who may be interested, what’s the best way for them to find out more and apply?

The number one resource is our website, which we will keep up to date with any FAQs. In addition, you can ask us questions on Facebook or Twitter. Alternatively, you can contact the program managers at [email protected] or [email protected] for more specific questions.

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