By @SimonCocking, great interview with Brian Glynn Recovering mechanical engineer, sport fanatic, VP Trade for Invest Northern Ireland, helping tech companies from NI scale in the US.

What is your background?

I describe myself as a ‘recovering mechanical engineer’. I got my Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Limerick, spent some time in aircraft manufacturing with Airbus in Nantes, France during my undergrad and then came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2009 after graduating. From 2009 to 2011 I worked with Enterprise Ireland on their Silicon Valley team in Palo Alto and Mountain View, and in 2011 joined the Invest Northern Ireland Americas Team.

Is it a logical progression to what you do now?

Yes and no. Pursuing an engineering degree I never thought I would be working in a business development capacity, this wouldn’t have been the typical progression for people with my background. That being said, any engineering degree essentially teaches problem solving skills and a process based mind-set which benefits me every day. I loved my time at Airbus and remain and engineer at heart, but when I graduated in 2009 I was keen not to be pigeon holed as a technical expert in a very narrow and strictly defined field. When the opportunity came to join Enterprise Ireland and gain experience supporting entrepreneurs from a wide variety of backgrounds working on everything from consumer mobile apps to back-end telco solutions, and to do so in the epicentre of the technology world, it was a perfect fit. My engineering background has proved invaluable in Silicon Valley, allowing me to really appreciate the approach of technical founders with engineering and computer science backgrounds, and understand their view on the world more clearly.

What’s your brief out there in SF? (Fun place to live?)

As Vice President of Trade Development with Invest Northern Ireland, my brief is to help the most promising technology companies from Northern Ireland to scale in the US. Based in our San Francisco office, I assist NI companies of all shapes and sizes – from startups and university spin outs through to public companies in a variety of ways, from helping them identify potential customers, partners and investors to developing go-to-market strategies. I’ve also worked on foreign direct investment for Invest Northern Ireland, and I’m proud to have assisted a number of US companies to establish teams in Northern Ireland.

It’s incredibly exciting to get to work in SF at the moment, technology news is front page not back page news here, and being here you have visibility into ‘the next big thing’ before anyone else, anywhere.

Outside of work it’s a brilliant place to live, with world class ski resorts a couple of hours inland, a beautiful coastline on the doorstep and a very active, outdoor focused way of life, it definitely helps balance the always-on startup culture.

What are you working on now? What are your plans for 2017?

The first few months of the year are always jam-packed. We‘ve just completed our 4th Annual Northern Ireland Tech Mission, an intensive immersion program for Northern Ireland’s top startups – this year we had 11 startups, 12 events, over 20 mentors, guest speakers and panellists and hundreds of event attendees, it’s always one of the highlights of the year. In February we’ve got the world’s premier infosec event, RSA Conference here in SF. Northern Ireland is becoming a leading global hub for cybersecurity, with local startups like Titan IC and B-Secur, CSIT the UK’s Cyber Security Centre of Excellent at Queens University Belfast and leading US cyber security companies like WhiteHat, Proofpoint and BlackDuck calling Northern Ireland home. In March we’re supporting a number of NI’s top creative digital startups to take part in SXSW in Austin, TX, where we’re hosting an immersive tech showcase with Digital Catapult NI, so it’s non-stop! As well as the busy conference schedule, I’m supporting a number of companies on independent market visits over the next couple of months, helping them navigate the ecosystem and get in front of the right people. 2017 promises to be an exciting one!

How was 2016, what worked well, what didn’t move as quickly as you would have liked?

2016 was an interesting year in lots of ways. The level of interest from Northern Ireland in doing business in the US continues to grow, and the variety of tech companies also continues to grow. From very early stage startups who are global from birth, for whom their first customers anywhere are in The Bay Area, to more established companies that have had success in markets closer to home and are now starting to look further afield, 2016 saw more entrepreneurs than ever look to the US. The bar has also been raised though as it’s become easier and easier to launch a startup, the competition has gotten significantly tougher in every vertical and the windows of opportunity continue to get smaller. Timing has gotten more important than ever.

What tips would you give to Irish companies looking to grow / open a base in US?

 First and foremost, visit the market early and often. Too often founders spend too long building what they think the market wants without spending time here, then when they do finally arrive they find out the market is moving in a different direction. Visit early so you don’t head down the wrong path and waste precious time and resources. Visit often, because as soon as you walk out the door of a potential customer or investor there is someone equally as interesting doing something just as exciting walking back in that door. If they are locally based, bumping into the right people at the right events, and moving in the right circles, your once a year visit simply won’t be enough. The other tip I would give would be to speak to those who’ve done it before, it’s a well-worn path, and entrepreneurs always love to help one another, so don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for advice.

Which influencers and websites do you follow to keep up to date with the latest developments?

CB Insights has quickly become irreplaceable for me, and it’s the one newsletter in my inbox I’ll always find time to read. Their motto is “without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”, this really appeals to the engineer in me! From a news perspective, Recode is hard to beat, but I get the majority of my breaking news (like most people) on Twitter these days. Following the journalists themselves as opposed to the news outlets works well for me. I point a lot of people towards “forEntrepreneurs” from David Skok of Matrix Partners. His detailed breakdown of SaaS metrics is essential reading for any entrepreneurs in the SaaS world.

How can people find out more about what you are working on? / Contact you if an Irish company is looking to scale into US?

I’m pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn, this is the best way to get a feel for what I’m working on and to connect with me.

Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?

It’s an exciting time for tech in Northern Ireland, keep an eye on @InvestNI_USA for all the latest news from our stellar team in the US!

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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