Ambition APAC 2019 – More than Whiskey, Rugby and Castles.

Last month, senior executives from across Asia Pacific came back to Ireland to take part in Enterprise Ireland’s Ambition APAC Conference. The event allowed people from across the globe to witness some of the best emerging technology coming out of Ireland today. This month Chris Robb, Interim CIO & Management Consultant – Auckland Airport, shares his experience of the event.

Two years ago I visited Dublin as part of an Enterprise Ireland FinTech visit from Australia & New Zealand. It was an amazing trip, that opened my eyes to the level of Irish Tech innovation and the value of seeing a marketplace first-hand. This helped me truly appreciate the challenges, nuances and opportunities that exist across different cultures and geographies.

And I admit to falling in love with Ireland almost immediately (or several pints of Guinness later). But despite the world beating tech solutions, the generous people, similar attitudes and cultural values, and of course a passion for Rugby – I couldn’t help feeling that the vast geographical distance between Ireland and New Zealand was going to make doing business a challenge. Now after my second visit with Enterprise Ireland, my opinion has permanently changed.

“Ambition APAC 2019” was designed to showcase Ireland’s Digital Technologies and Innovation to delegation of more than 70 senior executives from across Asia Pacific. As I was no longer a “newbie” to Enterprise Ireland’s format, I had completed my research well ahead of the visit. From a potential to access more than 5,000 Irish businesses, I was looking for innovative companies that were successful in Europe and North America, across a range of industries (e.g. Financial services, Aviation, Energy Sector) with particular focus on IoT, Property Tech, Data, AI, and Digital.

With my short-list compiled and my homework done, I arrived in Dublin for a non-stop week of delegate site visits, networking and cultural events, start-up pitches, an APAC conference, embassy introductions and one-to-one meetings tailored perfectly to the brief I had provided Enterprise Ireland.

In the short space of a week there were many highlights. Hearing Brian O’Driscoll speak about team building and leadership at Aviva stadium was hugely memorable (and yes, a few Irishmen did mention the last game played there).

Other APAC conference presentations and panels were insightful to both the overseas delegates and the large group of local companies in attendance. The wide range of speakers included; market analysts, government ministers, CEOs from successful Irish multinationals, and experienced consultants.

The mix of data and analytics, practical experience and willingness to share both mistakes and learnings highlighted the great diversity of approach in doing business across the APAC countries. It quickly became clear that there was no “one size fits all” or “checklist approach” to exporting Irish technology. Each market entry strategy needs to be responsive to the local consumers, business cultures, market conditions, regulatory environments, and investment requirements.

Listening to presenters who had both the scars and the successes was an invaluable experience. Equally important was the two-way “business speed dating” meetings that had been arranged for delegates and a selection of Irish companies on the afternoon of the conference. Through 30-minute discussions, both parties were able to get to ask questions we all really wanted to explore – “What is the potential for our solution in NZ / Australia?”, “Who would be the competitors?”, “Do you have a network or capability we could leverage?”, “What is your point of difference?”

Of course, I had asked many of these questions two years earlier. The answers this time made me realise just how much had changed in such a short time. Technologies and competitors had continued to advance at rapid pace – where IoT, AI and blockchain had been overhyped several years back, these solutions were now maturing and driving Irish success in international markets.

Two years ago, I was impressed with the efficiency and hospitality of Enterprise Ireland to promote Ireland’s industry internationally – this time it was clear to me that the EI model has become an exemplar in how to deliver exceptional export and trade results through a structured approach and strong ecosystem that includes government and private sector interests across multiple countries and industries. This was bought home to me in that FinTech, one of my specialist interest areas, had seen an increase in exports by more than 18% in 2018, to €829m p.a.

This trip was not a social event to drink whiskey, talk rugby and visit castles. This was a well proven approach to building trust, connection, and is ultimately about growing value, prosperity and lifting the GDP of the participating countries – with targets for 2020 to grow exports to €26 bn p.a., create 60,000 new jobs and increase research & development by 50% to €1.25 bn p.a.

Two years ago, there was no New Zealand embassy in Dublin, this time I was delighted that our first resident embassy opened in November 2018. While I can’t claim the All Blacks vs Ireland rugby outcomes changed much since my previous visit, it is clear that strong commitment is there to advance the trade opportunities between our countries.

For me, each Enterprise Ireland visit has given me unexpected insights, new data, new contacts and an appreciation for the pace of change and depth of innovation coming from the Irish tech ecosystem. I highly encourage anyone seeking new business opportunities to take a flight to Dublin to see this first-hand. The facilitation by my hosts over the week delivered a rich experience that will see me building on the Irish, Kiwi and Aussie opportunities for years ahead.

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