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Going Green: Four Irish Tech Gurus for St. Patrick's Day

Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day, but only the lucky few are Irish all year round.

And now is a good time to be Irish in the technology industry. Despite a struggling economy, the Emerald Isle's technology sector is booming, particularly for a country its size. And just this week, a small Irish company got a big injection of green when Google bought video-technology firm Green Parrot.

In honor of the greenest day of the year, we thought we'd look at four Irish luminaries (think of them as leaves on a lucky four-leaf clover) who've made names for themselves in the tech world.

Now, "Irish" is a word with quite a lot of weight behind it. Setting aside the obvious squabbles on the island itself, "Irish" can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. To college football fans, it's the nickname of a Notre Dame team that didn't win the 2011 Rose Bowl. (Which your author's alma mater, TCU, did. Just saying...again.)

Here in Boston, plenty of folks are "Irish" without being Irish-born. Given that millions of Americans (including your author) have some sort of Irish heritage, we decided to stick to writing about folks who were actually born in Ireland. There's no doubt that Irish-Americans have contributed immensely to the technology world, but we're limiting the scope here so as to avoid taking up too much Internet space and developing carpal-tunnel syndrome.

So, on St. Paddy's Day, raise a glass to these fair-haired lads.

Denis O'Brien
Hailing from County Cork and with an MBA from Boston College on his CV, O'Brien made millions -- check that, billions -- as founder and part owner of the telecom company Esat Digiphone in the 1990s.

O'Brien has really made his name, though, not just as a mobile mogul but also as a billionaire with a heart. After amassing a fortune in Europe, O'Brien moved into other telecom markets that weren't even markets when he arrived (and arguably still aren't). His company, Digicel, now has millions of customers in places like Haiti, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea.

But O'Brien isn't the type of executive to strip the mostly poor natives of those nations of their last pennies via big phone bills. Quite the contrary; O'Brien and his company provide an affordable and critical service to people who wouldn't have it at all otherwise.

And the Irishman is serious about his mission in the nations he serves. He's made 20 trips to Haiti since the country suffered a massive earthquake last year and is building 50 schools there, according to O'Brien told Forbes earlier this month that he's trying to break into the market in Libya -- unsuccessfully thus far, having failed to acquire a license to do business in the troubled nation -- in order to further Internet penetration there, which could provide fuel for opponents of the country's ruling regime.

Sean Gallagher
Nearly blind as a child, Gallagher has achieved an impressive vision that will help build Ireland's economy for years to come.

The young man who started as a farmer in rural Cavan has become a media sensation as well as a consumer-technology mogul. The company he co-founded, Smarthomes, revolutionized homebuilding in Ireland by baking the basic internal infrastructure of consumer technology into houses as they were being built. The company is now working on technology that lets homeowners control their heating systems by mobile phone.

A networking guru, Gallagher has connected countless Irish entrepreneurs to important business contacts via BNI Tara, which is part of the Business Networking International organization. And in Ireland, Gallagher is best known as host of "Dragons Den," a reality TV program that features entrepreneurs and their ideas for start-up businesses.

John Ryan
Ryan might not be such a hero for some observers, but he's an Irish tech success story nonetheless. Founder of Macrovision Solutions Corp. (now known as Rovi Corp.), Ryan is largely responsible for technology that prevents consumers from copying music and DVDs illegally.

It's a long way from Tipperary to California. But Ryan made the journey, and he eventually pioneered Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in 1983. Macrovision's technology made its way into VCRs and DVD players and, of course, onto the Internet.

The owner of more than 70 patents, Ryan has likely saved the entertainment industry billions of dollars by protecting intellectual property. Having moved on from Macrovision, Ryan is currently director of Command Audio Corporation, a patent-licensing company in the media industry.

Johnny Gilmore
A native of Warrenpoint in County Down, Gilmore is one of the forces behind one of the coolest inventions of recent years: the Slingbox. The TV-anywhere device delivers live TV to all sorts of formats, including mobile phones and tablet computers.

Gilmore was COO of Sling Media, the company that made Slingbox, for four years and helped engineer its sale to EchoStar Corp. in 2007. Gilmore also has management experience at tech firms Handspring, Palm and Iomega. He began his career at Accenture in England.

Gilmore is a major player in the Irish Technology Leadership Group, which links individuals and companies in the American and Irish tech industries.  

We've surely missed some great Irish tech moguls, so please send us more names and stories at [email protected]. And happy St. Patrick's Day!

Lee Pender is editor of the Redmond Channel Partner Update newsletter. He can trace nearly 900 years of Irish ancestry on his mother's side of the family. His roots go back to the FitzGeralds of County Kilkenny, who were proprietors of the still-standing Burnchurch Castle.  

Posted by Lee Pender on 03/17/2011 at 1:23 PM


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