Irish Creating Their Own Luck, Attracting Investment

When government officials and business professionals meet here in Wisconsin to brainstorm ways to make our State a better destination for technology startups and to attract more investment capital, we often look for ideas from nearby states like Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. It’s certainly important to understand what Wisconsin’s neighbors are doing to promote their tech sectors, but Wisconsin should really set a goal to be the leader, rather than just keep up, here in the Midwest and beyond. Perhaps it’s time to seek some inspiration from farther afield.

My business partner, Preston Austin, and I recently had the opportunity to spend several days in Dublin, Ireland because our company, murfie.com, was selected to participate in a gathering of 150 of the top new companies from around the world (an event called START) that took place alongside the Dublin Web Summit. While in Dublin, we spoke with a wide variety of people on the public and private side of economic development in Ireland, including Naoise Ó Muirí, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin.

It turns out that Wisconsin and Ireland have far more in common than our ability to brew and drink great beer. Ireland’s population is 4.7 million versus 5.7 million in Wisconsin. The Irish GDP is $217 billion versus $251 billion in Wisconsin. In both Ireland and Wisconsin, about 25% of the general population has a college degree, and we both host a strong public university system.

Both Ireland and Wisconsin have made it a priority to attract and grow technology startups and the sources of investment these businesses require. We’ve both established venture loan programs and tax credit programs for angel and venture investors. Ireland has several venture co-investment programs in place similar to those currently under discussion in Wisconsin.

Ireland’s approach to growing its tech sector appears to be working. Many venture funds have opened offices in Dublin, and these funds now account for $800 million in available growth capital for Irish startups. Not all of this capital is guaranteed to go to Irish companies, but 70% of the capital invested by these firms last year did.

Companies here in Wisconsin often visit (or even relocate to) the coasts to gain access to pools of venture capital this large. I’d love to see that change. While I have no intent to give up my Capital Autumnal Fire in favor of Guinness, it’s worth looking at the similarities and differences and seeing what Wisconsin and Ireland can teach each other.

Snapshots from the Dublin Web Summit

It’s official: the people love photos. 1) Pictures are ooh! shiny! 2) Pictures are fun to look at when you’re bored.

Murfie co-founders, Matt Younkle and Preston Austin, are currently jaunting through Dublin for the Dublin Web Summit, Europe’s fastest growing tech conference. And they’re leaving behind a wake of photography.

Here’s a smattering of snapshots from the event and the city.

Room full of startups, media & investors @ Dublin Web Summit
Our lil booth @ Dublin Web Summit
Murfie CEO, Matt Younkle, with the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Naoise Ó Muirí
Matt, UW-Madison alum, shares the W @ Dublin Web Summit
No trip to Dublin is complete w/o a Guinness Storehouse stop

Start It Up: Murfie Selected to START 150

Here’s to me, and here’s to you! The reason for good cheer—Murfie has been selected to join START, the new, invite-only sister event to the acclaimed f.ounders. START brings together “150 of the world’s most exciting and disruptive startups” plus a mix of investors and media at an exclusive gathering in Dublin on October 17 and 18.

The START event is organized by the team behind f.ounders and the Dublin Web Summit, Europe’s largest tech conference. In making their 150 selections, the organizers were looking for “incredible young companies” under 3 years old, from any corner of the world.

Matt Younkle and Preston Austin, Murfie co-founders, will be tripping it to the Emerald Isle to represent Murfie Inc. at the START 150 event.

“Coming from Madison, Wisconsin, we’re honored to be recognized alongside such a small and exclusive group of early-stage startups from around the globe,” said Younkle. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to network with global business leaders and entrepreneurs and share our innovative business model. Of course, we’re also excited to conduct some in-field research on the differences between Irish and Wisconsin beer!”

Expect another START-related blog post to come from Matt and Preston. They’ll be sharing their impressions with us on location in Dublin :)

Pass It On: 2012 Forward Tech Festival

Calling all Wisconsin entrepreneurs (established OR aspiring!)—the 2012 Forward Technology Festival is taking place right now, right here in Madison, WI. One of the event planners is Matt Younkle (you know him as CEO & Co-founder of Murfie), so I asked him a few Qs about the fest and local startup communities in general.

Here are the As.

Sum up the 2012 Forward Technology Festival in 3 sentences or less.
FTF is the premier event series for Wisconsin entrepreneurs that has grown to 16 events over 11 days. The format encourages cross-connections across all areas of tech: software, web, biotech and nanotech. Many of the events involve free beer.

Who’s wearing their event-planner hat in order to make this year’s festival happen?
The best part about this event is that it’s organized by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs. More than a dozen startup founders from around Madison are involved in making things happen, including Preston and myself here at Murfie.

Is there anyone in particular who should be psyched to attend the fest?
FTF is perfect for anyone who has founded a startup or is thinking about starting something.

Why do you think the Midwest, specifically Madison, is gaining steam as a hub for high-tech development?
It wasn’t that long ago that launching a tech company was incredibly expensive. In that environment, smaller markets like Madison were at a distinct disadvantage. Tools and techniques for launching companies are now widely known, and the capital required to launch a startup is as low as ever. Take away requirements for major capital, and Madison looks pretty attractive. We have the necessary IQ (Madison has the most graduate degrees per capita of any city in the U.S.) and work ethic required to succeed, without the attitude.

In your opinion, what are the key ingredients to building a robust tech scene?
An environment that fosters creativity, innovation and great ideas, and the talent and capital required to turn those ideas into reality.

Got any nifty tips for aspiring entrepreneurs? (Things at Murfie are going pretty darn well.)
Stay lean: involve real customers as early as possible in your product development process. And, start building your network now, so you’ll be ready when you need to raise capital later.

Wild cards

Get to know the Murfie team, round 1

A product or service is only as cool as the people behind it.  What makes Murfie go?  Good ideas and hard work – both generated by (surprise, surprise!) people.  So who makes Murfie go?  A team of smart, lively, Midwestern (yes, they can all coexist) entrepreneurs and techies who happen to like music and the possibilities of combining community and digital media.

Now, let’s take out Murfie’s deck of cards (metaphor alert! cards=people) and learn a little bit more about who really helps make Murfie tick (i.e. Murfie’s executive team players):

MATT YOUNKLE
Role at Murfie: The guy with the crazy ideas who’s crazy enough to chase after them and somehow convince really smart people to help out.
15-words-or-less professional bio: Serial entrepreneur, electrical engineer, software developer, beer tap inventor, patent holder, and startup community supporter.
Current location/hiding place of CD collection: Murfie, of course!
Favorite album(s): Sympathique by Pink Martini; Mozart Concertos 23 & 27 with Brendel on Piano; Black and White by The Bodeans.
Vinyl, disc, or digital: LOSSLESS digital.
What makes Madison great? We’re the city of friendly creatives. We work hard, play hard, and have the IQ without the attitude.
Complete the sentence: Murfie is…not just another online music experience. If you truly want to OWN your music, Murfie is the only way to go.

PRESTON AUSTIN
Role at Murfie: The world may never know. However, it seems to have something to do with figuring things out. Then tidying up the kitchen. Then figuring them out again. Then building a chair. Then figuring them out again. Then ordering some keys. Then figuring them out again. Then eating a…
15-words-or-less professional bio: Preston is one cool guy. He’s also some sort of Internet and social systems guru. (is the conjunction cheating?)
Current location/hiding place of CD collection: In the extremely dusty shoebox that originally held a very nice pair of men’s dress shoes that are still with us, on the shelf next to the box (from New Balance running shoes, lost to history) of toys I keep for cats and children to play with.
Favorite album(s): Play by Moby; Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads; No Angel by Dido; Falling Further In by October Project; Broken by Nine Inch Nails; Run Lola Run soundtrack by Tykwer; Johnny Klimek; Reinhold Heil.
Vinyl, disc, or digital: Live.
What makes Madison great? I do. You can too. There’s room for more than just us.
Complete the sentence: Murfie is…seriously kicking my ass right now, but I think I’ll get the upper hand soon and wrestle it to the ground. It’s also loads of fun to work on a music site. Music is awesome. I mean, really, what’s not to love about trading cool music???

PHILIP CRAWFORD
Man of mystery/actual wild card…for now…