The social network

Business, Technology | Wed 10 Jul | Author – Business & Finance
Joan Mulvihill

The bar has been set for tech entrepreneurs, writes Joan Mulvihill,  CEO of the IIA, as she wonders who the next bright spark will be.

Without a doubt the ICT sector has been witness to phenomenal growth over the past number of years but it is this nature of change within that growth curve that interests me.

The change I am referring to is firstly the expanded definition of the sector and secondly the new wave of tech start-ups. Clearly cloud, social media, mobile and information/big data are the driving forces behind this change.

Definitions of the ICT sector have been a bit misleading if not limiting. They’ve tend to exclude businesses whose primary activity is not the development and supply of hardware, software and communications infrastructure. Yet if we look at the success stories of long-standing Irish Internet Association (IIA) members, it is businesses such as HostelWorld, Paddy Power, Realex Payments, Jolt Games and MicksGarage that have set the bar for tech entrepreneurs in Ireland; travel, gaming, financial services and retail. Not a ‘tech’ sector definition between them.

These businesses are testimony to the fact that the internet is enabling all businesses from all sectors to deliver their value proposition in more meaningful ways to their customers. This is a real strength of the IIA. The role of the association is to be inclusive — we do not limit ourselves by traditional definitions but rather have been and continue to be the only association whose membership base is reflective of the diversity of the ecosystem.

Network provider

The IIA’s membership profile continues to surprise many. Most people assume that our membership is comprised of ‘tech’ businesses. This is so far from the case.

Our role in the industry has always been that of the connector. While we provide policy support on things like skills, OpenData and ecommerce, many of our events focus on reaching out to traditional businesses and providing them with the knowledge, network of providers and peers that will help them in their cloud, ecommerce and digital marketing adoption. This more inclusive defining of the sector is critically important for sustained growth and employment in the sector and fortuitously encompasses more indigenous businesses and entrepreneurs.

On this point of entrepreneurs, the other change in the past few years has been the growth in start-ups — growth in their numbers but also in quality.

This is no small part down to the number of really good incubators and accelerator programmes in operation, each with their own value proposition; LaunchPad, Wayra, DogPatch Labs, Hothouse to name but a few.

Our role is to shine a light on these businesses. Whether they are members or not, who can say no to a start-up?

We get quite a few calls from investor representatives asking for our list of ‘ones to watch’ and introductions to them.

Start-up success

The challenge that lies ahead for Ireland is in ensuring that success stays here. Of course we want these start-ups to develop, grow and expand into new markets, but it would be a severe blow to the industry and indeed confidence and economic recovery if our best entrepreneurs upon success were to leave.

We’re a great country for incentivising companies to locate here but we need to examine our approach to entrepreneurs and how we incentivise them to stay here.

There are some big questions looming in relation to CGT and Share Options for example that will need to be addressed if we are to stay competitive.

These are the kind of challenges that makes the role of the IIA so interesting and indeed important. We remain unapologetically brand agnostic in the programmes we deliver. Of course our members will always come first for us, but within that we love them all equally.

Our cloud and ecommerce working groups are living proof that if you create the right atmosphere of respect and trust you can get competitors to collaborate for the collective benefit of the industry.

Joan Mulvihill has been CEO of the IIA since November 2009. She has extensive experience across a range of industry sectors including retail, manufacturing, consulting, SMEs and professional services. 


About the IIA

The Irish Internet Association (IIA) is the professional body for those conducting business via the internet from Ireland. The aim of the association is to connect, inform and promote.

Established in 1997, the IIA provides leadership to enterprises doing business in Ireland and is a strong voice for over 300 member companies, over 2,000 individual subscribers and over 2,500 non-member subscribers.

The IIA is a non-profit business association. Members of the association include suppliers of internet services and products as well as those using the medium for communication, marketing and commerce.

The IIA is directed by a board of 12 industry experts who volunteer their services to the association.
In addition, there is a staff of three personnel: CEO, events manager, membership administrator and a content editor.

For more information on the IIA, log on to, call Joan Mulvihill on +353 (0)1 542 4154 or email