Ireland with its 5 million people is a technology hub like no other. Despite being one of Europe’s smaller countries, Ireland hosts the European operations for many of the most renowned technology giants including Salesforce, Google, Meta, AirBnB, Paypal, X and Linkedin that, along with the other major multinational technology firms, employ one in every eight workers in Ireland. The vibrant English-speaking country has made a decades-long conscious effort to attract leading tech companies by investing heavily into R&D innovation and talent, emphasizing its business-friendly policies and taxation and providing great access to the broader European market with its strong pro-EU stance.

Those policies have played a significant role also in the development of the Irish cybersecurity sector with a rich history dating back to the late 20th century. Since its first cyber success story with the founding of Baltimore Technologies in 1976, which focused on internet encryption and valued at $13Bn at its peak, the country has seen a range of other cyber startups succeeding. Some recent examples include companies such as TitanHQ, Sysnet (now VikingCloud), Tines and Ekco that, among many others, have proven that Ireland is a great place to start and scale a cybersecurity firm.

All these organizations are talent hungry and require a skilled workforce to grow. Ireland certainly has no lack of great universities such as University College Dublin, NUI Galway and University College Cork scattered around the country that provide technical and business knowledge workers for these R&D-heavy technology- and cyberorganizations. It is perhaps no surprise that there are multiple centers of excellences around the country including Hewlett-Packard’s Global Cyber Defence Centre in Galway, McAfee’s Centre of Excellence in Cork, and Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre in Dublin. According to the Irish Independent, while most countries in the world saw their cybersecurity skills gap growing in 2022, Ireland actually closed that gap quite significantly – a testament to their educational capability to upskill workers to satisfy the market’s needs.

We at Paladin have seen Ireland’s growing presence in cybersecurity as well with an increasing amount of investment activity coming out of the country. Indeed, approximately 16% of our European deal flow in the last 12 months came from Ireland, a significant proportion of the 240 or so Irish “pure-play cybersecurity” companies that, according to CyberIreland, the industry association, are based in the country. Reflecting the array of technology hubs around the country, it is equally interesting to see how these companies really do come from all over the Ireland: Cork, Limerick, Galway were almost equally represented as Dublin among the companies we had seen and talked to. In fact, the Paladin team visited CyberIreland’s National Conference in Galway in 2023 and found it to be a vibrant hub for many medical and pharmaceutical companies and as such also a hub for many medtech and biosecurity firms.

Of course we have not simply followed the success from the sidelines but have also invested in companies that are creating and building many jobs as we speak. CalypsoAI has 80% of its workforce in Ireland, FireTail has 50% and Expel has one of every 20 of their 500 or so employees in Ireland, contributing to the roughly 7,300 cybersecurity professionals employed in the country.

That said, in our discussions with founders we have noticed a significant funding gap for rounds larger than €5M, making it challenging to build global companies and expand outside of Ireland. As part of our growing efforts to help grow more cybersecurity companies out of the country, we organized an event with CyberIreland and Dogpatch Labs, Ireland’s leading startup hub and accelerator based in Dublin, that exceeded our expectations with >80 RSVPs from founders, investors and other experts from the ecosystem.

Our panel evoked great discussion around the opportunities on building a global company out of Ireland. Moderated by Ken Pentimonti, who leads Europe at Paladin, we were joined by Donnchadh Casey, the COO of Calypso AI, Rahim Jina, the COO of Edgescan, and Lizzy Hayashida, the Director of NDRC and a former Paladin-backed CEO. The discussion reflected the belief that Ireland is an exceptional place to build a company but, given the country itself is small, eventually an expansion abroad is needed. Vetting go-to-market people especially in the USA was noted as a challenge and this is one area where a US-based investor such as Paladin can provide a lot of value, as Donnchadh noted.

Raymond Hegarty, an expert adviser to European Commission, OECD and national governments on IP strategy and innovation policy, provided invaluable insights on the importance of IP in companies’ journeys. Our very own strategic advisor Dr. Mary Aiken, the acclaimed Irish cyberpsychologist and a pioneer in a theme that is core to us at Paladin, safetytech, had many questions from the audience on the next frontier in cybersecurity – protecting the most valuable asset in every company, its people, in addition to networks and software.

The one commonly mentioned downside was a natural result of having a huge concentration of well-known global technology companies in the country that resulted in exponential competition for technology talent increasing salaries to levels that are challenging for many new and smaller companies. This, however, is partly offset by the attractive R&D tax credit regime and the wide range of universities around the country and it indeed seemed common for startups to opt for hungry, fresh graduates rather than spend on more experienced talent. And when it comes to talent, these factors are further offset by the amount of go-to-market talent that was characterized as one panelist “unparallel to any other country” as a result of many large organizations such as Google and Hubspot having their EMEA sales teams concentrated in the five million-citizen nation.

Hearing the panelists and speakers share their experiences of building in Ireland evoked a great sense of pride in how well positioned Ireland is for building global cybersecurity companies. With their institutions such as Enterprise Ireland that serve Irish businesses with 39 offices around the world, CyberIreland that brings together the cybersecurity sector in the country, and Dogpatch Labs that does immaculate job in supporting the early-stage ecosystem from the heart of Dublin, we left feeling more empowered than ever before to support the ecosystem going forward.

With Paladin Capital’s deeply tied roots in Ireland through our founding team, our strategic advisors with feet on the ground and our many portfolio companies with operations all around Ireland, we are looking forward to growing our presence in the country, and help build more companies become global winners.