Irish Eyes with American Dreams

BOSTON (05/30/2000) - Andrew Jackson did it. So did Henry Ford, Gene Kelly and Nellie Bly. Now, Tom Murphy and his generation of Irish compatriots want to do it -- make glory and fortune in the Irish name. But unlike those who made their mark in America, Murphy and his gang want Ireland to be their base.

So what was the young entrepreneur doing at a recent luncheon in Boston designed to promote partnerships between Irish and U.S. firms?

Ireland may be fertile ground for high-tech development, but with a population of just 3.5 million its purchasing power fades beside that of the U.S., the world's largest market for high-tech goods. Capital is easier to come by from U.S. investors than in Europe, and the Nasdaq stock market -- despite its recent downturn -- remains a potent lure.

Bright and animated, Murphy is one of a small army of young Irish entrepreneurs who are trying to export their high-tech companies across the Atlantic, to be buoyed, pitched, and rocked on the rough seas of Silicon Valley and Wall Street. While they are keen to do well in Ireland's name, economic realities mean that building a powerful company means pursuing a trans-Atlantic goal.

"It's ironic," said Murphy, "that for hundreds of years, the Irish were building America and now America is building us."

The lunch Murphy attended was sponsored by The Bolton Trust of Ireland -- the U.S. arm of Docklands Innovation, Ireland's largest incubator -- and Business Marketing Group, a Kirkland, Washington-based firm that offers consulting and development services in the U.S. The goal of the lunch was to foster the kind of partnerships that help Irish firms make the trans-Atlantic leap.

So keen was Murphy to talk about Spin Solutions, the company he started with a friend in 1998, that he didn't notice as his carrot soup grew cold. Spin Solutions offers consulting services and Web expertise to clients wanting to build an online presence.

Like many startups, Spin Solutions began with Murphy tinkering on a computer in his bedroom. He called a friend with some Web expertise, told him of his plan, and together they moved their equipment into a spare bedroom, installed an ISDN line and went to work. Bolton Trust helped steer them through the startup phase.

"These companies are following the trend of successful Irish companies like Iona Technologies, Trintech and Baltimore Technologies," said Margaret Wheelan, chief executive of Docklands Innovation. "They are a reflection of a new generation of companies coming out of Ireland."

Talking about his goal of forging U.S. partnerships, Murphy continued to ignore his meal. He swung an arm out from under the table and grabbed at the air, as if he could see the American market hovering in front of him.

"I want to reach out and take it," he said.

Before he takes anything, he will need a strategy for survival. Despite the "new economy" ways, Murphy's philosophy is time-honored and straightforward -- an entrepreneur solely motivated by money, he says, would not last spitting time. Spin Solutions must be built on expertise, quality of service and dedication.

"It's that simple and that difficult," Murphy said.

Whatever comes next, whether facing a takeover or scuffling into Wall Street, Murphy believes one of his first jobs is to build a ship that can cross the Atlantic. If he builds it right, he says, the shores of the American market will open up to him. Like many of his Irish ancestors, he will make his mark on American soil. Unlike those ancestors, however, his feet will be planted firmly in his homeland.

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