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Brian Cowen meets the media at the NYSE

Ireland needs dose of American 'can do' optimism

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Brian Cowen meets the media at the NYSE

There seems to be a deep sepulchral gloom about in Ireland, especially in the media, where the worst traits of negativity are flourishing. Brian Cowen’s visit to America this week was a case in point. It came under intense scrutiny and suspicions of an American junket were widely reported on and I fielded many interview requests along that line.

The underlying theme appeared to be anger that Cowen would come to the US at all and the lack of coverage of his visit here was seized upon. But that was hardly surprising. This was not St Patrick’s Day and Cowen’s target audience was a core of top Wall Street and business leaders most of whom he met.

The list of who he met privately makes interesting reading. Gary Coen president of Goldman Sachs, Brian Moynihan ceo of Bank of America, Colm Kelleher executive vice president of Morgan Stanley and Robert Kelly ceo of Bank of New York is a who’s who of the top financial names in America.

The new direction is already being dubbed “financial diplomacy”on behalf of Ireland, a more low key approach that eschews big public meetings and focuses on private access to the key networks that propel American business. It is entirely understandable that there is grave suspicion of what Irish politicians are up to given the economic situation. But launching a successful venture capital initiative, which Ireland has been crying out for for decades, is not among the suspect actions.

The vision of an Irish Silicon Valley where new and innovative businesses can find funding that is currently denied them could be a foundation stone in an economic recovery. The initiative is based on an Israeli success story, which has allowed the Israeli government to kick-start its own technology hub by providing funding drawn equally from government and private venture capital.

As a result of the Israeli initiative it has far more companies in the Nasdaq top 100 than any other country outside the US. It is precisely that kind of success that Ireland is now trying to emulate. There certainly is a lot to be gained from learning from the best and the Irish government is moving in the correct direction over here.

Cowen is seeking to address a key issue in Ireland where there are still many highly creative small business owners who are gasping for capital. I have met many of these same businessmen and women as they seek to get funding in the American market. The new initiative is tailor-made for them.

One of them, a young woman, was in my office this week with an idea that several leading businessmen in the US are interested in when it is up and running, but which she is desperately trying to get off the ground with funding in Ireland. Venture capital is almost a foreign concept in Ireland, and with banks buckling left and right, and totally risk-averse, there is nowhere for young entrepreneurs to go.

The creation of the €500 million venture capital fund is long overdue to address that issue, according to several leading Wall Street figures I spoke with. Cowen held meetings with leading financiers and Wall Street figures and has received very positive feedback by all accounts on the proposed project.

There is no percentage in wallowing in the “whatshuddabeens”of the recent past. Ireland needs to take a leaf from the American playbook, where dogged optimism, despite all the recent setbacks, remains a defining trait.

That positive psychology creates an energy and a drive of its own that could tap into the Irish innovative and creative spirit. It is time for the Irish to stop admiring the complexities of their problems and start to solve them.

In a new innovative era in Ireland, indigenous industry and start-ups will play a major role. The funding for such businesses is critical which is what this new €500 million fund will help underwrite.

It is a long way back from the Irish recession but just maybe this week’s visit by Brian Cowen will provide a starting point for a genuine recovery.

Perhaps we need to look at it that way rather than as just another junket.

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