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Forging connections in Dublin again

A cohesive culture and can-do attitude help make the Irish capital a buzzing tech hub, as Tonia Luykx explains

By 2019, having worked for some of the biggest tech multinationals in Ireland — Google, Dropbox, Amazon — Tonia Luykx was looking for a challenge. That same year, she was approached by a San Francisco-based company making its name in digital fraud prevention.

Sift, which works with hundreds of brands, including Twitter, Airbnb and McDonald’s, was looking for a European base for its new EMEA operation. That it chose Dublin from which to expand its global presence says much about the Irish capital’s strengths as a tech hub.

“Taking something from absolute zero, a blank piece of paper, is a huge challenge,” says Luykx, Sift’s Vice-President of Sales, EMEA, but she acknowledges the assistance of IDA Ireland, the government agency in charge of attracting foreign investment, as a “great resource” in helping Sift launch in Dublin and “handholding the process”.

For a company whose solution is built on machine learning, setting up its EMEA office was helped hugely by the city’s talent pool of tech professionals, the legacy of Ireland’s record of attracting multinationals and its evolved educational system.

Visit Dublin’s ‘Silicon Docks’, the area around Grand Canal Dock, and you see that achievement writ large. Having so many leading technology firms establish a European base over the last 20 years has fostered the growth of start-ups, creating a snowball effect. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve been exporting a lot of innovative tech organisations that have a global presence,” says Luykx.

Silicon Docks.
Silicon Docks.
Silicon Docks.

Sift landed in Dublin just as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold last year, a period that saw online fraud, from data breaches to fake reviews, mushroom. To meet the surge in demand, Sift raised $50m in new funding on a unicorn valuation of $1bn in April.

“Fraud is the most fascinating high-growth industry, and one that is so difficult for companies to solve. And it is vast,” says Luykx. “Organisations have been forced to digitally transform quickly in order to survive — and fraudsters have seen opportunities to abuse that.”

Silicon Docks has become home to a growing tech hub in Dublin within the last two decades.

Luykx was working at Amazon when Sift came knocking. Sift’s technology, she realised, could help drive huge value for companies. “What excites me is how technology can transform an organisation,” she says. Something else attracted her: the company’s culture. She describes it as “super-inclusive, everybody has a voice”, crediting the US’s West Coast-inflected approach of Sift Co-Founder, Jason Tan.

Ireland is a small country and Dublin a small city, so the network effect is real. And Irish culture is very welcoming and supportive. We will always try to help people.
Tonia Luykx

Tech companies have a reputation for attractive company cultures and Luykx believes the Irish workforce is a natural fit for the collaborative mindset at play in the Silicon Docks ecosystem. “They automatically bring this cohesiveness to a team; they’re automatically warm, they’re automatically humble — and caring.

“Ireland is a small country and Dublin a small city, so the network effect is real. And Irish culture is very welcoming and supportive. We will always try to help people.” That might partly derive from an inherent understanding of the need to work with others. “We’ve always had to be super-reliant on other countries, because we are relatively small,” she observes.

An inclusive, US West-Coast inspired work culture attracted Luykx to her role at Sift.

Dublin, Luykx believes, also offers a high quality of life, a factor that drew her back to her native land when she thought of starting a family after living and working in London for many years. “People are choosing a better, healthier, simpler lifestyle, but still having great careers within great organisations that are investing in them and paying them well.”

At ease, by the Docks.
Walking the dog in Bushy Park.

During the pandemic, she has been rediscovering the “beautiful walks and parks” that are just five or ten minutes from her home — good news also for her energetic three-year-old beagle, Betsy. The outdoor life and Ireland’s natural-born hospitality are never too far away, she adds. “It’s very easy to come to Ireland, develop a social circle and have a great social life — and in a very short period of time become part of our welcoming culture.”