Matt Cortland is from the US and is here as a George Mitchell Scholar completing a Master’s Degree in Creative Digital Media at the Dublin Institute of Technology. He is also working part-time at PageFair, a Dublin-based ad tech startup focused on publisher solutions to adblocking.
As well as this, he and his partner are building a lifestyle travel app that lets people save their favorite travel experiences (best restaurants, activities, sights, etc) and share those recommendations with the people in their extended network that they actually know and trust. The app is designed in a mobile-first way that fits with the needs and constraints of people who travel, Matt says ‘It’s kind of like a personalized Yelp for people who travel with their phones’.
What sort of social change would you like to affect with technology?
I love designing products and solutions that affect social change, and technology is an outlet for this passion. The travel app we are building is something that I personally would want to use. It makes it easier to share terrific experiences and enhance someone else’s holiday; there is great power in an excellent recommendation. As I move into the startup world I am particularly interested in educational technology- designing and making products for use in classrooms that get kids access to educational tools and resources. I see tech as a way to help people have more equitable opportunities.
What is your experience in this area so far?
Before coming to Dublin I spent two years with Teach for America as a reading teacher in a high school located in a low-income community in Miami, FL. I also completed a M.S.Ed. in Education and Social Change from the University of Miami, which focused on how to affect wide-sweeping change in the US’ system of education. From there I moved to Taipei, Taiwan as a Henry Luce Scholar where I worked at the HQ of ASUSTeK Computer, Inc.
What are your thoughts on how entrepreneurship (in the context of tech startups) is affecting social change now?
It’s amazing that right now we’re witnessing how social media can be used to bring massive amounts of people together for a grass-roots cause and provoke a change in policy or behavior. For example, in the US we saw how quickly the Confederate Flag was removed after years of flying over the state capital in South Carolina. The call-to-action swept across the US, largely due to social media. In Ireland we also saw how, with the YES Vote campaign in the recent marriage referendum, social media sharing prompted a change in public opinion by helping to raise awareness about how marriage equality affects the people we know and care about- our family members, friends, and neighbors. I thought the #RingYourGranny initiative by TCDSU was just brilliant. You know, the tech that makes this type of thing possible is rooted in entrepreneurship. I think that a great example of an Irish company that is working in this area is Storyful.
What exciting tech based solutions to social issues do you see on the horizon?
I hope that outward affronts to human and civil rights become less commonplace as mobile devices become a tool that we use to show the world (in real-time) what is occurring. That hope is perhaps overly optimistic, but I would like to think that it is possible. It is easy to ignore something that you read about in the news or dismiss it as hearsay, but when you see a video of it with your own eyes it becomes clearer to see and conclude what is actually happening. It becomes harder to ignore or dismiss. I am thinking specifically of the Eric Garner video and the video from the neighborhood pool party in McKinney, Texas. If someone had not recorded a video of these disturbing events then the story might have never become part of the nationwide dialogue in the United States. Hopefully that dialogue is leading to some type of change. As much as I find these platforms kind of intrusive and awkward (at this stage, anyway), I think tools that facilitate citizen journalism and sharing, like Meerkat and Periscope, will become important.
Finally, what’s your overriding impression of studying and getting involved in startups in Dublin so far?
I really enjoy my degree program at DIT as it is a practical and hands-on application of the knowledge and skills that are relevant to the industry. I also love living in Dublin and think that the startup ecosystem here is really interesting. For one, the people here are welcoming and friendly, which makes it easy to make friends and network. Dublin is also quite small, which means that when I meet someone at a startup event there is a strong likelihood that I will see them again, either around the city and at other events. Instead of six degrees of separation, it is more like two. And while the scene here is relatively small it is vast in its opportunities. You are at the gateway to Europe and the bridge to the US. It’s a good place to be.