Ireland's next generation of game changers

From Northern Irish fashion designer J.W. Anderson making serious waves with his gender-bending designs as creative director for the luxury Spanish fashion label Loewe to 22-year-old Carlow actress Saoirse Ronan making the coveted cover of Time magazine, there’s no denying that the year just gone was another incredibly triumphant one for Ireland’s next generation of game-changers.

There’s little doubt that 2017 is going to not just be a career-changing one but also a life-changing one for yet another group of Ireland’s hottest young talents.

From actors to entrepreneurs, these prodigies are among a pool of high achievers whose remarkable successes to date are bucking trends and putting their country at the top of the list in a variety of professions.

In 2017, the names we suggest you keep a close eye on include Caitriona Balfe, the former Monaghan fashion model-turned-actress, who has just been nominated for a number of awards in 2017, including a Golden Globe for her role in the hit drama Outlander.

Also representing the world of acting is Love/Hate alumni Ruth Negga, who is being tipped for a 2017 Oscar nomination for her performance in the feature film Loving, which follows the story of an interracial married couple in 1950’s America.

While 33-year-old Negga has already had small parts in major motion pictures, including 12 Years a Slave and World War Z, she stills enjoys relative anonymity.

In the business world, we’re tipping Bono’s (other) daughter, Jordan Hewson for great things in the year ahead. I say ‘other’ because, three years ago, we featured Jordan’s actress sister, Eve, who has since gone on to achieve great things on television stateside.

Jordan, 27, a relative unknown when compared to her sister, established the tech company Speakable at the end of 2016. The company uses technology to make ‘civic engagement’ more accessible in terms of online news dissemination.

Elsewhere in the world of tech business, 2017 is already shaping up to be yet another landmark year for the financial technology boy wonders of Silicon Valley — Limerick entrepreneurial brothers Patrick and John Collison. Just six years into the life of their company, Stripe, the online payments firm is still red hot. It has recently been valued at €8.6bn.

In the fashion world, meanwhile, Simone Rocha, the 30-year-old daughter of celebrated Irish designer John Rocha, continues to make her mark, particularly in London, where she is now based.

Remember their names, because these are the contemporary crusaders you’ll need to know all about in 2017.

CAITRIONA BALFE

The star of the hit TV drama Outlander has already hit the ground running for 2017, having just been nominated for a slew of awards, including a Golden Globe for best TV actress. In fact, this is Balfe’s second Golden Globe nomination for her Outlander role, having been nominated in 2015.

Before acting took over, 37-year-old Balfe worked as an incredibly successful fashion model, and was at one time considered to be among the top 20 in-demand models in the world.

She was featured both in advertising campaigns and on runways for international fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Moschino, Roberto Cavalli, and Oscar de la Renta, before she returned her focus to acting. In 2011, she appeared in the Steven Spielberg-produced vehicle Super8, which drew rave reviews.

Born in Dublin, Balfe grew up in the village of Tydavnet, Co Monaghan, in a family of seven. Her father is a retired Garda sergeant. Currently based in Glasgow, Balfe previously lived in Los Angeles, and is a patron of World Child Cancer.

Speaking recently about her role as the time-travelling nurse Claire Randall in Outlander, Balfe said: “For me, Claire is such a survivor. It doesn’t matter where she ends up or what has happened to her, she finds a way to get on with her life and make it something new.”

Reflecting on her career, Balfe said: “Modelling wasn’t a passion of mine, so that made it get old kind of quickly. I was getting very frustrated.”

Despite the immense success she achieved during those years, Balfe has stated that she has no intention of returning to modelling full-time; although she continues to do occasional jobs with people she has previously worked with, including photographer James Houston, who has featured Balfe in his Natural Beauty photographic series.

On the big screen, Balfe co-starred in the Jodie Foster-directed film Money Monster in 2016 alongside George Clooney and Julia Roberts, playing the head of PR for a company whose stock implodes, causing a man to lose all of his savings and subsequently take hostages on a live TV show.

The actress is halfway through filming the third season of Outlander.

RUTH NEGGA

Best known to date for her starring role in the RTÉ drama Love/Hate, Ruth Negga has taken Hollywood by storm over the past year and is widely tipped to claim a best actress Oscar in February for her acclaimed performance in Loving, which follows the story of an interracial married couple in 1950s America.

While the actress has already had small parts in 12 Years a Slave and World War Z, she still enjoys relative anonymity. However, that changed somewhat in recent weeks, as she was featured on the cover of American Vogue.

“I’m very careful to say I’m Irish-Ethiopian because I feel Ethiopian and I look Ethiopian and I am Ethiopian. But there are 81 languages in Ethiopia, and I don’t know any of them,” the 33-year-old told the magazine.

Negga was born in Ethiopia to an Irish mother and an Ethiopian father but grew up in Limerick, having moved to Ireland when she was four. She studied at the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College Dublin and has lived in London since 2006.

“I become very territorial about my identity because it’s been hijacked by so many people, with their own projections” she said.

Negga recently said she drew on her deep connection to Ireland to identify with her character in Loving, which tells the true story of an illegal interracial marriage in Virginia in the middle of the 20th century.

Richard Loving, played by Joel Edgerton, and Mildred Jeter, played by Negga, eloped to Washington, DC, in 1958 but on their return home to Virginia they were arrested and were sentenced to a year in prison. Their case eventually reached the US Supreme Court, which overturned their conviction.

“Virginia isn’t that different from Ireland,” said Negga. “Land and home and community are super important. When I was playing her, I tried to imagine I couldn’t go home again because of whom I married. It must have drained the lifeblood from her.”

Loving is released in Ireland in February.

JORDAN HEWSON

Dismiss her as ‘Bono’s daughter’ at your peril. This 27-year-old bright spark is far more than just the offspring of the Dublin singer.

Born and raised in Dublin to Bono and Ali Hewson, Jordan Hewson has worked in the non-profit and NGO space for several years now, having spent three years as a campaigner for social-action platform Global Citizen.

But, aside from being a social activist, Hewson has now become a first-time tech entrepreneur. At the end of 2016, Hewson launched Speakable, which uses technology to make civic engagement more accessible, allowing readers of news stories to “participate in the outcomes of stories”.

Currently living in Brooklyn, New York, Hewson is a self-described introvert — quite unlike her dad, you might say. Not only did she found her company but she also succeeded in raising $2m to fund its growth — all while operating entirely under the radar.

And she’s not exactly relying on daddy’s help, either.

“My dad is a good resource, but I try to keep him away from the company as much as possible,” she recently told an American business magazine.

Hewson’s company has already partnered with some 30 different charity organisations, including Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, and ONE, Bono’s non-profit focused on fighting poverty.

The organisations create petitions, polls, and tweets relevant to their cause. Speakable then pairs news articles with corresponding charity organisations using a matching algorithm.

However, the business isn’t a get-rich-quick model for Hewson, as Speakable doesn’t take any monies whatever from reader donations. “We’re not focused on monetisation right now,” Hewson explained, adding that the company won’t test possible revenue models until well into 2017.

THE COLLISON BROTHERS

Writing code is where it’s at these days. Just ask proactive young supermodel Karlie Kloss.

“The first lines of code we wrote were in October 2009,” said Limerick-born tech entrepreneur John Collison said earlier this year. “We worked on it through the semester. It started off with Stripe being this fun little side thing when we weren’t working in class.”

At the time, John, 26, and his brother Patrick, 28, were just teenagers germinating the seeds of a dream. Today, the Collison brothers are the most revered whiz kids in Silicon Valley. After six years, Stripe, an online payments firm, remains the red-hot start-up of the financial technology sector.

In essence, the company, which employs 550 people, lets businesses and individuals easily accept payments over the internet, and currently processes billions of dollars in transactions per year in 25 countries for such customers as Salesforce, Twitter, and Lyft.

In November, Stripe closed a $150m funding round that valued it at a whopping $9.2bn (€8.6bn) and turned the Collison brothers into billionaires.

Despite their young age, this isn’t the brothers’ first success. They previously founded Auctomatic, an online auction system, which was acquired by Live Current Media in 2008 and made the then teenagers millionaires.

The Collisons, who grew up on the shores of Lough Derg where their parents ran the Dromineer Bay Hotel, are now said to be in a golden age of financial technology. According to KPMG, $14bn was invested in venture capital-backed ‘financial technology’ companies in 2015, double the previous year’s figure.

Tens of billions more are being invested by banks themselves in exploring the opportunities offered by new technology.

“There is a long and storied history, especially in Silicon Valley, of companies that got to a certain stage and got too comfortable, and then the next wave passed them by,” said John in a recent interview.

“Patrick and I tend to get uncomfortable: we risk resting on any laurels. I think people are blue in the face from hearing it from us but I think that’s a really useful trait for a company to have.”

SIMONE ROCHA

Fashion integrity and a sense of what women really want when it comes to style run in the family for Simone Rocha. Her father John Rocha, the celebrated award-winning Irish designer, has left an indelible mark on the industry both at home and abroad over the past three decades.

Now already a firm favourite at London Fashion Week herself — where she debuted in September 2010 — Simone is a graduate of the prestigious National College of Art and Design, earning a BA in fashion in 2010, as well as London’s Central Saint Martin’s College, where she graduated from with a fashion MA two years later.

In November 2014, the 30-year-old launched her collaboration with US-based denim label J. Brand, being stocked in key department stores and receiving press coverage worldwide. That same year, Rocha was announced as the winner of the New Establishment Designer award.

Since then, the Dublin-born designer’s creations have gained her some of the most prestigious stockists in the world, including Dover Street Market in London, Ikram in Chicago, and New York’s Bergdorf Goodman.

Rocha’s designs have been described as “rebellious but at the same time romantic,” while her collections are inspired by “strong women with femininity”.

Each Simone Rocha creation is defined by a renewed approach to fabrics and materials, while must-have designs include her cult clunky shoes and prom-style mini dresses.

The designer has built up an incredibly loyal celebrity fanbase over the past few seasons, including the likes of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s wife, Dasha, and Sarah Jessica Parker.


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