TOP GEAR: Connlaoth Mulholland pictured at the Irish Roundtable in the Valley at Stanford University on 9 May Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Firing on All Cylinders in Silicon Valley: Meet the Glensman in Start-Up Driving Seat

For Co Antrim transplant on the west coast of America, Connlaoth Mulholland, a successful start-up is all about speed.

And he should know for since he arrived in San Francisco, just a few short years after quitting school at 16 in his native Ballycastle with virtually zero qualifications, he has hit the entrepreneurial ground running.

Connlaoth first arrived in California in 2006 as a fresh-faced 20-year-old who, keen to stay, parlayed his way to a J-1 Visa in 2008 and, via the visa lottery, a Green Card in 2012. 

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"I was actually in Cambodia on the way to Australia when I got word from home that the US Embassy in London was looking for me in relation to my Green Card application," he recalled last week during a break in discussions at the Irish Roundtable in the Valley at Stanford University, California. "I thought they wouldn't give me a chance as I had overstayed my original visitor visa from 2006 but in fact, they eventually approved my Green Card and effectively changed my life."

Immediately on arrival in San Francisco, Connlaoth was bitten by the start-up bug. "In 2008, I founded a company producing healthier option alcohol drinks under the brand name Pure Jungle — we actually had a manufacturing facility on Treasure Island in San Francisco. In the end, it all went down hill pretty quickly but in retrospect that may not have been a bad thing as it's better not to be around alcohol all the time."

Undeterred, Connlaoth bounced back with his second start-up in as many years: a before-its-time bluetooth device to enable you to find your car keys. And when that didn't find any takers, he pivoted once more, producing an electrical tool for use by sparks installing LED lights. While it's not the iPhone, SolderM8,retailing at $22.50, still sells at a steady clip on and is a small but profitable enterprise. 

With one success under his belt and a thirst for more, the Glensman continued to plough the entrepreneurial furrow in the Bay Area of San Francisco, ultimately earning himself a place in the famed Founders Institute with his most ambitious start-up to date: Bengine

"This is essentially 'DoorDash for Auto Parts'," he explains. "Via a free app, Bengine delivers auto parts to your location in record time. Over the past 12 months, we've been trialling the concept with mechanic shops but we're now ready to make our functionality available to the general public. Having now partnered with auto parts stores at a local level, I'm confident we have proven the business model."

A keen amateur motorsports racer, Connlaoth says he understands the "immediate need for parts when your car breaks down". He adds: "Often, guys have to forfeit races due to not having the parts they need."

His goal now is to fundraise $750,000 to further develop Bengine and grab a slice of the $60bn U.S. auto parts market for the company. Along the way, he gets to put the two Bengine racing cars through their paces - and advertise his business at races. "I always wanted to race but now I have the added advantage that it's actually an R&D expense."

While wedded to his American way of life — he's married to Michelle, herself a child of Vietnamese immigrant boat people, and the couple have a two-year-old daughter, Isla, and another child on the way — Connlaoth has no illusions about the unpredictability of the entrepreneurial path he has chosen. "Yes there are risks in business but as someone who barely graduated Cross and Passion school in Ballycastle, driving my own start-up here in San Francisco really is living the American dream."