Towards Innovation

Galway needs a city centre innovation hub to attract ‘cool’ companies, tech entrepreneur John Breslin tells Lorraine O’Hanlon of the Galway Independent ahead of next month’s Innovating West summit.

Galway is missing out on attracting innovative tech enterprises due to its lack of a downtown hub, according to boards.ie co-founder John Breslin.

Fortunately, plans are afoot to remedy the situation and the need for the so-called Galway City Innovation District is among the topics set to be discussed at the one-day Innovating West summit taking place at NUI Galway on Friday 13 March.

The idea for the event, which will focus on building both teams and innovation ecosystems in the West, came after Innovating West co-organiser Dave Cunningham established a new incubator for start-up businesses, StartX6, on Mary Street in the city centre.

In a bid to inspire more people to create viable businesses in Galway, Dave and John thought it would be a good idea to bring together some of the leaders who have built some of the top companies and teams in the West.

“They’re all coming together on the day to inspire people, to show that you can do things here as good as anywhere,” explains John.

However, some challenges remain for those setting up in Galway, as many companies considering it as a location “see the fantastic city that we have and the talent and the lifestyle and culture, but they often are missing that downtown hub where they could imagine themselves being placed”, he says.

While some software companies – such as SmartBear and Element Wave at Dockgate on Dock Road – have found homes in the city centre, and many others on the outskirts at Parkmore or Dangan, John feels a dedicated area in the heart of the city would attract even more.

“There is a move in a lot of cities around the world to create these downtown innovation districts where you can basically cluster the cool companies, the cafés, the transport, the Internet and broadband all in one place,” he says.

“In Galway we’re kind of missing that. I think we’re losing out a little bit because these companies go to other cities and they see the downtown building and see the cool exposed stonework and they can imagine themselves being there. We don’t really have that here yet.”

The panel discussion at Innovating West on the topic, ‘Towards a Galway City Innovation District and Similar Ecosystems in the West’, will feature contributions from John along with Maurice O’Gorman from Galway Chamber and IDA Western Regional Manager Catherina Blewitt.

The discussion will, John hopes, build awareness of the need for the district, and include brainstorming on how to make it happen now, rather than in ten years’ time. In fact, he is hopeful that there will be real movement on the plan in the next year.

Given the overwhelming support for the initiative since it was first mooted, however, John believes the development simply requires “pushing an open door”. Support has already come from the likes of Galway City Council, Galway Chamber, NUI Galway, and Galway Harbour.

John sees the area around Ceannt Station and Galway Harbour in particular as an ideal space for the innovation hub development, and hopes to see at least one building utilised successfully as such before the district is grown further from there.

“We would see that space as, hopefully, being a target for this innovation district and that will be part of the discussion at Innovating West,” he says.

The station area has huge potential, he considers, as it’s close to town, the main transportation hub, and is within walking distance of key spots like the university.

In addition to its focus on the Galway City Innovation District, the Innovating West summit, which is sponsored by Galway Independent, will also focus on building teams here, with speakers from companies employing hundreds and thousands of people offering their insights during a series of interactive panel discussions.

‘Why Galway Works’ is just one of the topics set to be discussed by innovators such as HP Galway MD Mark Gantly, Element Wave CEO Dorothy Creaven, Cloud90 CEO Nicola Byrne, Enterprise Ireland Western Regional Manager Barry Egan and Silicon Valley-based Game Golf CEO John McGuire.

Mr McGuire, whose golf product has been used by US President Barack Obama, is flying in specially for the event, and John points to the fact that the company still has a base in Galway as evidence of the West’s appeal.

Galway’s charm also applies to the sports sphere and team building will be discussed at the summit by Connacht Rugby’s Head Coach Pat Lam, CEO Willie Ruane and Domestic Rugby Manager Eric Elwood, who will speak on ‘Lifting Connacht Rugby to a New Level’.

“Connacht Rugby has built a very strong team, both in terms of the managerial team and the players,” says John. “Whether you’re a tech company or a rugby team, you’re basically trying to attract someone to the lifestyle of Galway.”

While there may be different requirements and skills needed for sports stars and tech teams, John contends that people still want the same things from where they live: good quality of living, adequate housing, quality schools in the area, convenient transportation, and broadband connectivity.

The same is true outside cities and ‘Building a Winning Team Outside of a City’ will also be discussed at the summit by Gerry Barry, founder of Baile na hAbhann-based Fintrax, Harry Hughes from Westport-based Portwest, and John Concannon from Tuam-based JFC Manufacturing.

“It should be interesting to hear how you can create a team that doesn’t have to be in a city… it can be anywhere if you put mind to it,” says John.

Around 200 people are set to attend Innovating West and it will appeal to anyone starting up, building or growing their company, team members and team leaders. The day-long summit will conclude with informal networking at The g Hotel.

For more details on Innovating West and ticket details, see www.innovatingwest.comThis interview was published by the Galway Independent on 25th February 2015.

Galway City Innovation District: A Game Changer for Galway’s Startup Sector

This post originally appeared on Startup Ireland, and was written with Maurice O’Gorman from the Galway Chamber of Commerce.

Galway: Ireland’s fastest growing city and “Top Micro European City of the Future”; one of five global hubs in the medtech sector (with nine out of the world’s top 10 medtech companies on its doorstep); and home to a multitude of long established and early stage ICT companies. All that’s missing is a downtown innovation hub that can act as the first step towards our vision of a Galway City Innovation District.

Galway City was highlighted in 2014 by Financial Times’ FDI Magazine as the “Top Micro European City of the Future” (for populations under 100,000 people). It also featured in the Top 25 European Cities (of all sizes), and was ranked highly for economic potential, business friendliness and foreign direct investment strategy.

Galway has a fantastic array of large and small companies in various areas, primarily medical technologies and ICT. Biotech and medtech companies in Galway include Algae Health, Anecto, Apica, Boston Scientific, Cappella, Creganna, Crospon, Embo, Full Health, Lake Region, Medtronic, neoSurgical, Neuravi, Zimmer, Novate and Veryan, making the city a key part of what has recently been described by Richard Bruton, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, as a global hub for the medtech sector.

On the ICT side, software/hardware/internet-focussed startups and indigenous companies like OnePageCRM, Ex Ordo, Element Wave, Netfort, BuilderEngine, Pocket Anatomy, Altocloud, SpamTitan, RealSim, Storm, SourceDogg, GAME GOLF, CGA, Instillo, Rivada, Tribal City Interactive and Alison are in close proximity to multinational operations from companies like Valeo, Cisco, HP, Avaya, SAP, IBM, APC, Arm (Duolog), Schneider, Oracle, Fidelity, SAP, Aspect, SmartBear and EA.

Galway also has highly skilled talent available through graduates from both NUI Galway and GMIT, and also through current and future PhDs from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, EVOSS at LERO, etc.

However, even in a small and vibrant city like Galway, there’s a lack of a downtown innovation hub or cluster that one can point to. It is fair to say that many in the city had high hopes for the Webworks Galway building that was located close to the Coach Station, but for various reasons that did not materialise into what it could have been.

A number of organisations, including the Galway Chamber of Commerce, Galway Harbour, Startup Galway, WestBIC and NUI Galway, have come together to kickstart a new innovation hub as part of a larger initiative called the “Galway City Innovation District”. The global trend and preference for tech companies is to locate in areas close to city centres. Employees tend to favour locations where they walk or cycle to work and can interact with one another in less formal surroundings such as food markets and cafes. We have seen this trend develop very successfully in Dublin.

The vision we have is for a downtown city innovation hub, attracting young technology companies with strong growth potential, including many of the superstars we have listed above. This would start with one building and then expand to a cluster of many more as part of a Galway City Innovation District.

So what is an Innovation District? Katz and Wagner have defined it in their “Rise of Innovation Districts” report for the Brookings Institute as follows: “Innovation districts constitute the ultimate mash up of entrepreneurs and educational institutions, start-ups and schools, mixed-use development and medical innovations, bike-sharing and bankable investments—all connected by transit, powered by clean energy, wired for digital technology, and fueled by caffeine.”

As part of these efforts, we are organising a one-day summit at NUI Galway on the 13 March. The title of this summit is “Innovating West”. The aim of this summit is two-fold:

  1. To showcase those who have successfully built world-class teams in the West of Ireland, from ICT and medtech to food and sports
  2. To kickstart discussions around what is required to create the aforementioned Galway City Innovation District, and to replicate such ecosystems throughout the West of Ireland

Speakers at the event include: Gerry Barry, founder of Fintrax, which produced one of the biggest deals in Gaeltacht history when it was sold for €170M; Dorothy Creaven, CEO of Element Wave, awarded best new startup in the 2013 InterTradeIreland Seedcorn competition; Padraig O Ceidigh, serial entrepreneur in aviation, publishing, and homecare; Willie Ruane, Pat Lam and Eric Elwood from the Connacht Rugby management team; Nicola Byrne, CEO and co-founder of Cloud90 and founder of 11890; and John Concannon, the creator of the Gathering and director of Ireland 2016.

Many more speakers are being announced each week, and we hope you can join us for this event as we endeavour to create a roadmap for innovation ecosystems in the West. You can register now at www.innovatingwest.com.