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.

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