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.

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