In a corner of Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City is the Bank of Ireland’s startlab. This is a tech startup incubator whose stated aim is to educate, connect and scale. It doesn’t take equity nor does it fund startups.
Tracy Keogh is the Program Manager and runs the incubator day to day. She is responsible for bringing in the coaches and mentors and working with the teams afterwards.
She brought the first bank-run incubator to Galway with the idea that, “In a formalised, structured way we could do something great.”
Interest was immense and it took, “Two hundred meetings to get down to the eight companies that are there. But my personal milestone achievement for this was that two of the companies came from Dublin and one came from Limerick. We are starting to attract in good talent; bringing more people in, more knowledge, different perspectives.
“For the first cohort… We needed people who had some level of funding beforehand. We wanted to see some level of traction, some cash behind them and a good team.”
She emphasises that, “For us a team that is coachable is very important. When somebody takes their day out to spend time here and gives their valuable knowledge to the teams it is really important that the teams are able to take on board the information and feedback that’s been given.”
For Tracy an entrepreneur is someone who is, “Prepared to take on all the risks and runs up against brick walls constantly.” And, “Being able to bring on board employees one and two and lead them on that journey so that they can actually create something.”
“I was actually at a roundabout. There were two cars either side of me. One was a Mercedes. One was a clapped-out little Nissan. The man on the right-hand side in the Mercedes was on the phone and you could see him pulling down his face and he looked so stressed. And the guy in the Nissan was bopping away to some music. I thought what sort of life would I like?”
She opted for the Nissan.
“I loved working in a startup, I loved being a jack of all trades… You were always learning. Conversations were always about new things. You were just fulfilling your curiosity all the time. I felt if you were doing that you could never really go wrong.”
As for the teams currently working at startlab. “We’re very excited to have them here. We want to be part of their journey. We want to see what they do over the next six months. To help them as they are zig-zagging along the route to greatness is, frankly for me, thrilling.
“My goal would be that they would come out of here after six months with all of the networks — all those coaches and mentors still onside — and they move into the PorterShed, then grow and expand and then IPO.”
Eventually Tracy wants to start her own company but is not in a rush, “I used to have a fear that I would run out of ideas but I don’t anymore because they keep coming.”