Galway Startup Ecosystem: What You Need To Know

by Donncha Hughes and John Breslin

why-galway-overview-of-ecosystem

Introduction to Galway

To set the scene for Galway’s vibrant startup ecosystem, one needs to appreciate Galway’s geographic, cultural and business landscape. Galway is located in the West of Ireland, approximately a two-hour drive (200 km) from the capital, Dublin. The population in the greater Galway hinterland exceeds 250,000 people, making it the island of Ireland’s fourth largest centre of population after Dublin, Belfast and Cork. For many Irish and international visitors, Galway is synonymous with the Galway Horse Races. For over 100 years, the Galway Races has gone from strength to strength with now in excess of 150,000 people attending the week-long festival every July. Recognised as the greatest midsummer festival in Ireland, the ‘Races’ is known for attracting people from all walks of life with a broad appeal beyond traditional race goers. Complemented by other cultural experiences such as the Galway International Arts Festival, it is indicative of the standards of excellence that Galway strives for – recognised recently with the city’s designation as the European Capital of Culture 2020.

Galway was named as the top microcity in Europe in 2014/2015 by the Financial Times fDi magazine (for cities less than 100,000 people), and the top microcity in Europe in 2016/2017 for both business friendliness and economic potential. We are also the world’s friendliest city according to Travel & Leisure Magazine.

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has played a significant role in the development of Galway’s business landscape, as facilitated by IDA Ireland. Since the 1960s, companies in sectors such as medtech and life sciences, ICT, food and engineering to include: Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Fidelity Investments, SAP, Cisco, Avaya, Aviva, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Valeo Vision Systems and many more have operated successfully in Galway. The importance of this multinational base has also laid the foundations for the development of a vibrant indigenous sub-supply and logistics sector.

Galway is Ireland’s medtech capital, with a third of Ireland’s medtech workforce in one of Europe’s if not the world’s top medtech hubs, with a density of companies and medtech research institutes only rivalled by Minnesota. Just take a look at the Galway Tech Map and Galway Medtech Map and you’ll get a good overview of the companies based here.

Over the last decade, Ireland has attracted a new wave of global brands such as Facebook, Apple and Google to base key European operations here. Galway has also benefited from this trend. 100 jobs were recently announced by Australian hotel cloud giant SiteMinder, and 200 more by MetLife. Like Dublin and Cork, this has boosted the startup ecosystem as personnel emerge with key skills gained at these multinationals.

Galway’s startup success stories

There are 16,381 enterprises in Galway. Over 250 employ over 50 people, with the majority, 14,900, employing less than 10 people. Established international businesses which were founded and are headquartered in Galway include: Chanelle, Aerogen, Supermacs, JFC, CF Energy, and SSL Logistics. Other companies such as financial services firm Fintrax (sold for €170 million, and subsequently valued at €0.5 billion), fleet management leader Celtrak, and medical devices manufacturers Creganna (acquired for €821 million) and Creagh Medical (acquired for €30 million) were established in Galway before their multi-million euro acquisitions. Current international growth focused startup businesses include: Channel Mechanics, Game Golf, Altocloud, Nua Naturals, Hillwalk Tours, Solaris Tea, Ex Ordo, PiP Payments, OnePageCRM, VT Networks (now based in DCU Alpha), DiaNia Technologies, and Bluedrop Medical.

Some of Galway’s award-winning businesses include:

  • Topform won the SFA National Small Business Award 2016. Topform has evolved from a traditional manufacturer of kitchen worktops. Established in 1976, the company now employs forty seven at its manufacturing facility in Gort, Co. Galway.
  • John Power – Aerogen – 2016 winner of the entrepreneur of the year at the RSM awards in Milan.
  • Aerogen – overall winner of the Irish Exporters Association Exporter of the Year Awards 2014.
  • EssentialSkillz, providers of online compliance training and risk assessment software to SMEs and enterprises worldwide, was ranked in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards for 2015. Established in Galway in 2001, EssentialSkillz has offices in the UK, USA and Ireland, and is recognised as a market leader for health and safety e-learning.
  • Pocket Anatomy won the 2014 Best Startup Award at The Next Web Europe Conference.
  • In 2013, Galway companies Westway Health and Element Software won the two top awards at InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition.

Galway’s strengths

A total of 20,997 new companies were formed in 2016 in Ireland according to the Vision.net Business Barometer. Ireland is a good place to start and run a business. Galway was the third most popular startup county accounting for 4% of all companies registered during the year.

First and foremost, Galway is a great place to live for families young and old. It is a happening place with a wonderful social, tourism, community, multicultural and commercial vibe. Part of the magic is that Galway is a university city with two third-level institutions having strong academic and research and development traditions. There are 26,000 third-level students in the city, and 45% of the adult population have third-level education.

In terms of the city’s startup roadmap, 2014 saw the emergence of Startup Galway which serves as an umbrella network for all things startup-related in Galway. It is both a networking organisation and an agent for change. In 2015 and 2016, several new startup coworking and incubation facilities opened in the city centre (SuperPixel Labs, startlab, Workbench, and the PorterShed), with the emerging tech spaces in the Eyre Square area being dubbed “Silicon Square”.

A new angel syndicate was announced early in 2016 with €2m worth of capital set aside that year for startups on the western seaboard. HBAN’s ‘West by North West’ fund (WxNW) was set up to invest in sectors including tech, manufacturing, education, and tourism. A similar medtech angel syndicate is also facilitated by HBAN. WDC has an investment fund to support enterprises in the West (from Clare up to Donegal), and WestBIC has been providing advice and services for entrepreneurs planning or starting a new business in the West for nearly 20 years now.

A digital-focused accelerator programme will be launched in Galway in early 2017 based in the PorterShed. This is part of the vision for the Galway City Innovation District. The Yield Lab from St Louis also announced their intent to run an agtech accelerator in Galway.

“Galway may be considered small in relation to other medtech cities, however it has a big heart. The connections which exist across and between industry and academia and the willingness of talented individuals to lend a helping hand makes it an ideal location for a startup. DiaNia Technologies is an innovative materials science company focused on the development of advanced technologies to enhance the performance and functionality of medical devices. Our minimum viable product has the potential to reduce friction on the inside and outside surface of many catheter-based medical devices whilst increasing patient safety. For us, the ability to tap into the wealth of global medtech business knowledge and experience available in Galway helped mould our strategic direction. Selection of DiaNia Technologies by the European Commission for a Phase 1 Horizon 2020 award demonstrated that our technology has the ability to meet a huge market need within the medical device industry. The recent investment in DiaNia Technologies by experienced medtech professionals and Enterprise Ireland will enable us to commercialise a global solution to an unmet market need through the application of materials science.” — Sinead Kenny, CEO, DiaNia Technologies

Areas to be developed

Galway can be viewed as a microcosm of Ireland’s economy both historically and projecting into the future. Ireland is a small market on the global stage. This context must be fully embraced in the development of enterprise and startup policy. To develop the startup ecosystem in Galway requires challenges to be addressed at both national and regional level and at both large enterprise and startup level. It also requires Galway to part its full part within “Ireland Inc.”.

Enterprise Ireland has a vision for Irish enterprise to be a powerhouse of economic growth and job creation in Ireland. Galway buys into this vision. Five issues which Ireland Inc. needs to continually revisit are:

  1. Availability of information: This would include supports for nascent entrepreneurs and a streamlined process to avail of soft and financial supports for startups.
  2. Promotion of startup role models: These are of all types to include female, graduate, technology and social entrepreneurship to stimulate and foster continued interest in enterprise. The key is highlighting a robust startup process to include strict market testing and validation.
  3. Advanced infrastructure: Enterprise-grade infrastructure is required such as telecommunications, roads, rail and air access along with startup-specific infrastructure to include coworking, incubation, and graduation spaces for larger startups as they scale.
  4. Research commercialisation: We need to facilitate the leveraging of research outputs from our third-level institutions and research centres/institutes for spinouts and licensing to Irish-based businesses.
  5. Aiming to scale our startups: By international standards, Ireland could improve its performance in developing companies that reach beyond €10 million and then €100 million and €1 billion in annual revenue.

Significant work has been undertaken by various bodies to identify how Galway’s startup ecosystem can grow and succeed. For further reading, consult:

Details of events, networks, accelerators and change agents

“Galway has proven itself to be one of the best places in Ireland in which to start and grow an enterprise. Over the past few years there have been welcome additions and enhancements to the local startup scene in Galway including more space for startups, more money for startups, more events and initiatives for startups, and more recognition for startups and the benefits, vibrancy and prosperity they bring. Startups and young companies are recognised for the significant contribution they bring to job creation and Galway is punching above its weight with the growth rate of company formations double that of Dublin’s. One of the great strengths of the startup ecosystem in Galway is the genuine level of collaboration between the ever expanding number of participants. It’s fun, it’s innovative, it’s happening in Galway right now.” — Barry Egan, Regional Director – West Region, Enterprise Ireland

Innovation centres and startup programmes

Startup promoters and teams have access to several innovation, incubation and coworking spaces in the greater Galway area.

Innovation Hub, GMIT

  • This on-campus Innovation Hub (iHub) provides a supportive environment for startups on their journey from concept to commercial success. In addition to office space, the Innovation Hub provides access to research, coaching and networking.
  • Key contact: George McCourt
  • Twitter: @GMITihubs

Ignite Business Innovation Centre, NUI Galway

Galway Technology Centre (GTC)

  • Galway Technology Centre provides serviced office space in a prime location in Galway to meet the needs of companies in the ICT, digital media and other knowledge- and service-based sectors. GTC also provides a range of business startup and virtual office services.
  • Key contact: Niamh Costello
  • Twitter: @GalwayTech

SCCUL Enterprise Centre

The PorterShed, backed by AIB

  • The PorterShed is Galway’s newest innovation hub in the heart of the city, and incorporates a coworking space housing 20 innovative companies and up to 70 people in total, and an open space for events and workshops.
  • Key contact: Mary Rodgers
  • Twitter: @PorterShed

Other centres based outside Galway include The Hub in Headford and The Burren Enterprise Centre in Kinvara which both provide affordable professional office space.

There are two excellent pre-accelerator startup programmes to assist entrepreneurial teams to bring their business from concept to funding-ready status.

New Frontiers, GMIT

  • New Frontiers is a national programme managed by Enterprise Ireland, delivered in Galway by GMIT. Phase II of the programme is six months. It provides leading edge training, mentoring and introductions to early-stage capital investment networks. It includes a €15,000 payment to participant entrepreneurs.
  • Key contact: Tony O’Kelly

startlab, powered by Bank of Ireland

  • startlab is an incubator programme built from the ground up to educate, connect and scale tech startups. Each program runs for a six-month period where startups meet with key speakers, coaches and mentors to help grow and scale their company.
  • Key contact: Tracy Keogh
  • Twitter: @Tracy_Keogh

BioInnovate Ireland

  • BioInnovate Ireland is a medtech-focused entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship programme, training successful medical device innovators for over five years now.
  • Key contact: Paul Anglim
  • Twitter: @BioInnovate_Ire

Blackstone LaunchPad, NUI Galway

  • Blackstone LaunchPad is the go-to place for budding entrepreneurs at NUI Galway, both students (past, present) and staff, and was established in 2016 with funding from the Blackstone Foundation and GUF. Blackstone offers mentorship and a wide range of resources, as well as running regular entrepreneurship events.
  • Key contact: Mary Carty
  • Twitter: @LaunchPadNUIG

TechInnovate, NUI Galway

  • TechInnovate is developing entrepreneurial skills in two target groups: professionals who undergo a career change and undertake a 10-month entrepreneurship fellowship to become startup founders, and employees in indigenous or multinational companies who want to learn and apply similar entrepreneurial skills to develop innovative products or services within their organisations, through what is called intrapreneurship, and taught over a series of 10 workshops.
  • Key contact: John Breslin
  • Twitter: @Tech_Innovate

The Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Galway also provide a range of leading startup training and management development programmes. Keep up-to-date with LEO Galway via Twitter.

Publications and media

Traditional and online media in Galway (Galway Advertiser, Galway Independent, Connacht Tribune Newspaper Group) and in Ireland (Silicon Republic, RTÉ, Irish Times, INM, Sunday Business Post) generally are very positive towards startups. This means that the profile and regard for startup entrepreneurs has never been higher – as reflected in results from Ireland’s Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). This is facilitated and supported by proactive and progressive personnel working within our state enterprise agencies – led by Enterprise Ireland and the Local Enterprise Office Galway – offering national supports delivered locally.

A weekly column about startup activity in Galway was published in the Galway Advertiser from 2015 to 2016, written by Bank of Ireland startlab’s Tracy Keogh.

Technology Voice publishes stories about technology developments and events in Galway (and Ireland), on an irregular basis.

Finally, the NoiseyGenXYZ ezine and podcast promotes awareness of how extraordinary people with extraordinary ideas from generations X, Y and Z are impacting on and shaping the future entrepreneurial landscape in Galway.

Major events

The AtlanTec Festival, organised annually by the Information Technology Association of Galway (ITAG), brings in world-class speakers and practitioners and connects them with the most exciting innovative companies in the West of Ireland. The goal of AtlanTec is to unite and empower the different technology communities by facilitating the spread of information within the tech sectors in the West of Ireland.

Innovating West is another annual conference which brings together changemakers and innovators in the West of Ireland. Set up in 2015, it initially focused on highlighting key innovators who have established successful businesses along the west coast of Ireland, giving local entrepreneurs and businesspeople the chance to learn from them and their successes. In 2016, it expanded its remit, bringing in international entrepreneurs, investors and other guest speakers from Europe and the US. A sister event, Venture West, brought all of Ireland’s VCs together for a public conference and meeting in Galway in late 2015.

MeetWest, held each year towards November, is the largest business networking event in the West of Ireland, and brings all of the business sectors together to connect and collaborate. The event includes a conference and networking dinner, but also facilitates matchmade one-on-one meetings as well as ad-hoc opportunities to network and do business.

An entrepreneurial locally based financial institution – St Columba’s Credit Union Ltd (SCCUL) – has for the past six years created Galway’s largest entrepreneur competition called the SCCUL Awards. In 2015, 160 early stage businesses entered the awards which has a prize fund of €50,000. The awards event has expanded in recent years with all entrants and local entrepreneur ecosystem participants exhibiting in a business expo and showcase at the local University campus.

The PorterShed has become a nexus for startup events in Galway. Between its opening in May 2016 and the time or writing, 100 events had been held in the PorterShed, attracting about 2,000 people into the space. For example, Startup Galway held three fireside chats with investors (from Hyde Park Angels, Founders Fund and Qualcomm Ventures) during the summer/autumn of 2016.

Further information

The good news is that there are plenty of online resources available with further information for a deeper look at Galway’s events, networks, accelerators and change agents. The starting reference is the Galway Startup Guide – here is an excerpt:

“From A to Z (well, from B to Y actually), this guide lists all kinds of startup resources including:

  • The best recurring and one-off startup-related events,
  • Galway’s tech hubs including coworking spaces and startup offices for those looking for a place to launch,
  • key organisations helping startups to get started and scale up, and

networking groups and tech meetups where you can hear from experts, leaders and founders, because it’s good to talk, but even better to talk, listen and learn.

For each resource, the following is provided: a short description, key contacts, their webpage, and Twitter handles where available. Galway has many small tech tribes, but they’re all part of a big Galway startup community!”

Conclusion

While Galway may be viewed by many as a small ecosystem, it can contribute in a big way to Ireland’s startup ecosystem as a whole if given the right resources, including: better transit/transport infrastructure, increased access to finance, new skills programmes for entrepreneurs and innovators (e.g. commercialising research), improved ICT connectivity, and many more downtown working and living spaces.

Credit and acknowledgements

Donncha Hughes is a startup mentor and business trainer. He co-curates Galway’s StartupDigest – the news and events calendar for startups. He is also a member of the Advisory Board of Bizmentors.ie, a pro-bono business network in Galway managed by SCCUL Enterprises which recently announced plans to expand its service to Roscommon and Mayo.

John Breslin is a senior lecturer in electronics at NUI Galway, where he is director of the TechInnovate entrepreneurship programme and lead researcher at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. He is co-founder of boards.ie, adverts.ie, Startup Galway, and the Galway City Innovation District / PorterShed.

The image of the Long Walk by Tom Murphy is used under a Creative Commons license from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Long_Walk,_Galway.jpg

The original version of this article was published on StartupBlink.com.

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