A Great Year for Galway, But We Need More of This Sort of Thing

As we come to the end of the year, it’s a good time to remember some of the remarkable accolades our city has received during 2016. Galway was awarded the 2020 European Capital of Culture, as well as the EU’s prestigious European Green Leaf Environmental Award, and was designated European Region of Gastronomy for 2018. The Financial Times FDI magazine ranked Galway City as the number 1 Micro European City of the Future for both the Economic Potential and Business Friendliness categories in 2016/2017: this is a full level or two higher than our rankings in both categories in 2014/2015. Also, NUI Galway has moved up to number 249 in the QS world university rankings. To put that in perspective, the University has risen 235 places over the past nine years from when it was at number 484. NUI Galway is also 48th out of 1,336 educational institutions in Europe in terms of Horizon 2020 funding received, and second overall in Ireland.

Stats

On the jobs and startups front, Galway and our region do face significant challenges. You may have seen the Irish Independent article by Dan O’Brien in May this year, based on CSO data, which said that the Galway-Mayo-Roscommon region has had 0% job growth since the crash, with job destruction continuing to outpace job creation in the region. All other regions had between 7% and 15% growth. As of the first quarter in 2016, employment in the region was said to have hit yet another low, being at the same level as it was in 2003.

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According to Eurostat, Ireland ranks second lowest in terms of startup creation, across the entire EU-28. The number of enterprises in our region, and with it the Western region’s share of enterprises in the state, has declined each year between 2008 and 2014: in 2014 it was 9% below the number in 2008. In contrast, in the rest of the state it was just 1% lower. While this figure is for all enterprises, it is an indicator of the region’s level of entrepreneurship.

The population of Connacht is still less than it was in 1926. County Galway has more people in the 35+ age bracket than the national average, resulting in an increasing rate of age dependency, while the age group that has experienced the largest decline in population terms in recent years is between 15 and 29.

The above statistics are quite worrying. Giving all those who wish to live and work in the region the opportunity to do so, decreasing emigration, and encouraging workers and their families to stay and settle in the region, must be our highest priority. If the trend of depopulation continues, many of the businesses in our region will feel the effects. For these reasons and others, we need to keep doing what we are doing in terms of strategies and investment towards stimulating entrepreneurship and innovation in the region – both in new enterprises and existing ones – but much more of it.

Space

It has been a busy year for us on the space front. Less than a year ago, on New Year’s Eve 2015, Forbes published an article about our efforts to establish the PorterShed innovation space, and I was unexpectedly photographed during the interview by the journalist on his mobile phone wearing my bright blue jumper. I had to buy a couple more blue jumpers afterwards so people would be able to recognise me!

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The PorterShed was set up to address a number of needs. I’ve been part of the meet-and-greet team for a number of FDI visits to Galway, and a recurring theme was the lack of a downtown innovation hub for incoming but also indigenous startups – with all the expected features: red brick walls, wooden beams, fibre internet, and of course, super coffee. Two years ago, a group of us had our first meeting about downtown spaces for rent, and I subsequently worked with some fantastic people and the Galway Chamber to make the first step in what we called the “Galway City Innovation District” a reality. In September last year, we started renovating a former Guinness storehouse, the PorterShed, backed by AIB, which opened its doors to startup companies in April this year, and officially opened in May.

The PorterShed is a showcase for Galway’s tech startup scene, and incorporates a coworking space housing 20 innovative companies and up to 70 people in total, and an open space for events and workshops. In the first half of 2017, we will also launch a digital tech-focussed accelerator, which will add 20 startups to our economy per year.

The PorterShed has become a tour stop for visitors – business, technology and otherwise – centrally located on CIÉ land. For example, during Galway 2020, we hosted the European judging team as part of their final onsite visit, where they met members of the business, tourism and tech/medtech communities. We also hosted the Mayor of Menlo Park, Rich Cline, who officially opened our PorterShed conference room, also called the Menlo Park.

As well as future expansion beyond the PorterShed into a cluster of nearby complementary hubs – perhaps for creative media, food and agri-innovation, medtech, marine and more – another stated aim of the Galway City Innovation District is to develop the role of Galway Innovation Commissioner, loosely modeled on the Dublin Commissioner for Startups, and requiring support from key local organisations. This influencer and networker would promote “Why Galway”, surfacing Galway innovations that are under the radar, and representing us nationally and internationally.

The PorterShed requires the support of local companies and multinationals to continue with its remit as Galway’s downtown innovation hub. We’ve had great support from AIB, our title sponsor, Enterprise Ireland, KPMG, IBM, FOD, Collins McNicholas, LEO Galway, and the Galway County and City Councils. As a non-profit company, we are continuously looking for new sponsors, to complement those companies and organisations already involved.

Skills

Spaces for entrepreneurs need to be complemented by the skills to succeed as a startup founder – so that people know how to progress their idea, technology or passion through to a successful startup, or to produce a new innovation within existing companies. The PorterShed Accelerator is assisting in this respect from the startup side – providing a structured programme, seed funding, and desk space for teams who want to transform from a strong idea into a commercially-viable startup. The PorterShed Accelerator will run every six months, attracting regional, national and international entrepreneurs into Galway for a three-and-a-half month programme delivered in the PorterShed. We are also looking for more individuals and organisations who are interested in supporting the PorterShed Accelerator.

skills

NUI Galway is also playing an important role. In September, I took on the role of programme director for a new technology innovation programme, called TechInnovate. TechInnovate is based on the successful BioInnovate programme, which has been producing medtech innovators and innovations in startups and corporates for five years now. Again, this initiative, TechInnovate, is developing entrepreneurial skills but amongst different cohorts.

There are two target groups of people for TechInnovate: professionals who undergo a career change and undertake our 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.

For the first cohort, TechInnovate skills up interdisciplinary teams of entrepreneurial fellows who are embedded in various non-health domains – this year, agriculture and defence – and who identify key needs to be solved in those domains through their combined skills. Each team consists of a businessperson, engineer and designer, and after a bootcamp in the “Disciplined Entrepreneurship” process which underpins the programme, they spend 6-8 weeks in the immersion phase, finding around 200 needs in their domain of interest. They then apply the TechInnovate process to filter down these needs to the one with the most commercial opportunity, and develop a product plan around the solution to that need.

The second targeted cohort – employees in our existing companies – is addressing the fact that many of our local companies are now in an increasingly challenging, noisy and competitive marketplace, with millennial job hopping becoming more common. In a recent survey in the US, it was found that 71% of millennials were disengaged at work, with many pursuing what they termed “side hustles”. As mentioned earlier, retaining talent in the West has become a core focus. Employees can be skilled, creative and innovative intrapreneurs, which becomes not only a “nice to do”, but essential to the bottom line. TechInnovate trains up a team of three from each company in the entrepreneurial principles and processes for creating innovation-driven enterprises, delivering skilled and engaged employees who can pursue new ideas that support the mission and vision of that company, and thereby supporting the company to launch new products and services or pursue new markets.

Our first TechInnovate sponsors are Bank of Ireland, EY, and the WDC, with support from NUI Galway and the Galway University Foundation, and we are actively looking for more partners who share our common vision: to seed a new set of skilled entrepreneurs in the local startup scene and skilled intrapreneurs in our larger companies.

Spirit

As well as creating space and developing skills, we also run various events to instill the spirit of being an entrepreneur. In 2013 we set up Startup Galway, inspired by Brad Feld’s book “Startup Communities”, which describes how the startup ecosystem in Boulder, Colorado was established. Startup Galway runs a series of fireside chats with successful entrepreneurs, and our most recent guest in November was Jerry Kennelly of Tweak, whose previous company, Stockbyte, was acquired by Getty Images for 135 million dollars.

spirit

The number of startup-related events being run in Galway has dramatically increased over the past two to three years – from Innovating West to Startup Weekends (the next one is in March) to pitching practice sessions to technology workshops – which is very encouraging. The PorterShed alone has hosted over 100 events in the past six or seven months.

When I think of the likes of Tipperary’s John Ryan, creator of Macrovision, who studied at NUI Galway; Donegal’s Kathleen McNulty of the ENIAC team, one of the world’s first computer programmers; former NUI Galway Professor George Johnstone Stoney, who named the electron; Galway’s Alice Perry, the first woman in Ireland or Great Britain to graduate with a degree in engineering; and Galway natives Oliver and McGlynn who founded Menlo Park in California, we have a lot of entrepreneurial spirit and tech heritage to be proud of in the West.

We also have a great ecosystem of award-winning startups and internationally recognised companies, and when you combine this with the talented graduate and postgraduate workforce from our world class research centres and higher education institutions, with the second highest number of PhDs in the state after Dublin, we do have a density and quality of ecosystem that can draw the creators, innovators and entrepreneurs in to Galway. We also have some fantastic organisations and efforts making stuff happen, including the Atlantic Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE), BioInnovate, Blackstone LaunchPad, Enterprise Ireland, Galway Chamber, GMIT, GTC, IBEC, IDA, Insight, ITAG, JAI, JCI, LEO, New Frontiers, NUI Galway, OMiG, Regional Skills Forum, SCCUL, startlab, Údarás na Gaeltachta, WDC and WestBIC.

Given the challenges our region faces, we need to do more. If you share my desire for our young people to have the opportunity to live and work in our region, I would ask all of you in the Galway community to support the various initiatives aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in the Western region, including TechInnovate, the PorterShed, and other efforts being led by the aforementioned acronym soup.

Let’s continue to make Galway the best small city in Ireland, Europe, and I believe, the world.

Photos of the PorterShed, TechInnovate and Innovating West by David Ruffles, Aengus McMahon and Peter Harkin respectively. This article was published in today’s Galway Advertiser, and is based on a recent speech I gave to the Galway Chamber of Commerce. Thanks to Maurice O’Gorman for his input and advice.

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TechInnovate Holds Open Evening on “Intrapreneurship” Training for West of Ireland Corporates

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TechInnovate, the entrepreneurship initiative from NUI Galway, is hosting an open evening on November 22nd at partner Bank of Ireland’s startlab location on Eyre Square for local corporates who are interested in openings on the team-based “intrapreneurship” training programme for industry. Intrapreneurship is the application of entrepreneurship and innovation principles within larger companies and corporates.

At the open evening, attendees can find out more about the TechInnovate Intrapreneurship Training programme for industry, commencing January 2017. The event will be led by TechInnovate director Dr John Breslin and Bank of Ireland startlab’s Tracy Keogh, along with NUI Galway’s current cohort of TechInnovate entrepreneurial Fellows who will be mentoring industry participants through a series of hands-on workshops delivered over 20 weeks.

“As proud sponsors of TechInnovate, Bank of Ireland are delighted to host this evening on November 22nd at 7 PM in startlab, Eyre Square,” said Tracy Keogh. “TechInnovate’s big hairy audacious goal, or BHAG, is to have many more skilled entrepreneurs in startups and intrapreneurs in corporates in the West of Ireland. This event will give attendees the chance to hear from current Fellows of the programme and opportunities for openings in the industry programme beginning in January.”

“We have more people founding and interested in founding startups here than ever before. The spirit of entrepreneurship is particularly strong right now,” said John Breslin. “However, in parallel, there is a need for more initiatives that are developing innovation skills for companies, to give structures and processes to those who want to set up innovation-driven enterprises or innovative projects and products within existing corporates.”

 

24steps5bTechInnovate follows a “disciplined intrapreneurship” team-based approach, working through topics including needs finding, market analysis, technology viability assessment, competitive positioning, interdisciplinary team building, product life-cycle planning, marketing strategy, sales channel analysis, and with a strong emphasis on the entrepreneur/intrapreneur as a salesperson.

Ian McMorrough, director at Bank of Ireland, said: “Bank of Ireland are thrilled to host the upcoming TechInnovate open evening, we need more people thinking entrepreneurially and intrapreneurially, and TechInnovate will provide an injection of these people into the tech ecosystem in the region.”

The TechInnovate training workshops have been developed to address the growing demand for innovation training in the sector and are delivered by a combination of TechInnovate Fellows, academics, domain and industry experts. These workshops afford participants the opportunity to work in multidisciplinary teams to progress an unmet domain need through the TechInnovate process to a product plan for a technology innovation.

Attend the TechInnovate Industry Open Day to find out more by registering at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/techinnovate-industry-open-day-tickets-29051228005

New Entrepreneurship Programme to Target Agriculture and Defence

fellows

  • First TechInnovate Fellows announced by NUI Galway
  • Teams will develop innovative technology solutions for pressing needs

“Through the immersion phase, the Fellows get direct experience of the needs of a farmer or soldier in the field”

Dr John Breslin

Innovations in technology for the agricultural and defence sectors are being explored by the newly announced TechInnovate Fellows at NUI Galway. The names of the entrepreneurial individuals who have been accepted onto the Fellowship Programme have been released.

Taking cues from the successful BioInnovate programme for the medtech sector, TechInnovate’s aim is to enable technology innovators and innovations in new sectors, initially agriculture and defence.

The first cohort of six Fellows have been split into two teams, who will immerse themselves within the sectors. Over the course of the 10-month programme, the Fellowship teams will carry out a thorough needs analysis with end users, identify a pressing technological need, and then develop a solution.

The programme is being led by NUI Galway academic Dr John Breslin, who is himself an entrepreneur as co-founder of boards.ie, adverts.ie, and more recently the start-up hub PorterShed. Dr Breslin says: “Understand your users, that’s the key’ is a saying from serial entrepreneur and investor, Paul Graham. It captures the essence of what this programme is about, because through the immersion phase, the Fellows get direct experience of the needs of a farmer or soldier in the field. They then go on to filter and prioritise these needs and develop a solution wherein the key market opportunity lies.”

Each team consists of an interdisciplinary grouping of engineer, businessperson and designer. All members are industry professionals with extensive expertise from different sectors.

The defence team is made up of Ronan Boyle, an electronic engineer with significant industry experience in the medical devices industry, Greg Payne, with expertise in financial services, compliance and sales with a background in sports science, and Leon Butler, an accomplished visual narrative designer who recently completed a residency in LA.

On the agriculture team are Niamh Lynch, an expert in quality and risk management for the medtech and pharma industries, Ciara Shields, a results-focused marketing and international business development executive with a passion for startups, and Paul Flynn, design thinking and learning environments specialist with an education and engineering background.

Dr John Breslin explains the origins of TechInnovate: “The impetus for the development of this Fellowship Programme emerged from the Government’s Innovation Taskforce Report. It made recommendations on how to embed product design teaching and research in Ireland’s engineering schools and how to shift design education in Ireland to a model where creativity and innovation in product design are encouraged. The BioInnovate Ireland Fellowship Programme was created as a result of these recommendations, which in turn inspired the development of TechInnovate.”

TechInnovate also has an experienced team of advisors with entrepreneurial and investment backgrounds, including: Gerard Barry, Galway-based investor and entrepreneur, founder of Privity Pay and formerly Fintrax; Patrick Dawson, investor and adtech entrepreneur (ex-MediaMath, Adobe) who has built businesses in Asia, Europe and the US; Dr Helen McBreen, Investment Director with Atlantic Bridge Ventures and formerly of NDRC and Celtrak; Barry O’Sullivan, Silicon Valley-based investor, entrepreneur, CEO of Altocloud, former SVP at Cisco, and dragon on RTÉ’s Dragons’ Den; and Dr Gareth Keane, Senior Investment Manager at Qualcomm Ventures in California.

The programme is supported by NUI Galway and the Galway University Foundation, and is sponsored by Bank of Ireland and the Western Development Commission. A Continuing Professional Development series of workshops in the TechInnovate process is also being offered to supporting companies, and new sectors and immersion opportunities for teams are also being sought for future years.

QTales Launches Platform for Authoring and Curating Interactive Ebooks for Kids

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QTales, a project to develop a collaborative ecosystem for European SMEs to create and exchange multi-plot interactive ebooks/multimedia apps for children, has recently released a new version of its QTales social platform for ebook co-authoring at qtales.com.

The QTales project began in early 2015, and was established to build a set of multi-platform editing/authoring tools along with players for interactive ebooks developed using the QTales framework. QTales has been designed with young creators in mind, allowing them to foray into a creative domain typically dominated by adults.

“The QTales platform is a great opportunity for young authors, illustrators, etc., to promote themselves and their work,” according to QTales Project Manager Delia Petacchi from Forma Camera, an Italian partner in the project.

After signing up for QTales at qtales.com, users begin by creating a new ebook and then editing it in the QTales authoring application (also downloadable for Windows and Mac), adding various multimedia elements including images, audio, mini games and more for a more captive interactive experience. Users can then choose to submit their ebooks for further curation, inviting those with complementary skills to enhance their ebook further.

“QTales is not [just] another social platform, it is a social platform for professionals who wish to join a new era for the traditional second generation book industry,” said Constantine Abazis, Chief Project Manager with Publisto in Greece.

The eventual aim is to establish QTales as a known brand for next generation ebook production within the European publishing industry. The ebooks can be interacted with using a set of easy-to-use QTales players for popular mobile devices and operating systems.

Dr Tony Hall, Lecturer in Educational Technology at NUI Galway, highlighted the importance of QTales for both literacy and creativity: “QTales will support children’s literacy and reading development, by encouraging them and supporting them in the development of ebooks, authoring them and sharing them through the QTales portal.”

The authoring portal is at qtales.com. QTales is funded under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (ICT-18-2014 645588), and will produce its final version of the QTales platform this summer. You can find out more about QTales in this recent video on YouTube or by visiting the project site.

The Yield Lab Announces the Launch of the Yield Lab Galway

Agri Tech Conference at The Portershed, Galway, IRL. Photograph by David Ruffles

Thad Simons (Managing Director, The Yield Lab) makes the announcement at the Agriculture Technology and Innovation Seminar in the PorterShed (photo by David Ruffles).

The Yield Lab, the United States’ first food and agriculture technology (AgTech) business accelerator, announced the launch of the Yield Lab Galway, in the PorterShed on Friday, 15 July. The Yield Lab Galway is a food and AgTech venture fund and business accelerator, located in Galway, Ireland. The Yield Lab Galway is a significant boost to the investment opportunities available to emerging AgTech and agriculture innovation spinouts and startups from Galway.

The Yield Lab is an early-stage venture fund and business accelerator that invests $100,000 in early-stage food and AgTech startups, provides one-on-one mentorship, free workspace, and networking opportunities supported by agriculture-focused organisations and businesses from the St. Louis region.

Agriculture is a leading industry in the US Midwest, with extensive business connections to the St. Louis region and beyond. The diversity, central location, and solid business community support makes the St. Louis region a leading market for AgTech expansion. St. Louis is a sister city with Galway, which has an emerging and vibrant agriculture innovation system.

“We believe finding innovative solutions to sustainably feed the world’s rapidly growing population is the biggest problem facing humankind today,” said Yield Lab Managing Director Thad Simons. “The launch of the Yield Lab Galway is the appropriate next step and will provide greater access to financial and strategic opportunities for both our St. Louis- and Galway-based investments.”

The Yield Lab Galway has been established on the same building blocks and strategy of sourcing, transacting, and mentoring as the Yield Lab in St. Louis. The fund plans to invest in 8-12 companies over the next two years. Each Galway-based food and AgTech startup will receive up to €100,000 and participate in a twelve-month accelerator program.

Professor Charles Spillane, Head of the Plant & AgriBiosciences Research Centre (PABC) at NUI Galway highlighted that: “The Yield Lab’s establishment of its first European base in Galway is extremely exciting for the translation of agriculture research activities into agriculture innovations and AgTech startup companies. The multi-disciplinary PABC looks forward to collaborating and working closely with the Yield Lab Galway as one of its key investment and startup partners. The sustainable intensification challenges facing the agriculture and food sector in Ireland, and internationally, present opportunities and necessities for the development of disruptive agriculture innovations that the Yield Lab can foster.”

Dr John Breslin, one of the founders of the PorterShed and a PABC Principal Investigator, highlighted significant synergies between the Yield Lab and the NUI Galway AgTechInnovate program which he leads.

He indicated that: “AgTechInnovate is a new Fellowship Programme from NUI Galway which aims to create interdisciplinary teams of technology entrepreneurs (“techpreneurs”) who are embedded in a particular domain for 6-8 weeks to identify real needs, following which they invent, implement and iterate solutions. In the case of AgTechInnovate, this would be in an agricultural environment, with our initial plans to immerse the 2016 AgTechInnovate team in 10 large dairy farms.

“Spinouts emerging from AgTechInnovate will have the opportunity to pitch to the local Yield Lab Galway for investment. The establishment of Yield Lab Galway will further strengthen the agriculture innovation ecosystem in the West of Ireland, which includes the NUI Galway PABC, Teagasc Athenry, Mountbellew Agricultural College, GMIT and agriculture innovators like JFC, Food 360 and McHale.”

“AgTech companies work in a global economy and our goal is to build a bridge to St. Louis for Irish AgTech companies looking for a US footprint,” said Joe Reagan, President & CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber. “In St. Louis, we are focused on supporting entrepreneurs and innovators, and our economic development strategies in the 21st Century must be bold and innovative as well.” The St. Louis Regional Chamber has made a founding investment in the Yield Lab Galway from its Spirit of St. Louis Ventures fund, which has previously made founding investments in five early-stage business accelerators as part of a comprehensive strategy to support the formation of early-stage capital and to support entrepreneurs.

Galway was the obvious choice for the Yield Lab to establish a European footprint due to the strong relationship as a sister city with St. Louis. It also offers a number of regional resources such as the multi-disciplinary NUI Galway PABC, GMIT, Teagasc Athenry, Mountbellew Agricultural College and a central location to the vast agricultural production systems of the west of Ireland. Galway has built itself into an entrepreneurial stronghold, boasting a thriving technology park and growing support ecosystem for innovators.

Cultivation Capital has developed a significant interest in agricultural technologies,” said General Partner Rick Holton. “The Yield Lab has provided us with valuable insight into their portfolio companies that has consistently presented Cultivation with the opportunity to capitalize on promising investments. This was the value proposition that led us to invest in St. Louis, and this is why we are investing in Galway.”

“The new Yield Lab partnership enables a two-way street of economic activity between St. Louis and Galway. The growing Yield Lab portfolio in both regions will now have overseas networks to leverage. The Yield Lab Galway portfolio companies will attend a programming session in St. Louis to provide them with opportunities to access US markets and alternative sources of capital, and the Yield Lab St. Louis companies will be encouraged to leverage the resources unique to Galway. This marks a critical milestone for the St. Louis entrepreneurial and economic ecosystem. This bridge of economic activity with Galway should bring further opportunities for St. Louis.” said Sheila Sweeney, CEO of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

startlab: A Bank-Funded Incubator in the Heart of Galway


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.”

Tracy was originally destined for corporate life but yearned to do something on her own.

“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.”

Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway – A One Stop Shop for Ideas

The recently opened Blackstone LaunchPad at NUI Galway offers students, postgrads, alumni and staff the opportunity to feel out, test and nurture their fledgling startup ideas. They also have the opportunity to see if the life of an entrepreneur might be a possible or worthwhile career path to follow.

To help them with their questions and to provide support in determining the feasibility of ideas and creating a pathway of development is Executive Director, Mary Carty and Program Manager, Natalie Walsh.

LaunchPad is centrally located on the Concourse at the heart of the NUI Galway. No matter what background the students have or what degree they are pursuing, they can come to LaunchPad discuss their ideas.

Mary says that, “If they have an idea or they want to pitch something or present something, they want to build out some skills or they are just curious, they can just come in and talk to us and we’ll help them to figure out what’s next in their journey.”

Mary is herself an experienced entrepreneur having been CEO of Spoiltchild, an award winning design and development agency, and co-founder of Toddle, an email marketing system for small businesses. Prior to LaunchPad she co-founded Outbox, an incubator for young women with tech ideas.

“I pretty well understand how you start something, how you develop something, how you grow something.”

The number one question she hears is, “Is my idea a good idea?” To which the answer is, “We have to figure that out. This is the first stage of the conversation. Let’s figure out if this ideas has legs and what are you going to do next.

“We use the lean business model. That’s very good as it focuses very much on the problem that you want to solve. It focuses on the customer end – what the pain is and how you are going to help the customer solve that problem. It is a very interesting flip of the mind for a lot of people.”

LaunchPad is funded by the Blackstone Foundation in partnership with the Galway University Foundation.

Blackstone LaunchPad already works with over 500,000 students across the United States. In Galway, over six hundred students signed up for the program in the first month.

The space itself is mainly fitted out with benches and bare tables – no computers. “We wanted this space to be very collaborative and open so students could come in and talk about their ideas and work on their canvas. We have a well-used blackboard and people can become as hands on and as creative as they want.”

“We are signing up people from across the colleges. So that’s arts, humanities, social science, medicine; then, obviously, science and business as well.”

Mary says that LaunchPad is, “A one stop shop for ideas. Our aim is to help you to get you to the next point from where you are at with your idea.”

It is expected that some users will go on to other incubators and accelerators while others may go through the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) at NUI Galway.

“The pipeline is there and there are pathways that people can follow and we can help people to figure out where to go next.

“We have StartLab. PorterShed is going to come online. BioInnovate is here. The TTO office is here. No matter where you are at in your career or in your evolution as a startup there’s a place for you to go.”