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.”

To EXPLORE staff-student collaborations, to seek out new ideas and new innovations

How does a university promote collaborations between students and staff to stimulate innovation? In a joint effort between the Vice President for Innovation and Performance at NUI Galway and the NUI Galway Students’ Union, the EXPLORE Innovation Initiative at NUI Galway has funded 38 student-staff projects since it began in January 2012. The projects each receive €1000 of funding from the initiative to deliver innovation that will benefit the university or the wider community in the area. Some of these projects include creating a locator app for cardiac defibrillators (AEDs) in the west of Ireland, building bilingual video-based teaching aids for school students, running a regular student-entrepreneur technology meetup in Galway City, and many more.

“There are just under 20,000 staff and students at NUI Galway and students account for 86% of this figure”, says Prof. Chris Curtin, Vice President for Innovation and Performance. “We know that students at all stages of their studies, together with the know-how of staff, can create an innovative culture on campus.

“NUI Galway and the Students’ Union have joined forces to introduce a new model for students and staff to work together to bring about positive and transformative change at the university.”

So what has been the actual impact of EXPLORE? In terms of staff-student involvement, over 215 staff and students have participated in creating and running the projects. As regards impact on the community, the numbers are in their thousands, directly or indirectly.

For example, the Cell Explorers project – run by Dr. Muriel Grenon and nearly 20 student partners at NUI Galway – had 200 children and parents taking part in their show at the Galway Science and Technology Festival, and also had 500 primary school children plus their teachers and parents participating in their biological and biomedical outreach programme.

The Exponential series of tech entrepreneur talks (previously covered on Technology Voice) has given over 300 participants the opportunity to learn from six of Ireland’s top technology leaders in a casual setting. The Video Lab YouTube channel of easy-to-follow chemistry lab demonstrations has had over 2,500 views since it launched in February 2012.

“EXPLORE breaks down traditional hierarchies in the university environment that can stand in the way of innovation and treats the entire campus population as active innovators”, according to Paul Curley, the President of NUI Galway Students’ Union. “We are seeing that when students and staff combine their wealth of expertise in new ways it can have very powerful results.

“EXPLORE’s far-reaching contribution to not only campus life, but also to the wider community, is to be applauded.”

The project areas for EXPLORE projects are wide ranging, including technology, science outreach, the arts, environment, health, employability and mentoring, teaching and learning, and skills development.

“Staff and students are equally enthusiastic about their involvement in EXPLORE”, says Amber Walsh Olesen, EXPLORE coordinator. “Student participants have developed valuable transferable skills within the areas of teamwork, leadership, project management and communication capabilities, and have bolstered their CVs with hands-on experience. In fact, some students have already secured jobs and summer internships as a result of their EXPLORE projects.

“Staff see EXPLORE as a way to pilot new ideas in a low-risk environment, to collaborate with undergraduate students, and obtain new skills, particularly within the area of digital media.”

A current EXPLORE project aims to build a high-performance computing cluster from used laptops. According to student partner Finn Krewer, “Supercomputers are big, expensive and need a lot of electricity. With this project we aim to acquire used laptops from students who are upgrading their laptops. We will then connect between 10 and 30 laptops together to form a small low energy computing cluster.”

EXPLORE is a first for Irish universities and has been inspired by similar efforts abroad. The goal is to establish a permanent fund for this initiative beyond 2013. To boldly go where no one has gone before.

Dave Marash Comes to NUI Galway

Dave Marash is coming to Galway, and he is going to speak in the Guest Speaker series of talks for the MA in Journalism programme at NUI Galway on 21 September at 12 PM. The location is at the Siobhan McKenna Theatre (link to map) in the Arts Millennium Building of the University. Anyone can come and if they are in the area or if is convenient for them to make a trip to Galway, then they should. They will be in for a treat.

Dave has been one of the leading journalists in American television over a career that has spanned nearly four decades. Here is a clip from one of his more recent shows featuring how his CBS counterpart Barry Petersen is coping with the diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s in his wife Jan.


Click on image for video.

For over sixteen years, Dave worked at ABC News on Nightline, a highly-influential nightly current affairs programme. In his time there, he covered major stories that took him to such places as the Former Yugoslavia, Sudan, Honduras and Northern Ireland. By way of a disclaimer I know this to be true as I accompanied him on some these trips working in my old job as a cameraperson.

Dave Marash attracted considerable attention when he joined Al Jazeera English (AJE) to become the network’s Washington DC anchor. Due to various ill perceptions of the channel’s output, AJE has no major cable or satellite distribution deal in the United States but it is available on the Web. It was a significant move for such a high profile journalist as Dave Marash. It demonstrates his willingness to engage with the story-telling process as he sees fit and be guided by his own moral compass.

His talk is entitled “The Religion of Journalism: Our God is Reality – What’s There?” Even though he has shared a thought or two with me on the subject, I am as intrigued as anybody else as to how the content is going to play out. I do know that it is going to be erudite, knowledgable, authoritative, and, knowing Dave, probably very entertaining as well.

This talk in the Guest Speaker series is being sponsored by Technology Voice.

Ted Vickey And Getting The Most Out Of LinkedIn


Ted Vickey with John Breslin, organiser of BlogTalk 2010.

In the final session of BlogTalk 2010, Ted Vickey gave a talk in which he shared insights, tips and tricks for using LinkedIn.

Ted Vickey (NUI Galway) – Social media and LinkedIn for business from DERI, NUI Galway on Vimeo.

A key takeaway was when Ted suggested that using LinkedIn, or any other social platform for that matter, was like using a muscle. It has to be worked: you either use it or you lose it.

Of course, it has to be worked intelligently, which is where the value in the sharing of his expertise became apparent.

Ted believes LinkedIn to be a powerful business tool for connecting people from down the street to around the world. As part of his PhD studies at NUI Galway, he has begun a research project to better understand the perceived benefits of LinkedIn.

If you would like to help him further in this endeavour please take part in his survey which you can access by clicking on this link: http://ht.ly/2wqK3.