Space Oddities: Understanding Dublin’s Startup Hubs

Via The Sunday Business Post: The Dublin startup scene has grown from basic concepts to a broad range of homes. The Big Read, sponsored by Vodafone.

From the outside, it looks like a disjointed mess. Two co-working spaces are barely across the river from each other. The best-known accelerator is out beside a brewery. An incubator that was within striking distance of one of the co-working spaces is now just a short walk from the accelerator. All before we get to the big spot out in the frustratingly named Citywest (it’s to the west of the city all right – quite a good bit west).

Dublin has a history of plan-as-you-go design. The boom at the start of this century saw the worst of that, but anyone who went to school in this city and did geography for the Leaving Cert knows that the Temple Bar we know today came about from basic necessity of trade centuries ago.

While the hubs for startups across Dublin tend to end up with a location thanks to that plan-as-you-go approach, there’s enough awareness of the past to know they can’t just plonk anywhere. The DCU Ryan Academy is in Citywest because it wants to make it easier for non-Dublin originating businesses to access it. Bank of Ireland’s Workbench is located in the heart of Silicon Docks, and its FinTech focus is helped by being just down the stairs and out the door from Accenture’s offices.

Necessity is still the driving factor for many. Dogpatch ended up in the CHQ building after Patrick Walsh had gone for a long walk to try and work out a good place for it to go. Cluster found a home on Westmoreland Street after Goodwin Lawlor saw that his businesses needed a base, and there were most likely others like him.

The how and where you start can be as stressful for those operating hubs as it is for the companies trying to kick-start their journeys. Gene Murphy has seen the way things can pan out from pretty much every angle. Having started out running his own startup through NDRC Launchpad, Murphy ran FCR Media’s incubator on Baggot Street before it moved to Fumbally Lane, and now works with Bank of Ireland on its startup projects, including the Workbench co-working space in Dublin.

“Incubators and accelerators are really different things, but people use the terms interchangeably. That’s unfortunate because they perform different roles. Business incubators essentially began in the US in the 1960s as a way for corporates to work with up and coming talent to see what was out there. There are many wonderful routes that business takes,” Murphy says.

“For FCR, it was a huge move at the start. It was a 25 per cent of their office space in premium space on Baggot Street. They benefited from the innovation internally.”

‘Incubators are important’

Having worked in a broad range of roles in the startup scene Murphy, who is now entrepreneur in residence with Bank of Ireland’s innovation team, sees a consistent issue for Dublin regarding space. It’s not just that there is a lack of places to put hubs now, but that there have always been issues finding places to put stuff.

“One of the problems with Dublin is that we don’t have the history, at least still standing, of a manufacturing industry in the city centre where buildings can be converted. I was in London last week, and I could just see that they have all the old factories and buildings that can be converted into co-working spaces in the city centre. It puts entrepreneurship right at the centre of activity,” he said.

Understanding the roles of the different types of hubs is critical to the future development of Dublin’s startup sector, according to Murphy. In order to develop a long-term vision for the city, or even for corporates looking to start out their own projects independently, the function of each space needs to be clear.

“You look at the different types: they all look very similar on the outside. Co-working spaces, the likes of Dogpatch are important because people need the space to be able to run their businesses and expand. An incubator is important for certain businesses because it gives them that connection to a corporate early, they are instrumental in changing the way corporate thinks internally. Even with what we have [at Bank of Ireland], it’s not an incubator, but it’s hot-desking space that is playing a bit part already internally for us. We have an incubator in Galway with StartLab and we need that to happen with Dublin too,” said Murphy.

“Some people may be able to skip accelerators and hubs altogether, you see that with the likes of Teamwork in Cork. That doesn’t work for everyone. I’m a big fan of co-working, I will probably stay in it for the rest of my life, but there is definitely more room for incubation.

“You have to work out what you want. What kind of change does your business need? It’s also about working out what kind of events you want to build around that. Office hours are one thing, but you need to think about how you run the space, the floor plans, the facilities. Having that interaction with the startups, even a cup of coffee every month, can engineer creativity. Understand your business goals, and what the startups with you can do to help.”

‘It doesn’t need to be complicated’

Specialisation is an area where Murphy expects significant growth. With large parts of Dublin’s startup scene being influenced by the US west coast, the trend is towards more sectoral focused incubation hubs like Versari’s EdTech hub in Dublin.

If Target can’t protect their credit cards, a retail business in Letterkenny might look at that and wonder what are the chances that it will be able to.

It’s about finding the issues and seeing what they could do. If there is a civic good, people are going to have more of an interest.

“When I was in San Francisco in September, I saw a project focused on emergency technology,” he said. “They educated people from the police departments, fire departments, etc, and put them in an incubator. Many of these people didn’t have technical knowledge, but they knew what their problems were and they went to work in teams. At the end of the programme, there was a new understanding of how to get technology to help them.

“In one case, they developed an app where someone could send a message saying what was wrong with them, and it would translate automatically. There is a huge range of languages in that city, and one of the biggest problems for emergency teams was that they would come on the scene and not be able to speak the language. Something as simple as that which can save lives by getting that extra few seconds is going to make a difference.

“It’s about finding the issues and seeing what they could do. If there is a civic good, people are going to have more of an interest. When it comes back to corporates, it’s all about setting down the objectives of where the gaps they have are and bringing in startups that can address them. It doesn’t need to be complicated: humans are great at finding ways to make things complicated. On the FCR side, they saw there was lots of learning there. They keep things simple and benefit.”

FinTech is an area where the interest of corporates seems obvious now, but it took time for the need to specialise became apparent. Bank of Ireland has taken a particular interest in the sector with its projects in Galway, Limerick and Dublin. Silicon Docks is home to the bank’s Workbench, a co-working space, which is giving it a closer link to the FinTech community and startups as a whole.

‘The location is very deliberate’

Dave Tighe is Head of Innovation at Bank of Ireland and took the role after spending a lot of time looking from the inside-out. His roles saw him see a lot of the areas where new businesses were affecting what the bank was doing and where it needed to go. Now he is in a position where he is trying to bring these ideas from the outside into the bank’s activities.

“I have been in the bank about 15 years in many different roles. Specifically, I have been focused on retail and I spent a lot of time in the credit card side. With payments being the first line in the FinTech revolution, it exposed me to a lot of what was going on and that’s really where the excitement for innovation came from,” said Tighe.

“We were starting to see this wave of change and development in FinTech. From that point of view, it opened a lot of doors for me. It moved quite seamlessly into innovation for Bank of Ireland, looking across our product range, at what our customers were interested in, and what new products and services they were demanding that we could put out.

“One of the ideas behind our innovation strategy is to work with the startup community, it’s leading on new products for our customers. It’s leading on that new innovation and we wanted to link with that community strongly.”

For Tighe, the challenge was finding ways to do more than just have the startups turn up and be in the vicinity of his people. The Workbench project set about finding ways to increase engagement, so the young firms could learn from the bank’s staff while Bank of Ireland was able to learn about the innovative ideas coming from these startups.

“We have opened two Workbench facilities, one in Dublin and the other in Galway,” he said. “They are very much about offering drop-in space for start-ups to engage with the Bank of Ireland team, but also to connect people in a really strong ecosystem. The Work Bench in Dublin isn’t just about the site itself, it’s about the events we put on. We’ve had well over 200 events in Grand Canal Dock, ranging from CoderDojo to venture capital nights to product launches.

“By engaging at the Workbench, we expose startups to good content and good learning. But it also helps us as an innovation team in Bank of Ireland to be exposed to some good startups, and we have seen some phenomenal firms come through it.”

Being at the heart of Dublin’s biggest tech centre was critical to the development of Workbench. Bank of Ireland wanted to optimise the engagement of startups it was working with by getting these firms to engage with the broader tech community.

“The location is very deliberate. They are about connecting startups with our own people, but also about creating an environment. If you look around Silicon Docks, you see the different businesses that we can connect to starups,” said Tighe.

“It is extremely important that we are open and look outward. We are working directly with four of the businesses that came through Workbench. It’s the opportunity to experiment and deliver products by working with the startups that are really exciting us.

“It’s been a learning process for us. We have matured in the model, along with some of these businesses. As we have put new people into roles internally, we have seen the benefits to our business. If you look at the startup community in Ireland you are seeing really interesting businesses which are doing fantastic things that customers want. From the point of view of larger businesses, they really want to engage with that.”

Tighe said the development process had been one where his team had learned a lot about what was needed to engage not just with the startups, but with partner businesses which had a similar interest in FinTech.

“The way I have seen it mature is not just about the space,” he says, “but also the engagement of the startups. there is a huge knowledge base out there, there are events on every night of the week in the Dublin community. If you look at some of the events like Startup Next, Startup Grind and Startup Weekend, it’s really shown there is a thirst for that knowledge.”

The growth of interest from large corporates in the FinTech space, with Alistair Blair in Accenture one of the more vocal cheerleaders for the sector, is a boon to startups, according to Tighe. This engagement is something he sees as a means to build on the overall growth of the hub scene in Dublin beyond FinTech.

“It’s never going to be the win-factor for startups, they still need the great product and team. But when you have organisations like Accenture supporting them and bringing them through, of course it’s going to help,” said Tighe.

“I see us really focused on supporting and promoting our startup agenda nationally. Within Dublin we are going to continue to bring events to support those start-ups and work more closely with them.

“With the FinTech community in general, the plan is strong and FinTech is going to be really strong in Ireland over the next 12 to 24 months. We are going to see some really great businesses coming through in that space.”

‘There was no grand strategy’

Finding places for those really great businesses to go has proved a challenge. But Goodwin Lawlor, chief co-worker at Cluster, took an approach of “if you open it, they will come”.

Lawlor had nowhere to house his own projects and none of them were at the stage of revenue where he could justify renting office space just for himself. He figured that if he was in this position, there were probably other people just like him, so he developed his own co-working space at Cluster’s offices on Westmoreland Street in Dublin 2.

“There are no jobs, no titles. People just come in and do their jobs. If there was a manager, it would be me, but I just have to make sure the bills get paid. Essentially, it’s just a group of freelancers and small start-ups sharing a space in town,” said Lawlor.

“It grew from a need that I had myself. I worked as a researcher in UCD for a long time and then remotely for a start-up from home. Most people who work in co-working spaces are sick of working from home or from cafés. They are looking for alternatives to that. I saw the concept about two years ago, I thought it was cool, it was something I could base myself out of and people with similar needs would just come along,” he said.

“There was no grand strategy. It was just something I wanted for myself and to get similar people around. We have space for 31 people, it’s small, and that’s how it works without a manager. Once you get much bigger than that, our model just doesn’t work.”

Lawlor manages his duties at Cluster while working multiple jobs, including his own start-up software projects. It’s a lot to take on, particularly when his role at Cluster is voluntary.

“From the co-working side, we have a great bunch of people that understand we are all in it together. It’s a community effort to keep the place running and the kitchen clean. From that aspect, it’s great to work with a great bunch of people. Sure you can be time-poor, but you just have to deal with it,” he said.

Size is a concern for Lawlor, as co-working right now is challenging financially. At a small size, it’s manageable, but scaling is a challenge.

“The problem is, if we grow, then we need a manager and a manager has to get paid. For a lot of people running co-working around Dublin, it’s hard to be commercially viable and do this kind of approach,” said Lawlor.

“Tech startups which come here usually come in when they have three or four staff. It’s amazing to see how quickly they grow, as after about a year they reach a stage where they have so many staff that they have to move on and find another place. When you are at the size that comes in to us, it’s typically at a time when you have trouble finding space around town to work from.

“It’s very easy to get feedback quickly in a co-working office. You can bounce ideas off people in different businesses, whereas if you are on your own in your home, it’s more isolated.”

Lawlor’s development of Cluster was out of necessity. His capacity for growth, however, is limited by the financial constraints of the model at large in Dublin. He need only look to Paris to be envious, where the Halle Freysinet will soon host the world’s largest incubator and co-working space in 1,000 startups. In simple terms, that’s really big.

Finding somewhere that vast in Dublin is essentially a non-starter. In order to even compete, it requires a lot of gumption and some creative thinking. Either that, or someone to go hunting.

‘It’s been a hell of a journey’

Patrick Walsh, managing director of DogPatch, certainly fitted that kind of description when he went looking for a co-working space around 18 months ago. His background led him to believe that Dublin needed a large dedicated co-working space.

“I worked in a few different startups, some of which have done well and some that have failed. Prior to that, I was a chartered accountant in KPMG. Basically, I had worked in a few different kinds of businesses, and through that varied view I saw the constant recurring theme of a pain point where there wasn’t the right kind of space for all these different companies,” said Walsh.

“Having been to San Francisco and seen the co-working spaces, I wondered why that wasn’t there in Ireland. I spent my Saturdays and Sundays going for walks on my own, looking for office buildings and warehouses, because I had nothing better to do with my life. I couldn’t find the office space, there was such a massive shortage even two years ago, and then it hit me to look at the CHQ building.

“I was walking through one day, and it went from there. I didn’t know who owned the building. It turned out it was Neville Isdell. He had owned it for about a year when I walked in off the street. He was focused on museums and food, but wasn’t sure what to do with the spot where we are now. Having gone through various gatekeepers, I managed to pitch him at 7am in The Marker Hotel. He said if we could get planning permission to change from retail to office he would do it.”

The challenge for corporates is that they no longer have the competencies to innovate in this new market. Meanwhile, agile younger companies are native in the digital market and understand the change in human behaviour

Walsh and his cohorts got the planning permission to get started on a co-working space, but it wasn’t Dogpatch yet. That was based in Barrow Street, near Google, but the previous operators were looking to get out. That’s when he got yapping again.

“Polaris was getting back to its core business of venture capital. There was a bit of serendipity where they were getting out of the co-working space and we were getting into it, so we bought the brand and brought the startups over. They are still helping us because they know a lot about running co-working spaces,” he said.

“It’s been just over a year in the CHQ building now. It’s been a hell of a journey. The first thing we needed to do was take the area where the old Meadows & Byrne furniture store used to be. They had already kitted out a large amount of that space, so we spent a little more to convert it to a co-working space. We opened with 9 startups totalling 45 people on the first day. We now have 150 people across 30 different companies here now,” he said.

“The main upside is community. It’s simplified, the space is designed in such a way where it is low commitment but looks the right way. The space is in a location where they can be focused on what they are supposed to do and hire the right people out of the likes of Facebook and Google.

“On top of the logistical side, there’s a community side with mentoring and meet-ups. We have extended down to the vaults downstairs for events. We try and facilitate interactions and collaborations between the startups, and also with other kinds of businesses in the community. Being part of a group of companies going through the same challenges makes that whole process better. More and more people are realising the upside of that model.”

Dogpatch is now expanding into the mezzanine floor of the CHQ above the current space. Planning permission was granted before Christmas, and Walsh is out looking for funding to develop the project. That’s essentially more talking and more yapping from a man who clearly has no time for hobbies. If he had ever discovered Football Manager, he might well have taken a different path.

“My main focus is on growing the space even further because there is so much demand and a lack of supply in the market for this kind of space,” said Walsh. “Things come and go. Some decisions were made. Karl [Aherne] had to shut up shop because some guy in Madrid made a decision.

“We can’t have pillars of our eco-system dropping off. That’s one of the things that spurred me on. We need more infrastructure, as in physical infrastructure. We are one of the best small countries to do big business in, but we are not a good small country to do small business in.

“I see a lot of pipelines with people coming in and starting stuff. You see support from the likes of Google supporting start-ups more. Other countries have done this more, but the opportunity is there to get those big corporates to feed back into the eco-system. Google has put its money where its mouth is, and we need to work on getting more to do that.”

‘We focus on the corporate’

One of the positive signs from the start-up hub scene’s struggles in recent years is that those who take the hits aren’t just calling it quits. When Wayra left, Karl Aherne didn’t just call it a day. Having headed up Wayra from 2012 to its closure in 2015 when Telefónica left the Irish market, he knows plenty about the demands of the startup scene in Dublin.

Aherne has taken a different approach with his new project, Red Planet, looking to pair the start-up with a big business before even thinking about location issues.

“At the conclusion of Wayra, we decided there was a way of accelerating startups that was better than the traditional accelerator model. We think they are starting in the wrong place by starting with startups. Instead, we are focusing on the corporate businesses who have the big problem coping with the impact of digital and changing human behaviour on their business,” said Aherne.

“Their business models are being eroded by the arrival of new entrants into the market. The big firms have stability, but with that comes a challenge around having to focus on quarterly results instead of long-term strategic direction. They look within their organisations for change and it isn’t there. The people who can innovate have left the business and even if they were there, there are 17-odd layers of governance to remove risk from the business and there is always risk in innovation,” he said.

“The challenge for corporates is that they no longer have the competencies to innovate in this new market. Meanwhile, agile younger companies are native in the digital market and understand the change in human behaviour. They are focusing on elements of big business, and are innovating within those niches to deliver a much more focused and customer-oriented product.”

Aherne is trying a more business-by-business approach of the outside-in model that Tighe is taking with Bank of Ireland.

“The hub world is achieving collaboration, which is essential for entrepreneurs. It’s not just about getting startups in the same space collaborating, but with the broader community.

“If big businesses can’t innovate internally, they will look outside their organisation. Outside-in innovation is great, but the challenge for the corporate is still finding and validating it before they bring it in to their organisation,” said Aherne.

“We focus on the corporate from the start, working with them to understand the types of angles they need to approach. Once they understand that, they can understand the specific type of solution they require to grow. From there, that provides criteria to find the types of startup that can bring innovation into the corporate. It removes randomness from the engagement and the time that this takes. Instead, it is focused from the start. By working with the startup, the corporate can develop a process where the younger firm develops a product that is ready to be sold to the corporate.

“The end result is that the corporate gets access to a new suite of product and services. The startup, in turn, achieves product market fit and validation from a large client and develops a stable revenue stream. It’s possible to solve those two problems simultaneously.”

Aherne is based at Guild House in the IFSC. His matching process, and how he links corporates to start-ups, depend on a few factors.

“It depends on where the startup is physically located. It is purely about getting the start-up to the point that it has a product that a corporate wants to buy. We have space for some startups in the building, but what we mostly do here is work with the corporate clients on site, or run events with the startups,” he said.

“The biggest challenge that start-ups have is stability, creating that stable revenue stream. A startup can work from anywhere but what it needs is revenue. We don’t see what we are doing as competing with traditional accelerators. They are hugely valuable; the problem is that startups often come out of them with a better product but still don’t have revenue. We work with companies that are close to having a product already and help them accelerate that revenue growth.

“The hub world is achieving collaboration, which is essential for entrepreneurs. It’s not just about getting startups in the same space collaborating, but with the broader community. The gaps come with revenue, getting start-ups to prove product-market fit. Start-ups can be too comfortable in accelerators, there isn’t enough momentum and they aren’t driven hard enough. It is something that can be focused on and improved, getting start-ups to the point where they have revenue and can attract investors.”

‘The stuff we’re looking at will be disruptive’

Understanding that need for revenue is where accelerators come in but even these have changed radically in Dublin over the past decade. Ben Hurley has been chief executive at NDRC since it started in 2007. Back then, the types of firms targeted and the model were rather different to how it approaches challenges today.

“A lot has changed over that period,” said Hurley. “We started out with the idea of accelerating research from idea to income stage. We were looking in hope as much as anything else to find a way to bring some income from the research stage. Now we are very much focused on early stage investment, making ventures happen coming from research and any other aspect of the eco-systems out there. It’s an active mission at this stage to generate and create new ventures,” said Hurley.

“We have reached these peak levels where corporates can drill in and get some real value from it. We started out with a collaborative research programme to progress unincorporated joint ventures where it could then be brought to the next stage. Some of our most successful companies have come out of that model.

“Now we apply an accelerator-type model while also being an early stage investor. There are other programmes out there that are just accelerators. We have identified three models to support different kinds of investment We are out there looking in the eco system, in the research labs, and in corporates for new ideas. We then pick the right tool, whether that’s NDRC Launchpad, Venture Lab, or Catalyser, to build those ventures.”

Hurley understands that not all startups hitting the accelerator stage are identical. His goal is to get them up to speed and investment-ready. But in order to do that, these firms need the right mentoring and the right timeframe to get there.

“Our typical investment is a fusion between a certain amount of a capital and a lot of hands-on assistance. These companies are here in-house for anything from three to twelve months. We have also done some domain specific projects, such as in health, and they are usually at an earlier stage in development. These are about facilitating teams coming together and building out the concept a little bit more. It’s getting some validation done before we put money into them,” said Hurley.

“We are investing in them once we see that the concept is solid enough, and that we can get them to the seed investment level within three to twelve months. If we don’t feel that we can get them there in that length of time, and that they need work before that, then we try to steer them in the right direction. We look to keep them engaged but say to them that they might need to look at a pre-accelerator before coming to us. On the flipside, if they are too far advanced and there is nothing we can do to move them on, then we will tell them they should be able to raise seed investment outside of us.

“There’s a difference between what we do and the likes of incubation or co-location. These are useful parts of the eco-system, but there’s a very big difference between what they do and what happens here. When we bring people into NDRC, we are putting money into them and all of the firms are coming in at the same point. It’s about trying to achieve a similar goal across a group of companies at the same time.”

Identifying the types of companies suited to NDRC is a huge challenge for Hurley. Many businesses he comes across offer clear potential for revenue, but not along the lines the accelerator needs to follow.

“Even when we look at research from outside where there is commercial potential, there are times where that commercial potential is as increment in a bigger business as opposed to being a stand-alone new venture. We are very much focused on those stand-alone ventures that can go the distance because, from an investment point of view, that’s where it needs to be at,” said Hurley.

“The stuff we are looking at will be disruptive in a new way. A lot of academic research today is based around building on existing technologies. That tends to support more incremental innovation which is also useful to have. When it comes to commercial innovation, you need to be aware of all of these aspects, and not underestimate the challenges that will be at the heart of new ventures.

“We are seeing things coming through at this stage, where the propositions are better thought-out than they were when we started eight years ago. There is a greater awareness of what needs to be considered, even at this very early stage.”

The maturity of startups getting to the NDRC now has made Hurley and his team’s job of selecting businesses easier in one respect. The startups are smarter and know what they need to offer to work with the accelerator.

“What you have now is a greater awareness of the benefit of doing some early stage venturing. It could be a city or region trying to do something via co-working spaces. There is also a need to realise that the things driving this are those that have funds and investment behind them.”

‘Female entrepreneurs wanted something different’

Those putting investment behind accelerators are also recognising the need to diversify. The DCU Ryan Academy has set up three programmes, all along the accelerator model, in order to find different routes to make its investment pay off, and one of these is focused squarely on female entrepreneurs.

“It’s the same way that anyone has different products for different audiences. When we started running the Propeller Accelerator a few years ago, we noticed we weren’t getting the same level of applications from female entrepreneurs as we were from male entrepreneurs,” said Eoghan Stack, chief executive DCU Ryan Academy.

“We knew they were out there but, for some reason, they weren’t applying to our programme. We started doing some market research and asking around. The feedback that we got back from many female entrepreneurs was they didn’t want the classic accelerator programme, they wanted something different. The classic model was three months, full-time, incubation space, co-working, and guys hanging out playing pool and eating pizza working into the evening,” said Stack.

DCU Ryan Academy – Female Propeller Programme Showcase from Sam Whelan-Curtin on Vimeo.

“The female entrepreneurs told us that they wanted to come in, do the work, meet the right people, expand their networks, and then go back and run their businesses or attend to whatever else they had to take care of. Essentially, we set up a programme that was designed very different structurally to meet these needs. We also figured that having a female-only programme would be both more attractive to female entrepreneurs in the first place and it would then allow them to create their own network of female entrepreneurs that they could leverage going forward,” he said.

“With UStart it’s a different experience again. We are dealing with students so the age profile tends to be younger than the other accelerators. They tend to have less life experience. There are pros and cons with students. They don’t know what they don’t know. That’s a good thing because it means they have no fear, on the other hand there’s a lot of stuff they need to learn.”

Stack moved over to his role in the Ryan Academy two years ago after watching the development of the startup and hub scene in Dublin. While most hubs have opted for the city centre, the Ryan Academy is primarily based out of Citywest in order to attract entrepreneurs from outside the capital.

“I’ve been working with the Ryan family for about 12 years. Prior to this role, I was working in the One Foundation directly with Declan Ryan. For me to move to the Ryan Academy was an exciting opportunity. Dublin’s startup scene is really hot at the moment, and I see huge potential there,” said Stack.

“The startup activity is just really hot at the moment. Ireland has a lot of assets working for it. There’s a level of connectivity and accessibility that doesn’t exist in other places.”

“Every location has upsides and downsides. With Citywest, we are surrounded by industry. For people who live outside of Dublin, coming up here is great because they can get here pretty easily. Sometimes you can get from Cork to Citywest as quickly as from Citywest to Dublin city centre,” he said,

“For the students every summer, we run the UStart accelerator on campus in DCU. The students involved get apartments on campus for the summer. It means the programme is all within walking distance. We have also done Propeller in DCU as well.”

The student project, Ustart, is largely philanthropic but Stack said that the businesses coming through it had shown that they could compete.

“We think the model works generally, so it’s about structuring it differently for different audiences. There is huge talent in DCU, raw ambition, and a lot of those students might not qualify for the standard programmes like Launch Pad at the NDRC. Just because they are students, doesn’t mean they can’t have the same outcomes. It might not be as frequent but the opportunities are out there. Even if the students ultimately fail, they can learn from it,” he said.

“From the academy point of view, it’s all about expansion. Last year, we embarked on two programmes through the European Commission connecting into networks in London, Berlin, and Madrid. A startup that comes in now can be plugged into those networks across Europe. It’s also making us a host destination that those accelerators will recommend to us,” he said.

“The startup activity is just really hot at the moment. Ireland has a lot of assets working for it. There’s a level of connectivity and accessibility that doesn’t exist in other places. We also have great talent coming out of our universities: a lot of them will be in the crosshairs of multinationals. A lot of the people in those multinationals are good at giving up their time and supporting startups.

“Looking ahead, I think we are going to see a clear segmentation of programme offerings across the board. I expect to see more accelerators supported around specific verticals such as FinTech and CleanTech.”

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