Connected: Galway’s Tech Tribe

Via The Sunday Business Post: with startup hubs exploding in Galway City, Emmet Ryan talks to the talented people leading the charge.

If every city had a Tracy Keogh, there wouldn’t be a place on the planet without a swarm of start-up hubs. There is no shortage of eager and committed people, no dearth of advocates for a cause, but few are quite as effective at pushing their agenda as the young Kinvara woman.

Keogh likes Galway a lot and she wants you to like it too. She also wants you to go there, set up your business, tell more people how great it is, get them to come down, and keep the process going. Keogh is really good at what she does. The type of person who always over-reaches in what she asks for, but does so in a way that you will want to at least try to help her. That’s an asset any cause would kill for.

Keogh has taken charge of the Bank of Ireland Start Lab, a hub based on Eyre Square in a former branch. The square is about to become the most concentrated location for startup activity on the island. Take a left out the door of the Start Lab, go straight towards Supermac’s, and you will find the home of another broad tech hub in the making. Take a right to the far corner of the square from there and a MedTech hub is in the works.

Just down the road from the StartLab are the homes of two other hubs. The Portershed is kicking off soon, it will be home to Altocloud among others, while Superpixel Labs is just by the docks and is a co-working space created by a startup in the city.

It’s not that Galway lacked a tech scene, it was the lack of a centre that held the city back. The startup hubs are blossoming while the IT association of Galway (ITAG) is helping to bring the whole band together. Most of Ireland remembers Digital, particularly for the end, but its legacy has guaranteed that the city kept some silicon in its veins.

Storm Technology is a long-established success story, while Hewlett-Packard Enterprise is no small deal in the town. There is, of course, the long-standing MedTech tradition and Apple is opening up not too far away in Athenry.

What Galway lacked was one place where, when you got off the bus or train, you could think you were in the heart of the buzz. That’s changing now. Once you leave the station you are in the heart of things. That’s where the energy is and that’s got Keogh rather excited. She started out her career in tech in the city but, like so many, headed to Dublin before moving back home as community manager with Bank of Ireland to help spread the message.

“I was in a startup in Galway where lots of people knew about us abroad but nobody knew about us in Dublin. With Galway you just had to go instantly global because in Ireland we weren’t getting the message out, that happens a lot with businesses here,” said Keogh.

“Right now there is just so much bubbling under the surface. There is a huge amount to sell in terms of the talent that is here, the lifestyle, and the kind of companies growing up in the city,” she said.

“The attraction of Galway now is a lot like the reason people join a startup. What’s the point in joining a firm a couple of years in when all the fun is gone and it’s already big? You want to be in a place at the very start when you are shaping something and where the fun is.”

Keogh has seen the city change in a short spell, a change she is part of. She was part of a startup in the city four years ago based in a downbeat room with no community around it. That was in the Galway Technology Centre. The building is still there but the issues aren’t.

BOI Community Manager Tracy Keogh

“If you go there now it’s changed completely. The decor is colourful and the people are vibrant, they have put in a huge effort along with the local business founders to help build up the community,” said Keogh.

“Now we have events like Galway Beta which shows off the start-ups that are just getting off the ground. We have startup weekend events and those are going to happen more often. We take people from colleges and corporates, give them everything they need to either form a company or to join other start-ups.”

Looking out the broad old bank windows, Keogh can literally see the change that is happening around Eyre Square.

“It’s such a thrill. There are a lot of co-working spaces, incubators and accelerators coming down the line. As we are so close together, it’s going to be unique. We can share knowledge and resources. If somebody brings over a speaker to one of the spaces, it’s easy to just spread that around and involve the others. I’m really excited for what Eyre Square is going to be in the next six to nine months.”

Keogh’s big part of this development is StartLab, a six-month placement for businesses looking to get moving fast. Startups are still applying for places, before the selected firms kick off in the lab in January.

“We give these businesses everything they need to grow and scale. When they reach us they know what their idea is, they have got some bit of funding, here we will help them build up sales and develop finances,” she said.

While the programme doesn’t formally get under way until next year, the space is already being used by businesses along with the Bank of Ireland work-bench co-working space. Keogh wants there to be life in these buildings because Galway has gone long enough without ample room for start-ups. She is in no mood to wait.

“There were three startups in here recently and I was talking to them at the Startup Gathering. They had left the city in May to set up their businesses and they told me nothing was here. When they came back for the gathering, they said everything was here and the city was a huge attraction for them.”

Cian Brassil of Birdleaf

One of the firms that has Keogh excited is Birdleaf. Run by NUI Galway graduate and Kilcolgan native Cian Brassil, the company gives insights to companies based on the email addresses of customers.

“We can look up the social profiles and other data based on the email address. We give the clients back demographic information, age, gender, professional breakdowns, and a lot more based just on the email address,” said Brassil.

Birdleaf wasn’t the first crack at a start-up for the 25 year-old. Brassil and Birdleaf co-founder Scott Kennedy previously ran a firm that allowed users of different cloud storage services to collaborate. The duo couldn’t monetise it but it gave them the idea for Birdleaf.

“We spent a lot of time looking at our customer base and we noticed there wasn’t an easier way to get insights into our customers, which is where we saw a gap for companies with a similar issue,” Brassil said.

The start-up is only on the go for six months, but has already won the Galway Beta prize and Brassil was named Galway young entrepreneur of the year last month. Birdleaf was originally in Wayra based in Dublin, part of the last batch run by the Telefonica programme, but Brassil saw an attraction in coming back.

“I had worked with a lot of people in NUI Galway before. Now that there are so many spaces opening up, it is becoming much more attractive. It’s cheaper to set up here than Dublin or Cork, but there is still plenty of talent coming through,” said Brassil.

“We still have the connections we need in Dublin, but it’s easy to move between the two. Ireland is a small country so it’s important to take advantage of that. Galway has a quality of living that is quite attractive for the people we are hiring.”

The business is already generating revenue and has a few multinationals on board as customers. The next step is to raise funding and increase staff to give it the tools required to build up its client base.

“A lot of our customers are international, and we will be taking trips to San Francisco and London in the next couple of months. There is a strong advantage to having our base here, we see ourselves as having our home here. We feel as connected as businesses in larger cities without having the overheads involved.”

Dorothy Creaven of Element Wave

It’s not just the brand new businesses that are making waves in Galway. Element Wave has built up quickly over the past four years. The founders were initially focused on app developments, but saw technology within apps that could make clients smarter at marketing. The gambling industry, in particular, has been a promising market for the Galway business, but the overall potential goes far beyond the igaming sector.

“We started out developing apps. The sector was taking off and it was a fairly low-risk way to start a company. All we needed was a second-hand Mac and off we went,” said Dorothy Creaven, co-founder and chief executive of Element Wave.

“We got a few decent contracts, but from studying it we started seeing the holes that were appearing in apps. People would plan their mobile app development strategies, figure out what they wanted, and as soon as they released they thought ‘job done’.

“The thing is. When you release an app you get a spike of downloads in the first few days and then they totally crash. Then a lot of people stop using it. A lot of users have between 20 and 80 apps on their phones, but chances are they only really use four or five of them every day. That’s a huge loss of money for companies who are creating pretty expensive apps,” she said.

“What we wanted to do was build a piece of software that fitted into the back of any app. It tracks how people use apps and we mine that data in real-time to create subtle mobile marketing campaigns. With the data we provide, companies can see who is using the app and how they are using it to create marketing messages that are user-focused rather than brand-centric.”

Creaven, originally from Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co Clare, initially met her co-founder James Harkin while studying in NUI Galway. The duo went their separate ways after college. Creaven on the move quite a bit as she saw the world, trading web development work for Spanish lessons in Ecuador at one point, but she and Harkin came back to the city to get Element Wave up and running. The business has nine staff as it stands, but the calibre of its client base means growth is inevitable.

“Around 90 per cent of our customers are from outside Ireland. In Ireland we have the likes of the GAA, Electric Ireland and RTÉ. We are very focused on the iGaming market in Europe, including Bwin Party, Betsson and Colossus Bets.”

The last few names may not jump out at the typical Dublin Globe reader, but in market size these are massive gambling firms on the continent. These are high-revenue clients who need their apps to deliver and fast.

“We already have two of the top five igaming firms globally in Bwin and Betsson. Our target is to be the market leader in that sector in Europe. We are setting up triggered alerts that work with their apps,” said Creaven. “It’s about collecting raw data and presenting it in a user-friendly way.”

Being based in Galway has zero negative impact for Element Wave in reaching its pan-European client base, according to Creaven.

“We have really good relationships with them. We need to see what our clients’ problems are so we can innovate with them in mobile technology. It’s a competitive environment. Everybody in the igaming sector wants to be the first to try something, whether it’s being location aware or some other tool. Each of these firms wants to stand out.

“Our growth strategy is to become the market leader in the next 18 months. That will see us add another 25 employees over the next two years. We are currently raising a round of investment now of around €1.5 million to aid that,” said Creaven.

“We have bootstrapped all the way up until now. We were careful with our cash and we wanted to scale slowly on the people front until we were sure we had something that was really ready to scale. The product is already big on the igaming front, but it translates into retail, sport, and other markets.”

For Creaven the balance is a key battle. Element Wave doesn’t want to lose sight of its core market, but also needs to be able to focus on other areas where the firm can grow.

“We found with our last product that we were a little bit slow coming to market. We tried to be all things to all people. We learned from that and chose to focus on one market, bite off a sizeable chunk and build from there.”

With growth now a necessity as much as anything, the business has been on an interview binge. Creaven has spent months speaking to people who could potentially aid her business.

“The graduates and developers in Galway are great. It’s a really busy time. We are managing that while ensuring we keep meeting our clients’ needs,” she said.

“For us it is the same problem over and over again. Whether it’s Bettson or RTÉ, they are competing with many other brands in a space where everyone is trying to reduce customer churn. For them it’s about making the app helpful to the app user so they can compete with the others in their space.

“Galway is where we want to scale up from to meet these needs. We are definitely going to keep our engineering base here. Given that a lot of our customers are from outside Ireland, it will be important at some point to set up sales offices in London and the United States. Other than that we want to keep everything here. Galway is a great place to live, it’s got a good work-life balance. Rent is cheaper, commercial and domestic. We are based right in the city centre, looking over Galway Bay, people love coming in to work here.”

Creaven’s office is just opposite Superpixel, a startup that saw a problem for itself and decided that it was one the firm could solve for other early-stage companies. With a dearth of co-working spaces in Galway, Superpixel went and opened its own.

Founded by Barry Duffy, the business has been on the go since the middle of 2012 and has nine staff. Duffy is originally from Galway city, where he did a degree in civil engineering before doing a master’s in finance in Imperial College in London and heading to Dublin to work for AIB. Duffy, like so many other founders, came home to get his own show up and running.

Like Element Wave, the business has found the igaming sector to prove particularly strong in its early days. Last month, the business launched a football prediction app for Boyle Sports. The back of its success has seen it raise €500,000 through Enterprise Ireland and private investors.

Superpixel is planning on adding another ten staff over the next year on the back of this infusion. The firm has built out quickly from the betting sector, with the new money helping it broaden its horizons to hit the retail space too.

“We didn’t want to be too focused on one sector. We saw a gap in the loyalty app market. We have done deals in Ireland and now we are expanding into the British market.”

The other gap Duffy saw was in the heart of Galway. There was nowhere for firms like his to just come in and get some work done. Over the last six months, Superpixel has filled that need, using its office on New Dock Street as a co-working space for start-ups.

“It’s complementary to what we do. We get the right kind of freelancers and designers into the office. We outsource some work to them. It’s good for the culture of the business,” said Duffy.

“Normally a firm like ours is looking for a co-working space, not providing it. After my time in AIB, I was in the Digital Hub for a while. I came back to Galway and didn’t find anywhere suitable so we [Superpixel] decided to start one ourselves.

“We initially got ten people in, but we are expanding that now to 100 desks. It’s a challenge, but we are going to take on people to manage it while I focus on our core business.”

Duffy is creating the increased space on the back of what he sees happening in his home town.

“Galway is really coming along. I’ve been back a while. You see all of these spaces opening up and the tech culture is just growing. I can’t see anything Dublin has to offer that Galway doesn’t. It’s just so much cheaper here and easier to find office space. Even coffee is 25 per cent more expensive there than here.”

Pretty much everyone I spoke to in Galway, not just the techies, echoed what Creaven and Duffy said about how cheap and easy it is to live and work there. Dublin’s got a heap going for it, but living there is going to set you back a good bit and the lack of space in the capital, made harder by Ireland’s fear of tall buildings, means you won’t have trouble finding a company large or small with concerns about getting adequate office space.

That, of course, is partially a result of Dublin’s success. The city has attracted so many firms that competition is fierce. That city’s tech revival is several chapters in. Galway’s feels like it’s still at the introduction. For young people starting out, that makes it a particularly attractive place to pursue their dreams.

Edel Browne of Free Feet

Edel Browne is just 18 years old, in second year in NUI Galway, and commutes daily from Athenry, while also running a startup that could help Parkinson’s sufferers across the world. Free Feet is a laser technology business set up by Browne that helps those with Parkinson’s adjust the way they walk.

Freezing gait is a big problem for those with the disease, affecting around 72 per cent of sufferers in total. Browne’s laser technology gives control back to the individual, enabling them to adjust the way they walk to reduce pain.

Browne’s business is more than just a concept. Originally a project for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, which won the Athenry native top prize in the individual category in 2013, Free Feet now has a fully working prototype and Browne has lectured in Cambridge about her work.

The Cambridge opportunity came on the back of Browne’s involvement in the Outbox Incubator in London, an initiative involving 120 people working on projects over six weeks. Ideas were submitted and the organisers allotted time in the hub based on the potential of the concept’s business plan. Of the 120 who took part, Browne was the only founder given the full six weeks.

It’s quite a string of accomplishments for someone so young, but that also creates a busy schedule for a student trying to get through her degree. She had eight hours of college between labs and lectures the same day she met me.

Browne isn’t alone in the project, her business partner is Dr Aoife Kirk, but Kirk only finished studying medicine last year, which leaves her short on time too. Despite the obvious barriers, Browne and Kirk are making major strides.

“We have made great links with the Parkinson’s Association here. I had a meeting with (Minister For Health) Leo Varadkar before I went to the incubator and we are looking at doing deals with hospitals here as well as selling directly to end users,” said Browne.

“In Outbox we met venture capitalists and we have been in touch with them about funding as well as investors in the US. We are also making links with Parkinson’s UK and the Michael J Fox foundation.

“Managing between Free Feet and college is fine so far. Now that Aoife has come on board, I have someone to share the load with which is very useful. It’s about making the odd sacrifice here and there. I’m conscious of time management and know the value of it.”

The bug bit Browne while she was still at school. Keogh and the start-up community didn’t need to do much to encourage her along. The focus on getting young people excited and involved never lets up for the community.

Eimear Tyrell of Chef Delivered

Student Eimear Tyrell has her finals in marketing to think about, but her involvement in Galway Startup Weekend has her dropping into the StartLab regularly to build her own food technology business.

Tyrell won the competition at Startup Weekend with her idea Chef Delivered. The 48-hour marathon, when an idea is conceived, planned, and then presented to a panel of judges, is an accelerated way to get people thinking about businesses.

“Prior to that I had no idea that there were so many support structures in Galway. Before then I had lots of ideas, but there was nowhere I could work on them. Start-up Weekend has given me so much focus. Maybe the concept I won for [collaborating with chefs to deliver ingredients for recipes to consumers]isn’t viable, but it’s been a launchpad into meeting people I can work with,” said Tyrell.

“I’m sticking with the food concept, that’s my biggest passion in life, and I want Ireland to be the hub for that sector globally. I see start-up companies in food and the potential is there.”

Tyrell is 19 years old and is getting her start at a time when Galway is ripe for young people to build big and fast. Her confidence is built on the back of what she sees from other businesses that have grown up fast in the city. It’s not just locals that are being drawn to this environment.

Nicola O’Sullivan (22), from Dublin, and Laura Hanlon (21), from Kildare, chose the city to get their startup ExerWise up and running.

“Galway just works for us. It’s really accessible with the Start Lab and workbench here,” said O’Sullivan.

“We are in the middle of prototyping at the moment and from there we are looking at where we want to get funding from.”

The company is developing an exercise wristband to help parents monitor the amount of exercise their children are getting.

“Childhood obesity can be seen worldwide. It’s becoming a problem in Ireland. We are trying to encourage children to be more active,” said Hanlon.

“Galway is a great place to work on this with so many events on and so many mentors to work with that can help us.”

The business got a boost from Paul Killoran, founder of Ex Ordo. Killoran told the ExerWise crew to come along to the Venture West event, giving the young business an opportunity to meet with investors.

Killoran’s own firm, Ex Ordo, is targeting the academic market. Ex Ordo’s software, which is designed and built in Galway, helps make life easier for organisers of research events. The company has been on the go for four years and has 12 staff now.

“Every year there are around 200,000 research conferences in the world. We look after the entire process, which is very technical. We work in 50 countries on 300 conferences at the moment and have tripled our revenue year-on-year each year since we started,” said Killoran.

The idea was built out of largely the same situation as Brassil’s Birdleaf. He had a task he wanted to do and found nobody else was developing software adequate for it so he built it himself. Now the business is moving beyond the academic space to work with enterprises running conferences.

“Galway is a great place to work and focus. There are plenty of distractions in the evenings, but it’s a good place to get down to business and work during the day. It’s easy to get caught up in parts of the job that distract from the real work,” said Killoran.

“With GMIT and NUI Galway there’s a great pool of talent and the community here is great. It’s all for one and one for all. There’s no sense of divisiveness. We’re so small as a city that there’s no point competing with each other.”

That’s the glue that is making so many businesses want to make Galway home. It’s a sense of collaboration that isn’t easy to find. Colmac Robotics is on the other end of the edtech market to Ex Ordo. The business is based in Galway, but neither of its co-founders, Niall McCormick and Colman Munnelly, lives in the city.

The duo, both 22, met in school at St Gerald’s College in Castlebar with McCormick still living there, while Munnelly is based in Limerick where he is finishing off a degree. Colmac provides robotics education to primary school children.

“The idea started back in 2008 when we were in school. When we turned it into a business it was only meant to run for a few weeks as a summer camp in 2013. People kept coming back to and it has grown from there,” said McCormick.

Analogue Devices in Limerick has got on board to help the business grow, helped in no small part by Munnelly living there, and the duo won the best established business category at the Mayo Young Entrepreneur Of The Year awards last month, but Galway is definitely the firm’s home.

“We use Galway as our hub. It gives us a great opportunity to network and expand the business. We organise from here to bring in a mix of engineers and teachers to work on the camps,” said Munnelly.

For the likes of Munnelly, McCormick, Tyrell, Hanlon, and O’Sullivan, it’s the early stage. This is their first crack at going out on their own, but this is where they see as the place to give them their best shot. When you have so many young people deciding that Galway is going to be where they plant their flag, it’s no surprise to see more experienced minds like Creaven decide there’s something worth watching there.

More are following Creaven’s example and either coming back or deciding to increase their existing presence in the city. Mic Fitzgerald’s OnePageCRM is already making big waves after five years in existence. Galway is where Fitzgerald wants to scale it and take on global giants like Salesforce.

“People are coming here to have a great experience and it’s no different for the people that are here all the time. Once you get here, there’s a very good chance you end up staying. I tried to leave but I couldn’t,” said Fitzgerald, originally from Kilrossan in Co Waterford.

“The pool of talent here is small enough, but it’s easy to get people to move here. Once they experience the city they want to be here.

“For the first two years the business was an experimental project. We built ecommerce systems for our clients. One day I sketched out what I wanted a CRM system to look like on the back of a napkin.”

Fitzgerald put the napkin away and then brought his staff out for ice cream. That was where he broke the news to the half-dozen employees he had at the time that within three months they would deliver a whole new CRM product to the market.

“I had been stung before. I once tried to get a product out, but spent too long trying to make it perfect and the whole thing fell apart. I didn’t want that to happen again,” he said.

“Eventually, I decided to drop all the e-commerce work at a time when OnePageCRM was only bringing in $400 a month. Both me and my wife were working in the company and we had just had our second client. It was make or break.

The gamble worked. It’s gone from that scary beginning, or stupid as Fitzgerald calls it, now have a staff of 18 and a heavyweight client base of 6,000 paying users. The firm is on campus in NUI Galway, but is moving its operations to the Portershed.

Having raised $750,000 in funding to date, the business is looking at hitting the 60,000 paying user mark and 80 staff. That would see the firm seek up to $5 million in funding. Fitzgerald said the investment can help the business improve its competitive footing in the market.

“From the outside you could see Salesforce as the 800lb gorilla in the corner of the room. The reality is we have 800lb gorillas in every corner of the room. There’s so much noise the in CRM space, the barriers to entry are low, so it’s tough to get any traction,” he said.

Fitzgerald is determined to make Galway the long-term home of his firm, but he recognised that there could be issues for the business down the line. That’s one of the reasons he wants to see the whole tech scene in Galway rise.

“We can do whatever we need to grow the company here and have a sales office in the site. Where the problems arise for a business here is if you want to sell a company, you are devalued a lot if you are in Galway. That’s where the growth of the eco-system comes in.”

Like Fitzgerald, Corkman Barry O’Sullivan can’t get away from Galway and wants to see the city’s tech scene grow. His firm, Altocloud, was set up 18 months ago with 15 staff, the bulk of the team is in Galway and the rest in the US on sales and marketing. O’Sullivan still lives in California, but his core team works out of Galway, developing the software behind the customer service software business.

“Galway has a deep talent pool of software engineers. If you look at the likes of HP, Avaya and Cisco here, they are doing product development here. A lot of what we do is big data so there is a lot of data science in that. We have access to that type of talent through NUI Galway, people we couldn’t get in California because there is too much competition there,” said O’Sullivan.

Altocloud is based in the university and is making the move, like OnePageCRM, to the Portershed in the new year. To date, the start-up has raised $3 million as it looks to build a big-time business out of the city. O’Sullivan expects to more than double the firm’s staff within the next year.

“The goal with Galway is to have this eco-system. The likes of co-working spaces, the Start Lab, accelerators, and then whatever Eyre Square becomes will create that,” said O’Sullivan.

“It’s exciting. I set up Cisco here in Galway in 2007, it was great fun and I did it for the same reasons I’m building Altocloud here. There are people here with the skills. To grow a successful global tech company headquartered out of Galway is the dream.”

O’Sullivan’s building his company from the city, Karl Flannery has already built his. Storm Technology was set up by the Galway man 20 years ago and 40 of its 100 staff are based in the city. The consultancy business has its software engineering operation based in the city.

“It’s where we were founded. Back then there was a lot going on with Digital, Nortel and a few other major corporations in the city,” said Flannery.

“The tech sector is doing well as a whole globally. Galway has been a strong city for tech, even during the recession it was managing to attract firms in. Over the 20-year period there has been a pool of talent created by multinationals attracting them here, through the universities directly, and by SMEs attracting people here.

“We have an indigenous SME and startup sector that is growing here in Galway. With my own work, I spend a part of my week in Dublin and live here in Galway. The rail link is brilliant, it leaves you in the heart of the city. Along with the motorway, it makes for an easy journey between the cities.”

After two decades in the city, Flannery said this is a particularly exciting time for a tech business in the city. He said the breadth of businesses in the region now is making working in Galway more attractive for those coming to the city.

“If someone moves to a smaller city and it doesn’t work out or you just want to change your career, it’s critical that the region has a pool of employers so people have that choice,” he said.

“We are bringing top talent into the Galway region and developing more home-grown top talent through third level institutions. It is critical to the success of the county that we are seeing more start-ups, SMEs, and global companies in the region.

“Storm has been growing steadily over the last four or five years and we are expecting to grow our staff here. We have ambitious plans for the company to grow the operations here and in Dublin. Galway will be a centre of excellence for us.”

Like Storm, PFH Technology Group has a long-established presence in the city that is witnessing the new wave of growth. Paul Silke, client director at PFH, has been with the firm for close to 17 years. The firm has 40 staff in its Galway office, heavily focused on the health sector.

“Being here is important. Between the medtech side and public sector side we have a lot of business here,” said Silke.

“If you look at the people we have in our Galway operation, I’m one of the new people. There are people here with over 25 years’ experience in our business here. Those people have a strong relationship to the west of Ireland and that’s why PFH has been so successful here.

“We are confident for the future here. We have set ourselves very ambitious revenue growth targets for our Galway operation through to the end of 2017. Infrastructure was under-invested in during the recession, now we are seeing confidence come into our own base and see the incubator companies in Galway grow. That offers us a huge number of opportunities.”

Silke brings it back to the start. These firms which are only blossoming now are presenting opportunities for the established businesses in the city, those who remember the earlier days in Galway’s tech story.

From the young people with vision, some of whom are trying to save the world, to the late stage start-ups, the SMEs, all the way through to the multinationals, there’s a collective in Galway that is pushing the city forward.

Bringing this all together is the challenge. The individual groups do a lot for those clearly related to them.

You can see that just by walking into Hillbilly’s and Eyre Square and spotting the folks sharing a bucket of fried chicken. The community knows structure helps all parts of the process. That’s why

ITAG is working with businesses at all levels to push the city’s tech scene forward.

ITAG works with local authorities, third-level institutions, individual companies, and business groups to find ways to develop the city’s tech scene. Along with running 40 events each year, the organisation provides technical training so that more people can contribute to Galway’s tech story.

“We are focused on creating a worldwide brand for Galway that is focused on technology,” said Caroline Cawley, chief executive of ITAG.

“Companies in Galway tend to be quite open. There are more high end people coming in so the multinationals have the turnover they need and SMEs have access to good staff.

“Galway is bubbling away. There is so much activity in the city. Arts and technology go together naturally, there’s lots of creativity. What we are trying to do at the moment is get that story out there.”

Getting buy-in from the companies in the city is crucial to developing ITAG’s goal of making the city a globally recognised tech city.

Paddy Medley, vice-chair of ITAG and managing director of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, said working on building the whole city’s scene is beneficial to his day job where he oversees 760 staff in the city. “We want to develop our own business here. If you look back at when ITAG was set up in 2000 to now, we have grown threefold here and gone from being a manufacturing operation to being focused on research and development. That has meant we can attract and retain top talent here with high quality software engineering skills.

“We work with ITAG to see what training is needed across our operation. Collaborating locally allows us to train staff at a significantly lower cost than send staff to Dublin or further away. No one was going to build a software and IT cluster in the region, we had to start doing it and that saw people row in behind us,” he said.

The boat is filling up fast with no shortage of people young and old, startup to SME to multinational alike, all willing to take up oars.

Galway’s got work to go before the vision is realised, but one walk around the people there, one conversation with Keogh, Killoran, or Browne, and you see the hunger.

The change isn’t some concept in the distance, it’s going to hit the city hard over the next nine months. People will come for the party, but they will stay for the potential.

Pictured at top of page (l to r): Tracy Keogh, Cian Brassil, Dorothy Creaven, Michael Fitzgerald and Eimear Tyrell. Photos: Michael Dillon

Originally published in The Sunday Business Post.

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