Mapping Dublin’s tech ecosystem, one human at a time
I’m Sarah Scannell, and I have worked for Dublin City Council for the last 11 years. I was involved with the Smart Cities initiative when Niamh Bushnell was appointed to the role of Dublin Commissioner for Startups. When the opportunity arose to join her, I took it.
Our first step together was to set up the office and to develop the startup strategy. That meant doing both background housekeeping management, engaging with a lot of people and learning on our feet through experimentation. Niamh has a very high energy, so we never saw setbacks as problems, rather as challenges to be overcome; just a matter of moving and shaking things to make them happen.
Our first initiative was the First Friday Brekkie, a way for us to meet startups and for startups to meet each other and to develop networks. Soon after, we initiated Mentoring for Scale, with Joe Hogan, matching startups with experienced entrepreneurs for advice. Then together with Conor Stanley and Derek O’Connor as Editor, we set up Dublin Globe to tell the story of Dublin Tech to the world. As I look back, I think “Whoa, we did so much.” The great thing is all these initiatives are still around.
That experience guided how I approached my current role as Cycling and Walking Promotion Officer at Dublin City Council. My aim is to promote cycling and walking and grow the number of people who commute in the city that way.
One of the most important lessons I learned from entrepreneurs is the importance of deeply understanding the challenges before developing the solutions. I continually work to understand and tackle the barriers that prevent people from choosing the bicycle as a mode of transport. Addressing the perception of safety, bicycle theft, road user behaviour and bicycle parking are all challenges that I face in my role.
One of the greatest things about Dublin is how superb we are at fostering partnerships. I work closely with the Dublin Cycling Campaign, An Taisce (the Irish National Trust), the Police, the National Transport Authority, the Road Safety Authority, the National Council for the Blind and other authorities. The list can go on and on…
One of the first initiatives I engaged in my current role was the cycling Small Business Innovation Research Challenge, a Smart Dublin Initiative between four local authorities and Enterprise Ireland. We had a seed fund of €100,000 to partner with companies that could help increase the cycling use in Dublin. We received over 60 submissions from startups and entrepreneurs and worked hard to shortlist them to five. We funded BikeLook, Fluidedge, See.Sense, Hidnseek, and M2C Smartcharge for a feasibility study.
Another big initiative was bidding for Dublin to host Velo-city 2019, an ECF global cycling summit that takes place in Europe bi-annually. Dublin hosted it already in 2005, and no city had ever hosted twice. Still, we applied and were shortlisted alongside Helsinki.
Our pitch was that despite the lack of funding for big infrastructural projects due to the recession, Dublin City Council has worked in integrated, collaborative and creative ways, to continue to grow our cycling numbers year on year. We showed that encouraging people to cycle is about much more than just building expensive infrastructure. We had to demonstrate that it was determination and incremental changes, as well as proactive engagement with communities, schools and businesses that had resulted in the modal shift in Dublin. We also presented sustainable community projects like Hike It! Bike It! Like It!.
We had three fantastic sunny days in Dublin during the delegation’s visit. We braced the 8 am morning rush on the Grand Canal Cycleway; then pushed onwards out to the path from Fairview to Clontarf. The area there, is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the only one in the world that’s part of a capital city. We showed them the Convention Center and the ways to cycle there by the Liffey. We also sold Dublin for the wonderful people that make it a unique and attractive city.
At the end of 2016, we got the news that we had won the bid. Velo-city is returning to Dublin in 2019 with 2000 delegates! I am extremely proud of our world class achievement.
I cycle year round. It’s by far the most efficient way to get around the city. When I cycle home from work, it debriefs my day. By the time I get home, I am ready for round two. It’s nearly like mindfulness; it’s good for the soul. My favourite cycling route is from the city centre out to Clontarf. You’re close to the city, yet when you go out there, it’s fascinating. You look over, you see Poolbeg, the towers, and the whole city but at the same time, you are in a nature reserve, cycling by the sea alongside Canadian geese. It’s incredible.