Tuesday 17 October 2017

Watch: Into the West...the new tech community helping Irish start-ups reach Silicon Valley

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Major development projects getting underway in Cork mean that the Munster capital is vying with Dublin’s tech hub in attracting data-centre investment.

Yet it is a determined community in the West is proving to be a possible third contender as a hotspot for Irish start-ups looking to propel themselves on to the global stage.

Located two minutes from Galway train (and bus) station, a mashup of entrepreneurs and budding talent are welcomed as part of a community built from bank-backed initiatives and collaborative spirit.

PorterShed acts like a showcase of sorts for Galway’s busy tech startup scene, an open space that encourages shared innovation and welcomes casual members.

It was sourced with an aim to avoid long commutes and daily congestion, in addition to addressing the lack of a downtown hub for such firms.

“We set up PorterShed in May 2016, filling a gap for start-ups to come together and have a home,” Director and NUI Galway lecturer John Breslin told independent.ie.

Portershed
Portershed

 “We looked around for office buildings and found an old CIE building that was a former Guinness Storehouse. With AIB as our main sponsor, we took a long term lease and transformed the area into a place the ‘residents’ can get to by foot, by bike – and connected of course by technology.”

At the moment, the PorterShed houses 25 companies and around 70 people in the co-working space, a number of which are scaling and export focused, according to Community Innovation Manager Mary Rodgers.

“Software company Altocloud was launched in 2014 by Dan Arra, Joe Smyth, and CEO Barry O’Sullivan, formerly a senior executive at Cisco,” she said.

“In the past year, Altocloud has increased its Irish and US workforce by 50pc with 90pc of the current sales to US companies in the financial services and technology sectors.”

Altocloud – who have also established an office in Silicon Valley - is just one success story of many that have leapfrogged through the use of the collaborative space. Mocks.ie, IrishApps and Perfect Card IT are examples of other start-ups who have grown and expanded internationally over the last 10-12 months with PorterShed. 

“Companies with us have the ambition and the ability to go further afield. A number have established offices in Asia and Silicon Valley,” said Mary.

Portershed members
Portershed members

Furthermore, Silicon Valley-based firm Mesosphere’s Developer Advocate Michael Hausenblaus used the PorterShed for his Irish base as he “fell in love with the environment”. 

Currently, PorterShed has plans to launch its own incubator programme and has a vision for a second building – ‘the Stable’ – at the site to cater for more companies at their different stages of growth and success.

As the Galway community caters for the most basic of entrepreneur as seen through initiatives such as Startlab – an incubator programme built to provide tech start-ups with the education, connectivity and ability to scale from the ground up.

Supported by Bank of Ireland, start-ups apply to a six month learning path during which they will meet with key speakers, coaches and mentors.

Startup Community Manager Tracy Keogh says that this work can come back to “two physical buildings – the BOI workbench (a free co-working space that is open to all) and Startlab, an applications only technology incubator”.

Cohort One of startlab includes an additional five roles created across the eight teams involved. There were also three successful investments: Bluedrop Medical with 600k angel, MintTek Circuits with a 500k partnership deal an 100k angel and ExerWise with a 10k kickstarter. Companies such as Builder Engine have moved on to other supports such as Portershed from which they are building their Hong Kong office.

“The West is so vibrant that if you walk a couple of hundred metres around Eyre Square, you’ll hit off about 100 companies in Startlab, Portershed aand Superpixel Labs. Community is a huge focus for all start-ups we support but especially in Startlab where our cohort must give back with hours per month to the community,” said Tracy. 

Through Startlab and Portershed, a number of events have been held at the larger Galway space, inviting the community and visitors to participate, pitch and play.

Over 50 events were held at Portershed within its first six months of operations and startlab hosts gatherings such as Startup Weekend which "puts new opportunities in front of our young talent...it's a gateway for those interested to drop in...and it's a fun, educational, comfort zone bashing space".

CEO of Gabriel Marketing Group Leah Nurik travelled to visit the tech community when she attended the Dublin Tech Summit earlier this year.

"I was blown away by what they did in Galway; they transformed that beautiful building into a collaborative space for (and by) people who are so passionate about the tech community there," she said.

Nurik - whose firm was recently named a Gold Certified Agency Partner by HubSpot - met up with some of the firms on the BOI accelerator programmes.

"This space is definitely one to look at; a bunch of incredible people with different skillsets in one collaborative space".

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