Sunday 22 July 2018

It's a full house at the Hub as web summit hits Dublin

Some of the offices at the Digital Hub in James Street, Dublin 8
Some of the offices at the Digital Hub in James Street, Dublin 8
Edel Flynn, chief executive of DHDA

Donal Buckley

THIS week's Dublin Web Summit in the RDS presents investment and networking opportunities not alone for the high-tech companies in Dublin 4 but also for those in a relatively unsung area of the capital – the Liberties in Dublin 8.

At a time when Dublin office vacancy levels are as low as 18pc, the Digital Hub Development Agency (DHDA) currently claims it has a full occupancy level at 92pc occupancy in its campus of seven buildings made up of 113,000 sq ft of office space on a nine-acre campus in a place which would not be considered a sought-after area, clustered around James Street.

DHDA's chief executive Edel Flynn says that all seven active buildings within its campus are multi-let, with office space varying in size from small two-person units designed for scaling digital companies, to larger single units of up to 3,700 sq ft.

CAMPUS

"The Digital Hub supports companies from two employees to no more than 80 employees, subject to available space and it has several companies within the campus that occupy more than one office unit," she adds.

It also has plans to develop buildings on its site with larger floor plates which can cater for the current preference for large floor work spaces.

At a time when many private office landlords in Dublin 2 and other suburban areas suffered the loss of tenants during the recent economic downturn, the Hub weathered the storm very well.

While its tenant numbers have fallen from a peak of 100 companies in 2008 to 72 at present, the numbers of people employed has gone the opposite direction and increased to 900, hence the low vacancy levels.

About 70pc of the clients are indigenous firms and 30pc are overseas as it works with the IDA in attracting digital and media companies to Ireland.

It provides what it calls a "soft landing spot" for international companies looking to test Ireland as a market place and a gateway to Europe and its flexible lease terms allow companies to expand or contract, as their business demands.

"We create a collaborative environment that allows foreign direct investors (FDIs) to work alongside and with indigenous companies and gain access to strategic projects that promote innovation," she says.

It also provides shared services, including meeting rooms and other shared facilities as well as broadband, telephones and shared hosting services, making it easy to set up and get on with business.

By hosting networking activities between clients, it promotes knowledge-sharing in an environment that encourages collaboration, creativity and innovation.

Of course one of the reasons for its low vacancy levels is the keen rental terms which are in line with its role in helping start-ups to cope with one of their key overheads. Rents in the commercial units start from €15 per square foot, excluding service charges.

"The Digital Hub has always aimed to remain competitive in terms of rents being offered. During the downturn, the rents changed in line with the market," a spokesperson said.

The state-owned agency has also taken advantage of the reductions in construction costs to expand the portfolio of buildings which it owns. Initially, after it was founded in 2003 to nurture digital and media businesses, it leased buildings from other property owners in the area in order to provide accommodation to digital and media companies and get the hub up and running.

During the downturn, it exited these leases to consolidate its campus and, at the same time, directly developed its own properties.

These consisted of Digital Court in 2010 with 20,000 sq ft of space, and Townhouse Twenty2 in 2012 with 4,004 sq ft. Both buildings were let shortly after launching.

The Hub also has a 10-year campus development plan in place which will see it continue to develop in a phased approach over the coming years.

Since 2003, when it was founded, Ms Flynn reckons that the Hub has generated 2,000 highly-skilled jobs of which 85pc are considered to be at a skill level above the National Framework Qualification Level 6, compared to a national average of 35pc.

VOLUMES

The tenants are also optimistic about their expansion plans. In a survey of its clients undertaken last December as many as 85pc anticipated increases in business volumes; 78pc expected expansion in client bases; and 66pc planned to recruit additional staff during 2013. At present, companies at the Hub employ an average of nine full-time and two part-time each.

The star performers at the hub have been the gaming businesses, among them Gala Networks Europe, Havok and Goa Games which have since gone on to achieve major global growth.

In terms of media companies, the Distilled Media Group – as Daft.ie – was based at The Digital Hub in its early days, and the founders have publicly credited the flexibility offered by the DHDA as a key factor in their success and growth.

As Ireland's computer games sector has become more established, meanwhile the Hub has moved on to support new trends, such as e-learning and e-health.

Irish Independent

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