Sunday 25 February 2018

WATCH: Inside Dublin's Guinness Enterprise Centre - 'We help each other, learn from each other - and even give each other a kick up the a**e'

Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

Success and failure are concepts that can be hard to understand in the life cycle of a start-up as it is their very experience of ‘failure’ that can be the stepping stone to a future in business.

At least according to Dublin’s Guinness Enterprise Centre manager, Eamonn Sayers, who has seen many early stage companies walk through its doors since he took over the helm of the start-up incubator.

"The GEC is about fostering the community and fostering the environment that helps early stage companies to grow and succeed.

"But success is a relative term. I’ve seen start-up companies disband but the individuals involved be recruited to impressive roles at other roles as a result of their entrepreneurial efforts."

However, the success of the GEC nurturing process has been proved, and internationally recognised, as it achieved the ranking of the world’s Top University Associated Business Incubator in 2016.

Fledging firms – including those not linked to educational institutions - who approach the GEC can expect assistance with their business plans, with their market strategy, and to become investor ready.

The GEC is managed by public-private business support organisation Dublin Business Innovation Centre (Dublin BIC).

An average stay at the GEC is just under three years, a 30pc turnover year-on-year, but the fact that lots of companies come and go only "adds to the innovation and the experience of all of those at the GEC".

The non-profit organisation is currently home to over 400 entrepreneurs from a wide range of industries, with early idea generating firms to companies that have scaled up and have been trading internationally for years on site. 

"That immediately gives a whole cosmopolitan vibe here. It also helps people to have conversation, particularly if they’re looking to other markets to export their product," said Sayers.

GirlCrew, the global network for women to make new friends and engage in professional networking, is just one of the most recent success stories to come from the GEC.

Co-founded by Irish trio Elva Carri, Pamela Newenham and Aine Mulloy, the Enterprise Ireland-supported firm currently has more than 100,000 members across 46 cities worldwide including Dublin, London, New York, Toronto, Edinburgh and Melbourne.

Former financial journalist Newenham is now moving to San Francisco next month to expand GirlCrew's footprint in the US.

Read more: How a simple idea to help build your 'Girl Crew' has turned into a global phenomenon

In terms of fitting under the co-working umbrella, a sense of community and networking is crucial for those at the GEC. As Sayers believes, no entrepreneur can do it on their own.

"A lot of our clients help each other, they learn from each other – and throw their arm around each other when they need to.

"They even give each other a kick up the arse when they need that as well. It’s about sharing problems and concerns – there’s very few unique issues out there that other people can’t help you with."

Located in the heart of Dublin 8, close to the tourist haven Guinness Brewery ("the perfect venue to take visiting clients"), the enterprise centre is open seven days a week, 365 days a year with a choice of shared, private or co-working office space.

Maintaining the success of the hub in this locality is a passion – and a relative source of pride – for Sayers, an affinity shared with nearby Digital Hub’s CEO Fiach MacConghail, whose previous tenants have included Amazon and payments giant Stripe, which was established by the billionaire Limerick brothers, John and Patrick Collison, in 2010.

In fact, I was introduced to MacConghail who happened to be lunching in GEC’s popular canteen "where everything has a price", but that price is pretty low – and they do sushi on Tuesdays.

In addition to bringing expert guests in, e.g. those form the legal profession to speak on site, the GEC also hosts a number of events with those working inside the space.

Read more: Demand for Space@Dublin BIC is high - but what makes this co-working hub different?

First Wednesdays involve around 25 of the GEC entrepreneurs who will meet over lunch and talk about what they do, who they are trying to meet – and can anyone in the room can offer assistance.

"It’s very strong from a peer networking; you’re learning from who is best in the marketplace to help you with your particular problem. It’s about your once off problems as a growing entrepreneur," said Sayers. 

The CTOs of the tech firms, meanwhile, meet for Tech Thursdays and talk through their individual network or system issues with each other – "they talk through things that they are learning, things are coming down the system, maybe helping from a talent point of view".

At the end of the month, the sales and marketing people get together and talk directly to each other, talking through each other’s sales processes and learning from each other. There are also social and leisure events such as yoga, indoor soccer, golf outings, cycling clubs, hiking events, Christmas parties.

Furthermore, recognising that the pace of scale is different, flexibility is a priority at the GEC, says Sayers, "not that you need it now, but just that you can take extra desks as you grow". 

Having spent close to ten years on a rather rocky path to success, Ticketsolve is just of the firms at the GEC who appreciates this ability to scale up and down when required. 

The ticketing technology firm has called GEC home for about a decade and plans to reside there for the foreseeable future as it scales up in the UK.

CoWork@GEC: A desk for five full days per month, Dublin office address, access to events and seminars, fast wifi and cafe for €100 plus VAT per month.

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