Friday 19 January 2018

Samantha McCaughren: Ergo...UK tech investors take big punt on 1,000 student digs

Publican Charlie Chawke with his daughters Ali Chawke (left) and Jenny Chawke (right)
Publican Charlie Chawke with his daughters Ali Chawke (left) and Jenny Chawke (right)
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

Two British-based tech entrepreneurs are taking quite an interest in Irish student accommodation. Angel investor Shukri Shammas and Tareq Naqib, both founders of Initial Capital in the UK, have invested in a string of start-ups. Among the projects which Shammas has been involved in was Playfish, a developer of free-to-play, social network games owned by Electronic Arts.

But the pair also dabble in property and are developing student accommodation through their company Summix.

My property sources tell me that Summix believes Irish student accommodation remains underdeveloped and has been working on finding Irish sites for the past three years.

The pair have plans for a project in Galway and have also two sites in Cork, including the old Square Deal furniture building on the city's Washington Street where they hope to develop 242 student rooms.

Summix has also submitted plans for a 349-room project in Dublin 8 (where else?) bringing the total amount of rooms being proposed by the company to over 1,000 in Ireland.

It has built 1,700 student rooms, or is planning, in the UK and sees plenty more opportunity around Dublin and other university towns, I hear.

The Summix plans, currently with Dublin City Council, have garnered an objection from local businessmen Deryck Fay and Justin Bryan, who have been totting up the new student living projects currently in the locality.

According to their submission, there are already plans for over 2,600 student accommodation units within 1km of this Summix property - not to mention six hotel projects in the area, which include the Aloft Hotel at Mill Street and the Maldron Hotel being built at the old Myra Glass site.

While it sounds like a very significant number of students will be flocking to Dublin 8, planners will no doubt be mindful of the rental crisis facing the country. And as the tech investors know all too well, taking students out of the mainstream rental market could well be a game changer.


OpenJaw off to flyer in China battle with Datalex

Travel software company OpenJaw has had a rather good week after signing four new Asian airlines as customers. Shenzhen Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and China United Airlines have signed up to use the Irish-based company’s platform, designed to enable airlines to sell ancillary products alongside tickets.

OpenJaw was bought by Chinese aviation IT firm TravelSky last year — a transaction that should give it a boost in gaining a slice of that fast-growing market. OpenJaw, which held a conference in the Mansion House this week, is poised for an interesting battle with Irish-listed companycompetitor Datalex, a direct competitor which is also seeking to boost its presence in China. Datalex, where Dermot Desmond is the biggest shareholder, recently signed a partnership with Chinese IT firm Neusoft and has appointed corporateadvisers Evercore to help it explore strategic options for growth. Let the games begin, as Enda would say.


Ex-Ashford chef cooks up new consultancy and restaurant

Stefan Matz, the former executive chef at the five-star Ashford Castle hotel, and previous owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant and hotel Erriseask House in Ballyconneely, Galway, is planning to share some of his experience with the rest of the hospitality industry.

He has just set up Stefan Matz Catering Consultancy, which aims to provide everything from menu planning to recruitment advice.

Matz, who is German but has lived in Ireland for 25 years, told me that recruitment of qualified staff has been one of the biggest issues facing the trade in recent years. Indeed, he decided to close one of his own restaurants — the Chef’s Table in Leenane, Co Galway — for that very reason.

He agrees that food in Ireland has come a long way over the past couple of decades but says he feels that it is in danger of becoming too generic. 

“There are some wonderful establishments, but there are a lot of places where the food is too alike. The menus are not distinguished between one place and one region or another,” he told me. Matz himself is about to open a new restaurant in the luxury Connemara Sands Hotel. No doubt we can expect something a little bit different from his latest offering.


Waiting for delivery ruling

AS we saw from An Post last week, the parcels business is an area of high growth, driven by a growing shift to online shopping. Among those cashing in on this trend is Parcel Motel, which has dozens of lockers around the country for the collection of those online deliveries.

According to Parcel Motel’s marketing bumf, the service means “no more waiting around or missed delivery notices telling you to pick up your parcel during the exact same hours that you’re at work”.

The owner of Parcel Motel, Nightline, which was recently bought by delivery giant UPS, is currently seeking clarification as to whether or not a Parcel Motel at Charlie Chawke’s The Goat needs planning permission, an important decision for the group’s expansion, no doubt. They are still waiting for Bord Pleanala to deliver its ruling.

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