The engineering ecosystem of Galway and its environs has evolved significantly in recent years, attracting companies large and small.
Galway has long been revered as a cultural centre of the country, and this is certainly not a characterisation it has ever shied away from. Yet for Mike Conroy, this association risks overshadowing one of the most compelling elements of the area: how vibrant its engineering scene is.
“We think of it as a big secret; it’s not as well-known as it could be and we really want to promote that strongly,” he tells Siliconrepublic.com.
Conroy is particularly well-placed to provide insight into how the engineering scene in the region has evolved. He currently serves as the VP of engineering for Avaya, based at its Galway hub.
The $3bn company is active all over the globe in the telecommunications industry, and in this role, Conroy manages a team of around 1,000 people and aids in supporting 130m unified communications customers globally.
‘These companies that exist as start-ups become engines for growth’
— MIKE CONROY
He started as an engineer in the late 80s, joining a company called Nortel, which was one of Galway’s largest employers at that time.
The course of his career has led him to spend time living in various parts of Ireland, the US and Canada, and has involved work in both the public and private sector. The majority of his life has been spent working in engineering centres all around the world – yet the draw of where he began his career has always endured.
“If you look at the region there’s probably 1,500 companies in Galway alone,” Conroy continues. Of these, Conroy suspects that around 120 of those are engineering tech companies in the ICT sector.
“If you go back to the early days, you had some great talent coming out of US multinationals. If you fast forward that to today, of those 120, they’re driven by engineering, they’re led by engineering leadership.”
The Galway engineering scene has evolved in such a way that the variety of sectors operating in the area has exploded, as has the number of dedicated R&D centres for major multinationals operating in a global market. Large fintech companies such as Fidelity and MetLife have, Conroy notes, engineering centres in the region.
“There are even companies coming from the telemetry and autonomous vehicles background such as Valeo, which has 500 to 600 people, Intel and more.” As well as the aforementioned companies, major players such as SAP, Cisco, HP, Boston Scientific, EA and Medtronic have all invested heavily in the area.
Conroy also notes the number of “amazing start-ups” in the area that have been acquired by major global players, such as Blue Tree Systems (acquired by Orbcomm) and Celtrak (acquired by Thermo King), and NetFort (acquired by Rapid7). “These companies that exist as start-ups become engines for growth,” he adds.
Centres of innovation
Much of this development has, of course, been bolstered by the various centres of innovation and research organisations operating in the area, many of which are tied to NUI Galway or Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT).
NUI Galway has the Insight Centre for Data Analytics and SFI medical devices research centre Cúram. GMIT boasts a number of different innovation hubs for start-up businesses, offering multi-faceted support including office space, mentoring, networking, introduction to investors and more.
The Information Technology Association, Galway (ITAG) – of which Conroy is a former chair – has also proved vital in invigorating Galway’s ICT sector, founded on the premise that the factors which make the area an ideal place for engineering firms to flourish is not by accident, but by design.
A diverse and self-propagating ecosystem
Career opportunities in the area have not only increased in quantity in the last five to seven years, but in variety as well, and having that kind of diverse ecosystem becomes self-propagating. It creates a more competitive and, as a result, higher quality engineering environment, meaning people feel more confident that they can access global excellence when setting up shop in Galway and its environs.
“You’ve got this convergence of technologies that are applicable to every industry, so staff have the ability to move from cloud and AI development in the telecoms industry across to an autonomous vehicles company, an e-commerce company or a fintech company,” Conroy says.
“What’s nice is the variety. People move freely between large multinationals and smaller firms.”
The culture factor
Culture, in multiple senses of the word, has proven again and again to be vital in how the region has developed. The philosophy of its development has always acknowledged how multi-faceted Galway’s appeal is.
For one, as Conroy concludes, elements such as lifestyle, in-city living, culture and education cannot be discounted. The extent to which they work in tandem with the STEM business infrastructure is massive. Any other region hoping to emulate this success will need to proceed with this idea in mind: the only effective strategies are holistic, not siloed.
Yet Conroy also notes that even in a competitive atmosphere, collaboration is still vital. “I think all of us in leadership spend time with new companies to honestly explain what the environment is like and what they can expect to see.
“Even if we’re in competition, we still recognise that encouraging them works out well for everyone.”