The west of Ireland is known for its medtech cluster. The south coast has immense marine opportunities. In Dublin, financial services reign supreme. But what about the M1?
Along the M1 – a motorway linking Ireland’s capital with, ultimately, Belfast – a new cluster is forming.
The M1 Payments Corridor is a programme being developed by numerous stakeholders along the 87km stretch, on the back of some obvious benefits and clever thinking.
With the likes of Vesta and global behemoth PayPal based in Dundalk, entrepreneurial planners saw an opportunity and, over the past two years, got to action.
An innovation hub called The Mill, in Drogheda, is perhaps the best-known element of this push, representing the centre point of what is quickly growing legs and could, quite soon, gain State support.
The Mill is home to more than 20 businesses, where 70 people are employed across numerous business sectors – though the payments industry stands out.
Earlier this year, it became the latest Siro-backed operation, providing 1GB connectivity for on-site companies.
Growth is key when developing a corridor of industry to satisfy both the Government’s North-East Action Plan for Jobs, as well as genuine revitalisation of a major region.
“One of the first businesses here was YapStone, which started with eight employees and now has hundreds,” said Breanndán Casey, business development manager at The Mill, in conversation with Siliconrepublic.com.
“Payments companies happened to come here,” he said, which gave the creators of The Mill – as well as regional industry stakeholders – an idea.
Why not create a payments scene, garner support to market it around the world and thus attract more companies and more jobs?
“We had Paypal and Vesta in Dundalk, YapStone based at The Mill. We also had State Street … even the likes of Coca-Cola, a company you wouldn’t necessarily think of as a payments company, but up here they are taking payments from international markets.
“The thinking was, ‘If we can work with the group, if we can try to get some of the larger companies to work with small companies, work with universities, brand the region as the M1 Payments Corridor, we’d be doing well’.”
Casey sees the concept as the European equivalent of ‘Transaction Alley’ in Atlanta, Georgia (under ATPC) and expects it to benefit the entire region from Dublin Airport to Belfast. In addition, he envisages the creation of a national payments centre in Drogheda.
To emphasise this, he and his colleagues have run two international conferences on the theme in the past couple of years.
Last year, Michael Wasserfuhr, Vesta CFO and board member of ATPC, was one of the speakers at the M1 Payments Corridor conference.
It is events such as this that appeal to the likes of Enterprise Ireland, with Brendan McCormack, a senior development adviser for the agency’s financial services department, particularly pleased.
“These activities demonstrate that [the region] has a wider acceptance, that there is a need for the technology, that the region has a particular strength in [payments],” he told Siliconrepublic.com.
“It demonstrates that there is network of companies talking together, active and clustered together, sharing resources for conferences and training.”
Enterprise Ireland was not in a position to provide definite answers, but it’s safe to assume that the continued evolution of the idea would see complementary initiatives emerge.
These could be entrepreneur accelerators in the region, and in the industry, led by state bodies, which could provide added branding power with the IDA when abroad.
Ultimately, they could gain governmental support, both financially and in future-planning scenarios.
The model is based on the competitive enterprise initiative programme announced last year, through which millions of euros have been allocated to regional projects.
For the M1 Payments Corridor, the organisers are sitting through the application process which, should it prove successful, could see funding for the initiative.
“Mayo has medtech,” said Casey. “Cork has pharmaceuticals. Dublin has financial services.
“There are 5,000 people working payments in Ireland. When it comes to recruiting and training staff, we would have DCU and Dundalk IT sitting on the steering group,” said Casey.
“This is branding the region.”