Dublin’s Camden Street: Is this Europe’s newest fintech hub?

23 Jun 2017

Dublin’s Camden Street. Image: William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

From a new BOI StartLab to rising players such as Plynk and the stormy tides of Brexit, a quaint Dublin neighbourhood could be the unlikely new home of Europe’s fintech ambitions.

On any other day, if you mention the words ‘Camden Street’ to me, early-hours memories of hanging on every record the DJ plays at Whelan’s on nearby Wexford Street and bellowing throatily “tuuuuuune” flood my mind.

Today, Camden Street is a kind of hipster haven, with burrito bars, kebab shops, and fine and dandy gin and craft beer drinking emporiums for the moustachioed and blue-haired classes.

‘Dublin has a world-class start-up ecosystem, a proud entrepreneurial culture, and all of the ingredients to make a strong fintech hub within Europe’

But there is something else happening on Camden Street that could make it the one of the newest fintech hubs in Europe.

The street is the new home of peer-to-peer payments player Plynk, which just raised €25m in one of Ireland’s largest ever Series A rounds. Nearby is Deposify, a start-up that is transforming the relationships between landlords and tenants.

And soon, Bank of Ireland (BOI) will be unveil a new StartLab on Camden Street, which opens its doors in September.

Defining the future of finance

Dublin’s Camden Street: Is this Europe’s newest fintech hub?

From left: James O’Toole, CEO of ID-Pal; Mike Brennan, senior adviser, HPSU, Enterprise Ireland; Carolyn Quinlan, programme manager, BOI; and Dave Tighe, head of innovation, BOI. Image: Colm Mahady/Fennell Photography

Fintech, or financial tech, is a set of technologies developed by start-ups that threaten to either bolster or upend the existing financial services industries. Start-ups in the areas of blockchain, payments, regtech, insurtech, security and neobanking are transforming our relationship with money – and the institutions that used to guard it – forever.

As Britain continues to botch Brexit, Dublin is being viewed by start-ups, law firms and big financial services players in the UK as a potential new home and a safe haven within Europe, aided by access to a half a billion-strong EU talent pool.

The new BOI StartLab will be home to 10 fintech start-ups, each funded to the tune of €50,000. The funding comes as part of a €1.5m Competitive Start Fund created specifically for fintech by Enterprise Ireland, which will ultimately fund 30 start-ups across Ireland.

€1m will go into a regional fund, from which 20 start-ups will receive up to €50,000 each to develop their business. The remaining €500,000 has been set aside for the 10 fintech start-ups. The call for both competitions opened on 21 June and will close at 3pm on 5 July.

David Tighe, head of innovation at BOI, said: “Our plan is to open the doors of our new StartLab on 1 September on Camden Street, and the fintech start-ups will have a whole programme of education and mentorship.

“There will be partnership with banks, legal resources, compliance, and pulling all of that together with the right supports. We will be bringing in top people from financial service providers, fintech companies and other entrepreneurs to mentor the young companies.”

Tighe said that the concentration of fintech businesses on Camden Street is certainly interesting but belies the fact that there is a wider fintech community across Dublin that has technologies such as blockchain at its core.

“But yes, there is something happening on Camden Street. As well as the Bank of Ireland StartLab, Plynk are on the same street and Deposify are just off Camden Street.

“For us, it is about creating the right spaces with the right supports, and the reality is, it isn’t just what we are doing on Camden Street.

“Dublin is one of those digital communities where it is all starting to knit together. Whether it is happening between Silicon Docks, the IFSC, or what is being fostered on Camden Street, it is starting to happen.”

Mike Brennan, senior development adviser at Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-up Division, explained that the new €1.5m fund is open to early-stage companies in fintech, providing technology-driven solutions that have the financial services or fintech sectors as end markets.

“In addition to the funding support, the successful applicants will receive up to six months free office space, access to Bank of Ireland’s innovation team and a number of masterclasses provided by industry experts.”

Brennan pointed to previous winners of the fintech fund, including WeSavvy and ID-Pal.

“In keeping with the Government’s IFS 2020 fintech strategy, we believe that it is critical to get these fintech companies working with financial services firms to understand their pain points. In this scenario, everybody wins.

“Dublin has a world-class start-up ecosystem, a proud entrepreneurial culture, and all of the ingredients to make a strong fintech hub within Europe.

“I think the concentration of fintech companies on Camden Street could be the catalyst for a dedicated fintech hub, and that, in time, can attract other financial services players looking to engage.”

Dublin’s Camden Street. Image: William Murphy/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years