Why Galway might be Ireland’s top start-up collaboration hub

3 Oct 20191.09k Views

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Galway harbour. Image: Rory Hennessy/Unsplash

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We look at the relationship between some of the facilities at the heart of Galway’s start-up ecosystem, including NUI Galway, GMIT’s iHubs and the Galway Technology Centre.

While some cities pride themselves on providing highly competitive environments for start-ups to grow in, Galway prides itself on being a city that nurtures and rewards collaboration.

Niamh Costello, manager of the Galway Technology Centre (GTC), told Siliconrepublic.com: “It’s not about competing. The start-up ecosystem here has grown up over the last number of years, and we all have our space and have figured out where we are within that ecosystem.”

The GTC engages in a huge amount of collaboration with other organisations in the area, including local academic institutions such as NUI Galway and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), as well as the NDRC at the PorterShed start-up hub.

“We work closely with George McCourt in GMIT and the iHubs, as well as Fiona Neary and her [innovation] team at NUI Galway. We’re all very open about the companies that are coming through our facilities,” Costello explained.

A woman in a white blazer leans in front of a computer screen beside a man in a check shirt who leans in beside a separate computer screen. The screens are displaying a video game.

From left: Niamh Costello, GTC, and Kevin Daly, 9th Impact. Image: Andrew Downes/Exposure

“We try to support each other, with knowledge sharing between the different enterprise providers. We’ve very successful at that. That’s one of the reasons why the start-up ecosystem has grown so much down here over the last five or six years.”

The board of the GTC is comprised of members from the aforementioned third-level institutions as well as the Galway Chamber of Commerce, which results in organic and ongoing cooperation between all parties, according to Costello.

Collaboration within the GTC

While management of the GTC ensures that cooperation with external organisations is optimal, it doesn’t just stop there. The centre is largely designed to encourage and stimulate collaboration between the start-ups that inhabit the space.

“The facilities are all shared. There’s a shared events space, shared canteen and a shared front door. There’s lots of organic interaction,” Costello said.

The centre was set up 25 years ago, after the Digital Equipment Corporation plant shut down in the 1990s, resulting in 800 redundancies. In the years since, 300 start-ups and multinationals have called the centre home and 3,000 jobs have been created.

The centre hosts start-ups coming from GMIT’s iHubs, the New Frontiers programme, PorterShed and NUI Galway, as well as the university’s Insight Centre for Data Analytics and its Technology Transfer Centre.

A woman on the phone on a red armchair sitting in front of a spiral staircase that a man in a grey jumper and blue jeans is walking up. The woman is wearing black tights, high heels and a leopard print blouse.

The lobby of the GTC. Image: GTC

Giving back

GTC provides these businesses with networking, business development supports and access to investors. It also hosts weekly events that help these start-ups network, socialise, learn and share skills together.

Another important aspect of the GTC’s role in Galway’s start-up ecosystem is that it provides soft-landing facilities to multinational firms. Some examples of companies that have been introduced to Galway’s business community this way are EA, SAP, MathWorks and Wayfair.

“When we start working with a multinational or take one in to the centre, we always ask them to give something back. We get them to give a talk or provide some expertise to the start-ups that are here,” Costello said.

Aside from the multinationals, she added that there are many entrepreneurs who found success in Galway and are eager to give back. “There’s a good culture of giving back, assisting and trying to develop,” Costello explained. “There’s a real pride in Galway.”

Digital tech

Costello highlighted some of the most exciting digital tech start-ups based in the centre at the moment.

This includes gaming company 9th impact, co-founded by serial entrepreneur Mark Quick, which takes franchised cartoons and develops the official video games for those titles. Then there’s Aptarus, a data start-up created by one of the former Blue Tree Systems founders, Karl Lusted.

Another interesting start-up is Siren, which is currently raising money for its Series A round. Siren was established in NUI Galway’s Insight Centre in 2015, coming to GTC from the university in 2017 with four employees. Now the team has grown to 30, with offices in Philadelphia, France, Italy and Cambridge.

The entrepreneur who founded Siren is Giovanni Tummarello – an Italian who decided to relocate and base his business in Galway because his research was done through the Insight Centre.

“Now he’s totally embedded here, he has family here, kids in school here. The company has a lot of business in the States and Europe, but he has built a development team from scratch here,” Costello said.

Medtech

Outside of the GTC, there’s a wealth of medtech and medical device start-ups, which likely comes as no surprise, given the fact that academia is at the heart of Galway’s start-up ecosystem. Spin-outs from NUI Galway play a particularly important role in the region’s start-up scene.

A man in a navy t-shirt sits with his arms crossed on a desk, beside a man in a white shirt and beige slacks who has both hands on his hips. Beside them is a woman in a brown dress.

NUI Galway’s Loci Orthopaedics team. Image: Loci Orthopaedics

In the last three months alone, the county’s medtech start-ups have been in headlines for raising multi-million euro funding rounds, receiving significant funding awards, and securing massive R&D grants. Those three start-ups, respectively, were Bluedrop Medical, FeelTect and Loci Orthopaedics.

To name just a few of NUI Galway’s most innovative medtech spin-outs and start-ups, there’s Orbsen Therapeutics, which is working on a range of therapies for acute respiratory distress syndrome, diabetic kidney disease and primary sclerosing cholangitis; Signum Surgical, which has developed a breakthrough for patients with anal fistula; and Neurent Medical, which has a patented technology providing a minimally invasive treatment for chronic rhinitis.

A few other medtechs to mention are Aurigen Medical, Atrian Medical, Westway Health and Perfuze.

GMIT’s iHubs

GMIT’s role in Galway’s ecosystem is also quite significant. The Sunday Business Post recently published its list of ‘100 Hot Start-Ups’ that are driving Ireland’s entrepreneurial edge, and 6pc of the firms on the list were companies from GMIT’s iHubs.

The third-level institution currently runs two of these iHubs – one on the Dublin Road in Galway and another in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Siliconrepublic.com spoke to GMIT’s head of innovation and enterprise, George McCourt.

A man with grey hair, a moustache and glasses smiles into the camera. He is wearing a grey suit and blue shirt.

GMIT’s head of innovation and enterprise, George McCourt. Image: Enterprise Ireland

McCourt is responsible for providing incubation space to companies that want to grow and scale, as well as companies that could compete on the global market. The institution works with Enterprise Ireland to achieve this.

Between the two hubs, McCourt runs and manages two entrepreneurship programmes. The first is the Enterprise Ireland-funded New Frontiers, which has been operating in Galway, Mayo and Roscommon for a number of years.

Some past iHub clients that have been involved in notable acquisitions include Novate Medical, which designed and developed a vena cava filter to trap blood clots. The company was acquired by UK healthcare group BTG, which was later acquired by Boston Scientific.

A digital rendering of a modern building.

A digital rendering of the GMIT iHub extension, which is set to be completed in 2020. Image: GMIT

Neuravi, which developed a device to trap and retrieve blood clots in the brain, was acquired by Johnson & Johnson. Another start-up, TradeCert, developed a solution to enable the movement of products in and out of the EU. This firm was acquired by essCert.

Two notable start-ups that participated in New Frontiers before entering the iHub and eventually expanding into R&D units, are medical device company Rockfield Medical and productivity software company KyzenTree.

Women-led start-ups

McCourt added that GMIT was also successful in securing a tender from the Department of Justice and Equality and the European Social Fund, which led to the creation of a programme called Empower that is aimed at women in start-ups.

“Under Empower, we run two specific programmes for women. The first is called Empower Start, for women who have an idea that hasn’t quite been developed yet,” he said.

“The second programme we run is called Empower Growth, which is for women that would be up and running, with some existing customers and existing revenue, who need some help growing and scaling. We’ve just completed our second cycle of that programme, which has been very successful for us.”

Besides the work done by GMIT iHubs, PorterShed, GTC and the two third-level education institutions in Galway, McCourt also said it is important to note the presence of the Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN) medtech syndicate in the city.

This echoes Costello’s belief that entrepreneurs from Galway are eager to give back to the business community, and share their wisdom and resources with the next generation of founders.

Galway harbour. Image: Rory Hennessy/Unsplash

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com