Bank of Ireland’s Pat Carroll on Limerick’s start-up renaissance

17 May 2018

Bank of Ireland enterprise community manager for Limerick, Pat Carroll. Image: Bank of Ireland

Limerick is Ireland’s economic comeback kid. We talk to Bank of Ireland’s Pat Carroll about the city’s start-up spirit.

Earlier this week, we reported how Limerick not only endured following the devastating decision by Dell to cease manufacturing in the city in 2009 with the loss of 1,900 jobs, but it managed to emerge from the rubble with dignity and aplomb.

The tough times led to a groundswell in joined-up thinking by policymakers, educators and industry leaders.

The city boasts a tech ecosystem like no other in Europe. It is still home to substantial Dell EMC operations as well as a swathe of major tech players, including Kemp Technologies, WP Engine, Trusource Labs, First Data, ACI Worldwide, Stats and Casa Communications. Recent arrivals to the Limerick and Shannon region include Jaguar Land Rover, which is establishing a new global hub for software engineering, architecture and development.

Limerick also has a growing start-up scene characterised by successful companies such as AMCS, NVMdurance, YellowSchedule and Teckro, which all featured in our list of 15 super start-ups from Limerick to watch.

Entrepreneurial buzz

Pat Carroll with CEO Niamh Bushnell at a recent Startup Grind event in Limerick.

Pat Carroll with TechIreland CEO Niamh Bushnell at a recent Startup Grind event in Limerick. Image: Bank of Ireland

Playing a vital role in fostering the entrepreneurial community is Pat Carroll, a highly experienced businessperson who now serves as enterprise community manager for Limerick for Bank of Ireland, operating out of the bank’s Workbench on O’Connell Street.

With characteristic flair, he supports entrepreneurs and start-ups in the Limerick region and he is also chapter director of Startup Grind Limerick, the monthly networking event centred on fireside chats. These events have featured successful entrepreneurs such as WP Engine’s Jason Cohen and veteran tech founder and investor Brian Caulfield from Draper Esprit, to name a few.

Carroll spoke to about Limerick’s potential as a start-up hub.

How would you sum up the state of the start-up ecosystem in Limerick?

The TechIreland data from 2017 reflects Limerick’s relative place as fourth in terms of quantity of start-ups after Dublin, Cork and Galway. However, interestingly, in total funding Limerick was second only to the capital.

In many ways, Limerick’s start-up ecosystem is in its early days. However, there is an optimism amongst the technology community in creating their own companies that is growing all the time.

What attributes make it stand out from other cities or regions?

One way that makes Limerick stand out from other regions is the manner in which people are working together.

Having come through quite challenging times economically and socially, in many ways Limerick is the ‘comeback kid’ of Ireland in terms of the economic renaissance now happening.

There is a vibrant spirit of cooperation between the city’s stakeholders, and this relative lack of silos is reaping tangible benefits.

How closely do entrepreneurs and multinationals interact, and is there a case for increasing this?

Multinationals like Dell, Northern Trust and Johnson & Johnson are active supporters of local entrepreneurs, providing leadership and diversity programmes.

One great recent FDI arrival making an indelible imprint of its inclusive culture on the local start-up ecosystem is WP Engine. They have been active supporters of Bank of Ireland-sponsored start-up events like Startup Weekend and Startup Grind, where recently the founder, Jason Cohen, was our fireside chat guest.

Limerick has a number of high-quality universities and colleges with a good tech pedigree. Does this also add to Limerick’s allure as a start-up location?

Just one notable example of the joined-up thinking between city stakeholders is Limerick for Engineering, the unique skills partnership where major multinationals come together with the University of Limerick (UL) and Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) and identify futures skills needs, and the colleges possess the agility to deliver courses that address any perceived shortages of particular skills.

In addition to this, LIT and UL offer crucial supports to the health of the local start-up community.

LIT runs the New Frontiers programme and, in keeping with the city’s ethos of working together, it has the active involvement of UL in this excellent programme. LIT’s Hartnett Enterprise accelerator programmes, including Leap and New Frontiers, have produced successful start-ups like Shadowman Sports, Accuvio, Nualtra and Golf Voyager.

UL spin-outs include Hooke Bio, Cauwill Technology, Cala Medical and Ostoform.

Nexus Innovation Centre offers that all-important proximity of world-class global technology successes like Arralis and Shadowman Sports, with up-and-coming early-stage start-ups like JumpAgrade, VisitorFlix, Smart Factory and Saluto.

What challenges does the Limerick start-up scene face and what needs to happen to overcome them?

Ironically, the city’s success in attracting FDI, which has led to a wide array of quality technology roles, has possibly meant that less people are inclined towards making that leap of faith to found start-ups.

At Startup Grind and similar events at Bank of Ireland’s Limerick Workbench, we must continue to expose early-stage start-ups to those who have been successful, to inspire them to take that plunge if they believe that they have a credible and commercially viable solution to a real problem.

In your opinion, who would be the entrepreneurs that have helped shape the scene in Limerick?

Hugh O’Donnell is the former CEO of Kentz Technology with 14,000 employees globally. Hugh led the successful IPO reportedly worth $2.3bn. He now heads up Ingenium, sharing learning from his success with a whole new generation of Irish entrepreneurs and companies.

Martina Skelly, Gráinne Barry and Emily Ross have, while operating in their own company role, established SportsTechIreland.

Limerick native Fergus Gloster established Salesforce in Europe as well as many other successful ventures, and now sits on the board of Limerick-based global waste-tech company AMCS.

Other notable role models for Limerick start-ups are: Barry Lunn, founder and CEO of Arralis; Chris Byrne, founder of SensorPro (he exited Software Architechs for $60m); Paul Quigley, co-founder of NewsWhip; and, of course, Patrick and John Collison from Stripe, which is estimated to be worth $9bn.

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