Scale Ireland’s vision for regional investment in Budget 2020

26 Sep 2019

Former Ludgate Hub CEO Gráinne Dwyer. Image: Scale Ireland

Former CEO of the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen, Gráinne Dwyer, and Dogpatch Labs founder Patrick Walsh discuss the importance of investing in regional Ireland.

Prior to the launch of Scale Ireland on Wednesday (25 September), the organisation held a press conference in Dublin’s Dogpatch Labs. It was here that the group outlined its pre-Budget submission, the competition that Brexit could create for Irish start-ups, and its plans to serve as a voice for start-ups across rural Ireland.

One of the not-for-profit organisation’s main concerns was Ireland’s over-reliance on foreign direct investment (FDI).

Scale Ireland’s chair, Brian Caulfield, said: “Something we have finally realised is that a large multinational company coming to Ireland to establish its EMEA headquarters is not going to put it in Tramore.

“They’re going to put it in Dublin, where they’re close to the airport for flights for executives, and so on. Maybe they’ll put it in Cork or Galway, but they’re not going to put it in Tramore, or Killarney, or Letterkenny or wherever else.”

Caulfield, who is a seasoned entrepreneur and investor, noted that Irish SMEs and start-ups are far more likely to enter these locations.

“An Irish entrepreneur who has a personal commitment to one of those locations will start a business there. If you create a business in Tramore, Killarney or Letterkenny, you’re employing 40 or 50 people in the locality with high quality, well-paid jobs. And that has a really significant impact in those kind of towns,” he explained.

The founders of Scale Ireland agree that the start-up ecosystem in this country is highly fragmented, which is why it took so long for an organisation like this to be set up.

Caulfield remarked that when it’s time for the Government to negotiate with farmers, they know exactly who to call. When it comes to start-ups and SMEs, it’s not that obvious. Scale Ireland aims to change that.

The Ludgate Hub as a case study

An expert on working in a fairly out-of-the-way area of regional Ireland, Stori Creative co-founder Gráinne Dwyer is one of Scale Ireland’s Steering Group members. Prior to starting her business, Dwyer was the CEO of Skibbereen’s Ludgate Hub.

This was Ireland’s first rural digital hub with a 1Gb connection, and it is now on track to create more than 500 direct jobs and 1,000 indirect jobs in west Cork by 2020, while attracting national and international start-ups.

‘It shows what can be done in regards to regeneration with those types of scalable companies in small towns and the impact they have’

During Scale Ireland’s press briefing, Dwyer noted that Skibbereen is almost as far from Cork city as Cork city is from Waterford city. And yet, with the right resources behind it, it is thriving.

“A lot of those regional digital hubs are gaining maturity now. I think that’s a really exciting place for regional Ireland, in terms of the opportunities there,” Dwyer said.

“In Skibbereen alone, the Ludgate Hub is now close to full. It has just purchased its second building. The types of businesses that are successful there are these export-orientated SaaS companies.”

One example Dwyer gave was Spearline, which exports 97pc of its services worldwide and is about to double its workforce over the coming years.

“It’s a really great example of what can be done. It shows what can be done in regards to regeneration with those types of scalable companies in small towns and the impact they have in towns like that.”

Dwyer said that regional towns can be helped immensely by State investment into innovation driven enterprises (IDEs), but that in the past, the Irish Government has been somewhat conservative in its investments into these types of businesses.

She added that Ireland needs to seek out breakthrough innovative services and companies: “I think that’s the model we should really be advocating for in regional Ireland, finding those companies. They are the most sustainable ones for areas like west Cork, the Dingles and Tipperaries of Ireland.”

Supporting indigenous entrepreneurs

Patrick Walsh, founder of Dogpatch Labs, said that Ireland has been a global leader when it comes to FDI and he doesn’t see why the nation can’t strengthen indigenous businesses as well.

A man in a blue shirt with brown hair and glasses emphatically waves his hands as he talks in a conference room.

Dogpatch Labs founder Patrick Walsh. Image: Scale Ireland

“Ireland has become a global leader with FDI and I think that’s been achieved by taking the great, talented and educated workforce we have and combining it with very specific fiscal policy,” he said.

“So, I think now is the time for that same sort of vision and leadership to get behind these entrepreneurs. I think taking some measures now in Budget 2020 would send a very strong signal that the Government wants to get even more behind Ireland’s innovators. I think it would start to address some of the issues that we talk about a lot in my role in the National Competitiveness Council around rebalancing the economy.”

Walsh has been visiting regional hubs in the run-up to Scale Ireland’s launch and, while meeting with the businesses and entrepreneurs in these hubs, had many discussions about how entrepreneurship can be incentivised across the country.

“There is this big wave of privately led start-up hubs and other things happening in the economy. How can the Government get even more behind all of that?

“Some very specific policy measures here that reflect the scale of the ambition that we have for entrepreneurship in this country, which matches the scale of the ambition that we have for FDI, is the right thing to do right now in this country.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic