Great guest post by Eoin Costello 

For the past number of years the previous government’s Action Plan for Jobs embraced the reality that startups create two thirds of all jobs in advance economies. Substance was given to the government’s commitment to entrepreneurship through their support of many actions including Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Startup Unit, the IDA’s Emerging Business Unit and indeed our own Startup Gathering. The Startup Gathering formed a key step towards the vision Startup Ireland proposed, that our country become a global startup hub by 2020, a destination of choice for high growth companies and a supportive environment for domestic entrepreneurs. The Startup Gathering succeeded in moving the country a bit closer to this ambition.

Investment in the past decade by the state, through Enterprise Ireland, provided the country with an unrivalled national network of innovation and incubation centres hosted on the Institutes of Technology campuses (I spent a number of years working in the largest one at DIT Hothouse). This national network provides a great cornerstone to the entrepreneurial community of Ireland’s cities and bigger towns.

“We are at the dawn of an extraordinary technological revolution, and it is transforming every part of the economy. Beyond social media and ecommerce, advances are coming to every industry. “ Donna Harris Innovation That Matters.
The digital era knows no artificial boundaries or city limits. From health to pharma, from financial services to food and agriculture, the digital revolution is becoming the enabler of key industries and the disruptor of many. We are now entering a period where communities outside the centres of the bigger cities are responding to the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital revolution through bottom up, grassroots action. High growth, world class digital companies can be built successfully in the most regional parts of Ireland in the digital era as Gerard Barry of Fintrax and Jerry Kennelly of Stockbyte have shown. Rather than add to the pressure on the public finances or wait for state funding, motivated citizens, with an interest in the future of their locality, are taking ownership of the challenge.

This is something that Sean O’Sullivan (SOS Ventures) both called for and predicted in his Report of the Entrepreneurship Forum in 2014.
“This is a rallying cry for likeminded folk to rise up and build the culture we need and to collectively lift ourselves….It’s people helping people, entrepreneurs helping entrepreneurs and companies coming together to respect and support each other.” Sean O’Sullivan Entrepreneurship Forum Report

Some worry that entrepreneurship has gone mainstream – that we are reaching a point where “the messiness of entrepreneurship becomes unwelcome, and thus vibrancy becomes unattainable” which will create “a startup industrial complex” (Dublin Commissioner May 2016).

However the increasing role of locally led entrepreneurial communities growing rapidly across our country tells another story. Some examples include The Mill Drogheda, Ludgate Centre Skibbereen, Bank of Ireland’s StartLab Galway and the PorterShed Galway. These exciting new hubs are providing hope and empowerment to communities that are often struggling to respond to the combined forces of digital disruption (50% of Irish businesses will be disrupted in the next 5 years according to Kingram Red), the jobless growth of some new industries and recovery from the lingering damage caused by the recession.
A new model for Ireland – A playbook for entrepreneurial communities in the 21st Century
The word ‘startup’ was first used by the European Commission as recently as 2014 .

Reflecting the rapid journey of the establishment globally in embracing entrepreneurship a lot of this is still evolving. A national dialogue needed to be created to facilitate its progress in Ireland. We played our part in helping create this dialogue. Startup Ireland’sVision2020 Dublin Forum in October 2014 provided a platform for key stakeholders to engage and debate how Dublin could become a global tech hub by 2020. The national Startup Gathering in October 2015 brought the debate to towns, cities and regions across the land. Our event in November 2016 in partnership with Cork Innovates will bring the global startup community to Cork where we will present Ireland’s first Startup Manifesto and discuss international experience in creating indigenous engines of growth at the heart of entrepreneurial communities.

These newly emerging community initiatives deserve every support possible from across the public and private sector. Some of these organic initiatives in Ireland share common features with each other and with similar projects from around the world. To enable more communities to take ownership of their economic destiny through digital entrepreneurship wouldn’t it be fantastic if communities could be saved the time and the ‘trial and error’ that many of those that walked this path before them went through. Imagine if a practical playbook based on real experience could be created to share experiences and learnings to provide a framework for motivated citizens and organisations across the nation.

‘No longer can entrepreneurship be limited to a small set of risk takers located in a few specific cities’ Brad Feld Startup Communities

When talking about the goal of Ireland becoming a global startup hub by 2020 I have often cited how things are done in Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, London or Austin (Texas). Momentum is gathering and it is now important to show that Startup Ireland can help play our role in creating entrepreneurial communities through direct action at the grassroots level. Therefore when the team at the Business Improvement District project in the town of Dun Laoghaire reached out to me earlier this year it felt like the perfect opportunity to convert theory into action.

In common with the Irish towns I mentioned earlier, Dun Laoghaire has many advantages but also a way to go in terms of leveraging the digital revolution to create urban renewal. The town is home to some great digital companies and organisations like the Digital Marketing Institute, the IE Domain Registry, SAGE Payments, Lionbridge, Code Institute, Profitero, Little Vista and Clickworks but with significant potential for more. In some ways the town shares similar characteristics to the Potrero Hill district in San Francisco. Potrero Hill is the up and coming part of San Francisco startup scene, it is an easy commute to downtown San Francisco and significant increase in residential and office space coming on stream.
“Entrepreneurship is about creating meaningful businesses out of the raw materials of people, ideas and customers. These raw materials need to be forged out of what we have, what we can grow and out of what we can attract to ourselves.” Sean O’Sullivan Entrepreneurship Forum Report Digital Dun Laoghaire

I am delighted I will be working with the team at the Dun Laoghaire BID to lead the Digital Dun Laoghaire project. Our goal is to create a vibrant hub of digital companies in the town for the jobs, innovation and urban regeneration that this will help provide. We will seek to learn from other initiatives across Ireland and share the blueprint of the initiative as it progresses with towns across the country. In practical terms my work with Startup Ireland will continue in many ways, I will continue managing the Startup Ireland online community and working on the Startup Manifesto for Ireland with my colleagues.
Working with all the stakeholders in Dun Laoghaire I hope to continue the journey that builds on the work that we commenced with Startup Ireland in a way that advances Ireland towards becoming a global startup hub one community at a time. I believe that the Digital Dun Laoghaire initiative will be a local project with truly national significance.

If you would like to have your company featured in the Irish Tech News Business Showcase, get in contact with us at [email protected] or on Twitter: @SimonCocking

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