Monday, March 26, 2012

Is Dublin a hotbed of innovative startups?

After the dramatic implosion of the Celtic Tiger economy the Irish government set up an eminent task force to decide how Ireland could reposition itself for sustainable growth and prosperity in the future. One of the recommendations of this task force was that Ireland needs to become a much more attractive location for small innovative companies to establish themselves.

One of the initiatives which sprung up indirectly from this new government strategy was the establishment of a Startup Boot camp. Since IBM was one of the organisations involved in sponsoring this initiative I had a chance to visit the Boot Camp on Friday last and speak to some of the start-ups to discuss any possibilities of them establishing links with IBM. I must say that I was very impressed with what I saw.

Since the whole idea is to establish a culture and environment that encourages innovative start-ups, the whole ambiance of the area is critical. The building that they are located in is anything but plush: the building itself was completely derelict and was scheduled for demolition as part of a redevelopment project which has been put on indefinite hold until the property market recovers. A minimum amount of work has been done to make the building habitable (e.g. all the desks are made out of planks of plywood crudely nailed together), but this Spartan surroundings is probably a good reminder to the occupants that they can't afford to waste money on unnecessary extravagances. The enthusiasm of the start-up companies gives a cheerful air to the place which more than counteracts any gloom from the rough conditions. In fact the entire part of Dublin where they are located is a strange mixture of abandoned derelict buildings and  beautiful newly refurbished buildings as you can see from this picture. The amazingly plush Google HQ is almost directly across the road which is a contrast and acts as a goal for the start-ups to aim at.

I don't think that I can reveal the details of the various start-ups that I met with since many of them are not yet ready to launch. However, an interesting example  was a company which was founded by an American and a Chinese national. Due to the nature of their company they felt that there was not a big market in Europe and USA, but they felt that Dublin was the right place to come to start their company - partly because of the presence of the  Startup Boot Camp, but also because of the general environment which is friendly towards technical innovation. Actually I was able to validate their choice because although I don't see much chance for IBM to work with them in the short term, I was able to put them in touch with another Irish start-up (started by an ex_IBMer) that they hope to partner with.

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