Being a force for change for tech talent

The Ludgate Hub has expanded from its origins as a co-shared workplace, offering programmes, partnerships and initiatives for start-ups

Gráinne OKeeffe, chief executive of the Ludgate Hub: ‘We are a social enterprise and our main goal now is to be a catalyst for change in the region’

“We’re not just a physical space, we want to be a force for change,” Gráinne O’Keeffe, chief executive of the Ludgate Hub, said.

As the pandemic breaks companies’ ties to major cities, tech talent is springing up across rural Ireland. West Cork’s Ludgate Hub has evolved over the past 18 months into becoming a hub for start-ups as well as facilitating remote/co-working spaces.

Its success shows that west Cork has the resources to be a tech hotspot and represents a growing number of tech-rich areas across Ireland.

“If we look back to six years ago, our initial concentration was the building, but post-Covid that has shifted,” O’Keeffe said. “We are a social enterprise and our main goal now is to be a catalyst for change in the region. Our focus has moved towards expanding our offering from just a physical co-shared workplace.

“Ludgate now offers a range of programmes either on our own or through partnerships which nurture start-ups, SMEs and remote workers. All of our programmes became virtual during the pandemic and they range from courses that help start-ups scale to learning new skills. They ensure the ecosystem here is dynamic and supportive.

“Our primary partners for nurturing start-ups are our fellow trailblazing hubs of Dogpatch, Portershed, Republic of Work, RDI and Ormeau Baths in Belfast.”

Ludgate will be hosting First Fridays for Start-Ups in September, a programme previously only available in Dublin. “While Dublin has had an unfair advantage in the start-up ecosystem in the past, the First Fridays for Start-Ups programme now rotates to different locations to support budding business ideas from across the island.”

O’Keeffe said Ludgate would host the September event that would focus on funding. The Hub has its own in-house programme called the Ludgate Propeller Series. It was launched by Fiona Ryan, its start-up and entrepreneurship manager in November 2021. The series is designed to aid start-ups and entrepreneurs, offering webinars and workshops.

Spearline, a platform that enables enterprises and telecommunications service providers to test connectivity and quality on global telecoms networks is one of west Cork’s success stories. O’Keeffe said it had grown from a team of 30 to a global staff of 140, with its success emerging from the digital economy that exists in west Cork.

“Start-ups’ success is now making its way to west Cork when you observe the recent exciting news of Spearline’s recent growth and acquisition of an Israeli company. Its chief executive Kevin Buckley has always said the digital economy, catalysed by Ludgate, has played a major role in Spearline’s development.”

Waylay, whose chief executive Leonard Doneally was a founding board director of Ludgate, had announced Series A funding very recently, said O’Keeffe. Another success story, Nexalus, announced a partnership with Dell Technology in the past few weeks, with the company being an interesting amalgamation of academia and commercialisation, said O’Keeffe.

“It’s the output of a Trinity College initiative that focuses on electronics which produce excessive heat and finds a way to make that thermal energy useful,” she explained. “We think they are going to change the world.

“Not to mention the ongoing growth and development of West Cork Distillers, winners of the EY Entrepreneur Industry category last year. This is a further example of the exciting start-up landscape in west Cork right now.”

Other companies making waves are Retrokit, a tech software company that helps housing professionals to make evidence-based investment decisions for their energy upgrade projects, Native Cabins with their zero-carbon construction and MyGug is a digester that uses the natural process of anaerobic digestion.

Some 30 per cent of Ludgate’s users come from the creative space. Plus Promotions have a footprint in Ludgate and there is a burgeoning movie scene in the region including last year’s filming of Holding, the adaption of Graham Norton’s bestselling novel. West Cork Film Studios is another exciting new start-up in the creative industry based in Skibbereen.

Its focus on nurturing remote workers has led to the development of the west Cork Chapter of Grow Remote, said O’Keeffe. This chapter has over 240 remote workers, all working from home or a hybrid of hub and home, ensuring knowledge and smart jobs can be done in a rural setting.

“These individuals are 35+, setting down roots in west Cork and spending money in the community,” she said.

“A programme we are doing exclusively to Ludgate is the Re-Ignite Programme which supports the return of female workers into the workforce.”

“Typically, such programmes are offered by MNC and enterprise-size organisations in a major urban centre and so the west Cork workforce or potential workforce has arguably been denied access to such supportive frameworks.”

O’Keeffe said that while there was lots of positive news, West Cork still had a journey to travel.

“There is much more to do in terms of housing, services and ensuring that computer skills are widely taught in rural schools. Rural Ireland needs to have the same opportunities that urban Ireland has.”