Kildare well placed as a major growth-building business hub

One of the fastest growing counties in Ireland, Kildare is close to the capital and has a highly educated population while being home to established and developing enterprises

7th December, 2020
Kildare well placed as a major growth-building business hub

Kildare is leveraging its strategic location and other assets to position itself as a major hub for business in Ireland and an engine for future economic growth in the Mid-East region.

With a well-educated workforce, strong infrastructure and transport links and a progressive cross-agency approach to economic stimulation, the Thoroughbred County is primed for growth in the years ahead.

“Kildare is a dynamic, fast-moving county. It's one of the fastest growing counties in the country and can, therefore, offer potential employers the critical mass they need,” Peter Carey, chief executive of Kildare County Council, said.

Kildare is the fifth most populated county in Ireland with 222,500 residents, half of whom have a third-level or post-graduate qualification.

It is a compelling proposition for knowledge-driven employers, both homegrown and international, offering high-value jobs.

Among the big-name multinational employers already operating in the county are Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Pfizer, P&G and IFS State Street.

“Maynooth University is one of our best assets and it is currently the fastest-growing university in the country,” Carey said. “Equally, I would say that Kildare offers a very high quality of life. We have good schools, hotels and restaurants.

“In retail, we have Kildare Village, Whitewater Shopping Centre in Newbridge, and some very well-regarded niche boutiques in Naas. We also have 22 golf clubs, including the high-end K Club, Carton House and Kilkee Castle.”

Tourism in the county also benefits from a strong heritage, with popular local attractions including the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens in Tully, Castletown House and Gardens in Celbridge and the Curragh Plains, spanning 5,000 acres in Newbridge.

“Our proximity to the capital, Dublin is hugely important, particularly in terms of the access it offers to Dublin Airport and Dublin Port,” Carey said.

“We have excellent road accessibility with three motorways in the county and strong rail line and bus service connections. That's all hugely important to businesses located in the county and to the local economy.”

These businesses include major retailers, like Lidl, Primark and Musgrave, all of which have regional logistics hubs in Kildare.

Aldi Ireland recently announced plans to relocate 120 buying and marketing staff to new offices at Millennium Park close to its regional warehousing and distribution centre in Naas.

In addition to Millennium Park, which is also home to State Street and Kerry Group, IDA Ireland recently paid a reported €10 million to acquire a new 200-acre site outside Newbridge at Littleconnell.

“We are working with Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Kildare to develop a network of innovation hubs across the county as part of the Mid-East Regional Enterprise Plan developed by Enterprise Ireland and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment,” Carey said.

These hubs will include the Mid-East Region Innovation Think Space (Merits) in Naas and a new Equine Innovation Hub at the Irish National Stud in Tully.

A similar innovation hub for the food and drink sector will open further down the line at the old Model School on the Dublin Road in Athy.

Collaboration yields innovation

As an established home to tech giants like Intel and Hewlett Packard, Kildare is now set to take centre-stage in Ireland’s vibrant start-up scene with a collaborative new venture that will provide crucial early-stage support to innovative start-ups in the county.

Set to open its doors in Naas early next year, Merits will act as an innovation hub for tech start-ups and digital entrepreneurs in Kildare and neighbouring counties.

The purpose-built 1,200 square metre facility beside Devoy Park will have space to accommodate up to 120 people.

Led by general manager Joe O’Carroll, its true reach will, however, extend far beyond its physical presence.

Harnessing the power of collaboration, Merits will tap into the expertise and supports offered by Local Enterprise Office Kildare, Kildare County Council and Maynooth University.

In doing so, it will establish an active ecosystem for digital and technology companies and entrepreneurs, both Irish and international

LEO Kildare, led by Jacqui McNabb, has been instrumental in ensuring Digital Innovation is driven by University Collaboration through Maynooth University. It will continue to play a leading role as a key partner in the project and an active supporter of companies locating there.

“Merits is already actively building its network of partners and companies interested in becoming members,” McNabb said.

“The facility will be an ideal location for high-potential start-ups looking for a vibrant, interactive workspace, already networked into an array of supports and key stakeholders.

“It will also cater for larger companies seeking to place a smaller project team into a creative environment where conceptualisation can be turned into commercialisation.

“Prospective FDI companies may also use the facility as a soft-landing zone ahead of expansion into the region.”

Joe O’Carroll, general manager of Merits, has first-hand experience of the ‘start-up, scale-up, exit’ journey.

O’Carroll was the entrepreneur behind Imperative Energy, the renewable energy start-up acquired by Gaelectric seven years after its 2007 launch in Maynooth.

O’Carroll will lend his knowledge to the Merits network as a mentor with real-world experience in funding, scaling and strategy.

He will help start-ups to identify available sources of early-stage and growth capital, and to avail of the beta-testing and validation capabilities of established companies.

Merits start-ups will also have access to the full range of services offered by MaynoothWorks, the business incubation and commercialisation hub at Maynooth University.

Merits will operate as a not-for-profit company, supported by the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation’s Regional Enterprise Development Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland and Kildare Chamber. It will also be supported by the Local Enterprise Offices in Wicklow and Meath.

Equine Innovation Hub

Often referred to as the Thoroughbred County, Kildare is regarded by many as the home of the equine industry in Ireland with three racecourses (the Curragh, Punchestown and Naas) as well as Goffs. Kildare is also home to an estimated 800 breeders and almost 180 trainers.

Key to the county’s enviable international reputation in the sector is the Irish National Stud, the highly-regarded thoroughbred horse-breeding facility established in Tully in 1946.

Now, the National Stud is set to enter a new era as it prepares to open the Equine Innovation Hub in partnership with Kildare County Council.

Peter Carey said the hub would promote innovation in the equine sector, by supporting entrepreneurial businesses in the field and fast-tracking the commercialisation of equine research.

“The Irish National Stud’s pivotal role in the development of world-class equine and human talent marked it out as the perfect location for the hub,” Carey said.

Construction on the new 14-desk coworking facility will commence next month, transforming the existing museum at the stud into a space for forward-focused innovation.

“The building will be reimagined and will combine physical infrastructure with service provision and networking opportunities appropriate to the growth needs of Ireland's high-potential equine businesses,” Carey said.

Cathal Beale, chief executive at the Irish National Stud, said the hub would create exciting opportunities for the equine industry in Ireland.

“Our ambition is to provide a space that is not only used by start-ups and spin-outs, but also has a clear objective to stimulate innovation and R&D activity in existing businesses in our sector, ensuring that they benefit in terms of growth, competitiveness and productivity,” Beale said.

“The hub will also create a supportive environment that can attract researchers with international experience, while also offering opportunities for our graduate community.

“In partnership with Kildare County Council, Local Enterprise Office Kildare and industry agencies, it is our intention to foster an environment of innovation and to stimulate job creation within the county and beyond.”

The Equine Innovation Hub will be funded by the County Kildare LEADER partnership, and it is not the only exciting equestrian project in the pipeline for the county.

The Irish National Stud is also collaborating with Fáilte Ireland to launch a new €3.2 million racehorse simulation attraction at The Irish National Stud.

The Irish Racehorse Experience will be the first of its kind in Ireland, offering visitors to Kildare an indoor experience that celebrates Ireland’s horse-racing heritage.

Central to the attraction will be an immersive experience taking visitors through what it is like to train and race a thoroughbred from foal to finish.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to ‘race’ their horse through state-of-art simulation technology, which has never been used in Ireland before.

Food is another Key Economic driver in Kildare ,Home to some of best global food brands Kerry – Queally Group, O’Brien Fine Foods and Green Isle to name just a few , to further grow and exploit this sector Kildare County Council are developing The Athy Food & Drinks Innovation Hub .

Supported by Coca-Cola and the Rural regeneration Development Fund, this will drive future Innovation and employment in the Mid East Region.

The Barrow Blueway

Another exciting tourism project currently underway is the Barrow Blueway, which will traverse the counties of Kildare and Laois, running from Lowtown in Kildare through the towns of Rathangan, Monasterevin, Vicarstown and on to Athy.

Kildare County Council is partnering with Laois County Council and Waterways Ireland to develop the 46km Barrow Blueway route.

Work on the €7 million project began in July at Milltown Bridge, about 3km north of Athy, and 10km of the route has now been completed.

“It is envisaged that the 46km route from Lowtown in north Kildare to Athy in south Kildare will be complete and open to the public by mid-2022,” Peter Carey said.

Blueways are a network of multi-activity recreational trails, based on or alongside idyllic lakes, canals and rivers in Ireland.

According to Waterways Ireland, they provide scenic routes into the heart of rural Ireland by canoe, bike or on foot.

Blueways are also designed for a range of users, from those who have little to no skills or prior experience in land and water adventure activities, to their experienced peers.

“The Barrow Blueway will create a network of multi‐activity recreational trails and sites, based on the water and closely linked with the water using the canal towpath, together with providers facilitating access to activities and experiences,” Carey said.

“The project is based on the successful delivery of a number of existing Blueway routes along the inland waterways.

“Shannon Navigation Blueway was the first in 2014 and now attracts over 100,000 visitors and generates an estimated €4 million per year for the local economy.

“The Barrow Blueway will benefit both local communities and visitors to Kildare, and we believe it will be unique in its capacity to transform both people and places along its route.”

This Barrow Blueway will be funded by the government under Project Ireland 2040.

Shackleton Museum

Further down the line, another important tourism on the agenda for Kildare County Council will be the development of Shackleton Museum in Athy.

Earnest Shackleton, one the 20th century's greatest explorers, was born a short distance from the centre of Athy.

To celebrate his life and achievements, the Athy Heritage Centre is set to be extended, modernised and renamed Shackleton Museum.

“This will be the world’s first museum devoted to the story of the explorer and a major tourism draw for Co Kildare,” Peter Carey said.

Planning approval is in place for the project and detailed design work currently underway with the aim of conserving and restoring the architecture of the historic building in which the new museum will be housed.

It is envisaged that access to the building will be reorganised, incorporating a large central atrium, new upper storey exhibition spaces and a new sculptural glass extension to the rear of the building.

The museum will also be home to the original cabin in which Shackleton died of a heart attack in 1922, while anchored off the whaling station at Grytviken on South Georgia in the Antarctic Ocean.

“Our key objectives with the new museum will be to create a first-class visitor experience with an international reputation,” Carey said.

“We want to extend the visitor offer in Athy, increasing numbers, spend and dwell time, and to link the centre with other attractions in Athy Town Centre, thereby spreading economic return.”

Support from LEO Kildare

In her role as head of enterprise at Local Enterprise Office (LEO) Kildare, Jacqui McNabb’s priority is to do everything she can to help home-grown businesses in the county start up and scale successfully.

“More people are choosing Kildare as a location for a new business and the area is increasingly being recognised as a natural home for businesses in technology, food, equine, green and service-based industries,” McNabb said.

“Our role at LEO Kildare is to provide a supportive backdrop to fast-growing companies; one that is both dynamic and responsive.”

According to McNabb, SMEs and micro-enterprises represent about 92 per cent of all active businesses in Co Kildare.

“It is clear that Covid-19 has presented every Local Enterprise Office in Ireland with new client segments and new needs,” she said.

“While at times myself and the team here have been overwhelmed by the demand for our services, it has been a privilege to support and help courageous business owners and employers here in our county in some small way.”

While businesses welcomed the stimulus packages delivered by LEO Kildare on behalf of the government, McNabb said its work, and the work of the other LEOs around the country in recent months, had gone far beyond that.

“For many, the LEOs have acted as a supportive sounding board. Above all, we have endeavoured to ensure that no one business owner has felt isolated during this most challenging of years,” she said.

Alongside established companies in the county, LEO Kildare has also been fielding more enquiries from entrepreneurs with new business ideas.

As McNabb sees it, while these start-ups may be facing a unique set of challenges in the face of Covid-19, there are also opportunities.

“Our programme of work for 2021 is focused on supporting, as much as possible, some of the unexpected opportunities created by the pandemic for SMEs,” she said.

In partnership with Enterprise Ireland, LEO Kildare has developed a suite of schemes tailored to the needs of businesses at different stages of development.

“One of our focus areas is digitisation, and that is because the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we work and the business models underpinning that,” McNabb said.

“Businesses have had to accelerate the digitisation of their businesses. Otherwise, they would face losing out.

“We have financially supported many start-ups this year that have developed new technologies to support the new ‘remote working world’ we find ourselves in.”

Another key focus for Kildare LEO has been a ‘focus on local’, according to McNabb.

“People are shopping more consciously and making a concerted effort to buy local,” she said. “As a result, our businesses throughout the county have been embracing digital commerce with the support of the €2,500 Trading Online Vouchers offered by the LEOs.”

The aim of the Trading Online Vouchers is to help start-ups establish themselves online and established SMEs enhance their online presence with more effective websites and digital marketing.

While the pandemic has dominated news headlines this year, the impact of Brexit remains a looming challenge for many businesses in Ireland.

“From the logistics and supply chain perspective, LEO Kildare is offering expert mentoring and training to companies that need to adapt to new customs procedures,” McNabb said.

“The Lean for Micro programme is helping companies to review and future-proof their logistics and supply chain processes.”

The Lean for Micro programme is aimed at the owners and key staff members of small businesses who wish to gain an introduction to lean business principles and tools to improve their business

“Overall, LEO Kildare, through our skills and management training programs, is continuing to work with businesses and entrepreneurs with the aim of instilling confidence and self-belief,” McNabb said.

“We go on the journey with them and will continue to provide new responses to the challenges they meet, so that we might help them to create sustainable business into the future. We see our role as a partner in their success.”

Shop local initiatives

To cater to the changing need of businesses trading through the Covid-19 pandemic, Kildare LEO and Kildare County Council have launched Shopcountykildare.ie.

The online e-commerce platform has been designed to help businesses in the county move to online sales free-of-charge.

The online retail platform is, according to Jacqui McNabb, quick and easy-to-use.

“Shopcountykildare.ie is the latest addition to an ongoing national LEO campaign aimed at encouraging local communities to ‘look for local’ this Christmas,” McNabb said.

In another valuable local initiative, Kildare is celebrating the best of the county’s restaurants and food producers this weekend with an exciting new virtual food festival.

Organised by Into Kildare, Taste of Kildare at Christmas is being launched today [subs, Sunday Dec 6] by Rachel Allen, the best-selling food author and TV chef.

Running until December 18, it will feature a series of festive cooking demonstrations, including signature dishes and drinks prepared by some of Kildare’s best-loved chefs and producers. Demonstrations will be streamed live online at Tasteofkildare.ie.

For more information on Kildare LEO supports, log on to localenterprise.ie/Kildare

Irish Biltong Company

Set up in 2015 by Noreen and John Doyle, the Irish Biltong Company is an award-winning food company and one that has benefited, over the years, from the support of Local Enterprise Office Kildare.

The Naas company’s healthy biltong snack is made from 100 per cent Irish beef and has a protein content of 69 per cent. It has earned the company a slew of Great Taste, Blas na hÉireann and other high-profile national awards.

The Irish Biltong Company supplies supermarkets, forecourt retailers, independent stores, gyms, cafés and health food outlets around the country.

“Protein content and convenience is key to our customers and we have targeted these clients through marketing our elite sports customers, and also through nutritionists, coaches and personal trainers as well as social media, and direct advertising,” Noreen Doyle said.

The company has benefited from valuable financial support from LEO Kildare, including a Business Priming Grant, Business Expansion Grant and Technical Assistance Grant.

This has helped the company grow over the years and it has built up a strong online trade and healthy export sales in overseas markets such as Germany, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

Up until March of this year, the Irish Biltong Company was generating 40 per cent of its revenue online.

“Last year, our goal was to develop our overseas revenue. However, when Covid hit in March, we had to rethink basic survival strategies,” Noreen Doyle said.

“We focused mainly on our online sales, pushing promotions and reaching out to our high-end sports ambassadors.

“They helped us to spread the word that, whilst more people were now working from home and the sports sector has been pretty much at a standstill, there was even more of a need for people to snack healthily in order to keep fit and healthy.”

The strategy has paid off for the company, which has seen a healthy rise in online sales in recent months.

“We have had a great spike in online sales. This helped us dramatically through the difficult summer when retail sales took a nosedive,” Noreen Doyle said.

For more information, log on to irishbiltong.ie

Cloudtech

Technology is advancing all the time and, while a lot of companies do their utmost to move with the times, others prefer to stick with what they know.

Since the onset of Covid-19, however, everyone has had to make a concerted effort to conduct business remotely and digitally.

As a result, companies that specialise in making this transition as easy as possible have been in demand.

One such company is Cloudtech, a Kildare-based business specialising in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology.

Since its establishment in 2009, Cloudtech has implemented CRM solutions for more than 300 clients in Ireland, ranging from SMEs to large-scale organisations.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and the government introduced the first national lockdown, Cloudtech had only recently relocated to a new office in Crookstown Business Park.

“We had moved into the office in December 2019 and started to recruit additional software developers,” Tim Pullen, co-founder and chief executive at Cloudtech, said.

“The lockdown and ensuing economic uncertainty severely impacted our existing client business and also meant that we had to leave the office in early March.

“As we use our own cloud-based solutions, however, all of our staff were able to be back up and running, working from home, the very next day.”

Its ability to adapt stood Cloudtech in good stead, as clients - new and existing - began to adapt to the remote way of working.

“The last three months have seen a considerable upturn in business as organisations are starting to see the benefits of implementing our remote working solutions,” Pullen said.

“The team continues to work successfully from home, and we have not had any loss in effectiveness.”

For Pullen and Sinéad Leigh, Cloudtech’s co-founder, Local Enterprise Office Kildare has proven an invaluable support over the years.

“We had an initial Business Expansion Grant and received both the Business Continuity Voucher and the Trading Online Voucher,” Pullen said.

“These have been used to further develop our online marketing strategy and create a new website with more online capabilities.

“We continue to have a good working relationship with LEO Kildare, which has been extremely supportive of our business. My advice to other companies would be to engage as early as possible with the appropriate agencies.”

Cloudtech is currently implementing CRM solutions that can facilitate both remote and distributed working for companies, allowing them to adapt their business processes and increase online trade.

“In the last three months, we’ve seen a turnaround. Clients are making buying decisions again and our forward order book is 100 per cent healthier,” Pullen said.

For more information, log on to cloudtech.ie

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