The RDI Hub in Killorglin is taking centre stage in Kerry’s start-up scene as part of the national consortium recently awarded the government contract to manage the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) service for start-ups.
The €17 million contract will see the RDI Hub (Rdihub.com) work alongside Dogpatch Labs in Dublin, the Republic of Work in Cork and Portershed Galway to manage the rollout of NDRC accelerator programmes regionally.
The deal will be a ‘game-changer’ for Kerry, according to Liam Cronin, chief executive of the RDI Hub.
“What this means is that high-potential entrepreneurs in Kerry will now have access to world-renowned accelerator and pre-accelerator programmes, including funding, right on their doorstep,” Cronin said.
The NDRC programme is an ideal fit for the RDI Hub, whose aim is to support enterprise and stimulate innovation in the south-west.
A not-for-profit partnership between Fexco, Munster Technological University and Kerry County Council, the hub is supported by the Regional Enterprise Development Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland.
The 12,000 sq ft facility has space to accommodate 81 members and further scope to expand to 135 in the future with 1Gb broadband connectivity and a striking 60-seater auditorium as its centrepiece, featuring a cutting-edge nine-screen video wall.
Already, RDI Hub’s members include Liebherr, the Killarney-based container-crane manufacturer, which has taken ten desks, and Taxamo, the fintech start-up, which has 38 desks, up from 17 just a year ago.
But, the work of the RDI Hub will go much further than the cutting-edge facility it occupies, according to Cronin.
“The hub is our linchpin, but equally important will be the programmes we run to help entrepreneurs and companies grow from ideation stage right through to commercialisation,” he said.
“With Munster Technological University as our research partner, we will also work to bridge gaps between industry and academia, tapping into third level expertise so we can help businesses solve real world problems.
“Finally, we want to run both corporate and community events, such as hackathons that help to foster a supportive community, not just in Ireland, but reaching out into other markets in Britain, Europe and the US.”
This focus on fostering a supportive network reflects a wider culture of collaboration among Kerry’s growing cohort of business innovators.
Already, the county is home to Kerry SciTech (kerryscitech.com), a 50-strong group of science, technology and engineering companies that are working together to highlight the county’s Stem sector, promote collaboration and respond to shared challenges.
SciTech’s public sector partners include Kerry County Council, Munster Technological University, Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland and Kerry Education and Training Board.
The network is funded by member businesses with match funding from the Regional Enterprise Development Fund administered by Enterprise Ireland. Its programme manager is Aoife O'Brien.
“The Kerry region is home to over 70 companies in the science, technology and engineering sectors and 50 are our members,” O’Brien said.
“We have an extremely strong heritage in creating global business success stories here in Kerry and I think that is not something we have necessarily always been vocal about.
“In reality, the calibre of companies founded in this county are exceptional. I’m talking about Kerry Group, Fexco, Dairymaster, Tricel, Tweak.com, Net Feasa, Aspen Grove Solutions, PulseLearning and FreeFlow.
“Those are just some of the entrepreneurial success stories we have here on our doorstep. Ensuring we maintain and build on our Stem community is the priority for KerrySciTech.”
Kerry Angel Network
KerrySciTech recently launched the Kerry Angel Network (KAN) in partnership with the Halo Business Angel Network.
“We are inviting early-stage start-ups in the Kerry region seeking funding to connect with us to discuss the potential of pitching to HBAN Kerry Angel Network investors in the future,” O’Brien said.
“It’s a very exciting time for Kerry’s Stem sector in many ways right now with the launch of the KAN, the formal establishment of Munster Technological University, the NDRC contract win at the RDI Hub and our own continued partnerships with local and national stakeholders.
“There are huge opportunities for many of our member companies and for talented professionals choosing to make their home here. We will continue to connect the dots so that we can support them as much as we can.”
Sustaining jobs on the Dingle peninsula
Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub opened in April 2017 with the aim of supporting well-paid jobs year-round on the Dingle peninsula.
For Deirdre De Bhailís, who grew up on the peninsula and is now the hub’s manager, achieving this goal has always been about much more than simply providing desk space.
The electronic engineer is the driving force behind a three-pronged approach to stimulating the economy locally.
“Back when we started, we knew that our work wouldn’t be as simple or straightforward as simply offering desks and office space to people,” De Bhailís said.
“Instead, we set about creating the antecedents for new employment under three strategic pillars: sustainability; digital transformation and the creative industries.”
“We have since fostered living networks, generated projects and obtained funding under all of these pillars. This is resulting in an actively engaged community that is working together to build a sustainable future for all.”
This engagement remains true to the hub’s roots as a community enterprise initiative supported by Enterprise Ireland, Eir, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Kerry County Council, Dingle Business Chamber and Net Feasa, a local tech company.
At the same time, Dingle Hub is breaking new ground with a pioneering approach to sustainability that is attracting funding and attention from overseas.
The hub recently secured €220,000 under Horizon 2020, the EU funding programme for research and innovation, to trial carbon-reducing pilot sensor technology with farmers on the Dingle Peninsula.
It will collaborate with Net Feasa, Teagasc and the Irish Farmers Association on the three-year project.
Just this month, Corca Dhuibhne 2030 – the sustainability strategy the hub has put together in collaboration with MaREI, NEWKD and ESB Networks – was selected as a case study by the UN's Regional Information Centre for Western Europe.
This is all welcome news for De Bhailís as the on-site work of the hub powers down for the duration of the latest lockdown.
“There are 24 spaces available to support new business formation, including co-working spaces, dedicated offices and hot desks,” she said.
“Usually, we have 36 people using the hub regularly and many more availing of seasonal hot-desking. As well as Net Feasa, local companies using the facility include DC Six Technologies and Skyscraper.ie.
“We’re closed to all except essential workers right now but, aside from the lockdowns, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of remote working here on the peninsula and demand for our facilities is coming from people who have moved home permanently.”
In response, Dingle Hub is working closely with Údarás na Gaeltachta on another important community enterprise project: the proposed €415,000 redevelopment of the former Dingle Hospital and Workhouse as an innovation hub, tourist experience and creative learning space.
For more on Dingle Hub, see dinglehub.com