With DNA From DEC and HP, Galway Builds Startup Hub Outside Dublin
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other tech companies, and some of them switched over to medical technology companies with a local presence, like Boston Scientific or Medtronic, Gantly says. Other ex-DEC employees went on to start their own businesses, such as Toucan Technologies and Anecto.
Indeed, that DEC diaspora planted the seeds for Galway’s fledgling tech community today. “When you go across the Irish tech industry today, you find Digital people everywhere, plus quite a number of successful startups,” Gantly says.
Today, HP employs about 700 in Galway, and the operation has shifted away from manufacturing toward software development and business services, Gantly says. Similar transformations have happened with the Irish operations of other U.S. tech companies, like IBM and Apple, he says.
One of the open questions for Ireland’s tech community, particularly in a small cluster like Galway, is what role the big software companies will play in the startup ecosystem. Everyone seems to agree they’re an important source of talent for indigenous startups, and their presence boosts the credibility of Galway’s nascent tech startup cluster. But as Galway begins to produce more startups, will the established players increase their involvement, perhaps by becoming customers, investors, or acquirers?
Certainly the latter. Gantly says larger software companies are starting to show more interest in Ireland’s startup scene, citing Red Hat’s recent $82 million acquisition of FeedHenry, which spun out of the Waterford Institute of Technology in southeastern Ireland. IBM and Intel also have acquired Irish companies in the past several years.
Large companies are “asking the question now of Ireland—what have you got?” Gantly says. “IT companies are now going international not just to find low-cost labor or bright talent to do stuff. They’re actually going out looking for ideas” to acquire, he says.
Some of Galway’s more interesting and closely watched startups right now include Active Mind Technology, which counts President Barack Obama as a user of its wearable device, Game Golf; Pocket Anatomy, a 3D visual software maker that aims to be the “Google Earth of the human body”; and Altocloud, which is led by Barry O’Sullivan, a former Cisco exec who is actively involved in Galway’s tech startup community.
Still, the city will have to find a way to hold on to its promising startups if it wants to earn inclusion in the same breath as Dublin, London, and other bigger hubs. That task is made more difficult by the fact that Galway has fewer serial entrepreneurs and venture capital sources, says John Breslin, an entrepreneur and co-founder of Startup Galway. Breslin advises startups and is a senior engineering lecturer at the National University of Ireland, Galway, where he also conducts research for the Insight Centre for Data Analytics.
“The other challenge is companies/founders migrating to where the money/customers are,” Breslin says in an e-mail message. “Some feel it necessary to go to Dublin or elsewhere, while others seem to have managed to keep their feet in Galway while operating globally.”
For the companies that stay, this tight-knit coastal community seems to embrace the adage that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” SmartBear’s Kane, a native of Stillwater, MN, likened Galway’s attitude to some cities in America’s Midwest.
“They’re very competitive cities in their own right, but they’re not trying to kill you either,” Kane says. Other businesses in Galway “want you to be just as successful as them because they know that benefits the overall ecosystem. I see that a lot.”
This article’s featured image shows the view from Claddagh across Galway Bay to Galway City. Used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user rjs1322.
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