As the former director of Ireland’s national Abbey Theatre, Fiach Mac Conghail knows all about balancing disparate elements for optimum impact - skills he’s been putting to good use for the past year as CEO of The Digital Hub.

“The Digital Hub is the largest cluster of digital and tech companies in Ireland,” he explains. “It’s not a co-working space as such, but it does offer companies community around their businesses. Similarly, it’s not an accelerator, but it is all about scaling and dynamism and supporting our enterprise companies through a regular programme of networking and thought leadership talks.

“It’s a place of risk, innovation and creativity.”

 

Who are the Hubsters?

 

Launched in 2003, The Digital Hub is now home to close on 100 companies with a total of around 720 employees - from the single-person start-up to outfits with dozens -  and a roughly 50:50 mix of national and foreign companies.

“It’s rooted in a historic, accessible, economical part of the city with a down-to-earth vibe,” says Mac Conghail. “It’s better than a regular office space: there’s invaluable peer support and networking constantly on tap; we have flexible and competitive commercial leases and you have the opportunity to grow your space as your company grows - the online and mobile software development company Square 1 has grown up here; and because The Digital Hub was set up by the government in a really old, historic and respected area of the city, there is an endorsement value in belonging to it.”

Does this mean there’s a selection procedure at work when it comes to applying for space within The Digital Hub?

Yes, says Mac Conghail. “We have criteria in place to ensure diversity. My job is about maintaining diversity and curating the series of companies that best represents what is happening globally on the tech scene.”

Currently, that mix includes financial technology (fintech), software developers, animation and health technology (medtech) companies. “Recently we’ve been seeing more and more animation; the design and creative industries in general – the Audi Dublin International Film Festival is a new client.”

 

Addressing unconscious bias

 

There is natural churn: “Some companies fail or leave. Some, like Stripe or Etsy, scale to the point where they need to leave.”

Mac Conghail works to ensure diversity at all levels. “There is a perception that start-ups are all about 20-somethings, but the age range here is quite broad, it’s a good mix that’s not skewed one way or the other.”

That said, he would like to improve the 10-20 per cent of female founders represented. “There’s a systemic challenge in society around supporting female founders, although we’ve had some great successes – due to the work of Enterprise Ireland, NDRC and the Local Enterprise Offices - and there is much greater awareness now. The unconscious bias needs to be named. More encouragement is needed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) so that more women go into tech. I take a self-aware approach; we’re working on diversity all the time.”

 

The Digital Hub summer barbeque 2017

 

Back-up without ‘back off!’

 

When supporting companies at The Digital Hub, there’s also a balance to be struck between not getting involved to the point where they want you to back off, he says, and providing the kind of back-up that many start-ups may not even think of.

“For example, we run regular PR workshops for free. PR is maybe the last thing our companies would think of doing, but telling a compelling story to seek funding and find a way to market is a big challenge. We’re very pro-active in supporting our companies in addressing their business challenges and opportunities.”

“We also keep everyone informed about national policy and do advocacy work - identifying the main challenges and promoting those at national government level. Our short-term leases mean companies can stay nimble. The Digital Hub offers a mix of spaces - the data and medical sectors need secure premises, while another kind of business just wants a desk in an open area.”

 

The Next Big Thing

 

With Brexit looming, what kind of companies might The Digital Hub be looking to embrace over the next few years?

Mac Conghail believes Brexit is “the biggest challenge facing our country in a long time, you can’t under-estimate it” but that there are emerging opportunities for companies that may want to re-locate, especially in fintech.

“And in medtech, The Digital Hub is close to St. James’s Hospital, on whose campus the new National Children’s Hospital will be built, and working with Dublin City Council to open up a health ‘corridor’ over the next three to five years. This will be attracting medtech companies working with both patients and clinicians.

“It coincides with The Digital Hub’s plan to double our 72,000 square feet capacity over the next five years. We’re also scaling up! Once we have additional office space our campus can be home to a greater mix of companies of all sizes. And The Digital Hub will continue to help our companies stay nimble as they scale - our aim is to make business better and more productive.”

 

Learn more

Since its launch in 2003, The Digital Hub has become the largest cluster for digital companies in Ireland. Our campus is a collaborative community where technology, digital media and internet companies can thrive. Support in the form of business workshops and seminars complement the natural networking environment we encourage. And our state-of-the-art office space and facilities are ideally located in the heart of Dublin City with easy access to all modes of transport, and close to third-level institutes and research centres.