Joe Greaney, Founding Director of Galway Technology Centre and Director of WestBIC, recounts the origins of Galway Technology Centre.
In the early 90’s Ireland was still experiencing the effects of a global recession and the Celtic Tiger was yet to emerge. In January of 1993, Albert Reynolds became Taoiseach and Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the American president. Just one month later, the American multinational Digital Equipment Corporation announced the closure of its hardware manufacturing plant in Galway, resulting in the loss of 780 jobs that would impact 3,000 families and the local economy.
Where is the opportunity in this loss?
While there was a clear need to replace these jobs, the business community in the city recognised that a highly skilled and educated workforce would remain after the departure of Digital.
The government formed a task force to respond to the jobs losses and a sub-committee of WestBIC, Galway Chamber of Commerce and Galway Council/Galway Corporation came together to identify what could be done to retain this talent and potential entrepreneurial capacity.
How could we accommodate such entrepreneurs?
Though much of the workforce would seek alternative employment or relocate, we believed that others might start a business and retain the skills and knowledge gained from working within a global technology company.
We ran the WestBIC Entrepreneurship Programme at the Ardilaun Hotel that attracted 34 prospective entrepreneurs, most of them soon-to-be Ex-Digital. These were taken through basics of self-employment topics including project validation, raising finance and sales and marketing etc. We augmented this with one-to-one mentoring support and finance applications. A momentum began to build up.
At the same time, the sub-committee approached the IDA to lease a 6,000 sq. ft. facility in the Mervue Business Park, securing it for five years. We went around with the hat and we ‘resourced’ the fit out by donations of partitions, desks, phones and raised floors from Digital with cash donations from the County Enterprise Board, AIB, Thermo King, Bank of Ireland and a few more. The first version of Galway Technology Centre opened in 1994 with 8 units full, 7 of which were ex-employees of Digital. The 8th was a spin-off from the RTC (now GMIT). We felt we had both completed and started something … against all the odds.
How could we do more?
With this early success, an adjoining 6,000 sq. ft. became available on a separate 5 year lease and a Management Board was formed. Led by Galway Chamber and its Partner, WestBIC, we secured an independent Private Sector Chair. Forbairt then supported the upgrade to the front of house facilities and interior and WestBIC funded the on-site Management of the centre for the next two years.
A strong Partnership with a shared sense of purpose was emerging. At 12,000 sq. ft. of leased space, Galway Technology Centre had established itself as a progressive enterprise centre in the West.
As the economy recovered and demand for units increased, a generous benefactor gifted the 12,000 sq. ft. car park to the project and the Board then negotiated the purchase of the existing 12,000 sq. ft. facility from the IDA. The then 24,000 sq. ft. of ‘footprint’ was developed to add a second story, doubling the overall capacity to almost 50,000 sq. ft. GTC raised its own expansion capital for the build and WestBIC funded the ICT fit out to make it a state-of-the-art, smart and connected Incubator. We also built out the systems and funded the management and delivery of one of the leading Incubators in Ireland for the next 13 years on behalf of the Partnership.
Now very much standing on its own feet, the Centre has been upgraded again more recently with the addition of desk and co-working spaces and the Computer Laboratory and Training facility donated to WestBIC by HP. (formerly Compaq and Digital before that!) Graduate companies include EA Games, Toucan Technologies and ExOrdo. The current portfolio stands at c.40 Start-Ups and the jobs count is heading for 3,000.
We have come a long way from back in 1993. GTC is the home of serious Tech Entrepreneurs in the greater Galway area, is recognised internationally and a project to be proud of. I really don’t think it could happen without the partnering of the Chamber and WestBIC and the support of a few more.
I suppose we can say, we have done something for our community.