Cork has potential to deliver growing space for startups

Co-working has become an attractive alternative to traditional offices, but entrepreneurs say that there is a need for development of the practice in Cork City.

Daniel Ramamoorthy— founder of The Treehouse, an organisation that offers co-working space and advice to entrepreneurs in Dublin— helped set up the Revolution Workspace in the Penrose Wharf business centre.

“Cork is actually a hotbed of incredible innovation,” Mr Ramamoorthy said, and “is leading the charge in Ireland in areas like synthetic biology, in particular.”

Mr Ramamoorthy, who advised the former government on policymaking for entrepreneurs, said that “there is a need for more co-working in Cork” to capitalise on these innovations.

“I get emails from people all the time who are in Cork and want to move to Dublin because they believe their business will grow faster there,” he said.

“I think it’s because they don’t see a good landing space in Cork. I think that if there was a more visible landing space for startups, more Cork startups would stick around because there would be a resource for them to continue growing.”

Without a major co-working hub, a number of smaller spaces have opened across the city. Fergus Murphy, manager and founder of the Plus10 space, became a co-worker by accident.

“Myself and another crew were developing a travel software site,” Mr Murphy said.

“We needed space for a couple of programmers. When we went looking, all that was there was very expensive stuff for short-term [use].”

Mr Murphy had access to a building on South Main St and decided to make it his base. After a while, one of the developers on his team suggested opening up the space to other startups.

“It just kind of grew from there, to the point where we have 17 desks occupied most of the time,” he said.

One of the benefits of operating out of a co-working space, Mr Murphy said, is discipline.

“The idea of working at home is very practical initially,” he said, “but it’s very hard to work in isolation.”

The social side of co-working helps entrepreneurs avoid being “captured by your comfort” and overlooking flaws in their business, he said. The open space allows them to bounce ideas off other workers and share problems or worries.

“There’s a pool of different talents and skills there,” he said.

Mr Murphy, who spoke at last year’s Co-working Europe Conference in Milan, believes Cork lags other European cities in development of co-working spaces.

“Ireland is a bit behind the curve,” he said. “Cork is significantly behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.”

Mr Ramamoorthy agrees, but believes Cork could become one of the top 10 startup cities in Europe.

“Ireland in general ranks very high as a startup hub,” he said. “Cork as a city is not yet. But I think it’s fast on the heels of becoming that, specifically because of the collaboration between investors, accelerators, the local enterprise office and the universities. I think that network is absolutely important in building a good startup ecosystem.”

But it is not just startups that are attracted to co-working. Established companies have learned that the practice is not just about physical space, but a culture that promotes entrepreneurship and creativity.

“We have mature practices that have been much bigger in the past and had to scale down,” said Patrick Creedon of Magee Creedon Kearns architects, which set up Gate Design House on North Abbey St. 

“They’ve discovered now that they don’t have to have the big overheads of taking on a whole space by themselves and yet they have a sense of scale in terms of the shared space.”

Both Gate Design House and Plus10 have been approached by large organisations, some of which already have substantial offices in Cork, looking to rent their spaces.

“I’ve had cases where big companies have been working on a project but maybe they wanted some lateral thinking,” Mr Murphy said.

“They want to come out of the office environment and into a more creative environment.”

As work becomes more flexible, Mr Creedon predicts a rise in demand for co-working. “One or two individuals can do so much more now than five or six individuals could do in the past,” he said. 

Companies “don’t want their hard-earned cash going into bricks and mortar. They do want to be in an environment that is pleasant and attractive and buzzy.”



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