Driving the city’s tech quarter’s success

Ten years ago some caravans had to be coaxed from a field in Mahon to make way for a squat cube building that now houses the National Software Centre (NSC).

The NSC is a quiet success, a public private partnership that has not backfired but instead has acted as a catalyst that has led to the creation of a tech cluster on the edge of Cork City made up of Big Fish games, SolarWinds and Quest Software.

One of the directors of the NSC, Donagh Kiernan, believes the establishment of the NSC has helped attract other tech companies into the Mahon area.

“We were the first to try and create a pseudo-technology park down here.

“It is now the highest concentration of technology companies in Cork,” he said.

In its 10 years of operation, the NSC has seen 130 firms come through its doors and take up residence in the building.

Despite the impressive level of success — with multinationals and venture capitalists monitoring and buying the companies that use the NSC — it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

NSC directors Shemas Eivers, Teddy McCarthy, Donagh Kiernan, and Aidan O’Driscoll, conceived the plan as a public private partnership with Cork City Council in 1999, at the peak of the internet bubble.

By the time the NSC opened its doors in 2002, the bubble had burst.

“We had to put extra cash in here than originally planned because when we opened in here in 2002 the tech sector was on the floor.

“We conceived the place at the height of the tech boom and we opened the doors when it was at the bottom of the floor,” said Mr Kiernan.

With software entrepreneurs behind the venture, the NSC was never going to operate as a traditional shared services office space. The building is designed around a cavernous three-storey informal meeting area.

“The joke about it is, wouldn’t you know this was set up by four software people when you look around at all the unletable space because we weren’t property people,” said Mr Kiernan.

Not being property people is also the secret of the NSC’s success.

When the building opened originally, short- term leases were unheard of. The NSC brought a new business model of flexible leases to Ireland.

“We had very flexible leases. Most property agreements at the time were looking to sign up a three to five-year agreement or a twenty-year agreement, but we were facilitating three- month agreements. It was unheard of then,” he said.

Short-term leases are not the only selling point that the NSC could offer.

The centre was offering like-minded people a community in which to work.

“People come in here for various reasons, it is back to when you have a list of companies in here who are serious about building there businesses.

“Walking corridors with peers who are trying to build their businesses in a similar way along a similar path and they are in a technology space,” Mr Kiernan said.

Talking to the companies who have located to the NSC, like E-pub direct, a company working in e-book distribution, and Treemetric, it is clear the community aspect is a huge draw for tech companies.

The CEO of Treemetrics, Enda Keane, said the NSC offers support.

“Its a good environment, a good atmosphere and camaraderie and like-minded companies,” he said.

Another huge draw for companies is the name, — National Software Centre.

At a particular stage of a company’s development, being in an incubator programme scares off investors. “When your talking to big companies internationally having the word incubator is not good. They are thinking start-up and high risk,” said Mr Keane.

Treemetrics, a revolutionary forestry management system has just left an incubator programme and are looking to expand, for them the name, National Software Centre, was very attractive.

“It is a big part of it. There is a lot in a name. If apple was called pear, would it be as good?” Garret Mullooly, Treemetrics co- founder said.

Looking to the future, Mr Kiernan believes that the NSC can grow.

The original plan was for more than one building and they are now considering expanding and targeting indigenous Irish companies as they emerge from Enterprise Ireland incubator programmes.

“Where we are positioning the NSC now is about that post-incubation Irish companies.

“They receive all the support that Enterprise Ireland can give them, but when they finish, its almost like they have dropped out they are left to themselves.

“We’re looking to come in at that point and target them at their growth points,” said Mr Kiernan.

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