CoLab: One of Ireland’s finest business facilities

On a recent trip to Donegal, we stopped in to find out more about CoLab, a business centre based on the LYIT campus.

CoLab is an innovation centre based on the Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT) campus. It provides flexible office space, and outstanding facilities, for high-potential start-ups.

The facility is managed by Patsy Donaghey who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Letterkenny business community.

He is responsible for managing the day to day affairs, and strategic direction of the centre, as well as providing a welcoming, supportive environment for people with business ideas. Patsy is also involved in helping start-up companies based in the centre identify new opportunities and markets and has devised strategies to attract the right type of clients to the centre.

We caught up with Patsy to find out more about the CoLab.

What is CoLab?

The CoLab is a business centre. We started off as a little incubation centre. We certainly wouldn’t have survived as a small incubation space, so we knew we had to grow. We work mostly with start-ups. About 60 per cent of my time is spent working and meeting with entrepreneurs who are starting a business and helping them through New Frontiers. We see huge opportunities for the future with so many people choosing to live here in Letterkenny.

Hot desks are available to entrepreneurs looking to start their business

When did it open?

This building opened in 2001 but it initially started in 1994 when we had a small incubator and that was successful. One of the companies that started out there was bought by Boston Scientific and that showed the college that the talent existed and there was a need for a bigger incubator, which led to the old Business Development Centre being opened in 2001.

Since then, we’ve been lucky in that we’ve been granted funding meaning we are now at 44,000 square foot and we’re the biggest facility of its type in the third-level sector with 60 companies comprising of over 230 people based here. At the minute we are 100 per cent full. We have ten acres on land just across from our current building which we hope could turn into another space down the line.

Collaboration between CoLab and LYIT

In terms of what the college gets out of it, at any one time, we will have 15 or maybe 20 students working in here. The college also use the CoLab to engage with the entrepreneurs in here. A good example of this was when the college was starting a cloud computing course and they met with Dave Gildea to discuss what the course should involve and what skills are needed to succeed in this area. For students on the campus, it provides them with a great opportunity to meet brilliant entrepreneurs and they could potentially start their careers with companies based here.

What do businesses get out of it?

From a facilities perspective, you can walk in here on a Monday morning and everything is already there waiting for you; the broadband, the offices, meeting rooms, kitchen and so much more. We don’t keep people on long-term leases if they don’t want to which is important. And then there’s the people you are working alongside and the people you get to meet. We’ve people in here from every background and when you’re starting a business, having skilled people around you improves your chances of succeeding. If your business encounters an issue, it’s very likely someone within the CoLab will be able to help resolve it.

Is there anything similar to it?

There are a number of business centres right across Ireland but no two are the same. When we started this, I visited a number of centres right across the UK and Europe and the main thing I took away from it was that you can’t 100 per cent replicate any centre. You have to identify your strengths and play to them.

60 companies are currently based in CoLab including Arklu, the creators of Lottie Dolls

Why Letterkenny?

When people come to Letterkenny, I think they’re surprised by the amount of technology companies in the area and the quality of businesses operating here. I think in fintech alone, there’s over three thousand companies in Letterkenny, which is the biggest amount outside of Dublin. We have several large multinationals along with so many fantastic SMEs. Letterkenny is a brilliant town with a thriving business community.

We also caught up with some of the residents to get their take on working in CoLab.

Ian Harkin, co-founder of Arklu

I started the business when I was living in London and it came to the point where I had to stop working at my kitchen table and I wanted to bring the business back to Donegal. I heard about CoLab and Patsy gave me a desk in here and it just went from there. I suppose the beauty of CoLab is that as your business is growing, it allows you to move to different areas of the building, so having started at a hot desk, I now have my office here.

We design and develop our own range of dolls. We manufacture them in China and we sell them into about 30 counties worldwide. But the CoLab has been so important to the company’s growth. Being able to work alongside people who are on the same journey is so crucial when starting off, and if you’re working in a remote location you don’t get that. Being so close to the college has also been great for us, with about 50 per cent of our staff coming out of LYIT. By working closely and getting to know lecturers, they’ll keep you informed on some of the top students who could help our company.

Dave Gildea, CEO of CloudRanger

The Co-Lab is a wonderful example of bringing business and the community together here in Letterkenny. I started working here a long time ago, and then when I decided to start my own company, I wanted to stay here. We’ve since being acquired by an American company but we continue to base ourselves here. Patsy and the team are brilliant and having the college right on the doorstep is a great way of sourcing the best young talent.

By Stephen Larkin

Published: 3 January, 2020