Celebrating its second anniversary this month, John Kennedy reveals how Gorey’s Hatch Lab innovation hub, a partnership between Bank of Ireland and Wexford County Council, is fashioning the future of work.
The Hatch Lab outside Gorey is the first big building you see when you turn off at exit 23 on the M11.
Inside, there was a hive of activity as a Vanity Fair-style photo-shoot organised to mark the innovation hub’s second anniversary and Gorey’s key strengths in technology and fashion was underway.
“We are a team here. We back each other. This is the new team community”
In that instance what I was witnessing was a curious mix of different business types – tech entrepreneurs, fashion retailers, remote workers and multinational employees – all working together.
And that kind of sums up the spirit of Hatch Lab, or as Bank of Ireland’s enterprise and community manager for Leinster Emer Cooney puts it, “collaborative problem-solving.”
Build it and they will dot-com
Hatch Lab was originally built two years ago as a pilot solution to solve some of rural Ireland’s biggest challenges. Just over 100km from Dublin, the town of Gorey just like many other mid-size towns on Ireland’s commuter belt is fighting back in its own way to sustain its unique character.
Wexford County Council, in partnership with Bank of Ireland , founded The Hatch Lab two years ago to provide a start-of-the-art incubation space for ICT start-ups, provide hot-desking facilities for professionals who would rather eschew the commute to Dublin, and act as a “soft landing” facility for IDA client companies and investors in the region.
GrandPad, a US tech company that makes tablet computers for seniors, chose Hatch Lab in Gorey as the nest from which it intends to hatch up to 75 new jobs – mostly in remote working roles. “The Hatch Lab is an impressive new building that offers excellent accommodation possibilities for a new emerging company,” explained Edwina Dunne, business director for GrandPad Europe. “A great place to meet customers and interested parties. It has excellent connectivity and conference facilities. We had a great launch of GrandPad Europe and we were proud to show our US colleagues and our business partners our location for GrandPad Europe.”
Design for life
The mission of the Hatch Lab blends seamlessly with the unique factors that have made Gorey a well-known shopping destination with a high number of indigenous fashion outlets.
Local business owners such as Quenton O’Neale, co-owner of Browne’s Hairdressers, believe ardently in the future of the town of Gorey and the need for joined-up thinking when it comes to policy from transport to education. The role that facilities such as Hatch Lab play in enticing inward investment as well as enabling professionals to stay local, work local and ultimately shop local, is not lost on him.
“We are always battling to keep our costs down. The growing influence online is changing the high street so we need to evolve with it. Hatch Lab gives businesses and individuals the chance to launch their ideas and put their dreams into motion.”
Liz McGonigal, representing Gorey’s Redmond Brothers and the M11 Business Campus, highlighted how the Hatch Lab is a good example of forward-thinking green policy. “This is the first of three phases we have planned for the campus. In keeping with European green strategy for new-builds, the Hatch Lab has been built on an energy-control basis and actually this has created a good healthy, low-energy environment which actually results in less sick days, for example. One of the companies located in the same building as the Hatch Lab saw a 20pc reduction in sick days.”
Jim Hughes, co-founder and CEO of tech company INNOVATE, and M11 Business Campus anchor tenant, summed up the value of the location. “Within a 30 minute drivetime there is a total population of just over 75,000 people and within one-hour drivetime there is a total population of close to 500,000. One of the most significant reasons INNOVATE has chosen to headquarter our operations from this location is access to this labour market and our ability to offer our people as well as national and international recruits the best that Ireland has to offer from both a career and lifestyle perspective.”
Dave Jordan from CADA Media decided to leave Dublin for a better life for his young family. While much of Jordan’s business is global with clients everywhere from Brazil to Australia, he has found that locating in the Lab has been good for business. “I’ve been here five months and my turnover has grown. This is mainly due to contacts I have made here and people asking for help or pointing me in the right direction. I have designers and social media experts all around and we help each other. I have been able to take on a new employee and have taken an extra desk space.”
Crucially, Jordan sees more and more professionals and small business owners looking more closely at working in regional hubs and co-working spaces instead of commuting. “There is a burnout that comes with travelling from north Wexford to Dublin every day and more workers and their employers will see that.”
The lifestyle point made by Jordan is precisely what encouraged husband-and-wife team Avril and David Deering of pharma tech company Deering Software to locate at the Lab.
“We originally worked from home but as the family grew and as business grew the house wasn’t suitable and we wanted an outlet for mixing socially, too,” Avril Deering explained.
The point about the professional environment resonates with Joy Redmond, a prolific entrepreneur working across three businesses: Sonru, Contenta and Trustword.ie. “It’s a nice mix and match, because I’m in Dublin a lot as well, which is an hour away. I like mixing with the different industries here at Hatch and it has resulted in lots of cross-work opportunities, like extra research and speaking gigs.”
Among the start-ups thriving at Hatch Lab is Ruairi Gough, founder of two businesses Dental Marketing International and Paytient Payments, a platform that enables healthcare organisations to embrace digital payments enabled by PSD2 open banking standards. He said that the environment at Hatch Lab has been pivotal to both his work/life balance in terms of raising a young family as well as developing a business. “We are a team here. We back each other. This is the new team community.”
For Jim Tracey, founder of Say Hello, a company that brings customer engagements together under one platform, the rise of tech start-ups in the regions. “Having moved to Gorey over 18 years and seeing steady flow of traffic heading to Dublin each morning, starting a company that has potential to create jobs for people that normally either travel to Dublin or even move abroad to find jobs has been a driver for starting a tech business in Gorey and the Hatch Lab provided everything Say Hello needed. Perfect location and great people.”
The shift of high street businesses to online has been addressed in an innovative way by husband-and-wife team Cyril and Niamh Byrne, owner of the successful Ruby Rouge boutique in Gorey. They have now embarked on a start-up journey with Buyerpix, a new app aimed at helping fashion buyers stay on top of their game. “We’ve always watched the trends,” said Niamh. “For example, we have amassed over 100,000 followers through Kate Friday, a local customer who became a model, and is now a cult fashion figure.”
Managing stock and ensuring shrewd purchasing decisions while visiting fashion shows abroad presented the perfect storm of problems for Cyril to build BuyerPix as a platform for buyers based out of Hatch Lab. “The app serves as a buying assistant that allows buyers to take pictures, record spend and not go over-budget. It captures big data about what buyers are buying and allows them to share information with suppliers, categorise sizing and tag styles.”
The presence of Hatch Lab in Gorey has given IBM employee Tony Mulqueen the best of both worlds; the ability to work locally rather than drive two hours each way to Cork daily; but also work in the kind of professional environment that lets him flourish.
“From the perspective of a remote worker, Hatch Lab offers a fantastically vibrant and alive community for anybody like me who has a strong industry background [going back 30 years] and professionals like myself can get an enormous reward through mentoring people coming up.”
Will the natives return?
Looking to the future of facilities like the Hatch Lab and Wexford itself, I spoke with Ed Murphy, a native of Wexford who successfully ran the Home Instead Senior Care franchise up until last year and is now focused on helping his home county to thrive as senior economic advisor to Invest Wexford.
“The remote work concept is growing, and we see more organisations like GrandPad coming to Ireland and Wexford, in particular. Not only that, but Wexford is benefiting as a financial service and fintech hub with companies from Bermuda and Europe locating here. We want to revitalise the towns of Wexford, and this involves harnessing the energy of our young people and those with the right qualifications to stay here and achieve jobs with firms that are basing here and paying higher salaries.”
Murphy points out that Wexford’s economic success as a prime agricultural economy contrasts with the reality that many of the county’s youth (70pc in the last five years) have left to go to college but have yet to come home. “Why shouldn’t a professional earning more than €100,000 a year in the US or London not consider coming back? For that to happen we have to have the right industries but also the infrastructure for remote working.”
Hatch Lab manager John O’Connor praised the role of Bank of Ireland in supporting Hatch Lab’s development and said the facility stands out as an exemplar of what is possible if counties and big business work hand-in-hand. “A study by Maynooth University estimated that 1,200 people leave Gorey every day to go to work in Dublin in ICT and financial services industries. As a commuter belt town, the population of Gorey has doubled in the past 20 years. If you want to miss the traffic into Dublin you have to leave at 5.45am, so people are realising there has to be a better way. There is also the reality of the environmental impact of commuting and companies are realising there has to be a better way too. Hatch Lab is setting the template for that better way.”
In conclusion, I asked Emer Cooney from Bank of Ireland to sum up the spirit of innovation and “collaborative problem-solving” that the Lab embraces.
“The word ‘innovation’ has become synonymous with start-ups. But innovation is really about creative problem solving- which can apply to start-ups, established companies, individuals and communities. There are many different types of cohorts at the Hatch Lab- and they collaborate in many different ways and solve problems together. We have a diverse range of businesses and people who all bring different perspectives, and so the culture of innovation is really about collaborative problem solving, community building and co-creation.”
- Mens Clothing: Jack Dunnes Menswear, Gorey
- Ladies Clothing: Ruby Rouge, Gorey
- Hair: Browne’s Hairdressing, Gorey
- Makeup: Sophie Wong, Gorey
Written by John Kennedy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published: 23 September, 2019