The best colleges in Ireland for student entrepreneurs

So, you want to go to college, but you also want to be an entrepreneur. Why not do both?

You don’t have to drop out of college to run a start-up. It is possible to get a third-level education and start a business while still a student. Here are the colleges and universities that have great entrepreneur hubs and supports for students with a start-up mindset.

University College Cork – IGNITE 

IGNITE at UCC supports recent graduates that have viable business ideas. The 12-month programme was founded in 2011 and aims to turn original ideas into new products and services, accelerate business startups, and create jobs by nurturing entrepreneurship.

IGNITE has a comprehensive start your own business programme with many useful supports. Businesses to come out of the programme include TrustAp, AnaBio Technologies, Pundit Arena and ApisProtect, It’s one of the best in Ireland.

University College Cork – Blackstone LaunchPad 

Blackstone LaunchPad at UCC is an entrepreneurship programme open to all UCC students, staff and alumni offering coaching, ideation and venture creation support. The Blackstone LaunchPad is an integral part of UCC’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Trinity College Dublin – Blackstone LaunchPad

The Blackstone LaunchPad entrepreneurship programme for students at Trinity College Dublin aims  to“introduce Trinity students to entrepreneurship, help them develop entrepreneurial skills and enable them to independently achieve success in whatever venture they pursue”.  

Based at the renowned Berkeley Library, the Blackstone LaunchPad facility is accessible to all Trinity students across all disciplines. 

“We will inspire students to grow their ideas into viable businesses through mentoring, support, ideation and venture creation,” says the executive director, John Whelan.

Trinity College Dublin – LaunchBox

LaunchBox is Trinity’s summer accelerator programme open to student teams with an early stage business or social enterprise. There is mentorship, funding and access to alumni on offer. It’s an ideal place to scale and grow a business. Read more here

NUI Galway – Blackstone LaunchPad

NUI Galway also houses a Blackstone LaunchPad, a multidisciplinary programme that supports a “culture of entrepreneurship”. 

For student entrepreneurs, there is individual coaching, seminars and practical training in building a business. “If students have an idea or want to pitch something, or want to build out some skills or they are just curious, they can just come in and talk to us, and we’ll help them to figure out what’s next in their journey,” says Mary Carty, executive director. 

Dublin City University 

The DCU UStart student programme, as part of the Ryan Academy, helps students accelerate their business, from idea to product or service.

The free programme runs part-time during the summer months June to September, allowing students to focus on college during school terms. It also offers free office space as well as business development funding which is allocated based on the student’s progress. 

Mentoring is also provided, and full-time support is available from the DCU UStart manager. 

NovaUCD Student Enterprise Competition  – University College Dublin

The NovaUCD Student Enterprise Competition is an entrepreneurship programme for UCD undergraduate and postgraduate students from all disciplines run by NovaUCD.

Successful applicants will participate in an intensive four-week programme at NovaUCD. They will be given a cash stipend, office space, a structured set of workshops and mentoring sessions. A cash prize of €3,000 will be granted to the overall winner.

Synergy Centre, IT Tallaght/Technology University Dublin

The Synergy Centre is the on-campus incubation centre for IT Tallaght/Technology University Dublin that supports knowledge intensive startups. The centre provides free workshops, office space and cash prizes for successful participants for the development of their business from idea to product or service.

“Synergy has built a large network of Startups and established connections in industry across Ireland and internationally. We are on hand to help our startups connect with this wider community of like-minded founders and business leaders.”

National College of Ireland (NCI) Business Incubation Centre

The NCI says enterprise is ‘a fundamental element of the curriculum’ across all its third-level educational programmes. Located in the heart of the IFSC in Dubin, the college has an active programme of events, including the ‘Entrepreneurs Uncovered’ series and its leadership seminars.

A business incubation centre on campus supports knowledge intensive startups. 

The Rubicon Centre in CIT

The Rubicon in the Cork Institute of Technology is one of Ireland’s leading business incubation hubs and has been helping entrepreneurs since 1996.

In that time more than 250 entrepreneurs have graduated from Rubicon Centre programmes and have gone on to create thousand of jobs both at home and abroad. CIT also runs a Student Entrepreneurship Experience which offers the entire student body a year-long programme to ‘stimulate students to run their own business whilst completing their studies’. 

The Rubicon also run the Student Incubation Programme which was set up to encourage student entrepreneurs to develop their business in CIT. It is a three month program run from June to August and each thriving entrepreneur receives €4,000 to fund their idea. 

Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus, Trinity College Dublin

The Trinity Technology and Enterprise Campus is there to help students develop knowledge-based enterprises. It provides business incubation space in the form of hot desks, office space and laboratory facilities. It also provides access to supports, like meeting rooms, links to research in Trinity College and access to seed and venture capital.

The Trinity Entrepreneurship Training programme is for postgraduates and postdocs.

GatewayUCC,  University College Cork

GatewayUCC supports knowledge-based indigenous companies that emerge from the University’s research. The idea is to turn research ideas into commercial businesses. To date, 60 technology start-ups have been supported which have gone on to employ more than 370 people.

The centre offers a supportive work environment for new start-ups, spin-outs and spin-in knowledge-based companies.

Since being established in 2012, Gateway UCC supported companies have raised over €40 million of public and private investment and have contributed more than €22 million a year in salaries to the local economy. 

Nexus Innovation Centre, University of Limerick

Nexus is a hub where entrepreneurs can develop, collaborate and grow. The centre, located in the heart of the University of Limerick, aims to help entrepreneurs start and grow businesses and have an international trading focus.

At Nexus, start-ups are challenged to move past conventional ideas around business development. The centre encourages them to become highly connected, agile, and smart. 

TU Dublin Hothouse (Formerly DIT Hothouse)

TU Hothouse is a centre of innovation for new business ideas and offers a range of supports to TU Dublin students, staff and outside companies. 

The objective of the TU Dublin Hothouse Incubator initiative is to improve the prospects of Irish start-ups achieving commercial success in the Irish and international markets.

Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre, Limerick Institute Of Technology

The Hartnett Enterprise Acceleration Centre is Limerick Institute of Technology’s on-campus incubator for new businesses in the growth phase.

The New Frontiers (Phase 1) programme offers free training and business advice to entrepreneurs to help them develop concrete business plans. The centre’s mission is to deliver a unique business environment that stimulates innovation, research commercialisation, internationalisation and entrepreneurship.

Learning & Innovation Centre (LINC) Blanchardstown Institute of Technology

The LINC (Learning and Innovation Centre) is ITB’s link between the Institute and the business community.

Facilities, training and support for new high growth, knowledge-based businesses are on offer. 

CoLab – Letterkenny Institute of Technology

CoLab, based on the Letterkenny campus at LYIT, is a supportive incubation centre providing flexible office space and outstanding facilities for high-potential start-ups.

Whether you’re a one-person start-up or a small company, CoLab has a range of facilities to help you develop your idea, including high-spec office and research units, shared reception services, meeting and training rooms. ThinkBusiness travelled up to Co-Lab earlier this year to catch up with Patsy Donaghey. 

The UX Design Institute

The UX Design Insititute was established in 2017, but its story dates back to 2013 when Colman Walsh founded, a specialist provider of user experience and design thinking training. 

Based in Dublin, the UX Design Institute delivers in-depth UX education and certification. Its goal is to bridge the global skills gap in UX design, and to provide a career pathway for UX designers.

It recently saw a 220pc increase in student numbers during the height of the lockdown when compared to the same period last year.  

The Code Institute

Founded in 2015 to tackle the widening ICT skills gap across Europe, Code Institute is now a leading global provider of online coding education with customers including BT, Facebook, Google and Hubspot. 

Code Institute delivers online coding education courses to students globally and is Europe’s only university credit-rated coding bootcamp. The company offers a free five-day Coding Challenge to potential students to ensure that they know what will be expected if they proceed with the programme.

More recently, the Dublin-headquartered edtech provider raised €1.2m through the Bank of Ireland Kernel Capital Growth Funds II.

myth of the millenial

Other colleges that offer incubation services include:

  • Enterprise Ireland, New Frontiers – Tallaght IT and Blanchardstown IT.
  • South East Enterprise Platform Program – Waterford IT.
  • Innovation Centre, NUI Maynooth (centre is under construction).
  • Tyndall Incubation Centre, Tyndall National Institute Cork (centre under construction).
  • Midlands Innovation & Research Centre (MIRC), Athlone Institute of Technology.
  • Digital Skills Global, TU Dublin Kevin Street. 
  • Enterprise & Research Incubation Campus, Carlow Institute of Technology.
  • Regional Development Centre (RDC), Dundalk Institute of Technology.
  • Innovation in Business Centre (IIBC), Galway, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
  • Innovation in Business Centre (IIBC), Castlebar, Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.
  • The Media Cube, Institute of Art, Design and Technology Dun Laoghaire.
  • ITSBIC, Institute of Technology Sligo.
  • Tom Creen Business Centre, Institute of Technology Tralee.
  • Arclabs Research and Innovation Centre, Waterford Institute of Technology.

 Article updated 10 August, 2020 

(While this is a comprehensive guide, it may not be definitive. If you are aware of any other supports for student entrepreneurs, we are more than happy to update and include. (You can contact us at or

Photo of Trinity by Vincent MacNamara /; UCC by Peter O’Toole / and all other images from Shutterstock. 

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