A Different Kind Of Landlord: Inside The Digital Hub In Dublin 8
When you think of technology in Ireland, it is easy to think of the global giants that have taken up residence in Dublin’s docklands.
However, in Dublin 8, The Digital Hub has been providing space for technology and digital businesses to grow and prosper since 2003.
The 9-acre campus was bought from Guinness by the Irish government with the intention of breathing new life into the Liberties area.
If Dublin is a bastion of the European tech industry could The Digital Hub be its beating heart? The campus provides a space where companies can forge links to help each other to grow. It is home to 85 companies with over 700 people, and its owners are hugely invested and involved in the Dublin 8 community.
Because The Digital Hub is on the expansion path, the technology cluster is in talks with prospective partners to support the overall the development of the Digital Hub's Windmill site on the north side of Thomas Street, Dublin 8. The deadline for interested parties to submit their application is 12 February.
The contracts resulting from this tender process will be awarded for a duration of four years, with a combined value in the region of €11.5M.
Funded by the exchequer, The Digital Hub partners with developers to renovate its buildings. In 2014, they partnered with London-based Knightsbridge Student Housing.
As part of the €40M deal, Knightsbridge renovated 19th Century Roe distillery Grainstore on the Digital Hub campus. It provided the Hub with an additional 10,650 SF of office space which is now one of its flagship buildings. The student accommodation now belongs to Aparto and is home to nearly 500 students.
Many of the businesses in The Digital Hub are in expansion and international growth mode. Some of the companies close to doubling their workforce since moving in to the campus include Juvo, an award-winning creative digital development agency, and Bizimply, an operations management platform provider.
Previous alumni of the digital hub include Amazon, Stripe, Distilled Media Group (Daft.ie) and Slack, but Marketing Manager Melissa Meehan said the Hub is not an incubator in the traditional sense.
“We are a test bed for tech companies, we are landlords first and foremost, but we do ad-hoc events which are peer-to-peer-based, which help provide support for the businesses who rent space here,” Meehan said.
The Digital Hub aims to have an approachable management style to benefit its tenants.
“We offer a lot of support stuff, the regular Friday morning meet-ups, we have beer and pizza meetings, and at least once a quarter we try to put on a seminar where people come and give talks on things that can help manage and grow your business,” Meehan said.
A tenant since September 2014, Juvo Director Mark Murphy said the facilities, location, flexibility and name recognition are the reasons he thinks the Digital Hub is the right space for tech and digital companies.
“When I came to The Digital Hub and I saw the set up they had here, it was very reasonable. I had the ability to expand as quickly as I wanted to or contract as quickly as I wanted too and I did both over the course of the three years that I’ve been here. I started off with a two-man office and quickly climbed to a 10-man office but I grew too quickly so I had to contract. The Digital Hub allowed me the room to do that as well as grow again back to a 12-man office.”
He said clients recognise The Digital Hub name and recognise it as a technology and digital-driven place.
“I run a digital creative agency and The Digital Hub fits well into it. Another very important thing in the digital and technology space is attracting the right people, so when I put up a job saying we’re based it The Digital Hub, it naturally attracts people because people want to work here,” Murphy said.
Bizimply Operations Manager Katie Whiteside likes the networking The Digital Hub offers.
“The Digital Hub is a great networking opportunity, as well as the events. You are meeting different people in the kitchen or in the café space. We’ve got a lot of support for the other companies based here which has been really helpful,” Whiteside said.
The Digital Hub also has an urban regeneration remit.
“We cannot be like a gated community here, we have to contribute to the local area. A lot of these buildings would have been unoccupied for a decade or more before we renovated them. We have a community learning initiative and we run various programmes that have a digital focus for primary and secondary students as well as older people. There is the D8 Surfers club which helps older people to become computer literate,” Meehan said.
It is an element of the scheme that appeals to and resonates with the tenants.
“I love the Dublin 8 area, it’s an up-and-coming area," Murphy said. It might be just the smell of hops in the air but there is a buzz around the place. You can see it growing and growing, there is a rejuvenation of businesses in the area.”
Meehan also emphasised the importance of the links The Digital Hub has with schools in the area. The Digital Hub runs Future Creators and Future Creator Cadettes for students to learn about technology and digital media. They also run a music programme for students in partnership with their neighbour BIMM.
The companies in The Digital Hub also contribute to the sense of community by talking to the students.
“We ask the companies to come in and give the students a talk. For example, the Future Creators were doing an animation project and we asked some of the animation companies here to go and talk to them and let them know that if they stick with it, and if they do their leaving cert, and go to college, you could actually have a career in this. So it’s about providing role models as well,” Meehan said.
From urban regeneration to fostering a sense of community and collaboration, Ireland’s oldest and largest tech enterprise cluster tries to do things differently. It is an ethos that traditional office landlords, increasingly looking to the worlds of co-working, incubators and startups, can borrow.