9 November 2015
By Bryan Smyth
Ireland’s first ever National Digital Week, which took place in Skibbereen Co. Cork last week, was such a success that there are already plans under way for 2016.
There €300k committed in seed investments for entrepreneurs, 75 high profile national and international speakers, over 1600 attendees over the 4 days, 11.7m tweet impressions, and it generated in excess of €2 million for the local West Cork economy.
The topics discussed and debated during the week were varied and crossed a lot of different sectors, from the integration of digital into education, to the impact of technology on the farming industry, the digital future of retail and services, and capacity building for towns and villages. There were also a lot of motivational talks including making the impossible possible through digital entrepreneurship and empowering women through social entrepreneurship.
Speakers discussed opportunities arising from the internet-of things, which will connect everything in your life. From wifi connected kitchens to self-driving cars, health bracelets with real time descriptions of what’s happening in your body , to the world’s first wifi connected baby where vital signs will be predicted, and bio passports embedded into your body for travel, everything was debated.
There was a strong call to build the digital community in Ireland and rural communities, and Google did one-to-one workshops for the first time outside Dublin. There really was something for everyone over the week, with organisers priding themselves on making the event inclusive for all, and not just those who were traditionally associated with the rise of digital and technology.
Some of the key stories to come out of the week included a commitment from Maurice Healy of the Healy Group, also a philanthropist, to give 150K in seed capital to companies setting up at Skibbereen’s new digital hub (Ludgate@Skibbereen), with the steering committee of Ludgate committing to matching that amount through a crowd-funding initiative which will be launched later in the year, bringing the total to €300k.
National Digital Week’s other announcements saw a doubling of its workforce at Skibbereen by tech company Spearline Labs, and the launch of Netfeasa in Kerry, a mobile device company focusing initially on advanced mobile connectivity solutions to digital devices on the move, for the tourism, transportation and the automotive industry.
The event attracted high profile speakers ranging from Ingrid Vanderveldt from the US based Empowering a Billion Women by 2020, to Laurence O’Rourke, the Rosetta Mission Science Operations Coordinator, the head of Google Ireland Ronan Harris, Uber, Voxpro, Paypal, Microsoft Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Musgrave, SIRO, Teamwork and Ryanair
Commenting on the success of the week, Grainne Dwyer, Project Director of National Digital Week, said, “This was the inaugural National Digital Week, and we saw such a huge demand for digital knowledge that we plan to make it an annual event. The week demonstrated what is possible in rural Ireland, and this is only the start. Skibbereen is fast becoming a digital and tech hub, and we expect that by this time next year, when National Digital Week returns and the new Ludgate Digital Hub is up and running, we will have a lot more success stories to announce.”
The Ludgate Digital Hub, Ludgate@Skibbereen, is scheduled to open in December. It is a not-for-profit initiative, which aims to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Skibbereen and West Cork region and is expected to initially attract 75 jobs in the first phase of its development, with the capacity to create 500 jobs and 1000 indirect jobs, generating an estimated €34m in GDP for the region, over 5 years. The hub is the first of its kind in a non-urban area and will be 10,000 sq ft in size. It enables Skibbereen to rival international cities in terms of its connectivity and ability to reach worldwide audiences with speed and clarity as the first rural hub to receive a massive 1GB (1000Mb) connectivity.
The Hub will enable businesses that are reliant on technology and broadband to set up outside of the usual urban centres, encouraging a greater work-life balance. “Digital will negate the conventional disadvantages of working and living outside cities; creating real jobs, real commerce while real people enjoy the superior lifestyle option of living in rural Ireland”, said Ms Dwyer.
One of the first tenants of Ludgate@Skibbereen will be CultureArk, a tech business focused on Digital Archiving as a service. The founders tried to set up in West Cork a number of years ago, but could not make the company succeed because of a lack of connectivity and had to move to Dublin – however they can now base their business at Cape Clear and operate out of the Ludgate building.
The event attracted people from all over Ireland for a week of events, conferences and entertainment, designed to inspire new audiences about the possibilities for their lives and new strategies for their enterprises – in a new world where every place will have digital connectivity.
National Digital Week was supported by The Department of Communications, Energy & Natural Resources (DCENR), as part of the government’s national digital strategy for rural & maritime communities & towns across Ireland. The main corporate sponsors of the event are AIB and Vodafone. Also supporting the event are Cork County Council, Pay Pal, Enterprise Ireland, The Discovery Channel, The Local Enterprise office, Apical Limited, Spearline Labs, Granite Digital, Vilicom Ireland, The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Glen Dimplex Ireland, Google, Field’s Supervalu, Lord David Puttnam, Carbery Group, Musgrave Group, Ceramicx Ireland Ltd, Herschel by Ceramicx, EBW 2020, Siro –ESB/Vodafone, The Irish Times, Castlefreke Gin, RTÉ, The Southern Star, The West Cork Hotel, Drinagh Co Operative, and Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre.