A new digital age for West Cork

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Leo O’Leary, Head of Large Business at Vodafone Ireland, talks to eolas about the opening of the Ludgate Hub initiative in West Cork and its future impact on the local economy, which aims to lead to the creation of 500 jobs in five years in the West Cork region and provide a multi-million euro boost to the local economy.

In July, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD, officially opened the first Gigabit digital hub in Skibbereen, West Cork. The Ludgate Hub, which had been a cinema from 1941 to 1981 and then a bakery, has been transformed into a 10,000 sq ft digital hub – the first of its kind in rural Ireland.

The Ludgate Hub is part of an initiative which aims to create an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the West Cork region. At the core of its offering is unparalleled broadband speeds of 1 Gigabit. Vodafone Ireland is the telecoms partner to the project and SIRO, the ESB and Vodafone joint venture, is providing Vodafone LightSpeed Broadband, which is a 100 per cent fibre-optic broadband network. Being powered by light makes it different and better than any other network in Ireland. With no copper connection at any point and 1 Gigabit connectivity, the broadband infrastructure is three times as powerful as the market leading service in Dublin.

“It is not just about the technology – the technology is only the enabler. Its immediate purpose is to stimulate the local economy encouraging active engagement across all sectors of the local economy and for the businesses locating in the hub,” explains O’Leary.

The Ludgate Hub supports start-up businesses by offering training space, flexible desk rental opportunities and the use of a professional telepresence suite to offer opportunities to contact future customers and their professional network without leaving the town. The idea is to cultivate new start-ups in an entrepreneurial environment where they will learn from a range of businesses.

The ambition is to create 500 jobs over the next five years with an initial 75 plus jobs in the start-up phase. The digital hub is now fully operational and has over 30 people signed up and working from the premises. With the one Gigabit connectivity proposition, it was expected that new businesses would be attracted into the area to take advantage of the high speed broadband connection. This has been the case and indeed it has attracted attention from further afield with some of the initial start-ups being Irish emigrants returning to Ireland. These include David Carroll, a Skibbereen native who has returned from Marbella with his wife and two children. It has also inspired people from abroad to relocate to the town including Jane and Evan Sims from Chicago and Christopher Mason from Los Angeles.

“There has been such goodwill towards the project. Skibbereen has not witnessed any public investment over the last 30 years in terms of facilitating large scale employment opportunities so this type of investment is very much welcomed in the area. The aim here is to create a digitally enabled rural society in which innovators can create and expand their businesses in rural Ireland, whilst competing on a global scale. It has been very rewarding personally as a native of Cork to be involved in such an innovative project that will bring real benefits to the local economy,” said O’Leary.

The overarching aim of the initiative is the creation of a Gigabit town and a blueprint for other rural areas. For decades, Skibbereen and other rural area suffered economic and social disadvantage as economic activity and jobs moved to urban areas. There is now the opportunity to readdress this trend. Skibbereen has begun a transition, made possible by the arrival of 1 GB connectivity. The initiative dovetails well with the ‘Gigabit Society’ that is a key part of Vodafone Ireland’s strategy.

“Ludgate and Skibbereen are the starting point of a Gigabit Society for Ireland, which is a society where everyone has access to world class connectivity, regardless of whether they live in a large city, a small town or a remote village. The Gigabit Society is an opportunity to bridge the urban rural divide and create an Ireland where people living in isolation will be able to connect with friends and family across the globe, where rural-based SMEs will be able to seamlessly connect with customers anywhere and build brands that compete on a global level, and where young people will have many more opportunities to work and build their futures closer to where they grew up,” explains O’Leary.

In addition to the creation of the digital hub, the Ludgate group has facilitated a number of initiatives that will bring a wider benefit to the community from the 1 GB connection in the town. This includes the ‘eStreet’ project which is a collaborative platform to encourage over 11 local retailers to trade online and is the first of its kind in Ireland. This platform is supported by An Post and will allow rural communities and businesses to trade on a global platform. To stimulate international and national scalable start-ups a €300,000 seed fund was launched in May and the hub will now welcome the first teams of successful applicants to the funds in the coming months.

Leo O’Leary said: “Ludgate is the physical manifestation of something much greater than this one building. What the Ludgate project and this building represent, is the potential of any community to reimagine itself and develop its own unique entrepreneurial ecosystem once it is given the tools and support to do so.”

Last year, the Ludgate Hub also hosted the very successful National Digital Week which brought 1,600 attendees, many from abroad, to Skibbereen with an array of international speakers, digital seminars and workshops that looked at the future of digital technologies. Ludgate will be hosting National Digital Week again on the 10th to the 12th of November this year.

O’Leary is very optimistic about the future of the project which has already exceeded expectation:

“The Ludgate Hub enables a community to live, work and enjoy a lifestyle in a beautiful location, as digital working replaces the need to live and work in urban areas. This is all made possible by Vodafone LightSpeed broadband access. It’s a really exciting project for us. We believe that Ludgate and Skibbereen serve as a template for the connected Gigabit Society we are working towards creating in Ireland.”

Ludgate Hub in numbers

1GB town = Skibbereen

100+ active members

10 co-working companies

15 community groups

2 university collaborators

3300k seed capital

1,000 MBpsfibre optic broadband

30 coder dojos

1,600 attendees at National Digital Week

80,000+ population of West Cork

For more information go to www.vodafone.ie/business or to discuss your individual business requirements, email Leo.Oleary@vodafone.com

vodafone-2016

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