John Breslin strides through a warren of offices and hallways in an abandoned building that was once a Guinness storehouse and more recently offices for the bus transit firm CIE. Frankly, it’s a dump, smelling of mildew, the floors strewn with pallets, chipped-off masonry, drink coasters, and broken office furniture.
Standing in the dilapidated building in Ireland’s city of Galway last summer, I found it hard to envision this as the startup mecca that it’s intended to become by March. But after its current renovation is complete, PorterShed will house up to 75 people working for startups and growth companies, serving as a co-working space where entrepreneurs can collaborate, get help from law firms and venture capitalists, and participate in coding competitions. “It’s not the best building,” Breslin, one of the founders of the project, told me apologetically when he gave me a pre-construction tour. “But it has a lot of potential.”
Breslin, an electronic engineering professor at the National University of Ireland Galway and an entrepreneur who started Ireland’s biggest social media website, might as well be talking about Galway. The city of 75,000 in the west of Ireland, sixth largest on the island and its fastest-growing, is home to a variety of tech companies, notably the medical device maker Medtronic. But after Galway lost Airbnb and other companies looking for city-center lodgings in recent years, a group of local entrepreneurs and business people decided to do something about it.
Galway’s experience in trying to attract fast-growing startups is a window into the challenges of jumpstarting technology development in areas outside Silicon Valley. In an era when startups can become multibillion-dollar giants in the space of a few years, creating their own ecosystems of support companies and jobs, it’s more critical than ever that cities and regions figure out how to attract their own. …