Above: Pictured at Ireland’s first Rural Digital Hub launch in Skibbereen, Co Cork were Sean O'Driscoll Chairman and CEO Glen Dimplex Group, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White TD and Anne O'Leary (CEO Vodafone Ireland). Pic Emma Jervis
Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Alex White TD, last month officially launched a new Digital Hub for Skibbereen, Ludgate@Skibbereen. The exciting initiative seeks to create 500 jobs in five years with an initial 75-plus jobs in the start-up phase. The 10,000 sq ft hub is the first of its kind in a non-urban area in Ireland and offers a range of supports and services for its occupants.
The refurbished Old Bakery building, which will be renamed ‘The Ludgate Hub’, was made available for the initiative by local entrepreneur John Field and is due for completion in November 2015.
Ludgate@Skibbereen was pioneered by a group of entrepreneurs, digital ambassadors and local business owners, who were brought together by West Cork resident and Glen Dimplex CEO, Seán O’Driscoll.
With the group’s networks reaching into global companies and organisations, their aim is to provide start-ups with the environment and mentoring support required to research and commercialise opportunities to compete on a global scale. The initiative will also work to attract the wider Irish diaspora to bring their ideas and talent to Skibbereen.
Dee Forbes, President of Discovery Networks and a native of Drimoleague, is one of the group members who have all worked on a pro-bono basis over the last 12 months. “We wanted to use our skills to help create employment and help the next generation – that’s why we all got involved,” she explains.
“The ultimate aim is job creation but also future-proof the existing businesses of Skibbereen,” she explains. “There hasn’t been a lot of investment in the area in terms of job creation and our graduates are leaving. The future is digital and everyone is connected, so to create employment, connectivity is essential. Ultimately we want any business, whether existing or new in the town of Skibbereen, to be digitally enabled.
“The Hub has really caught the imagination of people who want to live the West Cork lifestyle and the response locally, nationally and internationally has been fantastic.”
Vodafone Ireland will be the telecoms partner to the project and SIRO, the ESB and Vodafone fibre broadband joint venture company, will provide the infrastructure to support 1000 Mbps speeds of high quality fibre broadband connectivity.
Ludgate@Skibbereen will host Ireland’s first-ever National Digital Week in November 2015 to coincide with its official opening. This will showcase high profile international and national speakers and will host a multitude of seminars, workshops and activities.
It’s very exciting,” says Dee. Skibbereen will be a hotbed of activity and expertise during the week.”
“National Digital Week will be a calling for our graduates abroad that you can do business in Ireland, and not just Dublin,” says Ludgate@Skibbereen Project Director Gráinne Dwyer.
Gráinne started university in 2008 and graduated from a two-year research masters in 2014. “I think the most stark thing to comprehend is the figures on emigration in Ireland,” she says.
“As the class of 2008, we were exposed to the beginning of the Irish economic downturn, our CAO choices and employment choices were to be dictated by the economy over the following few years. Since 2009, over 193,200 people between the ages of 15 and 24 have left Ireland. Although the number of young people leaving in the year up to end of April 2014 has dropped, the latest available figures show that about 29,000 of those that emigrated in this period were students, an increase in this category of over 8,000 on the previous year. These figures also show that 47 per cent of all emigrants had a degree or third level qualification – my fellow classmates.”
Gráinne believes that investment into our third level education system is paramount to turn the tide on emigration and making IT modules or an introduction to digital technology a compulsory feature in the current educational system is key.
“In 2015, 90 per cent of jobs require at least a basic knowledge of digital skills – so in essence we are setting up our graduates to fail from the offset. Our younger citizens may be the iPad generation but often lack a basic digital comprehension that can be transferred into the workplace as a tangible skill. As part of my Postgraduate degree, I was lucky enough to teach GIS mapping and digital skills to undergraduates, it was a great experience but opened by eyes to the reality that these skills need to be implemented across every discipline.”
An initiative like The Ludgate Hub will provide the fastest connectivity in the country and opens up opportunities for many wanting to operate a digitally enabled business from West Cork.
“We know our formula will work, as we have received expressions of interest internationally from our diaspora looking to return home. Connectivity is now the key of employment and it is opening the doors for our returning graduates. The Ludgate Hub will interact with the whole community, creating an after school programme for the secondary school, enabling the elderly through a digital training programme and host a range of other activities.”
The full Ludgate steering group consists of: Kevin Buckley: Co-Founder and CEO, Spearline Labs, Leonard Donnelly: Technology Entrepreneur, Oliver Farrell: Co-Founder and Chairman, Vilicom, John Field: JJ. Field & Co, Dee Forbes, President of Discovery Networks, Northern Europe, Lord David Puttnam, Award winning film producer and Digital Champion for Ireland, Sean O’Driscoll: Chairman & CEO, Glen Dimplex Group, Anne O’Leary: CEO Vodafone, Ireland, Adam Walsh: General Manager at JJ. Field & Co.
Vodafone’s existing high speed 4G mobile data connectivity in the Skibbereen and West Cork area will be further upgraded this September in anticipation of National Digital Week.
Further information on Ludgate@Skibbereen can be found at www.ludgate.ie.