The Regional Development Centre at Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) has been announced as Enterprise and Innovation Centre of the Year at the Irish Enterprise Awards 2019. The awards are hosted by EU Business News and recognise the outstanding achievements of companies and business enterprises based in the Republic of Ireland.
Dundalk Ireland. Established in 1989, the Regional Development Centre (RDC) was the first campus-based enterprise and innovation centre in Ireland. Since its inception, the centre has supported more than 1,600 entrepreneurs through a variety of supports aimed at helping them to grow and sustain their businesses.
Aidan Browne, Head of Innovation and Business Development at DkIT discusses how his team effectively builds links between enterprise and higher education to foster a culture of entrepreneurship and collaboration in the region.
“At the RDC we offer everything expected from a high-class enterprise and innovation centre including state of the art facilities, collaboration opportunities with researchers, access to expert networks, incubation supports, business coaching and unrivalled access to DkIT’s impressive pool of graduate talent.”
The centre is strategically located at the epicentre of the M1 economic corridor which connects Ireland’s two largest cities, Dublin and Belfast. With its excellent transport infrastructure, strong track record for industry and direct access to talent, the RDC’s location in the North East provides businesses with an attractive option to locate outside of the city environment, as Aidan highlights.
“By using our centre, companies can avoid some of the major hurdles associated with establishing a new business in a city, such as the high cost of office space, grid-locked commutes and battles for talent. In 2017, we also became the first campus-based incubator to offer 1GB dedicated broadband speeds to client companies. This ensures that businesses have the same access to high-speed internet as our counterparts based in the capital.”
At its core, the RDC aims to secure practical solutions to client requirements by leveraging the resources and expertise at DkIT and to compliment the support provided by the State agencies and the private sector, as Aidan explains.
“Thanks to our unique position, at RDC we can fast track access to resources at the Institute such as student placements, graduate employees, and access to collaborative research and consultancy. We are particularly focused on helping companies during the critical stage of starting up and growing a business by providing a informative and supportive environment for entrepreneurs. We are also the regional service provider for the State agency enterprise support programme New Frontiers Entrepreneur Development Programme.”
The RDC provides extensive coaching and mentoring supports to client companies. The centre has expertise in assisting enterprises on the development of core competencies such as idea evaluation, mastery of commercialisations and building a better business. As Aidan showcases, the RDC has a long legacy of successful companies that found their origins in the centre.
“More than 190 companies have engaged in incubation support at our centre and many of those have tapped into our extensive research capability. We have had some major success stories, such as Irish telecoms company, Digiweb which now employs more than 200 people internationally, Big Mountain Productions which is a major supplier in the both domestic and international television and film markets, IntactSoftware employing in excess of 150 people both locally and in strategic regions internationally and Hanley Energy which recently opened Ireland’s first Data Centre Research and Development Hub.”
A more recent client success includes GPS performance monitoring and analysis company, STATSports Technologies whose client list includes UK, Spanish and Italian premier league soccer teams, international soccer and rugby teams. In 2015 the company opened its US headquarters and signed more than 20 teams across the NFL, NBA and MLS. STATSports was shortlisted for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2015 International category and secured a £1 billion deal in 2018 with the US Soccer Federation. It recently announced plans to grow to 240 jobs in the next few years.
In discussing what he feels makes a winning combination for a successful enterprise Aidan said:
“Personally, I think the really fundamental thing that makes successful entrepreneurs stand out from the many who are not, is a relentless focus on solving the customer’s problem. This stems from having a compelling idea and a robust plan to help you navigate and achieve this. Apart from that, it a combination of supports, networks and market conditions that will make the different – and this is where we come in.”
Among the RDC’s current tenants includes Atlanta-based quality onshore testing specialists, Celtic Testing Experts, whose expat founder, Noel Kierans selected DkITas a location to launch the company’s European Headquarters tapping into our graduate pool to build their team here. Other tenants include DkIT spin-out from one of our research centres Nova Leah which is blazing a trail in the medical cybersecurity space. The company recently raised €2.5million in Venture Capital funding and has been awarded significant multi-million-euro investment from the Irish government backed Disruptive Technology Innovation Fund. The RDC also has an impressive track record supporting Foreign Direct Investment companies including Prometric, Yapstone, Kenexa, Diacuetics and Xerox, offering them an initial “soft landing” in the early stage setting up of their companies in Ireland, a project which Aidan is keen to discuss in more detail.
“I am pleased to report that we are enjoying increasing demand for our services as business is seeing a geographical shift away from the larger cities. The RDC has developed a reputation for creativity and entrepreneurship expertise which is garnered from supporting enterprise and innovation for more than 30 years. Companies are attracted to the idea of joining our stellar alumni community of more than 1,600 entrepreneurs, a number which we plan to double in the next 5 years.”
As part of its ongoing engagement with industry, the RDC also leverages the institute to develop bespoke training and continuous professional development opportunities to address skills needs in the region. This year, the centre helped leverage state funding to support the development of a suite of new programmes in high demand areas such as data analytics, digital marketing, 3D computer animation, food & agri-business, food supply chain operations, applied electrical engineering and sound design. Programmes are offered at certificate and diploma level and all courses are 90-100% funded through the state sponsored Springboard+ initiative. Programmes have attracted participation from a wide selection of organisations including Becton Dickinson, Cargotech Engineering Ireland, Combilift, Anord Mardix, Multihog, Climote, State Street Bank, Yaptsone, Vesta Corporation and Intact Software,
The RDC is also the key architect of the DkIT Corporate Partnership Programme, a key strategic initiative aimed at providing a structured framework for the Institute to work with high profile organisations across industry, community and professions in the region. To date DkIT has signed partnership agreements with STATSports, Creative Spark and ABP Food Group. Aidan explores the importance of these projects and how they benefit the centre and its collaborators.
“Here at the RDC, we believe these partnerships will ensure the continuing relevance of DkITs teaching, innovation and research while supporting the innovation and development of some of the leading organisations in our region. We plan to announce some major new partnerships over the next few months.”
Over the years, the work of the RDC has been recognised with many national and international awards over recent years. In 2015, DkIT was identified by the OECD as a “highly performing institution in respect of entrepreneurial behaviours and mind-sets amongst staff and students”, with the work of the RDC contributing significantly to the award and last year the centre in conjunction with the School of Engineering and School of Business & Humanities was announced national winner of the European Enterprise Promotion Awards. Aidan concludes by sharing his pride in the centre and this latest success.
“Ultimately, at the RDC we are thrilled to be named Enterprise and Innovation Centre of the Year 2019 by EU Business News. This latest recognition validates the work and commitment of the highly skilled within the RDC and will undoubtedly continue to motivate us as we work toward achieving our ambitious targets for enterprise in our region.”