Galway is a city of fewer than 80,000 people in Western Ireland. The small city known as a home for culture, music, and comedy has reinvented itself as a tech hub, especially in the medical device sector. Some of the biggest players in the world of medical technology, such as Boston Scientific have opened their European headquarters in Galway and there is also a vibrant ecosystem of small companies, research, and health start-ups. So many cities around the world are trying to recreate the energy and success of true tech clusters like Silicon Valley, but fail to really generate the critical mass to reach their target. This is why we thought that members of the HWTrek community are working in areas related to internet of things in healthcare and would like to learn about the steps and inspiration behind the Galway story.
Medical Technology Sector in Galway
- Galway employs one-third of the country’s 25,000 medical device employees and the West accounts for 39% of the regional distribution of medical device employees.
- There is a significant cluster of medical device companies with Medtronic and Boston Scientific being the largest MNC employers.
- Boston Scientific Ireland Ltd employs 2,800 individuals and Medtronic Vascular Galway Ltd. employs 1,882 individuals.
- The medical device cluster in Galway occurs through university-industry linkages, a continuous development of a skilled labour pool, international reputation through the success of Boston Scientific and Medtronic, the growth of supplier firms and knowledge transfers establishing new startups.
- The medical device companies within this cluster are supported by such organisations as Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Údarás na Gaeltachta, Local Enterprise Office Galway, GMIT and NUI Galway.
- Galway has become recognised for its specialisation in coronary devices.
- The Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering has given rise to an average of 22 graduates per year since 2003.
- A BioInnovate team recruited in Galway, focusing on cardiovascular disease, identified the need for a vascular support device and technology to improve vascular embolism.
- REMEDI has recently received €47 million in funding grants for pioneering research initiatives for 36 research projects involving over 200 researchers.
- GMedTech has obtained over €3.5 million worth of funding for an applied biomedical research project and has developed three cardiovascular type simulators for assessing heart attacks, stroke, and aortic aneurysms.
We spoke to Tom Murphy, of the Galway-centric tech blog, Technology Voice, about how Galway managed to build this remarkable medical technology ecosystem.
How did a small Irish city of less than 80,000 people become a world-famous tech cluster?
The fact that it is a college town is a major factor. Not only with NUI Galway but just as importantly GMIT. It is a hub for the west of Ireland and provides shopping and institutional facilities for 300, 000 Galway natives as well as Mayo, Roscommon, and Clare. It is also a very beautiful place to live. It is a medieval city facing Galway Bay and Connemara is just a drive out of the City.
Also, it is now less than an hour to drive to Shannon Airport and about two and a half hours to Dublin airport. So the quality of life mixes very well with convenient access to airline transport. Plus short ferry rides across to the UK.
Can you describe the tech industry culture and lifestyle in Galway?
There is a multitude of tech and bio-tech companies in and around Galway City. Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, Boston Scientific and so on.More than that, in an effort to retain graduates from the colleges there are a number of sponsored initiatives to help support startups and small companies. Portershed is backed in part by AIB and has a number of companies in a converted depot by the railway station. It also doubles as mini conference center during the evening where visitors to Galway are invited to give talks. Just around the corner on Eyre Square is StartLab. Backed by Bank of Ireland it runs a six-month facilitation for small businesses to take the first steps to gaining traction in the market.
On the main street in Galway in one of the banks, there is a walk in hot desk provision for would-be entrepreneurs called WorkBench. There is something for every size of business from just an idea to explored to help with funding from Enterprise Ireland.
There is really no excuse for not being able to try something.
What is the role of the University (NUI Galway) in terms of the stimulating and fostering the MedTech ecosystem in Galway?
The University is absolutely central to the success of Galway and the bio-sciences have just expanded into their own purpose build building along the River Corribh. There is a steady flow high-caliber candidates emerging from the University who wish to remain here.
What type of resources are available for anyone who wants to start a tech business in Galway?
I answered the question above. But there are social events as well. Galway has what has become an annual Startup Weekend challenge. Founder’s Friday at the Dew Drop Inn is a popular place to unwind and share experiences.
What advice would you give to technology companies in Asia who are considering opening an office in Galway?
I would say the only drawback to Galway is the weather, which can be a bit relentless. But other than that there is nothing else I can think of.You’ll find properly qualified people.You’ll find facilities for every size of business.Bureaucracy is minimal. You can start work straight away.You live in a lovely place and the capitals of Europe are just a few hours away.
Do you think other cities looking to become a tech hub can learn from Galway’s success?
Definitely. We started with pretty much nothing and we had a few false starts. So a lot of experience has been picked up along the way. We started the various clubs and meet ups before they were really popular and had to deal with sponsorship and other logistical matters by trial and error. Mostly error. But we reached a tipping point after about four years and things have just expanded exponentially from there.
I think anyone starting would have it easier but the ecosystem still needs to present and promote itself properly.
How can HWTrek’s members learn more about the Galway ecosystem? Are there any events you recommend? Who should they contact?
As well as Technology Voice, recommend also following:
John Breslin @johnbreslin University professor behind many if not most of the initiatives.
Tracy Keogh @Tracy_Keogh Community manager at StartLab
Maricka Burke Keogh @Marickab Ex-Google and marketing person for AltoCloud one of the PorterShed businesses.
All of them friendly and open to chatting.
Also, Get on the PorterShed mailing list or just call Mary. That is the key hub in the middle ground between a bootstrap startup and an established business.