It’s good to talk; Pat Carroll says Limerick should promote itself more proudly Picture: Adrian Butler
WE are social creatures, humans, we do better together - a point that has defined the career of Limerick man Pat Carroll.
Forced to reinvent himself when the recession struck, Pat, who had spent years in sales and marketing, joined a start-up in Limerick in 2010 called Rendevous353, an online network for expats that attracted 15,000 Irish people to its platform at its peak.
Suddenly the Corbally man was living and breathing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs and email marketing to get people to join the online network.
Inevitably Rendevous 353 withered in the shadow of the Silicon Valley social media giants, but the path had been lit and Pat followed it
“It was a very interesting experience and gave me a real baptism of fire in that whole area of online/offline networking,” he told the Limerick Leader.
Though it folded, he found a lot of people were looking for help with their online presence, so he started his own company called Touch Communications, and for five years did consultancy work and digital marketing, helping people with their online presence - a role which meant he really had to put himself out there.
“When you’re self-employed you need to network, and I was always interested in technology and start-ups, so back then I was actively involved in Open Coffee. It was a weekly meet-up and there was lots of self employed people, entrepreneurs involved in new frontiers programmes starting their own companies, looking for support from one another.”
Many of these entrepreneurs were in the tech space, so Open Coffee “morphed into” Mid-West Start-Ups, says Pat.
Entrepreneurs repeatedly make the point that the moral support received at these gatherings is every bit as important to them as the funding they we receive.
“That’s so true,” says Pat, “the funding is fine but it’s also talking to like-minded people and finding out what they did and what they did wrong and how to avoid that, what they did right, so maybe to copy that and just give each other support.
“It was a very open community, there is a generosity between people, and when you mix that with the Silicon Valley spirit of helping each other you get a nice ecosystem where people aren’t competing with each other especially some place like Limerick where they want to help each other, so the networking is really important.”
Meanwhile, Pat continued to expand his own connections, getting appointed to the national board of the Irish International Business Network, the IIBN, whose London and New York offices are close to consulates, the embassies, and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It was at an American chamber event in Dublin that he first came across Workbench, in a Bank of Ireland branch at Grand Canal Square - “a funky looking space with bright colours and start-ups working inside it”. A strange set-up for a bank, he observed, but didn't think much more about it.
Until he was asked just over two years ago by the bank’s ‘entrepreneur-in-residence’ to head up the Limerick Workbench as the innovation community manager. He hasn’t looked back.
“It’s very interesting work, it's great to be able to help deliver a project right in the heart of Limerick city - you’ve a free facility for everybody and I think it’s really crucial that you don’t have to be a Bank of Ireland customer. In fact, I’d love to put a sign up in the window, saying you don’t have to be a customer.
“You don't have to book a place, you can come in for an hour, a week or a month, so it's classic hotdesking, there are desks there, there is wifi, there is coffee, there is a meeting room which you can use to bring in clients.
“So during the day, it’s for start-ups and SMEs and self-employed, anybody. The magic is if you're working at home yourself on a laptop, it's kind of lonely, you’re isolated, you might make a phone call or two, but when you go into somewhere like Workbench, you bump into people, you meet someone you know, you meet someone new.”
A hotdesking space during the day, it hosts events in the evening and in its first year it hosted 200 events, with over 4,000 attendees.
One of these events is Start-Up Grind, another network into which Pat has plugged himself.
“This comes from Silicon Valley, a guy called Derek Anderson saw there were two kinds of events held in Silicon Valley; big keynote events where someone like Richard Branson was speaking and we were in the audience.
“Then there was meet-ups like Open Coffee where 20-30 people would meet for coffee and chat and he thought it would be good to have some kind of a hybrid. You could have your meet-up of people but also have a centrepiece to the event a fireside chat with a successful entrepreneur, investor or whatever.
“So I heard about this and applied for it for Ireland, but was told Ireland was too small to have one. These things are in London, New York, Frankfurt, they're in 200 cities, so I persevered and explained the situation and dug deep through all my contacts and said I could get this going.
“So they awarded me the Start-Up Grind Limerick chapter director and I think it's a great asset for Limerick, it allows us highlight the great talent we have here.
One example he gives is Austin Ryan of AMCS. If you hadn't heard of them they're a firm in Crecora that’s the world leader in the technology that reads and records your bin every time it’s emptied. They have hundreds of people worldwide, says Pat, but not many people in Limerick had heard of them.
“To have Austin Ryan tell the story of how they grew from nothing and how he met someone on a hurling pitch, his partner, through sport, and how they built a global company, it’s great to be able to tell that story.
“In December, for example I have Hugh O’Donnell who sold a company for €135m, so to be able to get someone like him talking about their story, it brings people together, brings the city together, it inspires people to think ‘look, if he could do it, I could do it’.”
Pat says between New Frontiers, Enterprise Ireland, the LEOs, there is plenty early stage support for people who want to start a business and the likes of Workbench, and Start-up Grind and Founder Friday and the Start-up weekend are all different entry levels to the start-up scene and ways to access support.
The Workbench gatherings of the past year have heard so many success stories and Pat believes we could be broadcasting it more.
“I think in Limerick we need to stand tall and be proud. Cork and Galway are great at promoting themselves, I think we’ve been a bit bowed down by our recent history and we need to get over that.
“We need to go out in Dublin, London and New York and shout from the rooftops that it’s happening in Limerick”.
- This feature is part of a wider 32-page supplement called Limerick on the up, carried free with the Limerick Leader and in shops now