Dublin, Ireland: The startup city guide

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Dublin Skyline Startup City Guide

A small island nation on the very edge of Europe, Ireland has a status as a global tech and startup hub that far outstrips its size – and Dublin is at the centre of it all.

Take a trip to Ireland’s capital city – the birthplace of Web Summit – and you’re more likely to find unicorns than leprechauns. Dublin is home to the European headquarters of tech giants Google and Meta, who nestle side by side with a thriving startup community.

Dublin has been named one of the top European tech cities by the Financial Times’ FDI Intelligence Tech Cities of the Future 2023 report. The report ranked 75 cities across Europe under five categories including ‘economic potential’ and ‘connectivity’. Dublin took the number three spot, making it an ideal location for budding tech startups.

The Dublin region also came first in the ‘Small Regions’ category, with the report stating that “in the five years to November 2022, it recorded US$25.6 billion of inbound capital expenditure, which is one-third of the nation’s total”.

This lively capital city also ranks in the top 15 of Europe’s biggest startup hubs as voted by EU-Startups.com. Those curious about Dublin’s startup scene will be pleased to know that it punches above its weight, sitting next to the much larger cities Milan, Hamburg and Copenhagen.

Dublin is also a great place to get a proper pint of Guinness – while checking out the Guinness Enterprise Centre for startups and entrepreneurs, of course.

Unicorns, soonicorns and minicorns, oh my!

As a thriving hotspot for tech startups, Dublin is home to a number of new unicorns. The latest to come into the fold is woman-led B2B payments technology company TransferMate, valued at US$1 billion as of May 2022.

TransferMate joins other 2022 unicorn club entrants Flipdish and Wayflyer, and fintech firm Fenergo, which became a unicorn in 2021. Established unicorns include messaging platform Intercom, which reached unicorn status in 2018, and Workhuman, a cloud-based HR services startup that was valued at US$1.2 billion in 2020.

When it comes to ‘soonicorns’ or potential future unicorns, Ireland’s capital city is home to quite a few. These include TechMet, which raised US$200m in equity in 2023; automation platform Tines, with a valuation likely surpassing US$300 million; and tax software company Fonoa, estimated to be valued between US$240 million and US$360 million.

What about minicorns, those small startups valued at a million or more but with great growth potential? There are tons to choose from, but a highlight is Zipp Mobility in the growing e-scooter market, which has raised more than €8.2 million in funding and attracted high-profile investors including Ireland rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll. The company also recently signed a deal with mobility app Free Now.

A person (Intercom co-founder and chief strategy officer Des Traynor) is pictured from the waist up. They're holding a presentation clicker in their right hand and their arms are spread wide. They're wearing a headset mic. They appear to be speaking.Intercom co-founder and chief strategy officer Des Traynor on stage at Web Summit 2017. Image: Stephen McCarthy/Web Summit (CC BY 2.0)

Incubators and accelerators

Boasting more than 250 startups and 500 members, Dogpatch Labs is easily the largest incubator and accelerator space in Dublin city. Located in the historic CHQ Building in the heart of the digital docklands, it can list among its alums quite a few globally successful startups. These include Intercom, Woebot, CoderDojo, Boxever (acquired by Sitecore in March 2021), Trustev (acquired by TransUnion in 2015) and Profitero. It has come a long way from an idea hatched at Web Summit 2010!

There are several other incubation spaces in the capital, including these key university-led ones that nurture technology spin-outs and spin-ins:

Incubator in Dublin startup guideInterior of Dogpatch Labs, Dublin. Image: DogpatchLabs

Growing the fintech of the future

Ireland has produced two unicorns in the fintech sector to date: TransferMate, with its newly minted unicorn status, and Fenergo. And there are plenty more exciting fintech startups to be found in Dublin.

There are several fintech innovation hubs in the capital, including Citi Innovation Lab, Central Bank of Ireland’s Innovation Hub and Mastercard’s Tech Hub.

“Our Dublin Tech Hub is an innovation engine for our company across Europe and beyond, and we’re delighted to be expanding our technology footprint in the city,” said Ed McLaughlin, president of Mastercard operations and technology at Mastercard.

“Our new campus will help us continue to attract the best and brightest tech talent so that we stay on the forefront of emerging tech trends and are well-positioned to forge the future of digital commerce across the globe.”

Some exciting fintech startups include:

  • Deposify, which helps property managers, landlords and residents by automating compliance with local laws, simplifying payments and banking, and resolving deposit related disputes.
  • AQMetrics, which builds regulatory technology to deliver end-to-end automation to its customer base of fund managers, investment managers, assets servicing and broker-dealers.
  • Assure Hedge, which offers a product for foreign exchange exposure, helping organisations mitigate uncertainty and plugging into existing forex platforms used by brokers.

A global hotspot for medtech

With 14 of the world’s top 15 medical technology companies having bases here, Ireland is one of Europe’s top locations for this sector. It is positioned to incubate the medtech startups of the future, and Dublin in particular is home to several of these companies.

“The success of Ireland’s global medtech hub has seen €316 million in investments and 2,300 jobs, as well as €178 million financing raised by startups, publicly announced in the past couple of years,” said Irish Medtech Association director Sinead Keogh in a 2019 industry report on the sector titled the Medtech Entrepreneur.

“The continued growth of Ireland’s medtech sector is a bet worth taking, with a growing number of successful acquisitions making headlines. Ireland now boasts some world-class medtech serial entrepreneurs and founders, like Ian Quinn, John O’Shaughnessy, John Power and John O’Dea,” she added.

Irish startup database TechIreland lists more than 200 medtech startups and scale-ups in Dublin alone. Here are some of the most promising:

  • Branca Bunús, a university spinout developing polymer-based gene therapy transformative medicines.
  • Coroflo, a femtech startup, which has created a smart nipple shield device that helps nursing mothers monitor milk flow.
  • LetsGetChecked, which offers home health tests delivered in-app for customers, catering to the Irish, UK and US markets.
  • Biosimulytics, which develops AI-driven software for pharmaceutical researchers to help predict the behaviour of drug molecules.

“The success of Ireland’s global medtech hub has seen €316 million in investments and 2,300 jobs, as well as €178 million financing raised by startups in the past couple of years.”

– Sinead Keogh, Irish MedTech Association

A helping hand

Ireland’s government agencies have an international reputation for supporting startups in going global. Aside from a corporate tax rate that, at 12.5 percent, is the third-lowest in the EU and the fourth-lowest in the OECD’s list of developed countries, there is ample research and development support.

The Irish government offers a generous 25 percent research and development tax credit, as well as corporation tax relief in the form of KDB (the Knowledge Development Box), which is tax relief on income from qualifying patents, computer applications and, in some cases, certified IP.

“The government is committed to supporting innovation, as are Ibec and Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland has the supports to help our companies take their innovative solutions from the concept stage, right through to the marketplace,” said David Byrne, manager of the digital technologies department at Enterprise Ireland, in the Enterprise Ireland ‘Helping Indigenous companies go global’ case study.

Want to learn more about the hottest tech startups in Europe and beyond? Web Summit returns to Lisbon in November. Buy your tickets today.

Main image of Samuel Beckett bridge at twilight: muratart/Shutterstock

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