In a post-COVID recession, new global startup ecosystems are going to be vital to boosting the economy. Founders and entrepreneurs who are looking to relocate their startups should consider a number of factors, including a city with ready access to angel and venture capital funding, as well as a collaborative climate that will support startups. The City of Cork, as the second-largest economic hub in Ireland and one of the only English-speaking cities in the Euro-zone, is quickly becoming a top choice for founders interested in scaling their business from one of the strongest economic bases in the EU.
fDi Intelligence and TNW recently ranked Cork among its Top 10 Tech Cities of the Future 2020-2021 for Economic Potential, as well as one of the Top 25 European Cities of the Future 2018-2019, and it’s not hard to see why. Cork’s dynamic business ecosystem has consistently attracted top multinational companies; Apple, Facebook (Oculus), Eventbrite, Amazon, IBM, Deutsche Börse Group, Pilz, and Forcepoint are just a few of the 160+ MNCs located across Cork.
The city’s legacy of innovation, collaboration, and creativity is backed by its access to two excellent universities. Did we mention it’s also cheaper and has a culture that supports smooth business transactions and an excellent work-life balance?
Intrigued but not convinced? We get it, moving your startup is a big commitment, so here are the top reasons why Cork will be your startup’s lucky charm.
1. Because why wouldn’t you want to live in a friendly, liveable city?
Picture it: Your commute is under 30 minutes. Your rent and childcare are affordable, and you’re on banter-terms with your neighbors. You have easy access to stakeholders in both the business and academic realms, and your startup is on its way to venture funding. On the weekends, you surf in the Atlantic or hike the Wild Atlantic Way. Life is good. You have achieved the impossible: work/life balance.
Many startups are either relocating out of Silicon Valley or bypassing the great tech nexus entirely. Few who work there can actually afford to live there, and the Silicon Valley atmosphere is beginning to stifle healthy competition and innovation. In Cork, prime office rental costs in the city center are half the cost of prime rents for new buildings in Dublin, and rents for new buildings in the suburbs are even more affordable. Whether you’re buying or renting, parking your car, or taking public transit, you get way more for your money in Cork.
Voted as the third friendliest city in the world by Condé Nast Traveller and the best small city in Europe for business friendliness by fDi Intelligence, Cork consistently punches above its weight in terms of education, culture, and access.
2. The Irish government wants YOU! And they’ll make It worth your while…
The Irish government is committed to attracting startups to Cork, offering over 170 supports to Irish and inbound startups and small businesses, like startup grants in the areas of R&D, training, employment, and capital investment.
Ireland also offers startups to Cork a Knowledge Development Box, a tool that offers specific packages around IP protection and commercialization and the retention of earnings within the business.
On a global level, Ireland is one of the first countries to develop this kind of knowledge box offering. Included in the package are incentives like 25% R&D tax credit, 6.25% tax on profits attributable to IP and patent developments carried out by an Irish company, and a low corporate tax rate of 12.5%, compared to 21% in the United States (down from 35% after Trump lowered the rate in 2017).
Spotlight: Start-up Entrepreneur Programme (STEP) Visa
The start-up visa program is one of Ireland’s many ways of attracting entrepreneurs into the country. An entrepreneur with a solid business offering and a reasonable amount of investment behind them who can demonstrate potential and market disruption rather than displacement might be encouraged by the Irish government to come to Cork.
3. Tech-focused foreign direct investments
Ireland’s attractive taxation framework, which provides one of the lowest taxation rates in the European Union, has helped lure foreign investors and strengthen the country’s economy over the past few decades. Cork itself has the highest density of foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country, thanks to the efforts of IDA Ireland, the agency that’s responsible for attracting FDIs. There are currently 169 IDA client companies employing nearly 40,000 people across the city. In fact, major tech companies like Intel, IBM, Trend Micro, FireEye, and Johnson Controls now have their operations based in Cork.
Technology and ICT companies dominate Cork’s FDI profile, accounting for more than one-third of all FDI across the city region. This is supported by a strong and growing native technology sector, many of which have been acquired by overseas companies, like InfiniLED by Oculus, WhatSalon by Constellation Software, and Barricade by Sophos.
“The impressive performance of investments in digital tech and business services were noteworthy features of Ireland’s performance in 2019, with Cork well placed to continue to be attractive to FDI as we have particular strengths in these areas,” said Seamus Coghlan, Head of Economic Development at Cork City Council.
4. Innovation and collaboration weaved into the city fabric
Cork’s startup scene isn’t located in just one hub or district; it’s spread throughout the city. The link between creativity and diversity is well-recorded, but that creativity flourishes in a well-connected environment.
Cork’s lively community is supported by a world-class research network of RDI hubs, coworking spaces, and business and academic collaborations across disciplines. Founders in Cork say that the best part of starting up there is the collaborative network in a city that’s big enough to make a difference, but not too big as to be just one more small fish in a big pond. Opportunities abound for newcomers, like the ability to pitch the Boole Investment Syndicate for seed and post-seed investment.
Spotlight: Enterprise Ireland’s SPRINT Investor Ready Programme and Sanathan Konugolu
Sanathan Konugolu, CEO of biophotonics company BioPix Standards, was researching at Tyndall National Institute, a research center out of UCC, when he was invited to be a part of the High Potential Start-up (HSPU) SPRINT Investor Ready Programme, a program that’s designed to help pre-investment clients seek seed investment.
“I readily grabbed at the chance as I knew about SPRINT’s exceptional support which enabled me to accelerate my research-to-market process and shape my entrepreneurial career,” said Konugolu. “I moved to Ireland because I thought it would be an easier place to be an entrepreneur, and Ireland surprised me when I came over. It was much easier than even what I thought it would be!”
As a former Marie Curie PhD fellow, Konugolu visited labs around the world before moving to Cork. “There are incubation hubs everywhere, but being in Cork now, I won’t say they are as functional as it is here,” he said. “There’s a family factor here, where you get to know everyone who could really influence big decisions. When they say they are going to help you, they are almost more enthusiastic about you being successful than you are yourself.”
5. Leading the world in security technology
Both the foreign and native startups in Cork span across a range of sectors, but to coincide with an increasingly digitized world, Cork is beginning leading the world in cybersecurity, boasting over 1,000 high skilled working professionals.
CorkBIC, a private-sector led organization that helps to develop promising new tech startups, also runs the International Security Accelerator, which is a privately funded accelerator that invests in early-stage disruptive companies in the security industry including, Cybersecurity, Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, AI, Health & Bioinformatics, Defense, Critical Infrastructure, Financial Services & Logistics, according to Larry O’Donoghue, a senior consultant at CorkBIC.
“14 companies, seven of which relocated to Cork from overseas and set up Irish HQs, have raised over €7m in seed investment after participating in the ISA,” said O’Donoghue. “Cork is quickly developing a name as an important security cluster.”
6. Home to world-renowned universities and a large talent pool
You can’t have innovation without education, and Cork’s university base has been extremely beneficial to the startup ecosystem. Between the University College Cork (UCC) — ranking in the top 2% of universities globally — and Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), there are more than 30,000 bright students to engage with industry and enterprise development. At Cork’s higher education institutions, a wide range of study options is available, providing a pipeline for ambitious startups in specialist disciplines, such as security management and law, digital forensics, malware analysis, applied cryptography, offensive security, and network security.
Spotlight: UCC’s IGNITE program and Alpa Agrawal
When Alpa Agrawal came to Cork from India to earn her Master’s in International Entrepreneurship and Commercialization from UCC, she had no idea that within a couple of years, her startup would be named Bank of Ireland/IGNITE Business of the Year. But looking back, she can’t imagine having started Allmin Resources Ireland Ltd, her manufacturing and export company, anywhere else.
In 2014, Agrawal was one of seven recent grads to be accepted to UCC’s IGNITE business incubation program, which supports the best and brightest aspiring founders to work full-time on scalable startup ideas with potential for commercial and social impact.
“The good thing about IGNITE was that we could all share each other’s experiences, no matter what stage of business development we were in,” said Agrawal. “Entrepreneurship is usually a very lonely journey, but if you have somebody supporting you and an ecosystem of people who are in the same boat, that actually helps a lot.”
From a team of peers to mentors to help the young founders with different aspects of business to having access to the close-knit entrepreneurial networks within the city — like Cork Chamber, Network Cork, and [email protected] — Cork quickly became a second home to Agrawal, a place that provided everything she needed in order to grow her business.
7. Cork: A city on the rise
Cork is the economic powerhouse of Ireland’s Southwest. It’s the fastest-growing metropolitan region across the country, with a young, vibrant, and agile population that’s expected to reach over 350,000 by 2040. Now’s the time to get your business established in a city on the rise so that you can say, “I knew Cork before it was cool.”
The Irish Government is putting money into Cork’s future, starting with the foundation of any city — Infrastructure! By 2040, the growing metropolis will have added streamlined accouterments like improved bus, rail, and ports, a new Cork events center, and more.
8. A gateway to the US and Europe
Silicon Valley is great and all, but isn’t it a little isolated in its own intense (not to mention expensive) bubble? Cork, on the other hand, is perfectly positioned as a startup hub to be a gateway between all of the innovation happening in the US and Europe. And, as the world’s second-largest natural harbor, Cork is ideally positioned for EU trading and direct deep-sea shipping services.
While we’re on the topic of connections, Cork boasts Tier-1 connectivity, which basically means there’s high-quality broadband and communications infrastructure so your internet is super fast and reliable. Enjoy glitch-free Zoom meetings and the freedom to chuckle at memes all day long.
A key takeaway about moving your startup to Cork
“For companies and founders moving to Cork, I believe in the power of the network,” said O’Donoghue. “Cork is a great place to tap into a wonderful startup network that is pretty easy to navigate. Whether it is customers, partners, advisers, talent, or investment that is required, Cork can deliver for high tech startups.”