Our mission is to advance the sustainable growth of rural localities through digitalisation!
For the past 6 years we have been working hard at our living lab in Dun Laoghaire Town with the support of Bank of Ireland and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council to help our town's small business community thrive again through digital growth. Based on the results of this work we believe that localities that put digital growth plus new localism at the heart of their work can take ownership of their economic destiny and foster sustainable jobs locally by attracting remote workers, home buyers, shoppers and visitors.
New Localism is a term created by Bruce Katz to describe a problem-solving practice for communities in the twenty-first century. He believes that the real power of regeneration lies locally in communities where people live and work.
We would like to share what we have discovered with other communities that wish to leverage digital growth.
What's the collective noun for a cluster of small businesses?
Eoin Costello, Digital Champion for Small Businesses, DigitalHQ clg
A new economic model for towns
The pandemic challenged the prevailing wisdom that people have to congregate in cities for work, many felt that the United Nations Agenda 21 for sustainable development mandated ever increasing density of population in major cities. Post pandemic there is an increasing desire for better work life balance, a wish to make some of the changes in respect of work flexibility brought about by the pandemic permanent.
Many Irish towns have a built infrastructure that reflects the needs of their communities in the late 19th century. As inhabitants’ needs move up Maslow’s hierarchy towards self-actualisation, the towns that serve them must evolve accordingly. There are lessons for how our towns and their communities of small businesses need to evolve in Scott Galloway’s excellent TED talk that outlines his interpretation of how the multinationals address our needs.
Reshaping Your Locality
Our digital led strategy breaks down into four complementary and mutually reinforcing strands. Because retail is a follower of economic growth rather than a catalyst, we see the order in which a town might shape itself for the future as starting with the fabric of the town itself, then setting about attracting innovation driven enterprises. The strands are:
The town – the physical and economic fabric of a locality including vacant buildings.
Innovation Driven Enterprises – shaping the town to provide an attractive environment for the talent these businesses need.
Sustaining existing traditional businesses – helping the local flower shop, the coffee shop and dry cleaners evolve to serve the needs of 21st century customers.
Social Enterprises - Job intensive sources of community services creating cohesion.
Social Enterprises will be the enablers of positive change
If "software is eating the world" where will new jobs come from by 2030? How will the rural repopulation goals of ‘Our Rural Future’ be achieved?
The accelerating rate of social change being brought about by the Green & Digital Transitions calls for a new form of flexible response at the grassroots level. Social enterprises, in the form of what we call ‘Digital Growth Hubs’, can help future-proof communities across rural Ireland.
As a new addition to the traditional B2C and B2B business landscape to a town, social enterprises in the form of ‘Digital Growth Hubs’ will become essential engines of growth in their locality and empower its transition to the 21st century.
Not only will ‘Digital Growth Hubs’ enable traditional and innovation driven businesses to thrive locally but they will seed and support other social enterprises. Why, because they are creators of jobs that will never be automated or replaced by the web, they will always be local. The new breed of social enterprises will make places more 'livable in' by filling the gaps in services and experiences thereby adding to the social and economic fabric of their community in turn contributing to inclusive growth.
We believe that within 10 years 50% of Ireland's vacant high street space will be converted to coworking hubs
While we believe that vacant state owned buildings should be converted to digital growth hubs it is also important that vacant retail space in our town centres be repurposed to commercial high coworking space.
Our chair, Chad Gilmer, has led the way on converting vacant retail space to high quality commercial coworking space in Dún Laoghaire Town. He purchased two vacant retail premises in the heart of our town and converted them to Glasshouses 1 and Glasshouses 2.
What is the role of our 'Digital First Communities' Living Lab?
A living lab is a user-centered, open-innovation ecosystem often operating in a territorial context that focuses on co-creation, exploration, experimentation and evaluation of innovative ideas.
Ours in Dún Laoghaire provides a testbed for using digital tools and platforms in real life use cases involving user communities to co-create new ways of supporting the growth of communities and small businesses.
Our objective is to share our outcomes to maximise the benefit of digital growth to localities, increase the scaling potential of small businesses and create sustainable jobs across Ireland.
Our work & Irish Government Policy
Little did we know at our first @DigitalDunLaoghaire steering group meeting in May 2016 that the work we were doing would one day become a model at the centre of the work of four government departments.
Priorities of the work of our Government Departments in terms of economic growth, job creation, rural regeneration and renewal as we emerge from the pandemic, as well as raising the profile of social enterprise in Ireland all culminate in the creation of indigenous engines of growth at the heart of local communities, exactly what our Digital First Communities blueprint can help achieve.
What makes our work possible - Our Supporters
Like any social enterprise that want to make things better we have been able to progress our work thanks to our Board, Patrons and Advisory Panel who all give of their time in a volunteer capacity.
The Board of directors are drawn from a range of backgrounds including coworking office space owners, legal, software, finance and consultancy. They oversee the governance of DigitalHQclg, monitor the strategic direction, and facilitate the progress of our social enterprise through regular meetings.
Our Advisory Panel are an informal group of professionals that are aligned with the mission of DigitalHQ, who meet on an as needed basis and 'lean in' on relevant projects/initiatives.
Our Honorary Patrons are people that support the goal of regenerating Ireland's towns nationally, and the small businesses that are at the heart of these communities.
What makes our work possible - Our Funding Partners
Very early in our work Bank of Ireland came on board as our key funding partner. This was achieved in an innovative way that is directly aligned with our mission. They provided us with space in Dún Laoghaire that we opened as Dún Laoghaire Enterprise Centre in May 2017. The income from the space goes directly into our work for the small business community. We are also supported by grants from DLR County Council that funds the digital campaigns promoting Dún Laoghaire Town as a business location and the businesses located here.
We have also received support from Enterprise Ireland and the Department for Rural & Community Development.
Our work is only possible with the support of our funding partners.
Maximising the potential of digital growth nationally
There are lots of great things happening on moving the digital growth agenda forward in different government departments, different organisations and different parts of our country.
What if it was possible to create a network of people and places that believe digital growth can foster new localism to activate sustainable jobs in our local communities across Ireland?
This was the motivation in DigitalHQ being a founding partner in the new Digital Ireland Network. This network is dedicated to create synergy and close collaboration across multiple stakeholders and locations to help get the most impact for our communities wherever they are located.
We need to act now
We believe that the future of towns and small businesses are completely intertwined. The future of towns and our largest unit of business formations in Ireland, small businesses of between 5 and 20 staff, as deeply interlinked. Arising from the pandemic our towns have a unique opportunity to become providers of hyper local ecosystems of support to grow and sustain both traditional local businesses and innovation driven businesses thereby keeping jobs local.
We believe the fuel for this transformation is digital.