What's the collective noun for a cluster of small businesses?
Our mission is to advance the growth of both simultaneously!
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.
Over the past 5 years with the support of Bank of Ireland and DLR CoCo we have made it our mission to evolve a model which can help future proof towns and their small business communities through digital growth. This work was given further impetus due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
We would like to share what we have discovered with other communities that wish to take ownership of their economic destiny.
Converting vacant buildings to Digital Growth Hubs
Our model is straightforward. Irish towns have plenty of vacant space with limited alternative uses. In many cases this vacant space is state owned. Our big idea was why not repurpose empty space in the heart of towns to remote working hubs for digital businesses and use the income to upskill the digital capabilities of our traditional businesses. We believe this will enable our small businesses, and the communities they support in towns across Ireland, to thrive.
We started in Dun Laoghaire where we use the hub’s income to help future proof the local small business population through digital promotion campaigns and digital capability development.
A new economic model for towns
Our digital led strategy breaks down into three 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.
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.
What is a Digital Growth 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 is based in our DigitalHQ Living Lab in Dún Laoghaire Town
Based on five years of work at the grassroots in Dun Laoghaire Town we have assembled a proven model that can help you create a vibrant digital first community in your town.
The main components of our Digital Growth Hub model have been fine-tuned in Dun Laoghaire Town and includes:
Repurposing Space – Under the name ‘Dún Laoghaire Enterprise Centre’ 10 businesses are incubated in the enterprise centre operated by DigitalHQ with the support of Bank of Ireland. The centre acts as a marketing hub to attract new businesses to our town. As a social enterprise, all the membership fees from the hub go into supporting DigitalHQ’s work in the town.
Attracting and Networking Innovation Driven Enterprises – Our hub helps build the bridge between the digital and traditional business communities in the town through our programme of Meetups. Under the name @DigitalDunLaoghaire we have run 33 free events since 2016 for over 1,300 attendees who heard in excess of 97 expert speakers.
Collaborative promotion of traditional businesses – Under the name ‘Love Dún Laoghaire’ almost 100 local businesses have been supported by our hub through 10 digital promotion campaigns. These Buy Local campaigns focus on the online offerings of local small independent businesses at key events in the calendar such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, January Sales as well as sector specific promotions.
Digital First Communities & 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.