The strength of the (work)bench
5 MIN READ
Come in, sit down, launch a business…
In 2015, we started inviting entrepreneurs to come into our branches, take a seat, and get to work on their business ideas.
We provided the desk, the chair, free WiFi, expert help and coffee, plenty of coffee.
All they needed to bring along was their idea and enthusiasm for a business.
They didn’t even have to be Bank of Ireland customers.
And we didn’t use the opportunity to sell the Bank to them, we just let them get on with starting their business.
We called our idea the Workbench.
Our branch, your bench
We opened our first Workbench in Dublin at our Grand Canal Square branch and it soon took off. We now have Workbenches in Galway, Limerick and Cork as well as Trinity College Dublin and at Montrose (opposite University College Dublin). All six are open to any entrepreneur who walks through the door. And they all run a wide range of education and networking events in the evening to help them get their businesses off the ground.
It’s easy for start-ups to feel isolated. While working away on their business idea they come up against a familiar set of issues that are more easily solved if they get wider support. Workbench provides the meeting place where these issues can be thrashed out, entrepreneurs learn from experts and each other, and start-ups can move forward faster. Every Workbench quickly attracts regulars. Here are just some of the stories from the Limerick Workbench.
Andreas Schwarz: The photo whisperer
I’m from the south-west of Germany and I used to work in finance auditing in Luxemburg. One day I woke up and realised I didn’t like it and wanted to do something different. Trailwhisper connects small businesses who need photos with great outdoor photography. We started off with surfing photographers but now we’re looking for photographers to cover all outdoor activities. My co-founder, Eirik Nielsen, is in Norway right now doing research.
“The first step of the start-up to create the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was to see if there were creative people out there who weren’t getting the visibility or recognition they deserved. We found that there were.”
I use the workbench daily whenever I’m in Limerick. I like the mix here of people here. Sometimes you might meet the CEO of a really big company who’s only in Limerick for a few hours. Then there are people like Martina (Skelly) who have become mentors for me because they are such further along in their journey and have so much experience. Killian (McNamara) is where we were four or five months ago so I can help him. With so many different people coming in, every week is different.
Martina Skelly: The health scheduler
I’m the co-founder of a company called YellowSchedule, the other founder is my brother, Michael. To date, 1.8 million appointments have been scheduled using our cloud-based software. When we launched our solution, we discovered to our surprise that a large number of mental health professionals in the US were using it so we attended the American Counselling Association conference over there, met them, and began to focus on meeting their specific needs.
“When we began YellowSchedule, anyone who made their money by selling their time could use it. Then we found clusters of mental health professionals in the US coming and finding our website.”
I use workbench almost on a daily basis. I just find being in the city centre really handy for meetings and there’s a buzz around Limerick city centre as businesses are opening up again. I like the company of other start-ups here and I seem to be an unofficial mentor. It’s really great for creativity just to have other people to bounce ideas off. I also turn up for quite a few of the events here and use the meeting rooms a great deal. It’s hugely valuable.
Paul Sweeney: The structured conversationalist
Webio helps companies deliver customer service and marketing into messaging clients like Viber, Facebook Messenger. The easiest way to think about it is if I want to go ‘hey @bankofireland what’s my balance?’ or ‘can I come in and see someone, today?’ If you want to set up a payment or get an appointment like that, we help you make it happen as smoothly as possible using structured conversations and artificial intelligence. We have 12 people based in Temple Bar in Dublin and I’m here in Limerick.
“I’ve been working from home for 15 years and you just do need to get out sometimes – get into town, see people. If you need to have a meeting or take a Skype call the Workbench is a good place to do it. I also have two girls who bring all their friends into the house so, at midterm, I’m here!”
It does make a difference being in the centre of the city and in the middle of things. Just being in the flow of things and not feeling so isolated. Going for a drink after work. There are known effects of working at home – one of them is your network degrades over time, you need to refresh the amount of people that you know and you do need to get out to do that.
Pat Carroll: The fireside chatshow host
The Limerick Workbench is managed by dedicated Bank of Ireland staff with responsibility for developing the business and wider community in the Limerick area.
Pat Carroll is Startup Community Manager for Limerick, his native city, based at the Workbench in O’Connell Street. Over the past year, he has been running events to help build and grow Limerick’s startup community. These include his monthly Fireside Chat event Startup Grind (yes, there really is a fire, albeit a digital one, displayed on Workbench screens). A full-on Startup Weekend takes place twice a year and then there’s Founder Friday, the monthly meet-up, held on the 1st Friday of every month.
“We are very excited to offer somewhere to work, meet and share ideas for startups, entrepreneurs and SMEs. Equally we are glad to be planning lots of events for local startups and businesses. We are also offering our space for businesses and community groups to hold events and avail of our full AV facilities for groups of up to 60 people.”
Find out more