I believe we should be doing everything we can to encourage an environment where small startup businesses have every possible chance to get off the ground and go from an idea to an actual business. I think it is vital to any real, lasting economic recovery. These types of businesses will in the future create a more healthy, robust and diversified economy.
There is one area in particular that I see as great way to cultivate a healthy startup environment in Ireland, and that is the area of office space.
It has struck me several times, while travelling around Ireland and around my own home city of Waterford, that there seems to be a whole lot of empty office space. This empty office space, is not newly empty, most, if not all of it, has been largely empty now for the best part of two years or more.
Waterford is not alone in this phenomena, wherever I have travelled in Ireland, these sad, empty shells are present on the landscape of any business park. It is as if they are destined to remain grim memorials of our recent past or perhaps simply as the scars of a well known tiger that turned on its keeper. You don’t have to stray far from the city center to find rows and rows of to let signs lamely hanging in the windows of these buildings; no doubt buildings which have been long forgotten by the appointed letting agent. These offices are not being let, and I would suggest wont be let for the foreseeable future. They are being wasted.
Now add to this mix the high number of unemployed people eager to get to work who, no longer able to find employment, are looking to set up something of their own, perhaps in a field they took interest in only as a hobby etc during the boom years, but now see potential for a business idea. Every effort should be being made to support these people that are working hard to try and start again; the entrepreneurial types who are building home grown, Irish businesses from the ground up.
Well these fledgling businesses need a place to work from. It is all well and good, working from home, but nothing really substitutes for a space in which you can bring people together for a single purpose, with no distractions and the tools with which to achieve your goals.
Also with a buildings full of these energetic, passionate and hard working people the effect will spread and infuse others, who are maybe a little unsure or disheartened, to take the first steps and begin putting together concepts and talking to people about their business ideas.
We do hear rhetoric from the politicians claiming they wish to help small businesses get started or continue to exist, and, while some things are being done to help get small businesses up and running, surely this expanse of empty office space offers a great opportunity to our enterprise boards and the government as a whole?
So here is my proposal: a young business, a startup, of under two years would have the opportunity to apply to the enterprise board for subsidized or even completely free office space. They would apply using a simple, but thought out business plan. The businesses that were successful, would be all offered office space in the same area, and perhaps with other business who had ideas in the same area? It’s that simple.
Landlords would begin renting now empty buildings. Businesses and jobs would begin to be created and the economy as a whole would benefit. Tell me I’m wrong, please!
Now I am aware that you can get grants etc from the enterprise board, but from speaking with people who have received these grants recently, this is a long and difficult process. What I am thinking of is something much more simple. It would be the case that if you could prove you were working hard on something, from home for example, and that your proposed business wasn’t simply a hobby, but actually had merit, then you would get space to work in. It may be shared space, or simply two desks in a room with other budding businesses. As long as there was access to broadband and general office equipment, I am sure it would be fine for most simple startup businesses. It seems amazing to me that this isn’t already being done and I would be delighted if someone told me it was already being done.
And after all, sure, we probably own half the building through NAMA etc anyway.