Bank of Ireland's Workbench: Supporting Start-Ups

Bank of Ireland's Workbench project connects entrepreneurs, the community, and bank branches by offering start-ups and entrepreneurs free dedicated space for co-working, seminars, clinics and events to encourage innovation and new ideas.

The first Workbench opened in Dublin at the Grand Canal Square branch in 2015. Bank of Ireland now has Workbenches in Galway, Limerick and Cork as well as two more in Dublin at Trinity College and opposite UCD at Montrose. All six locations are open to any entrepreneur. There is no requirement to be a Bank of Ireland customer and Bank of Ireland does not use Workbench as an opportunity to sell to them.

Some experiences of users of the Limerick Workbench are outlined below:

Andreas Schwarz of Trailwhisper:

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 is 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 of YellowSchedule

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.

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.

Paul Sweeney of Webio

Webio helps companies deliver customer service and marketing into messaging clients like Viber, Facebook Messenger.

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.
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. 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.

The Limerick Workbench hosts a monthly 'fireside chat' event Startup Grind. A Startup Weekend takes place twice a year a monthly meet-up event is held on the 1st Friday of every month. Space is also available for businesses and community groups to hold events for groups of up to 60 people.

A particular success story arising from the Workbench project is the money messaging app Plynk. Co-founded in 2015 by former Facebooker Charles Dowd and Wonga alumnus Clive Foley, Plynk lets phone users chat one-to-one and in groups and send/receive money instantly from within the chats. Plynk was developed at the Bank of Ireland Workbench in Grand Canal Square. Plynk recently received €725,000 in funding from investors.

The Workbench project took second place in the Sustainable Business category at the 2015 Efma Accenture Distribution & Marketing Innovation Awards in Amsterdam and is nominated for a 2017 Chambers Ireland CSR Award in the Marketplace category.

Startlab is a Galway based incubator programme which Bank of Ireland set up in 2015 to educate, connect, and scale technology startups. In 2017 Bank of Ireland launched Startlab NYC which is a free workspace for seven scalable Irish tech startups in New York City. The project aims to help these companies to grow sales and to pursue investment and expansion opportunities in America. The incubator is an extension of existing successful Bank of Ireland facilities such as Workbench.