Ireland’s Dogpatch Labs Provides Global Model for Corporate-Startup Collaboration
Dogpatch Labs is a startup hub located in central Dublin in Ireland. In 2016, it was on the itinerary for a delegation of St. Louis innovation community leaders, including EQ staff, that visited sister cities in Ireland and France to strengthen and grow commercial ties through innovation.
Since then, Dogpatch has expanded to become the largest co-working space in Ireland, at 40,000 square feet. Due to a diverse and deep stable of corporate partners, Dogpatch Labs has established a place at the forefront of global corporate-startup collaboration.
Dogpatch Labs is in the historic chq building in Dublin’s Docklands and financial district. Today it occupies three levels of the building.
The former whiskey storage in the basement has been turned into an event and meet-up space. Co-working spaces are on the main level, and a third level, which was previously used to house tea and tobacco, is now an “Urban Garden.”
Counter-intuitively, filling the space is not the team’s top priority, according to Dogpatch Labs Program Manager, Menno Axt.
“Our mission is to strengthen the growth of Ireland’s tech ecosystem. If we would be in the game of selling as many desks as possible, we wouldn’t always have the right people. We want to make sure we have the smartest, most interesting startups.”
The Dogpatch Labs space serves the Dublin Startup Ecosystem in three important ways:
- Co-working space
- Event hosting and meetups
- Cross-pollination of startup and corporate teams solving mutual problems
“This is not just space for our startups. This is where they find connections, where they help each other out, and where they work with each other,” Axt says.
Dogpatch 2.0 opened in the chq building in March 2015 with 13,000 square feet and a new, “pay to play” business model, targeting promising companies that had passed the startup accelerator phase. The Whiskey Vaults opened as event space in November 2015, and the Urban Garden opened in August 2016.
77 startups use the space today, including off-site innovation centers for corporate partners ESB–Ireland’s largest electricity company, consumer product multinational Unilever, and Ulster Bank–the Irish subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). Dogpatch Labs has about 300 members.
Dogpatch Labs hosts between 250 and 300 events annually, many of them in their Whiskey Vaults basement space.
This is in accordance with common wisdom that suggests that you can measure the quality of a startup ecosystem by the number of meetups that happen there. “Through our partnership with Ulster Bank, we were able to develop these 200-year-old vaults into meeting space. We curate the meetups carefully because they need to fit in with what we do upstairs. The companies that work here should naturally be interested in attending the meet-up that is organized that night,” Axt told EQ.
Mastering Corporate-Startup Collaborations
Dogpatch Labs leverages their corporate partners in a broad array of other ways, and their integrated corporate and startup accelerator is a unique result of their strength in this area.
In addition to Ulster Bank, founding partners of Dogpatch Labs include Google for Entrepreneurs and the chq building itself.
Corporate partners include Pivotal Labs, the consulting services division of Pivotal Software, Inc., and Alltech, a multinational animal nutrition company, in addition to Unilever and ESB.
“We work with our corporate partners to do two things: we connect them with external startups that can solve their problems, and we help them think like startups,” Axt says.
Consumer brand and advertising multinational Unilever launched Unilever Foundry in London in 2014 to engage with startups.
It already had locations in Singapore, New York, Brazil, India and China when it expanded to Dogpatch Labs in Dublin in 2017. For Irish startups, Unilever Foundry offers unique access to Unilever’s brands and expertise.
In addition, the chq building offers a convenient testing ground for consumer products given its retail and food tenants as well as access to tech innovation.
Dogpatch Labs hosts ongoing “Meet the Startup” events with Unilever designed to encourage dialog between the multinational and the startups. The meet-ups focus on a series of problems or ‘briefs’ that startups can respond to with their ideas.
Dogpatch Labs’ partnership with Silicon Valley software consultancy Pivotal Labs allowed them to complete the most recent expansion to the space, the third level Urban Garden.
Opened in August of 2016, the 20,000-square foot former tea and tobacco storage space is part private office space for Pivotal, and part indoor/outdoor meeting space. The garden is under the roof of the chq building, but exterior to the enclosed and finished space of the building, giving it an unusual protected but exterior feel.
“They started off with four desks on our ground floor and they now have 80 staff here. Dogpatch Labs members have access to the space and we really encourage them to use the Urban Garden and to work from here. We can host meetups, events, meetings and people can also just work. We think they find it enriching and interesting,” Axt says.
Dogpatch Labs’ most unique corporate partnership is with Alltech, one of the world’s largest nutritional science companies founded in Lexington, Kentucky by Irish entrepreneur Dr. Pearse Lyons.
The partnership encourages entrepreneurs from around the world to develop AgTech ideas into growing businesses, and provides them space and opportunities to succeed. In addition, Alltech develops innovation internally by sending internal innovation teams to Dogpatch Labs to develop their ideas.
For Alltech’s internal innovation program, Dogpatch Labs identifies ten internal teams and puts them through a twelve-week program targeting developing an idea they have as far as it can go, concluding with a pitch to an internal board for investment.
“We know that it’s not possible to take them out of their day job fully, so we created core phases. The teams come here for a week once a month for three months, and they spend 20% of their time while they’re back at home working on the innovation problem. In between we check on them. While they’re here, they get all the programming and all the mentoring we offer,” says Axt.
In 2017, Dogpatch Labs and Alltech ran a late stage AgTech accelerator with 10 companies from across the world and accelerated them through Alltech’s global network.
“What is unique about the internal incubator with Alltech is that it feeds into a late-stage external AgTech accelerator that we also run with them,” Axt continued.
“Having already raised 3-4 M euros in funding when they started the accelerator, companies overall in the accelerator added 60 M dollars in sales leads through the twelve-week accelerator and expanded into 28 new countries.”
Pleased with the results of the late-stage AgTech accelerator, Alltech decided they wanted to take the same approach with internal teams.
“They said, ‘We want to do this for our own internal teams as well because we have ideas that are worth accelerating,'” Axt reported.
“So now top performing teams from the internal incubator move into the late-stage accelerator. The result is that five Alltech internal startups and five external startups are going through a twelve-week accelerator together. We’re leading with that in innovation, there is no one else doing that.”
Google for Entrepreneurs
Partnering with startup communities around the world Dogpatch Labs’ founding partner, Google for Entrepreneurs, builds Google Campuses for learning, connection, and business growth.
Google for Entrepreneurs plays a significant mentoring role at Dogpatch Labs, helping them to work nationally to grow the Irish tech ecosystem for a monthly innovation day in Dublin.
“Every month, we pull in twenty mentors for ‘First Friday,’ many of whom are Google mentors. They’re here to basically help out innovators who come from across the country.”
“We have a nationwide mission, so we really want to pull in the people from Cork, and the people from Galway, and the people from Sligo, and people from all over the place to come over here to Dublin for the day, and then go back to their regional hubs and use that knowledge there,” Axt says.
Galvanized by Google
Axt’s professional path is also a testament to the global impact of Google for Entrepreneurs on Dogpatch labs.
Born in Amsterdam, Axt went to college in Colorado to study entrepreneurship, and got a degree in business economics from Colorado State.
“I was always really interested in entrepreneurship, I tinkered around, started my own startups. Through that I learned that I really enjoyed working with other startup founders and startups as well, so when I graduated, I got an offer to help Galvanize, a learning community for technology startups, grow their membership and programming. Galvanize is one of our Google for Entrepreneur partners,” he said.
When his student visa expired, Axt had to move back to Europe. As part of Galvanize, Axt’s availability was broadcast through Google for Entrepreneurs communication channels, and Dogpatch Labs snapped him up. His responsibilities including running all the innovation programs, including the Alltech Incubator and Accelerator.
Given the dramatic physical growth Dogpatch Labs has experienced, the next step is unsurprising.
“We’ve gone through massive physical growth over the past two years. We are focusing on utilizing all the space we have. We would never have been able to run accelerators and incubators without the garden. Having that physical space makes it possible for us to work toward and expand on our mission every day.”