Meet the Manager: Mike Cantwell
Mike Cantwell is the CEO of Happen co-working space ENGINE & Innovate Limerick and the Head of Limerick's Local Enterprise Centre (LEO).
Could you describe the idea behind opening Engine was?
The idea behind Engine was for it to become the focal point and driver for developing a co-working system in the Midwest. It was the first main co-working spaces in Limerick city and we hope to replicate the model across other locations in the region.
What special features does ENGINE have which you think members would appreciate?
The first would be the location. When we talk to a lot of startups and tech companies within Ireland and abroad, the majority want to be based in a town or city centre. The reason being is that they usually work irregular hours and they like to able to finish work at 8 or 9 in the evening and have amenities open close by, like pubs and restaurants.
The layout and design of the building are also really modern and functional. It allows for collaboration between different teams within the building and creates an atmosphere which is conducive to innovation and progress.
What sort of working environment does ENGINE have?
The physical environment is a mixture of large open plan spaces and smaller individual offices. Concerning community, everybody who is working within ENGINE would know everybody else. We’re a small community of roughly 100 people and we have run events in the past such as BBQ’s and quizzes to nurture our community. We’re looking forward to continuing to run these events in the future as part of the wider Happen community.
I live outside of Limerick, and the commute in and out is very easy and stress-free. I also really enjoy working in Limerick City Centre and being so close to great amenities and services.
What do you enjoy about working from ENGINE?
We have a great team in Innovate Limerick and all get on really well together, which is probably the most enjoyable aspect for me. In relation to working from Engine itself, the building is highly accessible. I live outside of Limerick, and the commute in and out is very easy and stress-free. I also really enjoy working in Limerick City Centre and being so close to great amenities and services.
Tell me about future co-working project’s Innovate Limerick is working on?
The future of co-working spaces as we see it is the development of Happen’s network of spaces in the Midwest. From an Innovate Limerick point of view, we have just agreed on a tender to convert the former bank building in Abbeyfeale into a co-working facility in the middle of the town. We also are working on opening up a space in Rathkeale Enterprise Centre.
In terms of growing Happen, we hope to tie in with the likes of Kantoher Enterprise Centre and Croom Enterprise Centre and we hope to have a facility in Killmalock. There is also a privately owned facility opening up in Newcastle West. We will also be bringing in roughly four or five centres in Tipperary, four in Clare, as well as HQ Tralee and Listowel under the Happen brand.
This will all tie into our plans to develop the Digital Collaboration Centre (DCC), which will facilitate the collaboration between the Multinationals in the region and indigenous companies. We hope to see some of the opportunities that flow from the DCC flowing out into co-working spaces in the Midwest.
Could you tell us more about the wider Innovate Limerick network and what we can expect to see in the coming years?
At the moment, we are currently building the business eco-system for the overall development project in the Midwest. Happen is a big part of that and bringing together co-working spaces throughout the Midwest. ENGINE was an important starting point in that and gave us a focus to work on.
We are at the planning stages of the Digital Collaboration Centre and that is an important development going forward. The DCC will create a collaboration space to allow Multinationals to work with indigenous companies. Multinationals are big, progressive companies and they are focused on their own technologies. More often or not, they are unaware of what is on their doorstep. This is an opportunity to make them aware of services and companies that are on their doorstep, that can help solve problems for them using existing technology. We think there is a lot of potential opportunities that will come out of the DCC and we hope to have it ready in or around Q3/ Q4 of 2021. The DCC will double the size of ENGINE and feed into everything that is happening with Happen.
The third phase of the ecosystem in Limerick is to build a six-story accelerator building next door to Engine, which will also encompass the old Theatre Royal, which will be turned into a Film School.
We will be offering a wide range of services from the LEO to Happen co-working spaces, the DCC, a large accelerator and a Film School. Once we have delivered on all of these projects, the Midwest will be a leading example of a collaborative business eco-system, not just within Ireland, but I think along the Western seaboard as well.
At the moment, we are currently building the business eco-system for the overall development project in the Midwest. Happen is a big part of that and bringing together co-working spaces throughout the Midwest
How would you describe co-working? And who is it for?
Co-working is for everybody that is working from a desk. It’s for people who are currently working from home and want to get out and experience working in a slightly different environment. If someone is self-employed and working from home, it can be an isolated task; but if you put them working in a co-working space, they now become part of a larger group and can spot new opportunities.
Co-working can also be for teams who are working for larger organisations based in Dublin, Cork or Belfast, but who are living in the Midwest. Happen spaces allow these people to work much closer to home, as well as reducing the costs of overheads for large Multinationals or companies. Teams can very effectively be based in the Midwest and carry on the same job.
Co-working is addressing the changes that are happening now as a result of COVID-19, but also because of environmental concerns. People can spend less time travelling up and down to Dublin, which results in fewer cars on the road. By having more co-working options available it allows us to achieve this.
Do you have any thoughts about what makes for a successful co-working environment? Are they shaped primarily by the community within them or the design? Or both?
It’s a combination of both. Obviously, the design is important and that you meet health & safety standards, as well as having proper bandwidth and speed. It’s also important that the space can deliver a range of service required by the members.
On top of that, it’s important that people working from a co-working space feel part of a wider community. This can be achieved by holding regular events for the community, and allow people the opportunity to contribute and find collaboration opportunities which they may not have been aware of previously, which can lead to more business start-ups and development.
What’s important for us at ENGINE and Innovate Limerick, is we’re bringing the Local Enterprise office in, to be part of that and to support the community. Members working in any of the Happen co-working spaces will have quick access to specialist help and grants to develop business ideas.
It's important that people working from a co-working space feel part of a wider community. This can be achieved by holding regular events for the community, and allow people the opportunity to contribute and find collaboration opportunities which they may not have been aware of previously...
What makes a good work-life balance in your opinion?
I think a good work-life balance looks different for everyone. It depends on your attitude to work and hobbies. For some work is their hobby, while some work 9-5 and live a very full life outside of that. It’s about achieving a balance that you are happy with, which allows you to have a happy family and personal life, as well as achieving personal career goals.
What are the benefits of working in the Midwest?
The benefits of working in the Midwest are huge. Firstly, there are much fewer commute times, which means more time for activities outside of work. The cost of living is reduced and house prices are lower. This, in turn, allows for more disposable income, as wages aren’t that different here than in other parts of the country.
We’re also on the Western Seaboard, so you’re never too far from a beach or a golf course and very high-quality hotels and resorts.
The benefits of working in the Midwest are huge. Firstly, there are much fewer commute times, which means more time for activities outside of work.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of relocating to the Midwest?
My advice would be to talk to someone who has; we have lots of examples of people who’ve done it. If someone is having reservations, they can contact Innovate Limerick and we can put them in touch with somebody who has done it and reassure them that Limerick and the Midwest is a very good place to set up shop.
You can learn more about ENGINE here.