By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“Everybody was so welcoming, there were all these opportunities opening, there was the energy of the town. I went back home and started pitching Austin all the time in Europe, saying: ‘Go and experience it, you’ll know what I mean.’ There’s something palpable about Austin; I can’t put it into words.”
Then he met Fred Schmidt, tireless powerhouse behind the Capital Factory International initiative, and in 2015, amidst the hubbub of Interactive, the opening of the Irish Consulate and the visit from the Irish Prime Minister, Gravity Centres and Capital Factory signed a memorandum of understanding that is the local incubator’s first major link to the international startup community.Gravity Centre, opening in April near Dublin’s Silicon Docks on the River Liffey is starting with 6,500 square feet on the Dart Station between Dublin’s tech hub and the city center. Since Dublin is the only English speaking country in the Eurozone, it’s optimal for many U.S. companies to launch European operations there. Capital Factory and Gravity Centre companies, traveling across the Atlantic will find that they have not only a workspace but, as O’Cuilleanain explained it, a “one-stop shop” for help with everything from visas and other legal services to marketing, real estate and the best places to eat and get their laundry done. Plus they’ll be a community of friends to instantly connect visitors to the city.
“We already have relationships with other tech hubs, this makes us international,” said Schmidt. “A lot of (Capital Factory) companies have customers in Europe. This gives them a presence on the ground. Before, if you wanted to establish a presence you could hire an independent contractor or a distributor rep firm. Now thanks to these incubator-accelerator co-working spaces you can plug them into a community of support. They’re not in a vacuum. They’re part of a larger enterprise sharing best practices and best resources.”
Taking Texas To Europe
O’Cuilleanain was trained as a spacecraft systems engineer. He was a graduate researcher at NASA Jet Propulsion Lab and also studied at the International Space University in France. There, he said, he experienced “interdisciplinary, intercultural programs that brought everybody together coming up with innovation and cross pollination across organizations to create new products and solutions to the world’s biggest problems.”
That was the inspiration for Gravity Center. “I was trying to figure out how to scale that in Europe,” O’Cuilleanain said. “How do you create an environment where people can take that risk, and build more of a network and community….? I look at it in a systems engineering way,” he said. “How can startups catalyze economic development and real innovation?”
He met with Edel Flynn, his co-founder, who formerly was CEO at the Digital Hub in Dublin. Digital Hub was established by the Irish government. O’Cuilleanain wanted to create something driven by the entrepreneurial ecosystem itself.
“In my experience of hosting both early stage teams and multinationals during their international expansion, the importance of community has always been at the forefront,” Flynn said in a statement. “We are delighted to be linking our community with Capital Factory’s, strengthening market access for both and provide essential supports that will help companies scale faster.”
O’Cuilleanain’s first impression is polite and earnest but his humor is queued up just behind that first impression. In 2013 he met the tireless Fred Schmidt and the two struck up a fast friendship.
“I can be feeling discouraged and talk to Fred on the phone for two minutes and be completely energized, inspired and ready to go,” said O’Cuilleanain. They built the Capital-Factory-Gravity-Centre relationship together. It was blessed by a mention in the SXSW keynote of Taoiseach Enda Kenny (the Irish Prime Minister).
Through Schmidt, Capital Factory is on its own track to build Austin’s identity as an international startup hub. Dublin, Schmidt said, is a perfect start.
“They have an expression in Ireland,” Schmidt said: “Cead Mile Failte, a hundred thousand welcomes. It embodies the same thing we practice here in Austin. It’s about, ‘We are inclusive. We want to get to know you. It’s not just some tag line.”