Culture and Talent

Inside Bank of Ireland’s New York innovation hub

  • The Bank of Ireland just launched Startlab NYC, a mentorship program for startups looking to expand to the American market.
  • Startlab is testament to Ireland's emergence as a financial technology center.
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Inside Bank of Ireland’s New York innovation hub

Ireland’s largest bank is looking to build startup talent — and it’s looking beyond Ireland to do it.

Far from its other training spaces in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, the company last month opened its midtown Manhattan workspace to Irish and European startups looking to expand to the U.S. market, its first outside the country.

Through Startlab NYC, as its known, the bank offers 12 months of free office space combined with networking and mentorship opportunities. The space currently hosts three companies, and startups have until Friday to compete for the remaining four spaces up for grabs. Though a natural fit for financial technology companies, the bank said it’s happy to look at companies in other industries. The current cohort includes location-based marketing startup Pulsate and interactive video technology company Axonista.

The bank said it isn’t taking an equity stake or investing capital in the companies, but Carolyn Quinlan, program manager at the Bank of Ireland’s innovation team, said it will connect them to venture capitalists, government agencies and other contacts. For the bank, it can be a way to find talent, or find new technologies it can use for its own business.

The bank’s move mirrors those of other foreign-based banks building innovation labs in New York City — including Deutsche Bank, which opened a lab last month, BNP Paribas and Barclays.

The rise of Irish startups in New York may be a nod to the country’s emergence as a technology center. A KPMG report released Tuesday noted that multinational companies such as Amazon and Linkedin, along with growing companies such as Kabbage, are increasingly choosing Dublin as their European headquarters as the country’s financial technology sector increases operations and headcount. The Irish startup community in New York has grown so large that it has its own non-profit association — Digital Irish — with over 1000 members and its own angel investor network. Other countries have also stepped up their technology communities in New York, too, with examples like La French Tech NYC  and the U.K. financial technology community outreach in New York through its nonprofit, Innovate Finance.

For Irish financial technology companies operating in the United States, beyond the obvious hurdles of getting a product to market, finding local partners is an obvious area where bankers’ expertise can help.

“When you’re selling to banks, it’s about reputation and longevity risk,” said Jon Bayle, founder and CEO of Dublin-based deposit management startup Deposify, a company that’s currently hosted in the New York Startlab. “Part of that comfort is being in their market — being able to sell to them face to face.”

Deposify, whose U.S. head office is located in Boston, depends on partnerships with banks to be able to offer its service to landlords, property owners and tenants. Earlier this year, the company announced its first partnership with an American bank, People’s United Bank. To Bayle, working with a major bank partner allows his company to reach a larger pool of banks in the U.S.

“We’re not banking partners, and by working in close proximity to them, we can lean on their expertise and access their network,” he said.

A major bank brand’s connections can help Irish companies navigate local regulations — a boon for startups looking to grow their reach in the U.S.

“Expanding to the U.S. fintech space is very regulated, and the licenses don’t transfer from Europe to the U.S.,” said Flavien Charlon, co-founder and chief technology officer for Dublin-based Trezeo, a startup that operates an income smoothing service for freelancers. “It’s like you’re starting from scratch — the Bank of Ireland has critical mass there.”

Homepage image of the Dublin workspace courtesy of Bank of Ireland

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