| 5 minute read

Incubator Spotlight: ArcLabs Research and Innovation Centre

Madeline Arkins
Photo looking between the leaves of a tree across lawn, to ArcLabs Research Centre

Nestled within the vibrant ecosystem of the South East Technological University (SETU), in its West campus in Waterford Ireland, stands ArcLabs Research and Innovation Centre. Since its establishment in 2005, it has served as a hub for early-stage companies, fostering their growth and success through its strong connections to both the university and the broader region.

We had the pleasure of speaking with Thomas Hennessy, previous Interim Manager of ArcLabs, about the challenges of digital health incubation. The incubator’s focus on tech-driven research and development, along with its commitment to meaningful engagement, sets it apart in Ireland’s burgeoning incubation ecosystem.

Who are ArcLabs?

ArcLabs is home to approximately 25 tenants, spanning various sectors, with a significant presence in the digital health industry. They take pride in their hands-on approach to incubation, going beyond just providing workspace. “We don’t see ourselves as landlords,” explains Thomas, “we’re looking for a more meaningful relationship with those companies, to be more engaged with them, see what we can do to help them and even partner with them as they go along their journey.” His role involves bridging the gap between companies and the university, bringing in external expertise, maintaining close collaboration, and ensuring alignment with ArcLabs’ mission.

Thomas emphasizes the responsibility they bear in establishing networks and partnerships within the university and beyond, both regionally and globally. They strive to create an environment that encourages competitive business growth, thereby generating valuable employment opportunities in the southeast.

ArcLabs strive to create an environment that encourages competitive business growth, to generate valuable employment opportunities in the southeast of Ireland.

Stakeholders as a university-linked incubator

Being a university-linked incubator brings advantages and complexities where the alignment of ArcLabs’ mission with the university is crucial. The association and co-location empower ArcLabs to drive innovative thinking across disciplines, enhancing students’ education and preparing them for the modern entrepreneurial landscape. Notably, ArcLabs shares its campus with influential players like the Walton Institute and the National Research Centre of Ireland, fostering a rich environment for cross-disciplinary collaboration.
ArcLabs thrives on collaborations with its various stakeholders. This includes the university, Enterprise Ireland (a government agency that played a large role in its design and serves on its advisory board), local enterprise offices, business information centres, and local community associations and businesses in Waterford. These partnerships serve to promote innovation within the region and create a supportive ecosystem for startups.

We’re looking for a more meaningful relationship with those companies, to be more engaged with them, see what we can do to help them and even partner with them as they go along their journey.

Critical competencies for incubation

Success in Thomas’ role hinges on a range of competencies. Effective verbal and written communication is paramount, as well as the ability to manage multiple priorities and judiciously allocate. Thomas describes the necessity of being a “people person” capable of having challenging conversations. Additionally, facilitating clients’ diverse needs requires a blend of skills, from administrative tasks to offering advice on intellectual property and funding access.

Challenges and considerations in digital health

An incubator’s journey is not without hurdles. Thomas acknowledges several challenges that startups face, especially in the digital health space. Duplication of efforts, fear of idea sharing, regulatory hurdles, and access to funding are prominent obstacles. Regulatory issues, in particular, can deter growth as government agencies struggle to keep pace with rapidly evolving tech industries. Digital health also grapples with extended testing times and GDPR-related challenges. Entrepreneurs, especially in smaller startups, often rush into development without clear parameters, leading to prolonged processes. Establishing a focused vision from the outset, Thomas emphasises, can mitigate these challenges and help accelerate their growth.

Looking to future successes

Thomas also noted areas for improvement that could significantly impact the success rate of incubated startups. Access to consolidated and protected data, for example, is a prevailing need, especially in healthcare where the ability to seamlessly aggregate patient data could revolutionise healthcare practices. Furthermore, predictive analysis fuelled by AI holds great promise in shifting healthcare measures from reactive to proactive.
At the heart of ArcLabs lies a commitment to nurturing innovation, collaboration, and meaningful growth. Its approach, aligned with the university’s mission, fuels the growth of startups while fostering a culture of innovation that extends beyond its walls. As ArcLabs continues to shape the southeast’s entrepreneurial landscape, it stands as a testament to the enduring power of partnerships.

Ready for more?

For more information about ArcLabs and their service offerings, you can visit their website.

If you liked this article, you might enjoy our piece on Fueling entrepreneurship: The advantages of university business incubators, or our podcast episode Future-proofing graduates: The role of entrepreneurship education.

Madeline Arkins (author) is a Project Officer at UIIN. In her work she focuses on topics relating to social impact and innovation in regional ecosystems.

Go to overview