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Tralee start-up hub puts workers at the centre of things

HQTralee’s flexibility and collaborative work is attracting people seeking a better lifestyle

Start-up hub and remote-worker service HQ Tralee is located in a building that had been empty for eight years.

Co-working spaces appear to be gaining popularity in cities across the world and Dublin is no exception to that.

The attraction of these spaces is the ability to collaborate with other like-minded entrepreneurs, in an effort to create more than just a work space. Perhaps it’s somewhat idealistic, but the young generation of start-ups seem to be drawn to it.

But, these movements aren’t necessarily confined to cities, as has been shown by Tom O’Leary and Ken Tobin, who set up HQTralee in Co Kerry. They market city-centre style office accommodation with world-class broadband speeds.

Additionally, they appeal to people seeking a better lifestyle and boast access to affordable housing, excellent education and world-class golf courses. According to them, this model of working is “the key to unlocking the office crisis in Dublin”.

Both of the founders had worked in Dublin and say the commute was the driving factor in their return to Tralee. “In Dublin, I lived in Coolock, and it took me an hour to get to work. In Tralee, it takes me 20 minutes”, said O’Leary.

HQTralee is located in the centre of the town, in a building that had been unoccupied for eight years. The building now supports 52 people and that number is ahead of schedule, according to O’Leary.

He stressed that this co-working space has brought more people into the town centre and is contributing to the local economy in a way that had not otherwise happened since the crash.

“The good news is that we are full and the better news is that we are commencing work on the second building and will be open by mid to late summer,” said Tobin.

“This will provide office space for an additional 20 companies and we will also have a floor dedicated for remote workers who want to relocate to Tralee.”

Currently, the building supports a range of workers including a person who is a remote worker for Zurich Insurance, a fintech company and an architectural practice. The company also offers membership to people who want to use the building on a short-term basis.

“We are not focused on one market at HQ as we want a collaborative mix of businesses. We have a good mix and we have seen that the existing businesses are collaborating on projects, which is helping their business growth” Tobin added.

Remote worker

One remote worker taking advantage of Tralee’s newest offering is Maeve Moriarty, a commercial, brand and communications strategist. She is originally from Tralee but lived in Australia up to 2011, when she returned to Ireland to work for RaboBank.

On her return, she moved to Dublin but wasn’t bowled over by Dublin’s infrastructure capabilities – compared with Sydney’s – and decided that, in order to raise her family, she’d return to Tralee. Her employer embraced the move – they’re Dutch and she says this was a key factor in them agreeing to her decision to work remotely.

More recently, as Moriarty became a freelance worker, she again questioned her decision to stay in Tralee. She would potentially have moved to London had HQTralee not opened, she says. Now, she’s very positive about remote working prospects and says it “absolutely can be done, but there needs to be ingenuity from employers to let people do it”.

The collaborative way of working in HQTralee means the company is flexible when it comes to offering leases. Contracts are based on the common 12-month format but can be broken with 30 days’ notice from either party. The model appears to be working – there’s demand for space in HQ Tralee, with nine companies ready to move in, according to Mr O’Leary.

Expansion is on the cards for the pair behind the project. Another hub will open in Tralee toward the end of the summer. Similar to the first project, it will be “a quarter of the price” of Dublin office accommodation.

O’Leary and Tobin say start-ups can’t afford the €8,500 per person annual cost of office rental in Dublin. To that end, they hope to appeal to individuals who can relocate to Tralee but also be able to work remotely for a company based elsewhere. It’s both in the interest of the company – which will pay less rent – and the individual, who will have a better quality of life, O’Leary argues.

The business model isn’t confined to Tralee, according to O’Leary – the plan is to roll out similar projects in towns such as Castlebar and Mullingar. However, those plans are contingent on the rollout of Siro, a high-speed broadband technology, across the country.

Permanent desks in HQTralee start from €140 a month and the daily rental rate is €25.