Trading Stories: Republic of Work helping to give startups the space that they need to develop

It was just one example of how founder DC Cahalane wants to connect the Cork business community through his space, which was named Best New Business at the Cork Business Association's recent awards ceremony.
Trading Stories: Republic of Work helping to give startups the space that they need to develop
DC Cahalane, chief executive, Republic of Work. Picture: Clare Keogh

How and when did the business start, and where did the idea come from? 

We officially opened our doors in April 2017, so its hard to believe that we’re just about to celebrate our first anniversary.

I had worked in the tech industry for years and during my travels, I had spotted similar setups in London, San Francisco and elsewhere. Dogpatch Labs had been established in Dublin and Galway has the Portershed, both similar facilities in many ways, but Cork didn’t really have a similar space for businesses.

After we had the idea and realised the scale of what we were trying to achieve and the impact it could have on the cities business community, we realised that we couldn’t do it all by ourselves and that we’d need partners that understood what we were trying to do. That’s when we approached our friends in Bank of Ireland. 

What is your own background?

I’ve worked in the technology industry for 10 years or so, mainly in technology startups. Most recently, I was the VP growth and marketing at and, previously, I was chief marketing officer at, two amazing Cork success stories that I was privileged to be part of. Before that, I worked in a variety of hotel and hospitality businesses so Republic of Work is kind of a combination of both my time and experience of working with high energy technology businesses and my love of physical space and how it affects people. I’m a big believer that the right work environment can have a massive effect on a person and company’s productivity.

DC Cahalane, CEO Republic of Work speaking at the Network Cork meeting titled 'How to adapt your marketing strategy to appeal to Millennials' in Republic of Work.Picture Darragh Kane
DC Cahalane, CEO Republic of Work speaking at the Network Cork meeting titled 'How to adapt your marketing strategy to appeal to Millennials' in Republic of Work.Picture Darragh Kane

What do you offer to members?

Republic of Work is an innovation campus at the heart of Cork City. We’re located at 12 South Mall directly opposite the Imperial Hotel. Currently, across three floors we have our business lounge with our own Nespresso coffee dock, a 140 desk co-working space, an events space, workshop areas, innovation suites, boardrooms, private offices and a dedicated accelerator lab for running programs and training. As we come up on our first anniversary in April, we have some very exciting additions to the facilities here that we’ll be announcing during our birthday week celebrations.

Republic of Work is a very different kind of business environment. On a very basic level, we put a roof over a businesses head, providing them with pay-as-you-go workspace (all our contracts are 30-day rolling contracts) in a very great environment, designed for maximum productivity. 

For example, we have the cities fastest internet, extensive print facilities, an in-house business concierge service, access to our free Nespresso bar etc. But it goes far beyond that. We often compare ourselves to a well-equipped gym or hotel for office space. As well as space, we provide a wide range of business services, as well as events and workshops for members. We have all the physical facilities but what really distinguishes us from the alternatives is the community aspect of what we do.

We refer to it as Business Community 2.0, it goes far beyond your standard business networking when you’re working side by side with people every day in a creative and stimulating environment. Every business learns from what everyone else is doing, they make valuable business connections, they collaborate on joint bids for work; it really is a very different way of working.

Why do you think co-working has become so popular? 

I think there are several factors really many of them related to global changes in work practices.

For a long time, there was a perception that co-working was something for businesses getting started, or businesses that couldn’t afford their own office. Now you see some of the largest companies in the world embracing co-working for its real purpose, the cross collaboration of ideas and innovation. Companies like Microsoft (30% of their entire New York team work in co-working spaces), Dell, IBM, KPMG are all champions of the global co-working movement.

Work environment has become critical in the battle for talent these days as well; you just can’t take people based in the sales, marketing and innovation parts of your business and shut them into a dull office with the more mundane parts of the business anymore. You need them out in the community, energised and connecting every day with new opportunities for growing the business.

What kind of clients do you get? 

In the early days there was a perception, I think, that we were a space primarily for technology startups which was the entire opposite of our intention. We wanted to bring the sort of energetic and productive work environment that tech companies have used to develop and grow fast-moving businesses, to mainstream businesses.

At its core, Republic of Work is a place for all kinds of businesses. It’s a space where larger, more established businesses can benefit from conversations with smaller, more agile, more innovative startup companies, and where startups can benefit from conversations with companies with a lot more industry experience than them.

We cater to companies of all scales in every industry. From one-person companies just getting started to global multinationals looking for the most creative environment for their teams.

Have you got many staff? Tell us a bit about them? 

Right now we have seven full-time staff, with a couple of new hires in progress. The team is led by our Cork General Manager, Frank Brennan who looks after everything at 12 South Mall.

Do you run a lot of events in the building? 

That’s a bit of an understatement - we probably run a few dozen events and meetings here every week, some public, some private. It’s vital for our community that we create as many learning and networking opportunities as possible. It’s a great way to get people in to see the space as well and have them potentially become members.

What is the business scene like in Cork at the moment? 

I think there’s a new positivity in Cork for the first time in a long time which is great.

But, being completely honest, compared to other places in Ireland, Cork is a little bit stuck in an old business mindset. It’s very resistant to change the status quo in a lot of areas. We haven’t been as quick to adapt to new ways of thinking and working and we’re missing out big opportunities as a result.

We think very macro about the city's development, looking at the big, expensive changes like transport projects and event centres to drive development as opposed to the small, micro changes that would have a dramatic effect on business here.

How did it feel to win a CBA award so soon after opening? 

It was completely unexpected to be honest, especially against the calibre of new business that started in Cork last year. Since we opened, we’ve just focused on looking after our members and it is really gratifying to see that recognised. Our business is only successful if our member businesses grow and success so we like to think that it’s an award for everyone here.

What's in the future for Republic of Work? 

This year is a big year for us. We hope to expand beyond Cork, we’ve had some very promising approaches by other cities and regions. We’re working on some exciting new facilities for the campus in Cork too, including a big first for Cork.

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