per Carla Escolà Costa,

For the last four years, Trinity College Dublin has been driving the development of a proposed new innovation district for Dublin, the Grand Canal Innovation District (GCID). The vision for the GCID is to develop a globally competitive centre for excellence in research and innovation. At the heart of the district will be a new innovation campus on a site owned by Trinity, which when complete will provide approximately 120,000 square metres of space for research, industry, arts, public outdoor areas and accommodation. The site is at Grand Canal Dock, home to globally renowned technology companies such as Google and Facebook, Ireland’s largest theatre and largest convention centre. The flagship building on the site will be the Engineering, Environment and Emerging Technologies (E3) Research Institute, which will combine engineering, ICT and the sciences to find solutions for global challenges, such as climate change. 

In January this year, the Irish Government endorsed and published a Report from the GCID Advisory Group that recommended the development of the district, with an acknowledgement of required Government funding. Shortly after that, we had a general election with a new coalition government not agreed until June 2020. Meanwhile COVID-19 had hit and national priorities changed, understandably pivoting towards protecting health. Despite the challenges over recent months, Trinity has made significant progress across a number of areas required for the successful development of the district - Early Activation, Community engagement and Regional connectivity.

The early activation plan transforms two existing warehouses on the Trinity site into a new Innovation Hub and converts a car park into an attractive public square, facing the water. The Innovation Hub will house new start-ups, host accelerators and incubators, be a venue for innovation meet ups and a new vibrant location where entrepreneurship, research, innovation and the arts can connect. While the physical infrastructure is important, programming – the organisation of events – is essential. Trinity’s recent appointments of a Hub Director and Programming Manager will drive the participation of large corporates and SMEs to participate in early activation strategies targeted around programming, innovation enhancement, place making and deeper collaboration between companies, sectors and researchers. Completion of the Innovation Hub will take place in H2 2021.

Central to the vision for the GCID is to ensure the campus and wider district provides opportunities for local residents, whether through education, employment, social or cultural. Community engagement is critical to the success of the district, ensuring that it is not just a place for researchers and industry, but for people of all backgrounds and ages living within and wishing to travel to the campus and district. Trinity is collaborating with surrounding industry and agencies to share best practice and develop a joint approach to deliver programmes at scale and with greater impact. As an example, we are developing an initiative that delivers used laptops and devices to older residents and families in the area, enhancing connectivity through the pandemic. 

While the GCID is Dublin-based, we are developing a network to regional centres of scale, thus benefiting not only the capital but also the whole island. Trinity is working with universities and networks in Ireland’s largest city in the west, Galway and in the south, Cork, who are themselves at the early stages of innovation district formation.

The Covid pandemic has accelerated the future of work. Trinity is working with our government to ensure that we reboot a more innovation resilient economy that will enable improved translation of research to impact; enhanced partnerships with FDI and SME companies; better training and reskilling offerings for employees who need to transition sector or career post the pandemic. 

Government investment requires vision and courage given the huge fiscal demands they are facing across sectors including health, retail and hospitality. However, challenging times require innovative thinking, and action that can drive recovery and the GCID can deliver as part of Ireland’s post-pandemic recovery.

Dr Diarmuid O’Brien, Chief Innovation & Enterprise Officer, Trinity College Dublin


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