Floating The Business


By: John Mahon

There’s a new shared work space concept on the water at Grand Canal Dock and John went to check it out.

I always wondered why despite the fact that water both surrounds and defines Dublin that so little actually happens on it.  

London has a thriving community of house boats, venues and water taxis on the Thames and it’s surrounding canals. Apart from the likes of the restaurant barge La Peniche, venue MV Cill Airne and the Liffey River Cruises, Dublin has surprisingly little immediately on or around our waterways.

Is it a lack of imagination, stifling health & safety rules, crazy insurance and planning demands or simply the high costs of (the other kind of) floating your business?  It has always intrigued me so when I heard about a shared work space on the canal I had to go see for myself how they’d done it.

I met Graham Barker, founder of DoSpace on a sunny Wednesday afternoon as he was setting up for their weekly BBQ on the Grey Owl - his shared office space on a barge that has just opened on Grand Canal Dock.  


Graham Barker standing beside his new barge

Graham is a 30 year old Dubliner and UCD Computer Science Graduate.  He worked for Cisco in San Jose and then in Galway where, alongside a former colleague from Cisco, he founded a company called Big Learner in 2011.


Two DoSpacers having a coffee break


Looking for office space for Big Learner in Dublin, they knew they wanted to be in the ‘Silicon Docks’ tech hub but found themselves priced out by high rents.


Facing up to the rental reality they found themselves staring at the water wondering if they could open a floating office.  That idea occurred to them on a Friday, they spent Saturday online looking for barges for sale, by Sunday they had viewed a likely candidate and on Monday they owned a barge.


That first barge fell through but they found a far more suitable barge shortly after.  It took 10 days to bring the barge up the Grand Canal from Leitrim to its new mooring beside the Waterways Visitor Centre on Grand Canal Dock, another week of fit out and within 6 weeks of having their brainwave, DoSpace was open for business.  



So how did they do it?  What obstacles did they face?  We’re they smothered with red tape?  Waterways Ireland were the main stake holders in the project, owning and managing Grand Canal Docks and they were nothing but supportive of the idea from the outset according to Graham.


They want to see the quayside animated and loved the DoSpace concept.  With the barge being licensed to carry 12 people and DoSpace prudently having stuck to that capacity the insurance was also relatively straight forward.  With these two key elements in place, a few more dotted i's and crossed t's, they welcomed their first tenants in May 2015.



We also wondered that, quirky idea aside, what is the day to day of working on a barge like?  Some people were initially reluctant about the barge, Graham mentioned, assuming it would be dark, damp and rocking side to side.  But, he says, once you're onboard you realise that it is essentially a very cosy house, complete with a wood burning stove, and apart form the odd stiff breeze or passing boat rocking the barge slightly you would forget where you are.  That is until you look out the window and see swans looking back at you. 



Currently there are eight tenants on the Grey Owl.  A mixed bag of tech entrepreneurs creating a fledgling floating business community which will soon start to grow as they already have plans for a second barge at Grand Canal well underway.  

They are also looking at bringing the DoSpace concept to Galway and further afield to New York and San Jose with the over arching idea being to have a network of DoSpace venues with members booking in to the space like you would with gym membership.



They Grey Owl is a simple concept, well executed but most importantly for Dublin - it exists.  We were pleasantly surprised to hear how much support and enthusiasm they had received from the local authorities for the idea and this will hopefully see the start of more liberal and creative uses of the canal.

Find out more at DoSpace.ie


What do you reckon?

We would love to hear your thoughts on how the canal could and should be used.  What other types of businesses do you think would work really well on the Dublin Canals?   Where else in the world does this sort of thing really well?  Stick your suggestions and links in the comment box below.  Thanks!



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