On September 20th, Bank of Ireland won the Marketplace category at the Chambers Ireland CSR awards for their innovative Workbench concept. In simple terms Workbench is a space in the bank branch put aside for entrepreneurs to work and meet. The unique concept connects entrepreneurs, Bank of Ireland colleagues and the local community, by offering a free dedicated space for co-working, product launches, and events that support innovation, the local community and new ideas. It has reinvented what people expect from a local bank branch.
Workbench is a response to a rapidly changing social and economic environment. Research with local entrepreneurs confirmed that they are unlikely to have the capital to rent a workspace and host events on their own. They can also find solo-working isolating. A space to work and network with others, funding and mentorship are the three essential ingredients that start-ups need to thrive and Bank of Ireland recognised that through core business, colleague skills and branch network all three could be addressed by thinking about things in a different way.
Audrey Nolan, Head of CSR, Bank of Ireland explained: “At our workbenches, everyone, regardless of whether they are a Bank of Ireland customer or not, is welcome to pull up a chair, grab a coffee, get on the free WiFi and get to work on launching their start-up alongside fellow entrepreneurs. We provide professional facilities for meetings, events and presentations. Workbenches also host business and community events, where start-ups can learn from experts and network with other businesses. Not only that but colleagues get to engage with these customers as mentors and in event support. As their knowledge of start-up needs grows, they provide invaluable feedback to the Innovation team for future developments.”
The Workbench initiative has taken off, going from the initial Grand Canal Square branch in Dublin to six around the country.
Nolan continued: “Since Workbenches were introduced in 2015, Bank of Ireland workbenches in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway, have welcomed more than 29,000 attendees to workbench events and, hosted more than 1,300 events. We have also seen it grow to become a meeting place of choice for more established businesses who want to tap into the innovative environment. We believe Workbench is sustainable for all the stakeholders involved, it cements our presence in the community, it drives innovation and partnerships, provides tangible supports and links and connects the community in its broadest sense. Since it launched, the Workbench has been the starting point for many successful new businesses which have gone on to win investment to develop their ideas further. That is at the heart of enabling customers, colleagues, and communities to thrive.”