Skip to main content
European Innovation Council

Cork (Ireland)

The European Rising Innovative city - 3rd place: Cork (Ireland)


‘The Rebel City’

Cork is Ireland’s second city but the home of the ‘Rebels’, as Corkonians are known, is a place that does not settle for second-best, nor necessarily for the status quo, but instead seeks to disruptively explore what’s possible.

Growing challenges: and a city rising within a city

The Irish government’s Project Ireland 2040 has mandated Cork with the most ambitious population targets of any urban centre over the coming generation, to develop as a strong counterbalance to Dublin and an international city of scale. Managing his projected 50% increase in residents will not be straightforward and presents numerous challenges for Cork City Council and other organisations, locally and beyond, to navigate – notably in using best practice compact urban growth approaches to sustainably transform the vast Cork Docklands brownfield site, one of the largest regeneration projects in Europe.

Smart innovation for society and citizens

Cork is a place where ‘smart’ is not a concept confined to cutting-edge technology in and of itself. Instead, it is a mindset by which to use the digital transition to serve society, as a means to better address challenges, enabling new approaches to deliver improved, more accessible and more efficient services to benefit citizens’ daily lives. Cork Smart Gateway is the glue drawing together the city’s different public and private sector innovation ecosystem actors towards common impactful action in this regard, especially with enhanced citizen engagement (e.g. digital literacy for marginalised groups and reaching out to the elderly), open data use and energy efficiency in mind.

A multinational mecca…

A collaborative business environment and readily available skills are among the factors that have made Cork a longstanding global industry hub. 194 multinational firms in the pharmaceuticals, technology, cybersecurity and financial services sectors – including giants like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Facebook, AMD, Biomarin, Dell, Jansen, Boston Scientific and Pfizer – have been attracted to set up base here, providing high-value employment for almost 45,000 people. These major players, plus EMEA headquarters such as for Apple and NetApp, are just the apex of our industrial ecosystem, with companies of all scales and profiles forming significant clusters: informally for medical devises.

…that knows it must keep innovating

This investment pipeline reflects a consistently high rating among the global business community of Cork’s efforts to foster innovation, support enterprise, produce high calibre talent as well as for local prospects to capitalise on the green transition with projects of scale. The most recent endorsement of this was retaining first place for a city of our size for ‘Economic Potential’ as well as second place for overall investment credentials in the 2022/2023 Financial Times’ fDi Intelligence European Cities and Regions of the Future rankings.

Entrepreneurial to our grassroots

Despite the huge FDI presence, it is indigenous SMEs and micro businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy, providing 60% of employment. Approximately 2,500 start-ups emerge across Cork City & County each year. Cork City Local Enterprise Office (LEO) works to nurture new business establishment and growth through practical advisory, mentoring and financial assistance. This is complemented by the work of Higher Education support programmes and structures for start-ups, at UCC (IGNITE) and MTU (Rubicon incubation centre).

Learning…to succeed as a city

The city itself also actively seeks to deploy knowledge derived from the world-class local academic expertise on our doorstep with beneficial impact. Our two universities – UCC and MTU, and the talents of their 35,000 students – are increasingly being tied into shaping how Cork operates through initiatives such as the UNIC Erasmus+ project on Engaged Research to align the focus of academia with specific local societal challenges on the ground. This also relates to our much-prized designation (since 2015) as a UNESCO Learning City.

Mission ambition: ‘’license to innovate’’ on climate action

By ambitiously stepping forward and being selected for the EU Climate-Neutral & Smart Cities Mission, Cork has placed ourselves in the vanguard of Europe’s most sustainably-minded cities to take a lead on climate action. This is an opportunity to develop a citywide coalition of numerous stakeholders, coming together to co-design the shared terms, grounded in a concrete set of commitments, by which to greatly accelerate Cork’s transition journey towards net zero carbon status. This undertaking will be fundamental and transformative in shaping our city’s priorities and choices over the coming years.

Broadened horizons: focused EU engagement with likeminded cities

Although located on the Western edge of Europe, Cork is anything but isolated from the continent, due to the City Council’s track-record of involvement in numerous EU-supported partnership projects. This is our key means to broaden our horizons beyond the Irish context, through focused and in-depth pooling of knowledge and experiences, coupled with active collaboration, with like-minded cities and regions who share our challenges and an ambition to jointly devise practical solutions. Such initiatives add real value to how they deliver on our strategic objectives, including by providing direct exposure to innovation.

Just the right size for people and ideas to blossom

Above all, Cork is a closely-knit city – small enough to bring our greatest strengths – people and ideas – together with big impact. Nothing above, nor any of our strategies such as the Local Economic & Community Plan (LECP) could be conceived, let alone have their goals achieved, by Cork City Council acting in isolation. Our role is to strategically lead and facilitate, but they rely hugely on local partnership, collaboration and, increasingly, on co-design, to integrate and reflect different perspectives from other public agencies and service providers to socio-economic stakeholders to communities and specific interest groups under umbrella governance structures such as the Public Participation Network, placing the citizen at the heart of decision-making.

Through fall and rise

Resilience and innovation are ingrained in Cork. Over the last century, the city has had to come through significant and traumatic events which have required them to come together and reimagine, even rebuild, ourselves – the destruction of wars, the adversity of economic downturns, the closures of iconic local industries, the waves of mass emigration and brain-drain, the uncertainty of Brexit, the panic of COVID, the urgent need to shelter fleeing refugees. They have adapted, diversified, reskilled and reinvented ourselves as necessary to survive and thrive. Today, Cork is a go-to destination for talented people from across the globe seeking opportunities.