Meet the Rising Stars semi-finalists: Northern Ireland’s top three startups

Esme Caulfield, December 19, 2018 4 min read

A couple of weeks ago, we announced the 33 amazing Rising Stars semi-finalists. With three early-stage startups from each UK region progressing to January’s Semi-Final in Manchester, let’s take a look at our competitors from Northern Ireland.

Newcomers in Northern Ireland

With a highly-skilled, experienced and adaptable workforce, two world-renowned universities, a cost-competitive location and excellent infrastructure to boot, Northern Ireland’s credentials when it comes to fostering early-stage tech companies are strong.

Boasting a cluster of over 1,200 technology companies, including 100 global leaders, according to regional business development agency Invest NI, Northern Ireland is bursting with talent and innovation. The region reported an impressive digital tech turnover of £1.27bn in 2017 – with 12,318 people employed in the sector in the same year – as shown in the Tech Nation Report 2018. Add to this a local government that’s committed to creating a pro-business environment, and even more growth is on the cards.

Leading the way are our Northern Irish semi-finalists, Belfast’s Unissu, Ballyclare’s ProtectBox and Newry’s Da.Re Ltd.

Unissu: The single source of truth for all things proptech

First up is Unissu, an ecommerce and marketplace business based in Belfast’s bustling startup ecosystem, where digital business births rose by 143% from 2011 to 2016. Unissu was founded in March 2018 after its founders noticed the struggles of property businesses when it came to keeping track of digital changes and trends in the real estate industry. At less than a year old, and having taken part in Ulster Bank’s accelerator programme, the company is already making waves in the sector.

Unissu provides a database of companies in the proptech market, which includes information relating to company size, location, the technology it uses and any funding it has received, offering a global overview of the best available proptech solutions. The subscription-based service aims to connect the proptech companies listed on its directory (the sellers) and the professionals consulting the directory (the buyers), and help property companies, investors and professional advisers make smarter capital allocations.

So far, Unissu has identified over 6,500 proptech businesses to include in its directory, but the scope for growth is huge. Proptech is clearly a growing industry, with venture capitalist investment in real estate technology rising by around 300% from 2015 to 2017. But, according to Unissu, while 76.4% of existing property professionals expect to work with proptech businesses in the future, only 25% know how to find the right ones. Watch this space.

To find out more, follow them on Twitter – @unissu_global.

ProtectBox: Simple, fun cybersecurity and data protection comparison

Founded in January 2017, ProtectBox is on a mission to make cybersecurity simple. The Ballyclare-based company, which has been part of the startup accelerator StartPlanetNI and early-stage entrepreneur bootcamp HutZero, has developed an award-winning comparison website and marketplace that automates the buying of cybersecurity. Using the site, small and medium-sized businesses can easily compare solutions, including technology, people and processes, making the process quick and affordable.

Businesses can use filters to personalise bundles, compare options based on things like price and rating, and ask questions using their account. They pay nothing the first time they use the service, just the total price of their chosen bundle to the supplier, with ProtectBox taking a reseller fee. The company also offers subscriptions for ongoing access to the service, so businesses can actively manage their cyber risk, and suppliers can see demand.

ProtectBox can be sold as an all-in-one cyber add-on by accountants, telecoms, banks, lawyers and consultants, or endorsed by governments. It also reaches suppliers through distributors and resellers – with four partners already signed and 10 more in the pipeline – as well as selling direct. The company has big ambitions to change hearts and minds, and get small and medium-sized businesses across the world to engage with, and trust, cybersecurity suppliers.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @ProtectBoxLtd.

Da.Re Ltd – A food safe system that protects your business and your customers

Software startup Da.Re Ltd was launched in February 2014 to fill the gap in the market for digital solutions in the food and hospitality industry. While the founders identified many customer-facing food tech solutions – allowing for faster orders, quicker payments and better CRM – there was nothing on the market for chefs, restaurants and commercial kitchens.

Food businesses in Europe are required to have a documented food safety policy, tracing the food journey from purchase and delivery to storage, cooking and to the customer, including temperature checks. The average kitchen spends £5,500 every year getting chefs to carry out and document food safety checks, adding 2.5% to wage costs, while faulty cooling units and human error costs £3,500 per year, adding 2% to food costs.

To tackle this, Da.Re Ltd – which has taken part in numerous accelerator programmes to aid its development, including MassChallenge Switzerland, Propel NI and the Basque Culinary Centre’s Culinary Action – is building the Kitchen OS, an integrated open platform that connects both hardware and software, automating and minimising administrative tasks. Its first product, Food Safe System, makes compliance with food safety regulations quicker, cheaper, more secure and easier to manage, allowing chefs and restaurants to focus on what’s important – food and people.

To find out more, watch the company’s video pitch for the Rising Stars competition below, or follow them on Twitter – @FoodSafeSystems.


The Rising Stars Semi-Final will take place on 16–17 January 2019 at Barclays Eagle Labs in Manchester, where the semi-finalists will receive pitch training before presenting to our expert judging panel. Only 20 of these companies will make it through to the Grand Final at London’s Rich Mix on 5 March 2019.

Stay updated on the Rising Stars competition by signing up to our newsletter below, or following @TechNation on Twitter.

We’d like to thank our Rising Stars sponsors, Microsoft, Bing, BDO Drive and TLT LLP.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, Rising Stars, Early Stage