What are the opportunities and challenges for digital tech founders in Northern Ireland?

Kane Fulton, May 10, 2019 3 min read

What does Northern Ireland have to offer ambitious digital tech entrepreneurs? We asked the following stakeholders and business leaders to find out. For granular data on Northern Ireland’s digital tech ecosystem – including its companies (and founders), accelerators, and workspaces – see Data Commons.

Steve Pette, cofounder, Ormeau Baths, says:

Ormeau Baths opened in Belfast in June 2017 in the historic former Bath House, one of the first co-working spaces activating tech businesses in the city. Belfast is an entrepreneurial city and the startup sector is thriving and establishing itself as a future powerhouse for the economy. Investment in the city continues to activate future opportunity and we are already seeing more VCs coming across and taking interest in the businesses being created. Gaming / AI / Sports tech and animation are all growing around the city while cybersecurity continues to advance and larger overseas businesses are recognising the power of having a base within the city to access the talent.

Like any city, access to the angel networks and early stage investment, funding options and access to follow on rounds could be made stronger. Growing demand means finding talent will become more challenging and the pipeline needs to be loaded up through greater emphasis on STEM-related subjects to create future developers and entrepreneurs. The narrative around the city and its people also needs to be amplified across national and international media.

Susan McKane, of Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub Danske Bank, says:

The Digital Catapult NI currently focuses on helping organisations work smarter, more efficiently and become more productive by realising and implementing emerging digital technologies. Belfast and NI have always had excellent triple helix research initiatives and with recent investments has an opportunity to be at the forefront of future disruptive technology developments. A thriving Tech environment positions our SME and entrepreneurs to shape public, private and 3rd sectors business models and solutions.

The obvious challenge to scaling any technology business will be the accessibility of skills and finance options. There are extremely innovative entrepreneurs and start-ups with great ideas who will need access to skills in areas like data engineering, visualisation and machine learning in order to grow. A challenge with this will be ensuring Academia remains with the next generation research pool to ensure Belfast and NI’s position as an area of future technology leadership.

Becca Hume, founder and MD at TapSOS, says:

TapSOS is an Emergency Alerting platform allowing the public to contact any of the four Emergency Services non-verbally. Belfast has always had strong and successful industries and many innovations have been born here. It is exciting to see recent growth and investment in the city which is encouraging more innovation which will have global impact. TapSOS is currently available for the UK, with R.O.I soon to follow. We have plans for the States and will then begin exploring the Australian market.

Ryan Scollan, founder at G-Science, says:

Through using sports science and technology, G-Science helps esports athletes to optimise their performance and improve their health and wellbeing. G-Science has raised £25,000 in grant funding through government initiatives, including that from TechStart Ventures and Invest Northern Ireland. We aim to raise our seed round later this year.

Belfast is the place to be! It’s a perfect ecosystem for ambitious young entrepreneurs because of the support network available. We are currently participating in the Propel programme, run by Ignite NI. This has been an invaluable experience for our team because there are constant learning opportunities and mentorship which is imperative for our growth and development.

Joe Boyle, founder at SaltDNA, says:

SaltDNA is the first company to provide a solution for encrypted communications between devices with centralised control for the enterprise. All of the founders were working over on the west coast of America when we developed the idea of SaltDNA.

Some of us had wanted to move home with our families at that point and we believed that Belfast was the perfect place to begin the company. We saw the standard of graduates coming out of Queen’s and Ulster University, which reaffirmed our belief that we should found the company out of Belfast. We all agreed that with the experience of our founders working alongside hungry graduates, we could build an incredible team at Salt, and we’ve been proven right.

While developing our solution we began researching the territories in which we should concentrate our sales efforts. With greater knowledge of the problem we were trying to solve from regions such as Africa and the Middle East, SaltDNA had to become a born global firm concentrating our efforts abroad. We now have customers in over 50 countries with some extremely reputable clients in the UK, but none in Northern Ireland. We want to put that right in 2019.

Northern Ireland