Take a look across the Belfast tech horizon and you will see a landscape which has incubators, funders and most importantly entrepreneurial companies building and growing on a global stage. A lot of groundwork has been completed over the past ten years by Catalyst Inc., who are educating and inspiring the tech CEOs of tomorrow to think global – instilling a little of the Silicon Valley mind-set into our Northern Ireland psyche. The tech scene is being facilitated through a number of initiatives.
In recent years a number of incubators, such as Entrepreneurial Spark and StartPlanetNI, have established a presence to provide mentoring, office space and funding to help early stage companies move through the start-up phase and into growth mode. Among the companies emerging from such incubator programs are Kami, who are building a conversational AI engine.
Co-working Tech Hubs
The latest innovation to arrive on the scene is the Ormeau Baths, a co-working space and tech community based out of an historic former bath house in the heart of Belfast. The entrepreneurial campus helps the brightest and best indigenous tech start-ups gain access to new networks, funding and expertise and to give them the tools to flourish in global markets. It is a home to ourselves at Syndeo and we are mixing with other innovative tech companies such as Neurovalens , who focus on neuroscience to improve people’s lives and Flyte who have built a flight planning platform for the drone industry.
There are a number of early stage funds focused on assisting Belfast companies grow and scale on a global basis. The Clarendon “co-fund”, providing match funding typically with angel investors. Over the past few years techstartNI, with a portfolio of over 25 companies, has provided mentoring, assistance and seed funding to some of the best and most successful tech companies emerging from Belfast. Beyond the early stage funders, the likes of Crescent Capital and Kernal are focus on series A rounds to help scale beyond the seed growth phase.
The Companies Making Waves
Recently I have met several the new wave of tech companies making waves, not only locally but also on an international stage. Companies such as Elemental Software*, who have a social prescribing platform with contracts already secured in Ireland, UK and Dubai. Led by two high-energy founders, Jennifer Neff and Leeann Monk-Özgül, Elemental are truly innovating in the tech for good space and rapidly becoming the social prescribing platform of choice within the UK. The company recently raised a seed round (which was well oversubscribed) in an impressive 43 days from initial conversations – investors clearly anxious to get involved in a young company going places.
Then we have the irrepressible Aaron Gibson from Hurree*. Aaron has been described to me as a “blue flame” (venture capital parlance for a young person with loads of energy and the potential to achieve big), and it is easy to understand this description of him when you meet.
Hurree is a revolutionary app marketing and automation platform allowing organisations to control how, what and when they communicate to their app users in a personalised manner. As a high-growth tech company, they have made huge strides enabling app brands across the globe to drive significant value for their users.
Another burgeoning start-up is Locate a Locum, founded by Jonathon Clarke. A very simple, but effective concept born out of an understanding that there was an easier and more efficient way to source and book temporary work. Locate a Locum is an online platform which connects locum pharmacists to employers. Having secured some initial funding, the company in a short few months after launch has over 8,000 pharmacies throughout the UK signed-up to use the platform.
There is no doubt the tech scene in Belfast has come a long way in the past number of years and is un recognizable since I co-founded my first start-up in 2009. And I believe we are only at the beginning on the journey and I believe the companies I have mentioned will be joined by a host of others making waves on global scale.
* Declaration of interest – I am an investor and/or non-exec director with both Elemental and Hurree.