We are absolutely over the moon and jumping for joy that May is our Startup Cities Belfast Month - a whole 4 weeks dedicated to all things Startup in the lovely city of Belfast.
Last week we had a chat with Dave Patterson, CEO of Belfast based digital ecommerce business ‘Sophia’ where he told us all about his innovative rapidly growing business. Now we pick his brain again (figuratively of course) on a few points about the city, its past and what the future holds.
What is the best thing about Belfast?
I think it is the honesty of the people. We tend to tell it as it is. I also love the way the business community have a natural tendency to rally round and support early stage companies with advice for the better good of NI PLC. I found this invaluable in the early stages and will always be grateful to all those people who helped me and gave me the benefit of their experience.
As countries go, Northern Ireland has had more than its fair share of heartache over the years - do you think that this unique experience within the UK means that the startup scene in Belfast is equally unique?
I am not sure that it means we are unique but there is no doubt our past did stifle business opportunities here. I think there is a danger that we can look to our past as an excuse for not having a better economy today, or not having the same investment opportunities as other regions. But our past is our past and there is nothing we can do about it – there is nothing to be gained by feeling sorry for ourselves. The reality is we have a unique opportunity now to change the future and everyone involved in the startup scene today is excited about changing the future of N. Ireland for the better. I think if there is anything we can take from our past it’s the tenacity to overcome hard times and stay positive. This is probably the single most important characteristic any entrepreneur can have. Starting a business is not easy and there are days you will wake up and question why you are doing what you are doing when the world seems against you. This is normal, but it is precisely on days like this that a never say die positive attitude can make the difference between success and failure. I like to think that the legacy of our past can inspire our future in such a positive way.
What role do you think that entrepreneurial spirit, a lively startup scene and the success of home grown businesses like Sophia can play in the continued peace, unity and future prosperity of the city/region?
It is no secret that almost two thirds of our workforce is employed in government related jobs. This is a really scary statistic and I don’t know of another country in the world that even comes close to this. It doesn’t take much thought to realise that this cannot continue long term and we have to reduce our reliance on the public sector if we are to thrive as a region.
Attracting non indigenous companies to Belfast may help in the short term but I think this isn’t a long term fix as these organisations don’t have any natural affinity for the city and are more likely to move to another region if the financial incentives are there for them – they are less likely to persist.
I think innovative, indigenous companies such as Sophia are really where the long term future for the region exists. We need more startup companies that have an affinity with the region that are willing to invest in the people here long term creating high tech jobs for our graduates, leading to the spinning out of more companies over time and attracting the investors we so dearly need. Success breeds success – regions like San Diego and Boston are prime examples in the US of how other areas have done this effectively and it would be so satisfying to look back in 20 years and see how Belfast has replicated their success.
Cheers for your thoughts on the Belfast startup scene over the past few weeks and best of luck with the future of Sophia!
If you are keen to learn more about startups in Belfast then why not take a look at the other articles in our Belfast Startup series. You might also like to visit the Sophia website to get more information on the work that they do. And of course, read part 1 of Dave Patterson's interview here.
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