We are very excited that May is our Startup Cities… Belfast month! a whole 31 days in which we showcase the vibrant and fast evolving startup scene of the Northern Ireland capital.
Rebecca Kincade (a lady in the know) and editor of Northern Irish business blog NI Business Now shares her analysis of the city’s surprisingly active startup scene.
Belfast: The UK’s best kept start-up secret
It’s a little known fact, outside of Northern Ireland, that Belfast has a very vibrant and alive startup scene.
The city is a hot bed of entrepreneurial talent that has perhaps benefited from many years of not having the same access to large scale global employers that other UK cities have enjoyed. Belfast took a while to find its feet on broadcasting the best images of itself around the world, thanks to decades of conflict, but the times are changing on this side of the water. It has only been in the last ten years that we have witnessed an influx of big FDI spenders and in the meantime we have had to develop a self-sufficient approach to business.
There is no doubt that our startup scene is currently being driven forwards by our tech innovators. Belfast has become an IT and technology hub, with a recent report even recording that the local knowledge economy here is growing three times faster than the rest of the UK. It may well be at the very early stages of development, but the talent and drive is undeniably here.
Fast Growing Success Stories
We have had several recent fast growing success stories, many of whom have chosen Crowdfunding as their funding option of choice. Brewbot, the smart brewing technology created by Cargo IO, was launched in 2013 by Chris McClelland. As part of their Kickstarter launch they went on a journey around America, exceeding their target and making 52 pre-sales in the process. They have continued with this level of success, most recently winning export business to the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Taiwan.
Another of Northern Ireland’s first crowdfunding success stories was See Sense, a bike light that uses advanced sensor technology to respond to road risks. Philip McAleese, CEO, decided that Kickstarter provided them with the best visibility and made sure it worked, raising three times their target.
One Northern Ireland start-up that is just about to embark on their crowdfunding campaign in June is Jyrobike. Robert Bodill, CEO and founder, is an Australian born entrepreneur who decided to set up shop in Northern Ireland and now has big plans to take his innovative auto-balancing bike product around the world.
Taggled TV, one of Northern Ireland’s hottest start-ups whose technology enables vloggers to tag products, music, locations and even people within video, has completed its initial seed funding round securing £300,000 in growth capital. Taggled, which is based in Belfast’s Northern Ireland Science Park and has a core team of five staff, will use the investment for product and business development. The funding has been provided by a consortium of investors, which includes Co-Fund NI, a Fund created by Invest Northern Ireland and part financed by the European Regional Development Fund.
SiSaf Ltd is an innovative drug delivery company specialising in the design and formulation of topical delivery systems for a wide range of medical, cosmetic and skin care applications. Founder and CEO, Dr Suzanne Saffie-Siebert, set up the company in 2008 following a move to Belfast. She credits the support of Invest NI, the Northern Ireland Science Park, and Northern Ireland’s universities for providing biotech and pharmaceutical companies with the necessary infrastructure. SiSaf has also benefited from the close links established between Ireland and Silicon Valley.
A Fierce Networking Scene
One of the best features of our local startup scene is that every new company is keen to pass on what they have learned to the next. There is a fierce networking scene that drives connections within the city. Aside from that, if you want to get to know someone, the chances are fairly high that you will be able to find a contact who can set up the meeting.
We are finding that more people from outside of Northern Ireland are choosing Belfast as the city in which to set up their business. With a strong geographical position and direct connections through to mainland UK, Europe and the US, Belfast offers an attractive package of lower startup costs, reasonable accommodation rates and a very high level of education.
This, in turn, is backed up by the support of Invest NI and other organisations who all make doing business in Belfast as easy as possible. The drive for startups now is not to look internally at the companies they already know. It is to export and reach further afield, and Invest NI have been doing a fantastic job of providing that support and getting our companies out on trade missions and to exhibitions around the world.
This is an exciting time for business in Belfast and it is the right time to let our successful startup secrets out of the bag.
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