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First Trust Bank talks up NI’s startup and entrepreneurial spirit

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by Startacus Admin

We recently reported on the news that the AIB Start-up Academy Summit was returning to Belfast. With this event in mind we chatted with Des Moore, Head of First Trust Bank to find out more about the Belfast event, the AIB Start-up Academy more generally, and his observations of Northern Ireland’s startup and entrepreneurial scene.

Des Moore First Trust Bank

Hi there Des, tell us more about the AIB Start-up Academy and how has the programme evolved and developed since its conception?

The AIB Start-up Academy is part of our commitment to back startups and is an all-island initiative designed to support current or would be entrepreneurs to bring forward their ideas or speed up their respective entrepreneurial journeys.  Now in its third year, the AIB Academy in association with The Irish Times provides an opportunity for startups to win a place on an intensive 8-week training programme and ultimately a €200,000 prize package, and delivers a nationwide series of regional summits and tailored bootcamps - all of which have been designed to help startups take their business to the next level regardless of their level of experience or stage of development.

As part of this year’s Summit, attendees can also sit back and hear the all-important elevator pitches from a number of selected startups who are currently battling it out to be crowned this year's AIB Start-up Academy winner and pick up the Academy’s coveted top prize. Ten startups have already been chosen for the competition and there are four remaining places up for grabs across the four summits.

AIB Start-up Academy Summit Belfast


We recently covered the news that the AIB Start-up Academy Summit would be returning to Belfast - why should a startup or entrepreneur from NI be interested in attending the evening event?

Last year Belfast hosted one of the AIB Start-up Academy events for the first time and it was a great success. We felt there was a clear demand for the type of advice, support and networking that this all-island platform offers and we can now promise an even bigger and better evening on 9th February in the fantastic surroundings of the Life Church in Bruce Street, Belfast. 

The event is free to attend and those joining the Belfast Summit can expect to meet a host of industry experts including leaders from Google, Grant Thornton and startup specialists Xcell Partners – all of whom will be on hand to offer practical business advice. A special panel discussion will also take place with leading business personalities AIB Start-up Academy Summit Belfastincluding Bill Wolsey, the entrepreneur behind the successful Merchant and Bullitt hotels in Belfast, Diane Roberts from Xcell Partners and Colman Equity as well as Eleanor McEvoy, founder of Budget Energy. 

It is a fantastic opportunity for local startups to network and socialise over food and drink (again from local startups) with like-minded entrepreneurs and to learn from well-known and successful business leaders. We want everyone who attends this evening to take away something which helps them grow their business, whether it be a nugget of information from our panel of experts, advice or a free business tool from one of our partners as well as a host of new business contacts.

Corporate and startup collaboration, through programmes and initiatives like the AIB Start-up Academy, seem to be becoming more and more popular - why do you think that is?

We see no lack of entrepreneurial talent across the island of Ireland and that is certainly true here in Northern Ireland as well– some would suggest it is in our DNA. Previously however, we may have lacked a supportive and cohesive startup ecosystem which could help these entrepreneurs to bring forward their ideas, validate them and increase their likelihood of success. Thankfully that has been changing in recent years and there is real momentum building from a range of programmes like ours and through the work of Invest NI on the Propel programme and StartPlanetNI as well as the team in Catalyst Inc. This has helped foster a spirit of real collaboration which now makes Northern Ireland a very exciting and dynamic place to start a business. At the same time all this activity has helped tackle the cultural barriers that existed for local entrepreneurs and as a Bank we see more and more people willing to take the opportunity of starting their own business, knowing that there has never been more support available to help them along the way.

In terms of AIB's and First Trust Bank’s approach to supporting startups - tell us a little bit about the different ways the bank works with startups? 

At First Trust Bank, we’re backing startups with a range of initiatives which support them in their first crucial years. As well as the work on the AIB Start-up Academy which is designed to offer advice and support as well as a useful network of contacts, we also recently launched a specialist Business Start-up package to help customers through this often daunting and expensive startup period.  Our package tackles these issues by offering no daily transaction fees for 2 years, additional flexibility and streamlined services which we believe are essential in order to provide entrepreneurs with a real head start. Importantly we have an expert team who know the particular challenges of a startup and who are committed to working with customers along their entrepreneurial journey, whether that is on writing their business plans or forecasting cash flows.

From your experience of Northern Ireland’s ‘start-up scene’ why do you think it has flourished in the way that it has, and what are some of the most significant challenges still facing entrepreneurs? 

As I’ve already said, we have never lacked those with an entrepreneurial spirit here in NI, but we did lack the strong and cohesive mechanisms to support local startups from those across government, the business advisory community and funders all working together. Over recent years, we have seen concerted efforts to address this and now have Northern Ireland Startupsa strong and dynamic startup ecosystem here. We believe this could be the difference in putting Northern Ireland on the global startup map. While this is clearly welcome, we recognise that there is still a relative lack of startup funding, especially for those in the high-growth area which may be hampering the region from reaching its full potential. However, given the quality of many of our exciting startups, this funding gap is a real opportunity for the investor community both locally and internationally. We believe that this funding challenge will also change for the better and we will see more funding, both from the local banking sector and investment funding sources helping more of our exciting new startups to succeed on the world stage. 

Apart from the Belfast leg of the AIB Start-up Academy Summit - where else across the island of Ireland are your evening events taking place? 

Belfast is one of four summits happening across the island this year. We’ve already been to Galway last week and Cork this week. Next up is Dublin on 2nd February with the final leg in Belfast on 9th February. While free to attend, places will be limited. As last year’s event was oversubscribed, anyone interested in attending is advised to register as soon as possible.

First Trust Bank AIB NI Startup event


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Published on: 29th January 2017

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