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Growing the Digital Economy of Derry and Strabane
by Startacus Admin
Growing the digital economy must surely be one of the most important steps that any nation can take in safeguarding the future security and prosperity of its people. But encouraging meaningful and sustained digital growth in this sector is far from straightforward, with many SMEs and more traditional businesses often struggling to build the connections necessary to achieve this ambition.
Help, support, and a guiding hand must be offered at a local level if valuable growth in the digital economy is to be fully achieved, and the newly formed Derry City and Strabane District council in NI is providing a shining example of how this should be done.
Through a fresh programme, aptly named ‘Growing the Digital Economy’, they have been offering both digital and traditional businesses individually tailored support to help grow, and develop their online presence.
Rosalind Young, is one of those responsible for the delivery of the programme; we caught up with her to find out more about how the local council is helping to boost and secure the area's digital economy.
So Rosalind, tell us all about The Growing the Digital Economy programme.
The ‘Growing the Digital Economy Programme’ is a support programme for SMEs in the Derry/Strabane area of Northern Ireland aimed at accelerating the growth of the digital economy sector. The programme is part funded by Invest NI and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.
The programme has a number of strands: sector animation, stimulation of business demand and enterprise development.
The programme focuses on continued promotion, animation and stimulation of the digital economy and developing national and international linkages.
We are also stimulating business demand and raising awareness for our SuperConnected Cities Scheme by informing and encouraging businesses how best to utilise digital technology to make their business more efficient and effective. We are providing 1-1 support to local businesses to help them plan and implement digital technologies in their business and maximise their online presence to generate increased revenue and growth.
Central to the programme is enterprise development focusing on supporting digital entrepreneurs from pre-start, startup through to growth activities recognising that a company has very different support needs at the various growth stages. We are delivering in the coming months one-to-one Concept Clinics, themed Business Bootcamps as well as one-to-one business mentoring and technical consultancy with a sectoral specialist.
At the heart of the programme’s delivery methodology is mentoring which has been described as ‘a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction’ (John Crosby). Mentoring can add more value to a company than investors and can significantly influence a company’s performance. This was a finding from the Startup Genome Project which looked at over 650 Silicon Valley based start-ups to try and understand the factors key to long term success.
A peer to peer networking initiative is also being delivered, working with local companies to develop effective interfaces with the research, science and technology base. It has been recognised that digital companies operating in clusters are experiencing a higher rate of revenue growth compared to the national average. We are also developing the city’s relationship with UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and Tech City.
On 24/25 June we are hosting a conference in the city on the theme of internationalisation aiming to build the capacity of both existing and new start companies in the region to do business outside of NI, focusing on key markets of London, Europe and the east and west coasts of the US. We will have high profile speakers from each of the markets speaking alongside local companies active in those markets - the aim being to further help develop linkages between local companies and international markets. On Day 2 we are running bootcamps which will be more hands on, building the capacity and readiness of companies to build their businesses in export markets.
What type of businesses would you like to see applying to take advantage of the programme?
The programme is geared to support any digital business at whatever stage of growth they are at - pre-start and early-stage startups, growing or established. We would also like to talk to students and anyone who has an idea or an interest in establishing their own digital business. The programme recognises that a business has different support needs at the various stages and that within the digital economy sector itself, the support needs will vary depending on the sub-sector whether it be internet and software, digital media or animation and design.The programme works by tailoring the support available to the needs of the company or individual we are working with.
What would you define as the 'Digital Economy' and why is 'becoming digital' so important for businesses?
The digital economy is growing and creating jobs and economic growth across the UK and globally. At the current time all businesses need to be digitalto survive and grow, and the digital economy spans everything. There is a global marketplace out there and it’s open 24 hours. Digital technology acts as an enabler, so it’s about learning how to make the most of connectivity to drive your business whether it’s your online presence and e-commerce, or making the most of technology to ensure your business is operating efficiently. Going digital makes it so much easier to interact and communicate with new and existing customers.
People are consuming more and more digital content on a daily basis particularly on their mobile phones, laptops, desktop computers at work, and more – and companies that have not yet recognised this in their marketing strategies need to adapt fast.
At a recent session delivered with a network of local tourist providers on becoming digital it was put to them that ‘Doing Business without being online is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you’re doing but nobody else does’ (Stuart H Britt).
With that in mind, our programme has been designed to support traditional businesses develop their digital capabilities as well as support the growth of the digital economy itself. By that we mean that those companies which are developing and delivering high value digital products and services including mobile and web content, software, digital animation and post-production. e-learning, digital publishing, games, film and television content and music.
The scheme says it aims to promote the region’s unique digital proposition - what is that unique digital proposition?
Derry is one of the first cities in Ireland – and one of the first in the UK – to have fibre connections deployed to its streets, enabling businesses and residents to access ‘superfast’ broadband speeds, with download capability of up to 40Mb/s and uploads of 10Mb/s. Together with Project Kelvin fibre-optic link from the US into Derry, the faster broadband connectivity offers the prospect of the city becoming a major centre for the development of digital technologies.
We are also currently implementing the Dept of Culture, Media and Sports’ SuperConnected Cities Programme which has seen considerable investment in Wi-Fi infrastructure in public buildings, public realm and a voucher scheme providing grants to local businesses to assist with the capital installation costs of broadband.
There is a vibrant ecosystem of innovative and creative digital companies thriving and having global impact and appeal. There is also fantastic support from local/regional government.
We have a strong track record and our FDI and indigenous company base reflects this with companies such as Seagate, Fujitsu, Kofax and Allstate NI, Learning Pool, Kainos, Injixo and Lucid Interactive as well as local companies such as Dog Ears, Small Town America, Aerona Software, Lucid Interactive, Alleycats and Type 40 Creative.
High quality infrastructure, incubation and co-working space is available for our local businesses driving the digital economy forward combined with support from local and regional government. NW Region Science Park, Eighty81 creative hub at Ebrington, Magazine Studios, Hive Studios, Textile Design hub provide excellent co-working space and opportunities for clustering and collaboration.
We also have strong connections with the university and the FHE colleges in the NW of Ireland, and have world-class university based research centres, ISRC (Intelligent Systems Research Centre) and C-TRIC with specialisms in life and health sciences. All are centres of excellence in technology, software development, creative arts and technologies. The Nerve Centre here is NI’s leading creative media arts centre hosting FabLab with MIT and Ashton (one of only two in Ireland).
We are also home to the trail-blazing CultureTECH festival, the biggest technology and creative industries event in NI, championing all things digital through education, arts, business, enterprise and innovation on an international scale.
The city region has a rich and cultural heritage recognised by its accolade as the UK’s first City of Culture. Here in Derry/Strabane is where the creative space and arts capabilities meets technology to make for a unique digital offering. These make up our competitive advantage and the unique digital proposition. We have all the right ingredients for digital and creative businesses to thrive.
The Startacus audience comes to the site from all over the world - give us your pitch on what makes the Derry area a great place for setting up business?
It’s the right place for your business
It’s where the pure arts capabilities meets with the creative space and technology
High quality infrastructure and connectivity – superfast broadband and excellent incubator and coworking space available
People and lifestyle – no stranger to staging national and international events such as the first UK City of Culture, host city for Clipper Round the World Yacht race, Foyle international Film Festival, the Fleadh, the Turner Prize, Music City 2014, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Fashion Week. There is a strong arts, cultural, and social scene
Rich cultural and creative heritage
Support from local and regional government for businesses
Vibrant ecosystem of innovative and creative digital companies thriving with global impact and appeal
Accessibility (road, rail, airports)
Strong links to the university/FHE (university of Ulster campuses, Letterkenny Institute of Technology and NW Regional College)
Local success stories having global impact and appeal
Top performing schools and a young and creative population
Engaging with startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses must be key for the new larger local council - how else can interested business founders keep up-to-date with key goings-on within the region?
Engaging with startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses is a key priority for the new Council.
The new Council is currently developing its new integrated economic strategy which will set out key actions for the Council and its partners to deliver economic development. In particular it will set out key actions for the creation of jobs through business start-ups and business growth and activities that will rebuild and re-balance the economy and realise the area’s full potential. The invest message is that Derry/Strabane is the right place for your business, the right place to start your business and grow your business.
The key sectors driving forward the region’s economic growth are Digital Industries, Creative Industries and Life Sciences. Our focus is on developing skills, supporting entrepreneurs and encouraging start-ups as well as enabling trade and supporting the growth of existing business.
The local council has a strong proven track record in business support and engaging with all businesses at the various stages of growth across a range of sectors. This is achieved by developing collaboration and partnership working to ensure the necessary ecosystem is in place.
To keep an eye on what’s happening in the region check out the Council’s website www.derrycityandstrabanedistrict.com. You can also find out more about the Growing the Digital Economy programme @growdigitalNW and on Facebook growdigitalNW .
Thanks for the insights Rosalind and best of luck with the rest of the programme!