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NI startups to aim big after 6-month Raise Ventures programme

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by Startacus Admin

Raise Ventures
Whilst there are a number of public sector backed accelerators and incubation programmes throughout NI, step forward Raise Accelerator, Northern Ireland's first privately-run startup accelerator...

With UK-wide industry body TechNation recently reporting that its research highlighted Belfast as one of the best cities in the UK to work in tech and the 2019 Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network revealing that Belfast was placed 28th position out of 50 global cities when it came to supporting female-led businesses, it appears the growth of Belfast startups and more widely Northern Ireland’s tech scene is no longer in question.

With that growth however comes the need for additional tailored support. Whilst there are a number of public sector Raise Ventures acceleratorbacked accelerators and incubation programmes throughout NI, step forward Raise Accelerator, Northern Ireland's first privately-run startup accelerator based in Silicon Alley in Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

Run by four seasoned, serial NI-based entrepreneurs, RAISE Accelerator is a 6-month intensive programme, where selected startups work with the Raise team to build strong foundations for their business, with the aim being, within that 6 month period, to innovate, validate, accelerate and raise investment. 

Raise look for founders with a startup business idea, who have identified an opportunity to scale that idea into a large addressable market. Privately-run, the RAISE accelerator takes a non-negotiable 6% stake in every startup that comes through its doors, with the goal that this 6% stake ties their success to the startup’s success.

With cohort 1 now already 4 months in and cohort 2 due to start in the Autumn of this year, we chatted to three founders from the first cohort to find out more about  both their business and their Raise experience. 

Charlene Armour, is the CEO and Founder of Armour, a SaaS solution that allows organisations to identify, manage, audit and keep up to date with legislation. Primarily focused on health, safety, environmental & HR requirements, the new innovative cloud based software solution aims to save organisations time and money by simplifying legal jargon, reduce business risk and gain compliance.

“Starting out in my journey of building a SaaS company, whilst I had the industry experience and knowledge to write the content of the product, I had little experience of building a tech product or how to manoeuvre successfully in the investment jungle”; explained Charlene. 

Armour"Applying to Raise seemed like a no brainer to me. Having run my own business since 2012, I knew that the only people who could teach these lessons were those directly involved in the same process themselves.” 

Combining masterclass sessions, workshop sessions and 121s, the programme focuses on the individual needs of each company, offering operational support as well as connections to the right mentors, advisors and experts to help the business.

Describing the Raise programme, Charlene goes on to say:

“Having had 3 investor meetings within a month of starting and successful pre seed funding secured in the last few Matt Johnson Raise cofounderweeks and an active board member.  I couldn’t quantify the value this programme. My experience has been great, yet brain busting at the same time trying to get your head around all the information given. The start-up world is certainly not for the faint hearted and I wouldn’t be in as good a position if not for the guys at Raise.” 

Fellow startup founder Gary McDowell, whose app idea had been laying dormant for around a year, highlighted the impact that the 6-month programme had on his concept:

“I had already developed a prototype of the App but had been concentrating on my existing business and the App lay dormant for around a year. It was only when I heard an advert on Cool FM for Raise Ventures that I thought about the App and got in touch. 

Raise rekindled my interest and have given me the encouragement and skills to bring the App to launch. Without Raise this would never have happened. You do not develop your idea in isolation but at Raise you work in close proximity to other start-ups. It is amazing how much help you can get from an informal chat with others who are at a similar stage of development.”

SWIS AppHis app, SWIS, solves the issue of falling asleep and losing your place whilst listening to audiobooks or podcasts! The app pauses playback when you fall asleep, so when you wake up you can jump right back into the story and listen to the finish.  

“I have a clear route to market the App. There are a number of groups or sections of society who are dependent on audio and are large users of audiobooks. I intend to market through their member websites” Gary went on to explain. 

Each startup selected for the 6-month programme is provided with deskspace, meeting rooms and so on and have unlimited access to RAISE events. Pitches will be practiced, business relationships built and knowledge shared. 

John Ferguson, an experienced NI entrepreneur, also took part in cohort 1. His latest venture BatchBuddy is a range of beautifully designed glass bottles conceived to make batching cocktails hassle free and perfect every time. BatchBuddy’s range includes some of the world’s most popular cocktails. 

Launching this month with a set of events and some old fashioned door banging of local venues, each BatchBuddy bottle displays the precise recipe, measurements and instructions allowing you to make between 4-8 servings of your favourite cocktail in seconds and to a level of consistency that would previously have taken many failed attempts. 

John said of his experience: 

“Raise has provided a great space and supported me with many areas of the early business challenges. All accelerators in NI face the same challenges, Raise has entered the batchbuddyBelfast startup area with a fresh approach to what startups need to do to get started up and they support the companies on the programme in many ways.”

Fast tracking that idea from initial concept through to professional launch seems key to the Raise model. It is great to see some traction from these 3 companies in only 4 months.

Alongside John who is the throws of launching BatchBuddy, Armour aims to launch this November, with founder Charlene keen to highlight that she has multiple clients waiting in the wings to purchase and use the product.

Gary McDowell, founder of SWIS app, whose idea was sitting dormant until that timely Raise advert on Cool FM, sums it up nicely.

 “I would encourage anyone with an idea to speak with Raise. If your idea is good, Raise will give you the tools and the rest is up to you.”

We look forward to seeing what founders are selected for cohort 2 and to seeing how Armour, BatchBuddy and SWIS develop over the coming months.  

For more information check out





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Published on: 13th August 2019

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