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StartPlanet NI- An innovative business accelerator

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by Startacus Admin

StartPlanet NI

One of the UK’s newest and most innovative start-up accelerators will be opening soon in Belfast, aiming to put the city on the world stage as a hub for high growth potential startups.

StartPlanetNI, delivered with support from Invest Northern Ireland, will deliver a truly unique international accelerator programme, combining exciting startup companies from NI with international peers on a 50:50 basis.

In addition to this progressive approach, there is another element which makes this accelerator different from any other to have gone before.

Successful participants will receive £15k ($23K USD / €21K EURO) seed funding and in return will be expected to part with 8% equity investment. Uniquely, of that 8%, 2% will go towards a Founders’ Fund, which plans to generate shares in a pool made up of each company participating in the five year programme. The goal being that if in the not too distant future, one or more of the startups has a significant exit - all those in the ‘pool’ will benefit!

In addition, InvestNI will facilitate approximately £2million of private equity investment funding for selected startups (50 in total) over the length of the five year programme.

To maximise potential success for the startup companies involved, a formidable team of expert mentors with a vast amount of international experience are in place.

Each company who is successfully selected by StartPlanetNI will receive:

  • Equity investment of £15k
  • Up to a further £250k available per cohort
  • Access to a state of the art co-working space for 3 months with the option to stay on for a further 6 months free of charge
  • Legal and financial support 

Startups have until 18th September 2015 to apply for the inaugural programme , commencing at the start of November 2015 and ending three months later with an all-important Demo day.

With the closing date for the first ever intake fast approaching, we had a chat with Diane Roberts from Xcell Partners who are helping to run the programme.

Hi Diane. So first off, you guys say that the new accelerator for Northern Ireland approach to accelerators is ‘unique’; what sets you apart from other accelerators?

What sets this accelerator apart are 3 unique features. Firstly, our mentor team will be made up of regional, Irish, London and US based mentors.

Secondly, our lead mentor Bill Liao is a renowned international investor and author, bringing with him a wealth of experience working with tech startups, especially with his role in SoSventures. Diane Roberts

Thirdly, there will be an international makeup of the startup companies, with half the companies being local and the remainder coming from outside of Northern Ireland. That’s going to bring a truly dynamic and distinctive aspect. This programme represents a significant investment for key funder, Invest Northern Ireland, who have made a massive statement in supporting the startup sector.

We are very intrigued by the ‘founders’ fund’ model that you are pioneering. As well as the potential financial gains that can be made, what impact do you foresee this ‘co-op’ style arrangement having on the accelerator and the businesses who work there?

Well, unlike many accelerators, where startups roll up and work like hell on their idea with the goal of success, the founders’ fund provides a platform where each startup not only shares the vision of their success, but also builds a common purpose within everyone involved. We would expect to see teams helping each other, sharing ideas and knowledge, and collectively believing that they all have the capacity to succeed.

Now that the application process is in full-swing, are there any particular ‘types’ of startup that you would like to see represented in the September cohort?

No, there aren’t any particular types of startup, but we do expect to see a particular attraction within the wider knowledge economy. We are particularly looking for companies who already have a strong 2-4 person team with the necessary technical depth and of course an innovative product or service that will truly disrupt their target market and is ready to be taken to market.

In Northern Ireland, we have some amazing startups coming through the ranks at the moment. We have seen companies like Brewbot and Plotbox secure international equity funding, both offering innovative approaches to traditional markets. Both of these companies recently completed accelerators in the US, so now we are hoping to meet that demand locally, while also attracting international startups to Belfast.

As your team are hoping to accommodate startups from both Northern Ireland and further afield, can you give us your Belfast pitch? Why should someone want to spend time growing their business in the city and how does it compare with other UK urban centres?

Although small in size, we are mighty in terms of talent and lifestyle. Producing the greats such as C. S. Lewis, Liam Neeson, Rory McIlroy, The Undertones, the Giant's Causeway, the world’s oldest whiskey distillery, the inventor of the ejector seat, Van Morrison, we have much to be proud of -  and that hasn’t even scratched the surface! All that from a country with a population of a little under 2million people. And most importantly, from a fan like me, the global phenomenon Game of Thrones is also filmed here, which will no doubt attract a lot of people. 

Belfast city is a vibrant centre of innovation, technology and education, with a flourishing startup scene, and is host to two leading universities. It is very easy to access and with two airports, it’s just one hour flight from London, six hours from New York and two hours from Dublin by train or car.

The cost of living in Belfast is 41% cheaper than London and 28% lower than Dublin - and of the course the ‘craic’, the food and the nightlife is world class! There is an amazing startup community already developing here and the spirit to succeed is immeasurable.

With regards to the initial application can you share any tips / advice that might boost a business' chances of being shortlisted for the next stage of the process?

The best advice I can give is be honest, positive and to the point. Avoid any BS or waffle. Each application will be looked at thoroughly - there is nothing worse than a lack of clarity and detail. It’s critical to invest your time in the application if are you serious about securing a place on the programme.

A criticism that we occasionally hear about UK accelerators, compared to those in the US, is that the standard and scope of mentoring available can be less than anticipated. Give us a sense of the mentoring that will be included at the accelerator and how this will be critical in growing the businesses that take part.

Our mentor team is central to our methodology and we know from experience that it is the mentors who have the most impact on our startups. We will be blending an international team of mentors led by Bill Liao that will bring an amazing pool of knowledge, experience and connections to the table. It will be very exciting to witness - they will challenge our start-ups so we can best increase their chances of success.

Thanks for the chat Diane and best of luck with the first ever StartPlanet NI!

Interested in applying? Check out all the finer details and info over at, simply head over to to kick the application process off and read our previous feature on Start Planet NI itself. 

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Published on: 17th June 2015

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