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Digital DNA: Northern Ireland must look to market in China after Brexit says mogul Heygate

By Rachel Martin

The Chinese market could be worth billions to Northern Ireland and Britain, but companies here are failing to crack the cultural cues, according to a business tycoon due to speak at an international tech event in Belfast next month.

Sir Richard Heygate, who was part of the team who invented the first 'online' cash point, spoke to the Belfast Telegraph ahead of his appearance at this year's Digital DNA.

As a Brexit supporter, the businessman - who spent much of his childhood and working life in Northern Ireland - says leaving the EU is nothing to be feared and presents the opportunity for a new business revolution.

"It really is the wild west out there and China has a culture of innovation. In the industrial era, there was a lot of economic activity between the UK and Asia.

"Tech firms have a hard time in this place. It takes around five years to get a product ready for market, but at around year three they start to run out of money and that's when they need help the most.

"There's a big move towards innovation in China. But, I've learned in the past that I don't want to work with start-ups - I need developed companies that have a genuine innovation that's going to change the market - someone with a cure for cancer, or something innovative in agriculture or healthcare that's developed and ready to get to market. The potential of the Chinese market is massive, because they are so focused on making a lot of money quickly, the deals are in the millions. It can be very hard to talk to a Chinese company about a small firm with maybe 12 employees, that's going to make a lot of money in a few years."

He is one of the top speakers at this year's Digital DNA 2017, which is taking place on June 6 and 7 in St George's Market in Belfast.

Sir Richard founded 88 Initiative four years ago along with business partner Yingni Lu to connect UK businesses with Chinese professionals to help secure market access in Asia and build a good working relationship with companies on the ground.

The aim of the firm is to build new relationships between the UK and China and also sees him work with Asian firms interested in the UK market.

"It's like Brexit, but the other way around. There's a real push on innovation, driven from a presidential level. China has been locked into its own market now and it's trying to get out and reach beyond that now," he said.

Sir Richard began his career at IBM, where he led the team that developed the world's first ATM.

The first one was used by Lloyds Bank, which was founded by his ancestor Sampson Lloyd and later expanded by his grandfather Howard Lloyd, in the 19th century.

Sir Richard was born in England but lived in Northern Ireland for much of his childhood and adult life.

"There's an important thing called culture in Asia - it's everything down from the way you shake their hand to how you give them your business card to taking a photo of them afterwards. There's a word 'Guanxi' in China which roughly means, 'I won't do business with you unless I trust you'. Unless you're trusted you won't go anywhere in Asia."

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