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FanDuel founder backs business hub

Small firms could move into Ormeau Baths site

By Rachel Martin

Co Tyrone entrepreneur and FanDuel founder Nigel Eccles is getting behind plans to transform one of Belfast's oldest buildings into a business hub and cafe, this newspaper can reveal.

Mr Eccles made his name as the creator of the international fantasy gaming company, which has become one of the world's most popular online betting websites.

He is now one of Northern Ireland's richest people - and has turned his hand to backing a project aimed at supporting smaller businesses looking to expand internationally.

A team of technology entrepreneurs from Belfast applied for planning permission in December to turn Ormeau Baths into a hub for ambitious companies who wish to scale up.

It is understood that Mr Eccles has pledged to help support the project.

The founders plan on calling the venture Ormeau Baths Innovation Centre, or OB Innovation Centre.

The company was incorporated in November last year, with Silicon Valley insurance technology entrepreneur Mark Dowds and financial technology investment firm boss Jon Bradford named as directors.

It is believed that Belfast tech entrepreneurs Aaron Taylor and Steve Pette are also involved in setting up the centre at the historic location.

The centre is expected to have room for up to 100 desks with a wing of the building to be turned into a cafe.

Speaking last week at the Davos Global Shapers event held in Belfast, Mark Dowds explained how the hub aimed to help small firms help each other to upscale.

Although its four founders each run their own tech businesses, the project will deal with any kind of firm suited to scaling up internationally.

The Belfast Telegraph understands that they have signed up Nigel Eccles, Sarah Friar - of Silicon Valley giant Square, a company whose point of sale software allows retailers to take payment through an app - and Peter Johnston, Carrickfergus-born founder of Lystable, a platform for companies to manage their external workforce. The former Ulster University student from Carrickfergus won $1.5m (£1m) in funding from PayPal founder Peter Thiel to found Lystable.

FanDuel is popular in the US, where players try to win prize money from a multimillion-dollar pot. Mr Eccles co-founded the company in 2009 with his wife, Lesley.

The site runs games based on NFL (American football), NBA (basketball), MLB (baseball) and NHL (ice-hockey), as well as college football and basketball, that last just one day.

In 2015 the company was valued at $1bn (£0.8m).

Permission has already been granted for the gallery space to be turned into office space.

The Grade B1 listed former Victorian Bath House was built in 1888, but has been extended over the years.

It was built with the purpose of providing warm water to families in the city who could not afford it or access it any other way, but it has lain empty for almost six years.

The building was previously used as an art gallery and once included two pools and 36 private baths.

The baths were refurbished in the 1950s, but closed around 20 years later after one pool developed structural cracks.

The art gallery closed in 2006 when it lost its Arts Council funding.

It reopened months later, but closed again for the last time in 2011, with high operating costs cited as the reason.

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