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Silicon Valley entrepreneur opened in Belfast due to 'phenomenal education'

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By Jamie Stinson

Published 18/11/2014

Great graduates: David Richards
Great graduates: David Richards

A Silicon Valley entrepreneur has praised the Northern Ireland education system as "phenomenal" and has said it should be the template used for the rest of the UK.

David Richards, co-founder and chief executive of WANdisco, believes graduates in the province are more ready for employment due to their education, and require less training while on the job than graduates on the mainland.

The software engineering company, which opened an office at the Gasworks in Belfast 18 months ago and employs 25 people, specialises in making "big data" more reliable.

Mr Richards said he decided to open in Belfast because the "education is phenomenal".

"Northern Ireland is able to create ready made graduates able to step into jobs. You don't see that on the mainland UK, apart from Cambridge graduates," he said.

The tech firm has had a successful start to its time in Belfast, which it chose over locations including India, Eastern Europe and other UK cities, and now has plans for the office to grow.

When the company opened it had initially planned to create 36 jobs within five years, it is now ready to surpass that target.

Mr Richards believes, there are three things a tech business needs to be successful: "a very large market, unique technology, and a talent pool to deliver that technology."

"Belfast seems to have solved the talent pool problem. In the rest of the UK we need to train people, rather than the universities (doing it)," he said.

"It's different here. The education system and the economy are more closely aligned than the rest of the UK. Northern Ireland should be the model."

Mr Richards warned of the potential danger of cuts to funding of the Northern Ireland education system, which is a big motivation for overseas companies to choose the province for expansion.

"They shouldn't do that. It's part of the reason why we came here. It's what all tech businesses want," he said.

The Department of Employment and Learning has seen a cut of nearly 11% in its budget for next year, which has led Queen's University and the University of Ulster accept 1,100 less students next September.

The company, which has dual headquarters in Silicon Valley and Sheffield, was founded in 2005 by Mr Richards, Jim Campigli and Dr Yeturu Aahlad. Upon opening, Invest NI offered £360,000 in support for the investment, which was said to mean more than £1m for the economy.

In June 2012, WANdisco went public on the London Stock Exchange, with the IPO raising over £15m. Investors included Fidelity, Legal and General, Cazenove, Octopus, and Standard Life.

Customers include Skype, Sony, RSA, Disney, Tesco Bank, Sharp, and Experian.

Belfast Telegraph

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