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Why we must accelerate start-up successes

By Bill Liao

Published 16/02/2016

Skilled workers at Shorts Aircraft factory in Belfast back in 1978
Skilled workers at Shorts Aircraft factory in Belfast back in 1978

Belfast can go large and make a dent in the universe, if it really wants to. It can become a leading start-up hub in Europe and develop and deliver disruptive business ideas - but only if everyday people step up and give entrepreneurship a serious go as teams.

I've been coming here for years and have always been impressed by the entrepreneurial talent that I meet. Some here have told me that there is an innate innovative gene within the people of this place, which dates back to the height of the industrial revolution when Belfast was a world leader in shipbuilding and industrial manufacturing, renowned for its engineering and innovative prowess. Having the gene is not enough though - you have to step up and try and give up being afraid to fail. It takes courage. 

As efforts to build an entrepreneurial start-up community and a strong knowledge economy gather pace - with the focus on start-ups by various organisations such as Invest NI and the NI Science Park, along with the active support of various businesses and individuals - there is no reason why Belfast can't compete and regularly win on the world stage. 

We are in a digital age, where geographic location and the previous dominance of big players are increasingly irrelevant. Small teams of people can rapidly become the rock star innovators and business leaders of tomorrow. They simply need to step up and be met with open minds and arms. They need to have a place to find true experience from people who have done it. That's where my involvement as lead mentor on StartPlanet NI comes in play. It is an intensive start-up accelerator programme which is designed to fast-track businesses with the potential to be global superstars. The accelerator is delivered by StartPlanet who have extensive global expertise in accelerator methodology and delivery and are partnered with local start-up experts Xcell Partners with the support of Invest NI.    

Globally, such quality accelerator programmes are known to be a crucial ingredient in developing successful start-up communities. I've been involved in a number of highly successful programme across the world and have seen close up the difference they can make. The good ones are often the difference between winning and losing. They provide start-ups a much higher chance of getting the necessary funding and, more importantly, the focus required to them get traction, revenue and brand visibility.   

Good accelerators are much closer to the real world than the comparative cosiness offered by incubators. The best accelerators are intense crucibles, not comfy hot houses, and just like StartPlanet NI are bounded by extremely short durations (three months maximum) with lots of experience and tough love. The short duration means that no one is getting complacent. There simply isn't time. The best accelerators are also damn hard work for the companies, over and above what they are already trying to do.

Without such a programme Belfast was at risk of falling further behind other regions and missing the clear and present opportunities that exist in today's fast moving world. Trust me when I say that such accelerators are highly competitive and much sought after by the best entrepreneurs from all around the world. The fact that so many international and local companies have already viewed Belfast as their start-up location of choice is encouraging and we are looking forward to the continued roll out of the StartPlanet NI programme and more teams from here and around the globe joining future intakes. 

The introduction of StartPlanet NI now represents the final and crucial part of the local start-up eco system. To ensure we offer the best start possible for these local and international entrepreneurs we have created a compelling proposition which combines significant private equity funding, innovative workspace, top quality mentoring and business support along with global networks and reach. We are confident that this approach will help build a strong and vibrant start-up community within the wider NI Knowledge Economy and put Belfast firmly on the map as a start-up hotspot. 

Bill Liao is lead mentor on Start Planet NI. He is an international start-up stalwart, mentor and founder and the SOSV European Venture Partner. He is a co-founder of CoderDojo, the free global computer programming community which teaches children to code, and founder of WeForest.org

Belfast Telegraph

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