Belfast Telegraph

Monday 27 April 2015

Dr Norman Apsley: Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Science Park

Dr Norman Apsley wants to raise NISP's game and bring together even wider networks, here and abroad
Dr Norman Apsley wants to raise NISP's game and bring together even wider networks, here and abroad

Park’s formula for success has been working well for a decade

How’s business?

Northern Ireland Science Park is doing well, all things considered. We’ve just celebrated our 10th anniversary since being founded in 1999, and 2008 marked our first year of commercial independence from Government.

Despite the downturn we’re still targeting growth over this year. In terms of facilities, we recently opened our new Concourse building of some 50,000 sq ft and it has already been filled.

Some of this new space has been taken by existing tenants who now need additional room, in turn freeing up smaller space elsewhere, enabling the development cycle to continue again.

At the same time, we have never been busier in delivering our business and innovation mentoring schemes for small businesses and are helping grow and foster an innovation eco-system which can ensure the flow of strong indigenous knowledge based companies into the local economy.

Any exciting projects in the pipeline?

The £25k awards are under way again this year. This competition is designed to flush out the hottest innovative concepts within public sector R&D.

Following a very successful year last year where over 80% of the shortlisted projects intended to form into companies, we’ve had a great response again this year, and I’m looking forward to meeting the teams and hearing them pitch their ideas.

We’ve also relaunched our halo business angels network which means that the door is open for hi-growth, hi-concept companies to come forward and seek additional investment.

With over 80 top investors from Northern Ireland and further afield with a total fighting fund of £10m ready to invest in start-up businesses here, we are hoping to be able to support some very exciting projects in the near future.

What are the long-term prospects for your company?

Over the long term we have plans to increase our footprint by another 100,000 sq ft and to expand our tenant portfolio. In addition, we want to continue to uncover people with great ideas and talent, and equip them for the marketplace through stronger business mentoring programmes.

We also plan to raise our game and bring together ever wider networks, both here and abroad, of people who can assist the local knowledge base to flourish.

What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?

Responding to the demands for help from the want-to-preneurs and keeping the support programmes of sufficiently high quality from minimal resources can be challenging.

We are constantly trying to prioritise our efforts to try and get the most benefit from any investment.

Could the Government help you to do business better?

Things are constantly improving but There are some positives signs at NISP that new investment decisions are finally being made after long periods of “stone turning”.

There are plenty of real market opportunities in addressing issues of the 21st Century and enough money to pay for them. The winning nations will be those that can deliver what people need to fit them for this purpose (health, education and interpersonal skills) with the greatest cost efficiency and in a timely manner.

The business climate —good or bad?

Since it must be upwards from here, it should be good for those that have made painful adjustments. Much of the focus should be on planning for the upturn in the global economy and that is where Northern Ireland has an opportunity to show that we have a strong pedigree in innovation and knowledge based industries.

When matched with an improving supportive environment led by government, I have no doubt we can make some waves.

What ambitions do you have on a personal level?

My ambition is to get to the point where I can really enjoy all that Northern Ireland has to offer, while having helped to create an economy that can afford me.

What do you get up to in your spare time?

Hobbies are children, grandchild and photography but my role as vice-president at the Institute of Physics takes a lot of spare time and I do a little bit for the Association of Science Education.

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