Northern Ireland's innovative tech companies continue rising to challenges
Tech companies across the island of Ireland have been succeeding on the international stage for many years, establishing a reputation for the region as a home of innovative tech start-ups and companies with high potential to scale up.
Dublin of course has an immensely strong tech scene, from the huge US multinationals like Google, Facebook and Microsoft, which employ thousands of people, to a vibrant group of fast-growing indigenous businesses taking their expertise to customers across the globe - such as overall Fast 50 winner eShopWorld.
Northern Ireland may have a smaller number of technology companies, but this year's Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards suggests that there is much to celebrate in the technology community around Belfast, Derry and beyond.
The Fast 50 awards, now in their 18th year, rank Ireland's fastest growing technology companies and recognise the indigenous technology companies that have demonstrated exceptional growth in turnover over the last four years. The awards in Dublin last week showcased companies that, despite the challenges in the global economy, continue to innovate and drive the sector forward.
This year saw a record number of NI entrants ranked in the Fast 50 awards. Fifteen companies was the highest amount of ranked entrants from Northern Ireland since the awards began.
They included: AquaQ Analytics, Engaged Web, Fathom, Flint Studios, JAR Technologies, Leaf, Learning Pool, Lucid Interactive, Neueda, Origin Digital, Ozaroo, P2V Systems, Repstor, Tascomi and The Web Bureau.
Some of these companies are well known and have made the list before. At sixth place on the list, online retailer Ozaroo was the top-ranked NI company for the second year running.
But what is perhaps most positive was the number of companies making their debut. Out of the 15 firms from NI, seven are new entrants to the ranking - which tracks the growth posted over the last four years. For those emerging companies, the Fast 50 awards provide added validation and credibility for what they are doing as they try to establish themselves as significant players in the technology sector.
AquaQ Analytics, ranked 26th on the Fast 50 list, is a provider of specialist data management, data analytics and data mining services to clients in the capital markets sectors. Ronan Pairceir, the company's CEO, is confident the NI tech sector is in good shape.
"The NI tech industry is thriving. Both small and large companies are being well supported to do some really innovative work. Our team work hard to provide clients with a quality, expert service and as we do that, we really value the recognition that comes with something like the Fast 50 ranking," he said.
The increased profile, he says, helps smaller firms address one of the industry's biggest challenges.
"Our revenues have grown significantly year on year, proving to us that NI is an excellent place to be working in tech. But we're all trying to tap into the same pool of resources and that means there is a lot of competition for the best resources. That is a challenge."
Jar Technologies helps organisations perform online, using real browser testing and monitoring to ensure applications work. CEO Ryan McAnlis believes competition in NI's relatively small marketplace can be overcome if the region can attract larger scale investment and a bigger footprint from global enterprise tech companies present in Dublin.
"Investment is necessary for larger growth within the NI tech industry. We have great venture capital investment and productive programmes for angel and seed start-ups, but we need access to the further investment required for larger growth," he said.
"Jar Technologies is delivering world-leading innovative products and we believe we have the talent in Northern Ireland to continue to do that.
"The Deloitte Fast 50 ranking is a first-rate recognition that we hope will help us gain further confidence with large enterprises.
"Those are the companies that will deliver further growth to sustain that next level of investment."
The Technology Fast 50 awards celebrate innovation and entrepreneurship and provide an excellent opportunity to showcase the strength and achievements of businesses in the tech sector.
In Belfast and Northern Ireland we do have some of those big players and our innovative indigenous tech companies are increasingly on the radars of larger private equity and venture capital investors.
But there is still much to be done to ensure that some of the high quality companies on the Fast 50 have access to the means they need to kick on to the next level.
- Peter Allen is a partner at Deloitte, Northern Ireland