Belfast Telegraph

Why community is everything in tech


Tech entrepreneurs venture on to Ignite NI’s first Propel Pre-accelerator
Tech entrepreneurs venture on to Ignite NI’s first Propel Pre-accelerator

By Tristan Watson, chief executive of Ignite

It's not unusual to hear people who work in the digital and technology world refer to the tech "community" when speaking about the industry they work in.

That might sound strange when they're talking about one of the fastest growing parts of the global economy - a multibillion-dollar industry which employs millions of people and where the competition for IP, talent and customers is undoubtedly fierce.

But for the early stage tech companies we work with at Ignite, the impact of the community around founders can make a huge difference to the journey they go on and the success of their companies.

Once a founder or founding team has proved their concept and has a working product they're selling, the challenges of growth start to come thick and fast, and that can be very daunting.

Whether it is raising funding, hiring people to build a team, devising marketing strategies, finding premises or trying to gain insight into your market and competition, founders of start-ups that enjoy early success quickly find there's a lot on their plate.

It's hard to do it all on your own.

So, when I say community I mean having a group of like-minded people around you who are going through a similar journey and experienced mentors who have been there and done it before and can offer real business advice to help you learn new skills and either solve problems or approach them from a fresh angle.

This week we're opening applications for the second Ignite NI Accelerator in Belfast, an intensive 12-week programme aimed at established early stage technology companies who want to start scaling. The sort of companies who have a prototype of their product, some customers on board and plans to raise between £250,000 and £1m in the next year.

Of course, we know companies at this stage of their lives need financial incentives more than anything, and so for the 10 we accept, the programme comes with £15,000 of investment, plus an additional £5,000 for companies relocating to Belfast from outside of Northern Ireland and nine months office space at the awesome Ormeau Baths innovation hub.

But for the 10 companies who came through our first Accelerator last year it was the added benefits that they were most enthusiastic about.

They got coaching from experienced mentors, founders and investors to help them fast forward their business development.

People like Bailey Kursar, ex-head of marketing at Monzo, David Pritchard, ex-CEO at OpenTable Europe and Patrick Collins, COO at Teamgate, not to mention our entrepreneurs-in-residence Chris McClelland and Ian Browne.

Last year we had teams from London, Dublin and as far away as New Zealand (via Cambridge) join the accelerator, and this mix of difference perspectives all added to the learning experience.

We also took the teams out to London and San Francisco to meet experts, founders and investors in companies like AWS, Google and Stripe, and gave them the opportunity to pitch to over 50 top tier venture capitalists and business angels after coaching on how to make their pitch really sing.

Our companies saw real successes during and after the programme.

For example, spare parts platform CADshare, which allows manufacturers to source spare parts closer to where they are needed, was able to attract £500,000 worth of private investment.

Landed, an automated recruitment platform is currently working in the Caribbean market, secured Hotel Chocolat as a new client while on programme.

And Locate a Locum, which is revolutionising the pharmacy market with its automated booking platform is now being used by the four largest pharmacy chains in the UK and doubled its work with Boots Pharmacy during the three months with us.

The most recent Tech Nation report showed the number of digital businesses in Northern Ireland has doubled in the past five years, with nearly 100 set up last year and around 9,000 people working in the sector.

As well as access to funding and the proximity to large companies the report cited "a helpful tech community" as one of the main factors driving growth in Belfast.

We're really excited to see which talented new tech companies apply to be part of our corner of the tech community in 2019.

Belfast Telegraph