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How I’ll help spark up the ambitions of NI’s newest technology businesses

Tristan Watson of the start-up accelerator network Ignite on its plans for Invest NI's Propel programme


Some of the start-ups who have participated in Ignite programmes around the UK

Some of the start-ups who have participated in Ignite programmes around the UK

Some of the start-ups who have participated in Ignite programmes around the UK

Some of the start-ups who have participated in Ignite programmes around the UK

Tristan Watson, managing director of Ignite

Tristan Watson, managing director of Ignite

Some of the start-ups who have participated in Ignite programmes around the UK

When is the right time to commit 100% to your own start-up business? It's a question which has a different answer for every aspiring business owner, but it is one that, at some point, every entrepreneur has had to answer.

Whether they are founding their company straight out of university or working out when to leave full-time employment to go out on their own, at some point they have to go full-time on that new venture and jump in with both feet.

Ignite has taken over the running of Invest NI's Propel Programme and we are looking for 20 of the brightest and best start-up prospects to make that leap and go through our in-depth six-month pre-accelerator programme.

It's called a pre-accelerator because this programme is for entrepreneurs or start-up teams who are at a very early stage with their business idea.

They'll get access to a £15,000 grant to use towards the development of their business idea and 12 months free co-working at the Ormeau Baths innovation hub.

Ignite delivers accelerator programmes across the UK which are aimed at building internationally scalable businesses.

We've accelerated over 100 start-ups across the UK and we invest in more than 25 companies ourselves every year.

We're primarily looking for tech and knowledge economy start-ups for this programme because all the research shows it is where the opportunity lies to create scalable companies in a short space of time that can export their products and services globally.

There's been great work done already to build the tech and knowledge economy ecosystem by Catalyst Inc, Techstart NI, Queen's University and Ulster University, and other sponsored start-up programmes.

And that's a big part of why Ignite wanted to get involved here in Belfast.

There's a real sense that this is an ecosystem that is on its way - as signified by the opening this year of Ormeau Baths. We want to play our part in the 2030 knowledge economy vision, bringing new ventures through that will contribute to creating something successful in the next 10 to 15 years.

The 20 entrepreneurs we choose might be people coming out of university with a great idea, people currently employed by big tech companies working on their own venture in their spare time, or people who have already founded and dedicated themselves to their start-up.

We know there are many innovators and entrepreneurs across Northern Ireland who are working on side projects outside of their 9-5 jobs, who want to launch them as start-ups.

We're excited to discover those individuals and teams who are solving problems and have the potential to make real breakthroughs with technology-based ventures.

We want to tap into the entrepreneurial DNA of this place and set some of the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs on a journey to perhaps create something special. We know this is possible from our other programmes.

In fact companies that have been through Ignite accelerators since 2011 have raised more than £20m in the past 12 months.

Propel is about helping participants create a viable business with potential to be successful but it's also about making the entrepreneurial process easier.

It can be a lonely road as a company founder so learning from your peers as part of the group going through the accelerator can be one of the most valuable parts of the experience.

We will also be leveraging Ignite's existing networking in the UK and internationally, giving the first cohort access to entrepreneurs who have grown and exited companies.

They'll include great Northern Ireland founders, but also entrepreneurs, mentors and investors from the UK and beyond who will be coming in to share their knowledge.

It is important for us that the accelerator helps to retain value within the Northern Ireland start-up ecosystem and at the same time provides access to external networks, more established markets and access to funding that helps them go global.

So for the next wave of restless wannabe entrepreneurs thinking about making that leap, I'd simply encourage you to put yourself forward for the Propel accelerator.

It is six months that will let you know if your idea could be the next big thing, to refine your offer, to hone your pitch and to get advice on avoiding the pitfalls that await every bright new tech prospect in the competitive global economy.

I started this article by asking the question when is the right time to commit to a new venture and take it from the project you do in the evenings to being a fully-fledged start-up business. It might be too early for some of you and others can't risk losing the stability of their 9-5 at the moment. But I hope that for some of you who are weighing up that question, the time is now.

  • Tristan Watson is managing director of Ignite. To find out more about the Propel programme please go to https://www.investni.com/ support-for-business/ propel-pre-accelerator.html
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