Belfast Telegraph

Ministers lead mission to open doors in Silicon Valley for tech start-ups

By Yvette Shapiro

A team of technology entrepreneurs led by two Stormont ministers is pitching for business in California's Silicon Valley.

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell and Employment Minister Stephen Farry are heading up the NI Tech Mission, featuring some of Northern Ireland's most promising start-up companies.

Among those taking part in the week-long trip are Chris McClelland from Brewbot, a robot that brews beer, and Neil Hanley from Sirona, the inventor of PicoPUF, a tiny device that guarantees that even the cheapest microchip can be equipped with strong, unique authentication. The Queen's University spin-out company won the 2015 Invent Award.

New apps, groundbreaking medical technology and surfboards also feature on the product list offered by the 15 tech firms who are pitching their ideas to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in a bid to win lucrative contracts in the United States.

Jonathan Bell said there had been a 79% increase in exports to the United States, evidence that business is there to be won.

"The US is Northern Ireland's second biggest export market," said Mr Bell. "In 2014/15 over £1bn of goods were purchased from local Northern Ireland companies, a staggering increase of £461m on the previous year.

"It is clear, both from these latest figures and the recent examples of companies securing new business here, that there are many opportunities for those Northern Ireland businesses willing to invest the time and effort."

Ministers Bell and Farry joined the companies on a visit to WeWork, a shared office space in San Francisco, where the entrepreneurs received mentoring sessions with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, as well as 'dragon's den'-style access to investors.

Stephen Farry said: "The Tech Mission demonstrates to a wider audience Northern Ireland's capacity for innovation through research and development in a diverse range of disciplines.

"I am inspired by the number of participating companies which are university spin-outs, further emphasising the calibre of the universities and colleges in Northern Ireland and the skills of our people.

"I am confident this mission will help create additional investment in Northern Ireland and contribute to the growth of our economy, including encouraging further companies to consider Northern Ireland as an excellent place to do business.

"We have extensive support mechanisms available to help companies find the skilled workforce that they will need to grow and expand."

As part of the NI Tech Mission, companies will also be meeting potential distributors and business partners in key market sectors.

In addition, Jonathan Bell and Stephen Farry will meet a number of US government departments and agencies to explore ways to help strengthen trade and investment relationships with Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph