Belfast Telegraph

Pioneering tech firms on US mission to showcase products

By Lesley Houston

The cream of pioneering local businesses have been blazing a trail across the US as the first ever Belfast Tech Mission continues.

Twenty companies have joined the trip to California to present investors with a flavour of some amazing new technologies and products being developed here.

The mission, funded by Belfast City Council in partnership with Invest Northern Ireland, aims to showcase Belfast as a prime location for international investment and comes hot on the heels of the Northern Ireland Investment Conference.

The delegation, representing sectors from marketing to tourism, education to online publishing and stress management to sports performance, hopes to boost the number of Belfast technology companies selling and doing business in the US.

From dragging the magazine industry into the digital age to planning family meals through a unique web-app, the forward-thinking companies involved also hope to gain insight into gaining a foothold within lucrative US markets.

The local firms, led by Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, were yesterday in Palo Alto, where they unveiled their products and services before hundreds of venture capitalists including 150 senior executives from SVEN, a high-profile network representing some of the largest tech companies in the world.

The high-profile pitch followed a bootcamp in San Francisco where delegates attended a number of workshops and interactive mentoring sessions led by two of the top experts in California.

They heard personally from former Microsoft executive Alfredo Coppola and venture capitalist Chris Burry, founder of the multi-national Avande corporation.

Over the remainder of the week, the companies will take part in a number of trade shows in and around Silicon Valley, including the CTIA Mobile Con in San Francisco, DEMO Fall in Santa Clara and GigaOm Mobilize in San Francisco, as well as the prestigious Google Developers' Forum.

One-to-one meetings with potential investors and partners are also expected to take place.

Belfast City Council is supporting up to 50% of the travel and accommodation costs for each participating company.

The Belfast Tech Mission is part-funded by Invest Northern Ireland and the European Regional Development Fund under the Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland.

The buzz coming from across the Atlantic has already been audible on social media with delegates voicing great excitement from the business potential created by the event.

Chris McClelland, founder of one of the participating companies, Cargo, said yesterday on Twitter from Silicon Valley: "It's been such an amazing experience so far, and I feel we are only getting started."

A product design company which has created a beer brewing system managed through smartphones called brewbots, the locally based company head also tweeted: "We need to find (or build) some LA/San Diego bars that make beer with armies of @brewbots!"

In profile: Beacon

Among the cutting-edge firms blazing the trail for Northern Ireland are Beacon, a company which has created a simple tool-set to revolutionise the magazine production process.

Their products aim to enable anyone to produce digital magazines on tablet form, mobile and on desktop – with the ease of posting a blog.

The brainchild of brothers Eoin and Kevin McGrath, Eoin said the current tools for creating magazines are "stuck in the print ages" but that tablet devices like the iPad have changed the way people consume content.

With a background in "the more techy side" opposite Kevin, who possesses the design expertise, Eoin said the brothers were keen to collaborate in software services when they identified a niche.

Based at Belfast's Cathedral Quarter, Eoin said the pair drafted prototypes to great acclaim.

Beacon allows you to create a magazine with one click, choose how each page looks from a set of templates or design your own and add your content."

In profile: is another online tool that has turned a 25-year culinary career as home economics teacher into an award-winning business.

A food writer for the Huffington Post, Sian Breslin, who hails from Wales but now lives in Ireland, has used a unique approach to help families' cook plans to ensure they are healthy and convenient for up to seven days in advance, using a colour coded system via a web-app.

Awards from culinary experts have described her plans as the "most innovative digital solution for home cooks globally" and the "most insightful and intriguing internet innovation".

Others have called her plans, which include a grocery planning system, as "ingenious".

Where Jamie Oliver succeeded in changing school dinners, Sian's Plan aims change the way home cooks shop, while saving money and using the best affordable produce.

She is also intent on protecting the health of the next generation of children.

Belfast Telegraph