Ulster Business

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The Northern Ireland firms innovating and investing through the pandemic

Many of Northern Ireland’s burgeoning tech firms have seen both investment and innovation during this pandemic – sometimes assisting in the fight against Covid-19 directly. Ulster Business looks at some of those continuing to make significant waves here


Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI with Jonny Clarke, founder of Locate a Locum

Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI with Jonny Clarke, founder of Locate a Locum

Dr Vicky Kell, Invest NI with Jonny Clarke, founder of Locate a Locum


In an industry which has seen surges of late amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Locate a Locum is investing in its business further still.

The Belfast software firm is investing more than £1.3m in R&D and the creation of 14 new jobs. Locate a Locum has established itself in the retail pharmacy market across Great Britain with its on-demand booking platform.

And having added automated payment functionality, the company is now investing in new product development to diversify its product offering across the healthcare market to include health and social care workers, opticians and dentists.

Locate a Locum currently deals with more than 8,000 pharmacies, including Boots, Superdrug, Well and Lloyds. The platform has more than 12,000 registered locum pharmacists, which represents the largest pool of locum pharmacists in the UK.

“This latest investment in automated payment functionality through our end-to-end workforce management platform is our most ambitious product development to date,” founder, Jonny Clarke, said. “Payments to locums are still processed manually so there is a gap in the market for a full service.  The benefit of this is obvious, especially in the current times.”

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US tech firm Aflac says it’s ahead of its target to grow its Belfast workforce to 150 over the next three years.

Marking a year in Northern Ireland, Aflac has now expanded to 65 staff here. It specialises in supplemental insurance and works primarily across the US and Japan.

The firm, which had been based at River House in the city centre, has now signed a 10-year lease for City Quays 2 at Belfast Harbour.

“We’re pleased with the exceptional progress and success so far in Belfast and delighted with how well our teams are working on a global basis, delivering exceptional technical solutions that directly benefit our growing customer base,” Aflac executive vice-president, Virgil Miller, said.

“Our people and our culture are important to us, and with the local team we have on board in Belfast, we are confident that we made the right decision to invest in Northern Ireland.”

Aflac employs around 4,700 staff in the US and 11,000 globally.”

“Belfast has quickly become a part of the Aflac story, and we hope to play a part in Belfast’s story in return, “Aflac NI managing director, Keith Farley, said. “We’re proud of our achievements in our first year – and we’re only getting started.”


Insurance IT firm Liberty IT saw its turnover grow by over 8% to almost £47m last year and says it is preparing for an even better 2020 in spite of the current pandemic.

The company, based in Adelaide Street in Belfast which employs more 500 staff throughout Ireland, said in its financial statement for 2019 that it “continues to show strong operating profits” while investment in new resources and projects will put it in good standing next year. The company, which is headed by William Hamilton in Belfast, saw sales rise from £43.37m in 2018 to £46.96m last year.

Its pre-tax profits sat at £6.4m, down from 2018’s £8m. In the report it said recent investments will allow it to embrace future technological developments within the sector.

Liberty IT develops a wide range of both specialist and enterprise scale software exclusively for its US parent company, Liberty Mutual Insurance through creativity, problem-solving and a commitment to excellence.


Another newcomer to NI is Dublin-based data protection business Sytorus, which is setting up a new distributed business services team here, creating 13 new jobs across Northern Ireland.

The company’s data privacy compliance platform enables organisations to prevent data breaches, address regulatory risks and demonstrate compliance with rapidly changing global privacy regulations. It’s the company’s first investment in Northern Ireland and is part of its plans to grow in international markets.

The business provides GDPR and data privacy solutions for organisations in retail, hospitality, not-for-profit, medical and clinical research, financial services, local government and government agencies. 

“The move by more businesses to shift services online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic further complicates compliance with data privacy laws such as GDPR,” Dr John Ghent, chief executive, Sytorus, said.

“Our new team will help us meet the rising demand for data privacy and data protection solutions and services across the globe. Support from Invest Northern Ireland, including expert insight into the talent already on offer, and emerging from local universities, made Northern Ireland a clear choice for us.”


Tech start-up Mountain Technologies Ltd managed to secure a significant investment from a group of HBAN angel investors.

The investment will be used to market and launch its connected ski pass system designed for ski resort operators worldwide.

The global ski and snowboarding market is growing, with more than 125 million people engaged in the sports.

LifePass system was created with the vision of utilising technology to make the outdoors safer, but not forget that people go to the mountains to get away from tech. It has been developed so it does not require a mobile phone to operate, allowing its user to have the technology but in a passive way.

The company pitched to an HBAN Ulster event earlier this year and following that pitch has now secured a scale up size investment from six locally-based angel investors and Co Fund II.

“We are pleased to have secured the backing of a number of very experienced investors who all strongly believe in our business,” Pete McFetridge, founder of Mountain Technologies, said.

As we move from the testing phase of LifePass to supplying the solution to customers, we will be investing in our sales and marketing.


And amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Northern Ireland company, Alpha PH, launched a new swab test for Covid-19 that reveals results within 15 minutes.

The test has been brought to the NI market by three Northern Ireland businessmen who have developed a partnership with European bio-technology company, Alpha Pharma.

As it was announced, it secured orders for 20,000 units from companies, sporting organisations and healthcare facilities across the UK and Ireland.

“As one of the leading bio-technology companies in the EU, Alpha Pharma is best known for its production and distribution of blood analysis systems, most commonly used in the detection and monitoring of diabetes,” Alpha PH director, Kevin Sweeney, said.

“Through a mutual connection, we heard about Alpha Pharma’s work back in April. Being based in Italy, the company had witnessed the devastating effects of coronavirus first-hand, and the business quickly pivoted its expertise, resources and technology to the trial and development of Covid-19 testing.

“Alpha Pharma’s first antibodies test is now widely used in medical settings and manufacturing in Italy and further afield, and we believe that these tests could really make a difference to public bodies and companies here in NI as we all try to navigate the future, ensuring safe workplaces and environments in the months ahead.”

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