Startups find room to grow at Danske Bank’s city centre hub

  • The Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub has become home to some of Northern Ireland’s most exciting new tech and digital startups. Here Sync NI profiles three companies at different stages of development.

    It is a little over nine months since Danske Bank and Catalyst opened the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub, a co-working space for Northern Ireland’s digital and fintech startups.

    In that time, the Hub has become a thriving city centre location where tech entrepreneurs are meeting, learning and availing of the resources on offer from the two lead partners on the project.

    While it is undoubtedly a great workspace, it is the entrepreneurs and company founders in the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub who make it what it is, so what better way to get a feel for the place than to hear some of their stories?

    Daniel McGlade is the founder of Oroson, an online, visual collaboration platform that brings content, tools and communication together in one central hub to increase productivity.

    The company’s goal is to save organisations time by changing the way that teams work together online and it has timed its entry into the market right at a time when there’s a wave of interest in flexible working across multiple industries.

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    Daniel explains that Oroson has pivoted away from its initial target sector, higher education, to the corporate market after realising its product had far wider appeal.

    Daniel sees any sector suffering from “information overload” as a potential target. Today it has customers in the professional services sector as well as the likes of the IFA, Boojum, Mirror Media, Sport NI and some of the big four consulting firms. While mainly in the UK, being a cloud-based solution, Oroson has users from “Panama to Canada”.

    “There has been a massive trend for remote working and that provides a great opportunity for us to solve the problem it creates. A number of businesses are increasing the use of mobile offices and migrating to the cloud as their teams work in different locations outside of a central office,” he says.

    “The creation of spaces like Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub at Danske Bank illustrates how work is changing. Traditional office spaces are outdated for many organisations but it can be hard for them to move to more flexible arrangements. We are providing a digital solution to that problem and we’re using our own product to operate that way ourselves. The Hub provides a perfect support and resource for us as we’re able to use it when we bring the whole team together.”

    The company has already completed a £1.2m funding round and is about to close another £1.2m round, with plans in place to undertake a series A-round of £5m in the very near future.

    “Our customer numbers are steadily growing and we are getting a lot of organic growth from customer referrals. The business is in good shape.”

    Digital platform Afterbook was born out of Jess Dornan Lynas’ own experience of losing her mother when she was just 19 and her determination to keep alive her mum’s memory, both for herself and her children. In only a short time it has amassed over 1000 users in 62 countries, with the US and the UK & Ireland accounting for 35% each of the user base.

    “We want to enable people around the world to tell their life stories and the life stories of their loved ones in a sensitive and lovely way,” says Jess.

    “I founded Afterbook with my own experience at the core - dealing with bereavement and grief and wanting to honour mum. But it also made me realise the fragility of life and the need to chronicle life for our kids. Not in a morbid or maudlin way; in a celebratory way. Today, people only start writing content when they’ve had a diagnosis, as we saw recently with the journalist Rachael Bland.”

    Jess came to the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub after winning a desk space through the ‘TechStars’ competition organised by Danske Bank and Women in Business.

    “As well as being a great space for meeting potential investors and our own team, the Hub has opened up a brilliant network and I’ve found everyone really helpful. As a business that is trying to create a community of people who are talking about their experiences, it has been really useful to come into a place where people all have their own creative endeavours going on.”

    Jess believes there is definitely a market for Afterbook and she and has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Indiegogo platform. It is, she says, an opportunity for people to be engaged and involved in shaping the future of the platform as they build their team.

    Jess is also working on a B2B model and sees potential partnerships with businesses like funeral directors, life insurers, the education sector, and corporates, offering a tangible and valued service.

    In the short-term though, she’s targeting the consumer market.

    “We want to offer everyone the opportunity to write their own story, to prompt them to journal as they go in a dedicated space. That’s starting to happen on social media, but those platforms are not a dedicated and respectful platform for that purpose. Afterbook exists for the story of your life, your own personal narrative.”

    YOMO has developed a number of products since being founded by Gavin Shields and his three co-founders five years ago. It started with a simple savings app called PiggyPot that predated the rise of online challenger banks like Starling and Monzo, when online investment apps were very new. When those banks began to take over the market Gavin moved on to other products they don’t provide.

    Currently the business is working on a new high-return investment product that will be delivered direct to the consumer. Offering higher interest rates, Gavin believes the product will be popular.

    With a background in tech and finance as both founder and investor, Gavin knows it is important to be nimble and keep developing YOMO’s offering.

    “When we launched our first product there was a big opportunity to innovate more quickly than the traditional banks, but now we’re innovating alongside some very strong competitors. It is possible, but it’s hard to do outside London’s financial centre and it takes a lot of investment,” he explains.

    “So from Belfast that means we need a niche. We need to pick smaller groups of customers and do what we do really well, better than the others.”

    The business is currently looking to invest in marketing to grow its user base and is focused on developing new products that sit on top of standard savings.

    “We want to get people to do more with their cash and to make it more appealing to save in the first place,” he says.

    “We’re searching for a scalable, repeatable business model that will enable us to launch new products that provide people, and the company, with a new way to make money.”

    Gavin says he too has benefited from the environment at Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub.

    “It is a great workspace with a nice atmosphere. Both Catalyst and Danske Bank have been very positive about what we’re doing and helped make some useful introductions.”

    This feature originally featured in the summer 2019 edition of the Sync NI magazine. You can download it here and sign up to receive the next magazine here.

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