Interviews

Working in Tech Sector: Spotlight on William Curry, Commercial Lawyer with Arthur Cox

  • William Curry has been closely involved in some of the biggest commercial and capital investment projects in Northern Ireland - but a large portion of his work at the moment lies in the start-up space and helping companies prepare to scale-up.

    The Arthur Cox commercial partner often works with businesses right across the company’s lifecycle - from incorporation through to acquisition.

    Much of William’s work involves creating articles of association, looking at IP licensing and ensuring that the start-up has the necessary protections in place.

    “Once start-ups gain critical mass in terms of bringing in new customers, I may be involved in writing software licensing or SaaS agreements,” he says.

    “This can be quite complex with KPI's involved in service level agreements and detailed security standards.”

    William - who has been with Arthur Cox since 2005 - says start-up companies should carefully address the fundamentals of their business ahead of an initial meeting with a legal advisor.

    “If they've got a good business plan setting out their route to market, who their employees are and how they want to be constituted - that helps to speed up the process,” says William.

    But founders need to consider the worst-case scenario too.

    “It is essential for founders to think about what might happen if it all goes wrong, or if relationships break down. This isn't something that you automatically think about but this needs to be addressed early on.”

    “That’s one end of the spectrum - at the other, we work with companies on the acquisition side where start-ups ultimately get acquired,” he says.

    “We've acted for bigger tech companies on acquisitions that create large new organisations. And that involves looking at the due diligence right through to employment contracts.”

    William has worked with a range of public and private sector bodies, including C2K – a major ICT outsourcing and support contract, and he also advised DETI (now the Department for the Economy) on Project Kelvin and the procurement of new submarine and terrestrial ICT.

    He also led the team that shaped the procurement process and contract terms for the Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System - a £8.7 million state-of-the-art food-animal health and traceability system.

    The University of Cambridge graduate is also a member of the Catalyst Inc Knowledge Economy (KEI) Index steering group. Chaired by Scott Rutherford from Queen's University, the group also has representatives from Barclays, Ulster University, Invest NI, Bank Of Ireland, KPMG and Deloitte.

    He sees a lot of positivity around the knowledge economy landscape, particularly at the early stage. Indeed, the last KEI report noted a record 400 business starts.

    “In Northern Ireland, there is a lot of activity at the start-up stage and a lot of good ideas. The infrastructure and facilitation for that kind of development here are excellent,” says William.

    “As a region, we’re good at bringing people with an idea through to the basics of running the business.”

    But Northern Ireland still isn’t seeing enough of these start-ups graduate to become large enterprises. This is borne out by the KEI report which found that investment values remain relatively small despite what it described as “huge increases in activity”.

    “It's the scaling up where we still struggle a bit. As an economy we want to see businesses grow in such a way that we're able to bring them to the really significant venture capital funds,” he says.

    “My sense is that we have a lot of small, relatively early stage companies which hopefully in a number of years will progress to the next stage of seed investment and bigger funding rounds.”

    William is now coming into his third year with the Knowledge Economy steering group. The last KEI report contained some landmark research on the impact of automation on the local jobs market.

    Researchers estimated that up to 423,000 (50%) of jobs here could be affected by automation in the next decade. On the plus side, there will be a net gain via new jobs created driven by advances in big data, blockchain and IoT technology.

    “It's a great organisation to be involved in and it brings together individuals from lots of different Industries. It is very good for things like the future of education, what education should look like and what areas we should be focusing on.”

    For William, cyber security is one of the most exciting areas for new jobs in Northern Ireland with CSIT now “world-renowned in terms of cyber security”.

    But the supply of software engineers remains an issue.

    “At the minute there are large foreign and local companies crying out for software engineers,” says William.

    “In terms of graduates numbers, there just aren't enough engineers to fill all the posts that are out there.”

    There also remains a challenge in supporting graduates through to higher research degrees.

    “Hopefully we can see more people going through to PhD and more ideas coming forward that can be commercialised,” he says.  

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