Declan Barry: Why businesses should choose Belfast as their tech base

  • Photo: ExportExplore's Declan is pictured here with Donna Linehan from bespoke business service, VenYou.

    Declan Barry of ExportExplore and Agile Growth Systems has over 15 years’ experience in the technology sector in Northern Ireland, as well as internationally. Today, Declan talks to Sync NI about the £1bn tech sector that’s vital to the Northern Ireland economy and why businesses should choose Belfast as their tech base. 

    So Declan, what is your background in the tech world?

    I started in the financial services industry working to integrate new pipeline and customer service management technology into UK-wide organisations, before having the privilege to work with Invest Northern Ireland, promoting the region as a destination for new and innovative technology to be developed.

    We should be very proud to watch brands such as Chicago Merchantile Exchange, Rapid 7, and Cybersource arrive in NI and expand.

    Finally, my companies, ExportExplore and Agile Growth Systems, work directly with both product-based and SAAS based technology companies. We support them developing their sales proposition, complete appropriate market research and launch into new markets with a managed level of risk. 

    Why do you think Northern Ireland has a great tech ecosystem?

    Many factors play into the strength and depth of the NI ecosystem, compared to our neighbours to the South and East. 

    NI has worked its way up the technology value chain from the early days of the initial Citi Group FDI investment, which carried out lower-value functions, and over the years, we have proven we can deliver more and to a higher standard.

    We now enjoy an environment where cutting edge work is being carried out by some of the most talented and in-demand developers and engineers in Europe. 

    You've talked before about the importance of having the right infrastructure to support a new business, but why is this so essential?

    We all know the story of what happens when a castle is built on sand. Without the significant investment required to install robust and resilient infrastructure, neither indigenous nor international firms would be able to grow.          

    Geographically, we’re in a great position with fast and convenient travel possible to major European hubs like Dublin and London. Access to these hubs create the scaling opportunity for those growing a business, frequently taking advantage of lower operating costs (approx 30%).

    These elements combined with significant investment from government departments, Invest Northern Ireland and our FE Colleges and Universities, harness the human capital in the region and allow them to connect via an advanced communications network with 99% accessibility.

    Why have so many FDIs chosen the Scottish Provident Building in Belfast as their home?

    People do not always appreciate the level of risk that’s involved when a company from abroad decides to relocate or expand operations into new territory. They face a plethora of issues from talent to telecoms which have to be resolved over a relatively short period, and usually remotely. 

    By taking a serviced office at SPB, FDIs can focus on the task in hand, which is establishing and growing their business in NI.

    “SPB and its bespoke business service, VenYou, headed up by Client Services Director, Donna Linehan, offers inward investors the flexibility and support required, and as the business scales up or down depending on how their launch plan performs, they know that their needs can be satisfied.’

    Its location in Belfast city centre is also appealing; with easy access to bus and train stations and airports. The building is avery beautiful building which encompasses many like-minded businesses and with its private terrace and many kitchens, there are lots of opportunities to network and chat.

    Do you think it is essential to work in the right environment? Do tech people prefer to work in isolation? 

    Tech people are just like everyone else. While some jobs can be solitary, there are far broader responsibilities that the modern 'techie' deals with in terms of project management, customer service and the creative elements of problem-solving and engineering solutions. These frequently work best in teams. Despite the significant impact of COVID and "zooming" becoming commonplace, it’s no substitution for face-to-face interactions, and who would not want those interactions to be in a safe, and comfortable location?

    What does the next 12 – 24 months hold for this sector?

    If we rewind to January, there was a reasonably clear development path for technology in NI with critical pillars such as cybersecurity, big data with a few niches in the area of healthcare. 

    Post-COVID, there has been a significant acceleration, and the challenges that business had planned to spend years developing solutions to are required to be solved immediately. The public dependence on technology, increased bandwidth usage and more complex systems being adopted faster by demographics who would traditionally be less likely to take them.

    In terms of specific developments, this could drive a significant push in AI, particularly in the digital B2C space, providing a more store-like experiential interface. We could also see a massive movement towards opensource as remote working coders may drive forward with personal projects and entrepreneurial activities. 

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