IgniteNI's Ian Browne: 'NI is best place to create start-ups'

  • Photo: Ignite NI's 2020 Accelerator cohort

    Sync NI spoke to Ian Browne, Chief Operating Officer of Ignite NI, regarding Northern Ireland’s evolving start-up sector and the biggest obstacles facing such scale-ups within the local tech industry.

    Ignite NI is an organisation that every year, helps 30 start-ups launch and scale their businesses. It is backed by economic growth agency, Invest Northern Ireland.

    In the past three years, Ignite has helped over 100 early-stage companies not only push towards the £1m revenue barrier, but also adopt a professional approach to raising investment and scaling their businesses. 

    The definition of a start-up, is a company at its ‘emergence stage’, thus beginning to raise money for future developments.

    The decisions that are made now can affect the next three to four years and will determine whether these emerging tech firms will succeed or not, according to Ian.

    “There’s a high skill base in Northern Ireland and a lot of significant talent, things can go from 0 to 100 quickly in NI,’ said Ian.

    “At the moment, Northern Ireland is probably the best place to start a company as there is so much support.”

    RELATED: IgniteNI's 2021 Accelerator cohort has raised six times more investment than previous years

    A successful business is determined by talent and capital. In NI and its capital city Belfast in particular, technology firms are growing so quickly that the region now stands out as a serious technical talent pool, which has not gone unnoticed by global technology firms who are locating their software engineering teams in the area.

    Business Leader Magazine even reports that the most successful place to take a company from zero to £1m in revenue is Northern Ireland.

    The level of support start-ups can receive here is significant, with other local organisations offering programmes and support too, such as Catalyst and Startacus.

    The further education ecosystem here is also renowned for producing innovative entrepreneurs, with Queen’s University last year being ranked as the #1 uni for creating successful spin-outs, and Northern Ireland overall being named as a leader of university STEM spin-outs.

    RELATED: Tech Craic: Ignite NI's Chris McClelland on NI's start-up scene

    However, Ian pointed out some of the things early-stage founders can overlook when building their business from scratch.

    “When starting a business, mistakes are incredibly common and business owners have many challenges to overcome, such as a lack of venture growth and a lack of people. People who may have come to NI may not have experience in the country, or the correct skills and knowledge. Mistakes are easily solved, and people do not realise mistakes when making them.

    “This is one of the most important lessons people involved in the tech sector learn when they are building companies from the ground up.”

    Some of the most common mistakes Ian believes start-ups make include:

    • Making a business plan (they are redundant for early stage companies by the time they are written. A well structured memo or deck is all that is required).
    • Lack of finances
    • Failing to monitor your progress
    • Ignoring technology
    • Neglecting online marketing
    • Inadequate resources

    RELATED: Tech Craic: Catalyst's Neil Allen on enhancing NI's innovation community

    “Although creating a start-up can be stressful and challenging, there are things tech leaders can do to ensure their business is successful,” he continued.

    “Commitment and support can help to ensure the start-up is a success, and allows a start-up idea to turn into a reality. They should believe in a hands-on process, involving themselves directly and becoming closely involved with the business.

    “Optimism is key as negativity can slow down the process and cause the start-up owner to lack motivation. Thus, working with companies who have extremely high levels of knowledge can help others to learn more key skills and develop their business further.

    “Honesty is super important in start-ups," Ian concluded. 

    About the author

    Rosa is a Sync NI writer who is currently studying journalism at Ulster University. She has an interest in technological advancements and Women in Tech. To connect with Rosa, feel free to send her an email or connect with her on Twitter.

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