First Fridays event to connect start-ups across the island of Ireland

  • First Fridays is to be held in Belfast’s Ormeau Baths on Friday 7th October to connect start-up ecosystems across the island of Ireland. Ahead of the event, Sync NI chatted with Ian Browne, Managing Director of Ireland's national start-up accelerator.

    The First Fridays event, which runs in partnership with start-up and innovation hub Dogpatch Lab, will include talks from successful founders and connect attendees with mentors from global technology companies such as Google, Microsoft, Hubspot and Salesforce. 

    First Fridays was initially held in Dublin for four years but this year it has expanded to host events in Galway, Kerry, Cork and Skibbereen in the Republic.

    This October it further expands by hosting its first-ever event in Belfast for entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland, making it an all-island event for the first time.  

    Ian Browne tells us that the expansion to Northern Ireland has always been on the radar and the aim is to “bring the knowledge, network and expertise to founders across the whole island of Ireland.”

    Ian notes that the event is even broader than North and South and is also about connecting the UK and Europe. He explains: “It's great for Northern Irish and UK based founders to get access to European markets. Likewise, it's great for founders from Ireland to get access to the UK market. If we can start to put in place this connective tissue, it will allow a freer flow of knowledge, information, scales, talent, capital cross border, and that's better for everyone. It's about growing both sides of both economies.”

    The lack of a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland has been a driving factor for the expansion. Due to the ongoing political situation the government has given a lack of support to early stage start-ups, which Ian says “stops people from taking a chance on their idea.” 

    Recently, funding for the Ignite NI programme was withdrawn and there has been a lack of funding for similar programmes. Ian notes this diminishes the equality of opportunity for start-ups, especially for those who are in less favourable financial situations.

    Ian explains: “If you can afford to quit your job, to take a chance on your idea,  you'll continue to do that. If you need some support, then you effectively can't get out of the gate and the removal of that very first bit of government support is detrimental to the start-up ecosystem.”

    The First Fridays event aims to help ease these problems by increasing networks and access to both skills and capital. Ian tells us: “The intention was to add a bit more support for these founders and  generally create more positive stuff happening in Northern Ireland.” 

    Similar events have also been organised to help local start-ups. Organised by Gerard Donnelly, co-founder of Legitimate, Founders Night allows attendees to learn more about start-ups and network with other founders.The next Founders Night will take place in the Ormeau baths on Thursday 6th October. Ian adds that he would “encourage people to support this event” which “is really positive for the ecosystem.”

    Chaired by Jon Bradford Managing Partner at Dynamo Venture, First Fridays will feature a panel discussion with speakers including: Head of Regional Engagement at Royal Academy of Engineering Gillian Gregg, co-founder and CEO of INCISIV and professor of experimental psychology Cathy Craig, Partner at Techstart Ventures Jamie Andrews, and Investment Specialist at Technation Gary Davidson.

    Chris Armstrong, local co-Founder and CEO of Overwatch Research will also be speaking at the event.The software company was recently Acquired by San Francisco based Benchling. 

    Overwatch Research has been a noted success story for Belfast and Chris has been a strong advocate and role model for other entrepreneurs in the city.

    Ian explains: “This is a really good success story for any sort of prospective founders, or people who are at the start of the journey. This is a real life example of how you build a company from Northern Ireland, and how you get a feel for all the stuff that's available to you and how you access it globally.”

    Attendees to First Fridays will get bespoke one to one feedback from mentors, hear from local founders and build their network. 

    Ian concludes: “You tend to be more successful, the bigger network you have. So by coming you meet a bunch of like minded people that are going to support you going forward. Come for the advice but also come and meet as many people as you can. It's really beneficial.”

    About the author

    Aoife is a Sync NI writer with a previous background working in print, online and broadcast media. She has a keen interest in all things tech related. To connect with Aoife feel free to send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.

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