Views and announcements

Investors drawn to Northern Ireland’s expanding tech sector

  • Photo: Susan Nightingale, UK Network Director, Northern Ireland British Business Bank.

    By Susan Nightingale, UK Network Director, Northern Ireland British Business Bank.

    A recent promotional campaign from Tourism NI proudly declared; ‘We’ve Come a Long Way’.

    It was in part-recognition of tourism statistics showing that visitors to Northern Ireland spent £1billion in the year prior to the pandemic, which is a significant increase from the £337million spent in 2009.

    With Tourism NI planning to grow visitor spend to £2billion by 2030, it was apt of the campaign to sign off by saying; ‘But We’ve Only Just Begun’.

    Admittedly with fewer trips to the Giant’s Causeway, there are similarities to be drawn between our tourism success story and the burgeoning technology sector here in Northern Ireland.

    Belfast has recently been named among the UK’s fastest growing tech cities in the UK’s Digital Economic Council’s Levelling Up Tech Power League.[1]

    What started out as a small cluster of start-ups has grown to become a key economic driver in Northern Ireland with the upward trajectory showing no signs of plateauing despite the current economic headwinds.

    Northern Ireland is now home to over 2000 digital tech companies employing over 21,000 people, while our well-established research institutes support the growing level of expertise in the sector.[2]

    The British Business Bank recently released our annual Small Business Equity Tracker which revealed a record year for equity investment in Northern Ireland’s smaller businesses, with the number of announced deals rising by 44% and their value surging to £88million.

    According to the report there were 39 announced investment deals in 2021, whilst a low base this is an increase of 44% on the previous year with total value increasing by 240%.

    The report underlined just how well Northern Ireland’s tech sector is performing with 2021 equity investment valued at almost £29.5million, up from almost £16million in 2020.

    Breaking this down across the tech industry, the report reveals that in 2021 the software sector completed deals worth nearly £14m, medical technology just over £8.5m and other tech/IP based businesses received nearly £2.5m.  Whilst the number of deals in these sub-sectors haven’t notably risen over the last three years, it is encouraging to see the investment value increase across all of them in 2021

    The findings from this year’s Small Business Equity Trackers are significant for two main reasons.

    The first thing is that over the past three years there hasn’t been a significant rise in the number of deals taking place in Northern Ireland and more work needs to be done to raise awareness on the financial support ecosystem which is available to our smaller businesses.

    Second, the marketplace here in Northern Ireland is maturing and becoming less dependent on a small number of funds with increased numbers of investors making investments.

    Non-domestic investors are increasingly seeing Northern Ireland as a great place to do business, which may explain the notable increase in the value of equity investment across Northern Ireland seen over the last few years.

    Businesses seeking to scale-up can now build networks beyond Northern Ireland and reach the next stage on their growth journey by accessing larger funding rounds.

    We have some fantastic tech companies who can really punch their weight as more outside investors look to Northern Ireland.

    Just look at companies like Cloudsmith and B-Secur. Cloudsmith, which offers customers the ability to manage software via the cloud, announced it had raised US $15million including investment from Tiger Global, the New York based investment powerhouse.  

    B-Secur, the heart health technology company which straddles both the software and medical tech sectors, raised US $12million in 2021, including for the first time investment from US fund, First Capital Ventures.

    Cloudsmith intends to hire up to 60 new staff members while B-Secur is using the investment to further develop key technology and accelerate its commercial expansion within the United States in the consumer and medical industries.

    Northern Ireland has clearly further established its reputation as a tech hub, and we at the British Business Bank will continue to provide businesses of the future with the capital they need to start up and thrive.

    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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