A high level of talent, close proximity to major financial centres and competitive operating costs are just three of the reasons why Northern Ireland has huge potential to win significant inward investment, to grow its indigenous digital businesses and to push up wages.
That is according to speakers at this year’s Digital DNA event which is taking place at St George’s market in Belfast today.
Leo Johnson, Partner and Disruption Lead at PwC, said the technology sector in Northern Ireland is already exhibiting signs of exciting growth.
“I’ve been coming here for five years and there is something hugely interesting going on, particularly at the edge of innovation. For PwC globally this (Belfast) is tech central; it’s where the best and brightest love to be.
“What gives me optimism about this place is you’ve got the DNA, you’ve got the universities and you’ve got a better than evens chance of something pretty good falling into place.”
Henry Helgeson, CEO and Founder of US payments company Cayan which has a base in Belfast, said the growing knowledge of the digital payment sector here will draw investment to Northern Ireland.
“Companies realise you have the payments talent here and that’s a very valuable thing. There’s a foundation of payments knowledge here that isn’t available in other cities; it’s not something you find in a box.”
He said Belfast holds a draw for employees within Cayan globally.
“I can’t tell you how many employees I have in the US who have asked to work from Belfast.”
Brendan Monaghan, CEO of Neueda, spoke about disruptive technology, outlining key developments, forces and trends that are shaping the way his business, and the tech sector globally, operates:
“Over the past 20 years, technology has advanced at an astonishing rate and globally we are in the midst of a particularly disruptive era. Digital DNA is a valuable forum for tech businesses to look at the trends impacting on our sector globally – from the rise of AI to the increasing ‘gig economy’ approach to working and the changing needs of the millennial employee. To stay competitive and retain the best talent, we need to constantly challenge ourselves and our services and actively encourage more people into a career in IT. Combined with research and investment, the future of Northern Ireland’s tech sector will depend upon that disruptive, global thinking.”
Meanwhile, Mike Barrett, the founder of US company Unosquare, which set up a base here last year, said a “storm” created by Brexit is on the horizon for the London digital sector which will struggle to retain talent after Brexit, leaving a huge opportunity for Northern Ireland to fill the void.
He said: “A storm is coming to London which is going to create phenomenal wage growth opportunities in Belfast. In January I’m going to hire a person to solely focus on the London market in a senior business development role and that person will only sell our Belfast team.”
He pointed to “skills in abundance”, competitive operating costs, focused clusters, widespread superfast broadband, economic conditions “with a lot of headroom for growth” and “four party unity to keep the border open and the customs union intact” as additional reasons why Northern Ireland has significant advantages over other near shore locations.
He dismissed any issue that the political situation at Stormont would have an impact on the willingness to invest.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there ready to write big cheques and we’re aren’t bothered by your history. It’s not an issue; we don’t care about the past.”
He said focusing on building clusters of expertise – such as in digital services for the healthcare and financial services sector – is key to drawing investment and growing indigenous businesses.
“Northern Ireland is not a huge population so it can never be all things to all people but it can specialise in clusters. If it’s focused on digital transformation for healthcare and financial services then many companies can bring business here to Belfast.”
Digital DNA 2018 aims to showcase Belfast’s prosperous tech sector, covering marketing, data, cyber-security, fintech, innovation and devops topics – delivered through an exciting programme of keynote talks, interactive workshops, panel discussions and an exhibition.
For the first time, Digital DNA Is being powered by principal partner PwC, with the firm sharing its global technology experience and professional know-how with the Digital DNA audience. Other sponsors include Allstate, Belfast City Council, Convergys, Danske Bank, Kainos and The Open University.
Other speakers at Digital DNA include: Aoife Caulfield, Emerging Client Solutions UK & Europe at Twitter; Joanna Jarjue, BBC’s The Apprentice; Rioch Edwards-Brown, founder of So You Wanna Be in TV; Naomi Timperley, Director at Tech North Advocates; Sarah Hooper, CRM Director at Edit; Mike Barrett, Founder and CEO of Unosquare; Henry Helgeson, Founder and CEO of Cayan; Kieran Flanagan, VP of Marketing at Hubspot.