My burn­ing am­bi­tion to find a uni­corn in NI

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Platform - By­ge­orginao’leary, Fin­techen­voy, North­ern Ire­land Ge­orgina O’leary is the di­rec­tor of in­no­va­tion, re­search and de­vel­op­ment at All­state and fintech en­voy for North­ern Ire­land @fin­techen­voyni

As a se­nior di­rec­tor in All­state NI, one of the biggest com­pa­nies in North­ern Ire­land, I get some strange looks when I meet peo­ple and tell them my burn­ing am­bi­tion is to find a uni­corn and that I think North­ern Ire­land is the best place in the world to do it.

I can un­der­stand the con­fu­sion. For those not in the know, the idea of me search­ing through the streets of Belfast for a myth­i­cal horned-horse must seem quite odd. The looks of con­fu­sion tend to move to looks of ex­cite­ment when I tell them what a “uni­corn” is.

When I talk about a uni­corn, what I mean is a start-up val­ued at $1bn or more. The looks of ex­cite­ment tend to turn to scoffs of dis­be­lief when I as­sure peo­ple that NI is the per­fect place to find one. At first glance there isn’t much sim­i­lar­ity be­tween La­gan Val­ley and Sil­i­con Val­ley af­ter all.

What a lot of peo­ple don’t re­alise is that NI is per­fectly placed to take ad­van­tage of a revo­lu­tion that is sweep­ing the world.

Fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy or fintech is the term for the apps, com­puter pro­grams and other tech­nolo­gies that sup­port and im­prove how we bank and ac­cess fi­nance. It cur­rently con­trib­utes £6.6bn to the UK econ­omy and is only grow­ing. Ever used on­line bank­ing? You’ve used fintech. Shop on­line? You’ve used fintech.

The UK Gov­ern­ment has recog­nised the po­ten­tial of this in­dus­try and in the last budget, Chan­cel­lor of the Ex­che­quer Phillip Ham- mond re-af­firmed his com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing the UK is at the fore­front of this new tech­no­log­i­cal revo­lu­tion.

This com­mit­ment has been matched with the ap­point­ment of fintech en­voys to pro­mote the in­dus­try in dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try. I was hon­oured to be cho­sen as en­voy for NI and I’ve seen first-hand the in­cred­i­ble po­ten­tial here.

One of the most ex­cit­ing things hap­pen­ing in NI right now is the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween large and small com­pa­nies to in­no­vate and drive the in­dus­try for­ward.

The re­cently opened Cat­a­lyst Belfast Fintech Hub at Danske Bank and the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Bar­clays and the Ormeau Baths are both ex­am­ples of large firms pro­vid­ing re­sources and sup­port to start-ups to help them de­velop.

Belfast has start-ups that are us­ing these col­lab­o­ra­tive op­por- tu­ni­ties to help them com­pete on a global scale.

The fintech revo­lu­tion has also been recog­nised by our fan­tas­tic fur­ther and higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions. Col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween busi­nesses and these has led Ul­ster Univer­sity to be­gin de­vel­op­ing the first fintech de­gree.

Ul­ster Univer­sity and Queen’s Univer­sity Belfast are in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned and the qual­ity of our fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions such as North West Re­gional Col­lege make North­ern Ire­land in­cred­i­bly at­trac­tive to in­vestors.

Just last week the an­nounce­ment of 100 new jobs at fintech firm Op­tions in Belfast shows the con­fi­dence in this grow­ing sec­tor.

There are al­ready dozens of uni­corns in Lon­don and some in Scot­land. North­ern Ire­land is al­ready an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised cen­tre of ex­cel­lence in cy­ber­se­cu­rity and the UK Gov­ern­ment is com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing North­ern Ire­land takes full ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­ni­ties fintech presents.

Our tal­ented pool of work­ers, fan­tas­tic ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, our vi­brant and en­er­getic start-up scene and the close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween start-ups and big com­pa­nies means North­ern Ire­land is the per­fect place to find a fintech uni­corn, or even start one your­self.

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