Cat­a­lyst Inc

Elaine Smyth, Direc­tor of In­no­va­tion at Cat­a­lyst, high­lights im­por­tance of new ideas for busi­ness growth

Belfast Telegraph - Top 100 Northern Ireland Companies - - CONTENTS -

In­no­va­tion is at the heart of suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies. This is ev­i­dent with the busi­nesses that have re­turned in this year’s Top 100 list and in­deed with the others who have made their 2019 de­but. At Cat­a­lyst, we put in­no­va­tion at the fore­front of ev­ery­thing we do. From the pro­grammes we cre­ate, to the en­trepreneur­s who use our cam­puses, even in the build­ings we de­sign. We have 174 on-cam­pus com­pa­nies, 900 en­trepreneur­s, 39 part­ners and hun­dreds of men­tors and ex­perts pro­vid­ing time and ex­per­tise. Our goal is to build a strong con­nected com­mu­nity in­spired by ex­cep­tional workspaces al­low­ing en­trepreneur­s, re­searchers and en­ter­prises to in­no­vate.

In a time when ev­ery­thing is chang­ing the need for in­no­va­tion has never been greater. Banks are be­com­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, data is be­ing cap­tured and an­a­lysed con­tin­u­ously from some of the most unusual places. Even bi­cy­cle light com­pa­nies are be­com­ing data an­a­lyt­ics com­pa­nies and be­com­ing a source of in­tel­li­gence for smart ci­ties. Did you know that even smart bins are a thing?

Here in NI it is rel­a­tively easy to start a busi­ness, but to grow and scale a suc­cess­ful busi­ness that makes a se­ri­ous im­pact on the world stage, this is a lot more dif­fi­cult.

At Cat­a­lyst we want to make it eas­ier for North­ern Ire­land com­pa­nies in the Knowl­edge Econ­omy to not sim­ply ex­ist, but to achieve the greatness they are ca­pa­ble of. SMES make up 75% of the NI econ­omy. We be­lieve some SMES have the po­ten­tial scale and be­come global lead­ers.

I feel in­spired and en­cour­aged ev­ery­day with the com­pa­nies that are al­ready grow­ing, rais­ing money and aim­ing for greatness based in Cat­a­lyst and in­deed across North­ern Ire­land. Com­pa­nies such as Plot­box based in our Bal­ly­mena ECOS cam­pus has won global customers af­ter that chang­ing the face of death care man­age­ment for ceme­ter­ies, bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy com­pany B-se­cur that is im­pact­ing the au­to­mo­tive and health sec­tors, Neu­rovalens who raised one of the largest investment­s by a tech firm, spe­cialises in com­bin­ing neu­ro­science and tech­nol­ogy to tackle some of the most preva­lent health is­sues af­fect­ing the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion.

In these days of dis­rup­tion, the most in­cred­i­ble opportunit­ies de­velop. The en­trepreneur­s and their start-ups can re­act quickly and get to mar­ket be­fore well-es­tab­lished com­pa­nies.

The re­cent NI Deal Tracker re­port, it was re­vealed that com­pa­nies in North­ern Ire­land raised £28.8m in 2018, a de­cline of 12% from 2017 but, en­cour­ag­ingly, it found a small up­lift in Ven­ture Cap­i­tal be­ing at­tracted from out­side North­ern Ire­land. Forty-nine com­pa­nies at­tracted in­vest­ment of at least £100k, with the av­er­age in­vest­ment fig­ure at £565k, how­ever, as in 2017 there were no investment­s over £5m into a sin­gle com­pany

which is part of an in­vest­ment tar­get plan by nu­mer­ous fi­nan­cial firms here.

There is no time for com­pla­cency and at Cat­a­lyst we are see­ing the de­ter­mi­na­tion from the com­pa­nies in our com­mu­nity to en­sure they are po­si­tioned to col­lab­o­rate, sup­port and learn to­gether. As Hi­lary Clin­ton of­ten quotes, “It takes a vil­lage to raise a child”, it takes a well-con­nected com­mu­nity for busi­nesses to achieve more to­gether than work­ing in­de­pen­dently.

Cor­po­rates are now valu­ing the start-ups in a way that isn’t threat­en­ing. Start-ups are now ac­cess­ing cor­po­rates and gov­ern­ments with greater ease.

One of our greatest chal­lenges faced by in­no­va­tion com­pa­nies if that of tal­ent. Govern­ment and in­dus­try need to work to­gether on ad­dress­ing pro­vi­sion. Re­cently we were in in­spired to hear that 20 years ago the Ir­ish govern­ment agreed to dou­ble the num­ber of com­puter science grad­u­ates. A coura­geous move such as this is much needed in the north.

In this year’s Knowl­edge Econ­omy Re­port, an in­de­pen­dent re­port Cat­a­lyst pub­lishes an­nu­ally, the good news is that for a fifth con­sec­u­tive year North­ern Ire­land is the 2nd fastest grow­ing of the UK re­gions in terms of ac­tiv­ity.

How­ever, it also shows that we need to keep work­ing on har­ness­ing in­no­va­tion within busi­ness, im­prov­ing skills and cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which we can sup­port tal­ented start-ups to get to mar­ket and ac­cel­er­ate growth are ma­jor fac­tors for growth. In­vest­ing to grow our Knowl­edge Econ­omy is fun­da­men­tal to the sus­tain­able success of NI. The re­search shows that if we achieve the as­pi­ra­tions for the knowl­edge econ­omy, there would be circa 80,000 jobs and £3.2bn GVA added to our econ­omy. This will re­quire an ad­di­tional 2,500 skilled peo­ple com­ing into NI and will only be pos­si­ble if we fo­cus our ef­forts and our col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­ity to act now.

For com­pa­nies it is not just what they do but how they do it. The Fu­ture of Work Solutions Sum­mit on 29 May will help busi­ness lead­ers to re­flect on how work is be­ing done, how the best in­no­va­tion, tech­nol­ogy and humans can work to­gether to pro­vide a step change in per­for­mance, pro­duc­tiv­ity and com­pet­i­tive­ness. It of­fers the per­fect plat­form for com­pa­nies to glean in­for­ma­tion from the most in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies in this space and take them back to their own or­gan­i­sa­tions to change for the bet­ter.

Dis­rup­tive in­no­va­tion is noth­ing to be feared, rather it must be em­braced and de­velop in or­der for us all to reach our full po­ten­tial.

Staff from Cat­a­lyst com­pa­nies take part in a dis­cus­sion at the NI Deal Tracker event ear­lier this year

Gavin Kennedy of Bank of Ire­land UK, event speaker Peter Worth of School Re­tool and Elaine Smyth at a re­cent Fu­ture of Work event

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