Raise the bar: maybe you have a great idea…

Coming into mid-Spring, it’s now time to start making calls for the second cohort for our Raise programme. Every six months we start a new formalised intake (though technically companies can join at any time).

We’re delivering remotely (as we have for a decade) though when lockdown ends, we have existing office space in one of the best streets in Belfast.

Raise is the only commercially focused accelerator for startups in Northern Ireland – we only succeed when you do. If you don’t understand why that’s important, come and talk to us. And if you don’t care, well, there’s some incubators out there where you can gestate on your idea for as long as you like.

What do we do?

Well, we teach the things that others can’t or won’t. We get you familiarised with the terms so you won’t be blindsided. We will challenge your idea, contribute to your plans, help you build confidence and develop your pitching style. We’ll help with grants, forms, proofing, explaining. We’ll introduce you to investors, advisors, non-execs, designers, developers and troubleshooters.

So, with that in mind, and with the fear of failure neatly pushed under the rug for a bit, what do you really have to lose? Apply now.

Announcing Digital Circle…

In 2007, industry, academia and government worked together to produce the Northern Ireland Digital Content Strategy – a timely document that paved the way to the Digital Circle collaborative network and several years of rapid growth in our local industry. Timely because it arrived just before a sea change in the market – the advent of the smartphone for everyone and the emergence of the App economy. With a steering group made up of industry professionals and solid support from the IT industry trade body, Digital Circle grew rapidly and was able to respond to changes in the market – from apps, to games, to augmented reality (it’s a big deal now but we had active projects in AR in Northern Ireland in 2011.)

The project officially ended in 2011 but continued to work until 2015 but after the demise of the IT industry trade body, and policy changes in government, practical support waned. Meanwhile, the skills shortages predicted in the strategy proved to be conservative. Salaries for developers have soared, leaving many to outsource their development to other countries – and with that, the opportunity cost in money flowing out of the region and skills and intellectual property being domiciled elsewhere.

With the ending of the Creative Industries Innovation Fund (and fewer interventions like HoneyComb, Creative Marketplace, Games on Film) there was a massive loss in terms of finance. This investment hadn’t always been a runaway success but there were some properties created which, in terms of value, exceeded the entire investment of the fund over its lifetime and all because of an initial £10,000 grant.

And one of the other pillars of Digital Circle (and the strategy) was internationalisation and access to markets. With the impending uncertainty over Brexit, investment has declined and we still don’t know what we have to prepare for. At the time of writing, we haven’t had a government in Northern Ireland in 1000 days. In the face of impending uncertainty and adversity, we feel there’s a need to invest.

Digital Circle is very pleased to announce an ongoing partnership with RAISE Ventures to give the network a home. RAISE brings a physical space, relationships, a programme of events, and a mechanism for private finance to the deal. We are working with RAISE for representation in government programmes (like the Digital Skills strategy, Future Screens NI) as well as championing startups and high potential startups within the region.

See you at the RAISE on Wednesday 16th October.

Digital Circle 2016

Doing some work today to relaunch Digital Circle for 2016.

Things kinda fell by the wayside when we discovered that NI Screen was going to withhold half of the cash that Digital Circle applied for (and attempt to deliver that part of the project themselves – and then blame us when they didn’t manage it right). It made it very difficult (and very demotivating) for me as it cut off my main income in one fell swoop and I had to run out and get a job. But such is the danger of being involved in consultant and delivery-based projects that you have to bid for.

So, a calendar year later and it’s time for a relaunch. We have a new steering group and the majority of the stalwarts from the old group have retired so I’m excited about doing new things. I want to have an event every quarter so that I have something to build up to. Nope, I don’t have a budget for it but then half the time in DC I didn’t have budget and we muddled through anyway. I do, however, have a day job.

I need some help in updating the web site, fixing some issues and pulling together a business model. I was happier in my DC work than in any other job so I need, for my own sake, to get back to it. The last year has been challenging both personally and professionally so a clean slate is absolutely required.

I know I’m probably the only person who reads this now, especially as the domain changed. But it’s me. And it’s for me.

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Request for Techies!

We’re on the hunt for technical talent to help us with the Techies in Residence Programme – an innovative new project to build links between the community sector and Northern Ireland’s knowledge economy.

Digital Technology holds massive potential to solve problems in the voluntary and community sector (VCSE). Over the last 3 months we have recruited 6 innovation projects from the sector and we are now seeking to match them with high-quality technical staff from Northern Irish companies.

The project will take the form of a 10-week residency (Sept – Nov), where staff from NI tech companies will embed themselves in the VCSE organisation. The aim is to build a prototype solution in answer to one of the briefs outlined here.

A salary contribution of up to £6,000 is available to help offset your costs over the 10 weeks. In addition, each participating company will gain extensive exposure through the project and will, subject to agreement, be entitled to develop the solution commercially after the residency. It’s also a significant opportunity to gain insight into a new marketplace, help meet CSR objectives and support the development of future managerial talent.

Our aim is to match interested companies with briefs that are relevant to their expertise and interests. We’d invite you to browse through the attached briefs and if you think that your organisation has the talent to help out with one or more, please get in touch via email to info@techinres.com and we can follow up with more detail.

Briefs: Techies in Residence Techies copy

Capability Assessment – Big Screen Content and Programming Provider

This was sent to me from Belfast City Council. I think all digital agencies should look at it. The only negatives are the relative restrictions on the content that can be pushed. I would say there are great opportunities to promote some cutting edge games and experiences via the Big Screen.

This document has been issued on behalf of Belfast City Council (BCC) which is at an early stage of developing a procurement strategy for the provision of a content and programming provider service for the Big Screen which is located in the grounds of City Hall. In the future this service will include the maintenance and upkeep of the software and hardware to maintain the Big Screen Service. Any participation in a future tender exercise will not be prejudiced should your company respond or decide not to complete this document, nor is the completion of this document a guarantee of invitation to participate in a future tendering exercise.

PLEASE NOTE; THIS IS NOT A CALL FOR COMPETITION.

Introduction

This document provides a brief outline of Belfast City Council’s current position and anticipated outcome for appointing a content and programming provider to keep the screen operational on a day to day basis. In this document, the Council is seeking information on your organisation and your services. The same information will be requested from other providers.

This Questionnaire is divided into two sections:

1. Organisation Information

2. Service Model Questions

All responses must be received via email to bainesd@belfastcity.govuk by 3.00pm on Friday 14th August 2015.

All queries regarding this process should be emailed to Denise Baines at bainesd@belfastcity.gov.uk prior to the closing date with the email subject content stated as ‘BIG SCREEN CONTENT PROVIDER – CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT ENQUIRY’

The Questionnaire is attached here:
BIG SCREEN CONTENT PROVIDER – CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT

Unity 3D the clear industry favourite.

The recent growth of Unity 3D in industry locally despite the push in further education for the Unreal Engine (at odds with industry demand) was why we worked with South West College to deliver more training for converting some programmers to Unity Devs. And, of course, to aid collaboration and component re-use for game jams!

Digital Circle spends a lot of time looking at industry trends. We focus on the good of the industry which has a different perspective to support agencies like Invest NI (which has a focus on jobs created) and Northern Ireland Screen (which has a focus on headline-grabbing movie projects).

We couldn’t have delivered some of our interventions without the help of the Arts Council ‘Creative Industries Innovation Fund’ (supported by DCAL) and the Honeycomb Creative Works programme (supported by the SEUPB). The bad news is that both of these programmes will not be active in the coming future.

It is just nice, every now and then, to know that we did the right thing, for the right reasons, with the right outcomes.

If you want to get stuck into Unity, there are heaps of tutorials on their web site and if you’re a small business, you could do well getting support from the InnovateUS programme to get Unity mentoring from South West College. There are also heaps of video training resources in YouTube.

Games are bigger than Hollywood, Apps are bigger than Hollywood. And yet…

Horace Dediu puts together the numbers:

Apple paid $10 billion to developers in calendar 2014

Put another way, in 2014 iOS app developers earned more than Hollywood did from box office in the US.

The curious thing is that even though the medium of apps is swamping other forms of entertainment in all measurable ways, comprehension of the phenomenon is lagging.

It’s again one of the times when I hate being right. I made an impassioned plea to government agencies, visited universities and colleges and even spoke to politicians back when the App Store was still on the horizon and I said “This app thing is going to be massive”. With the App Economy worth 627,000 jobs worldwide, Northern Ireland should have a fair share there and we just dropped the ball. Some people saw the Apple logo and decided not to get involved and some, well, some just stood in the way. They couldn’t see the future or, as in one case, they had a major personal investment in a competing mobile software distribution platform (that ultimately went nowhere).

And remember this is just the Apple side. It doesn’t include ad-based revenue, it doesn’t include Android and Windows phone. It doesn’t include Mac apps and it doesn’t include apps sold outside of the Apple ecosystem.

Back in the early noughties, I attended a meeting where a consultant told Northern Ireland not to even look at the games market. It was too late they said. So we didn’t invest, we gave the responsibility for games development to agencies who didn’t understand, appreciate or even like games. And I don’t expect them to like them; I expect them to follow the best opportunities.

I cannot even begin to count the opportunity cost here; the friction of just being resistant to new ideas and new technology but we pay for it again and again in being conservative in our collective outlook, in mistrusting the novel.

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I coulda had class.
I coulda been a contender.
I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it.
It was you.

The CTO CoFo and other quasi-mythical beasts

Jase Bell is mostly, pardon the pun, on the money:

Put bluntly it’s a big stand off. The startup founder (“Hey, I’m the ideas guy/gal!”) goes tail wagging desperately looking for a tech co founder, someone who can look at the holistic view of the startup, the long term, code the iOS app, the Android app and the back end, the reporting…. those unicorns don’t come cheap, circa £75,000 p/a if you want a quality tech co-founder, someone who will be “all in”. Your short runaway will become a lot shorter, that £300k seed you need to get going is basically mandatory.

Of course there is another side to this. A finder needs to identify a good CTO.. It’s not like there is a large supply.

I’ve been on the fringes of the local software industry for the last 20 years I can count on my fingers the people I’d approach for such a vital role.

Part of this is their ability: they have to command respect, have a good reputation, be pro-active and have a can-do attitude and probably have done more than just worked for a wage in a local company.

The other part is my ability. Will I have to manage them? Am I a good judge of ability or character? Can I raise the cash to get them paid? And if I can, have I judged correctly; is this just another job or are they part of the team?

Over the years I have, with friends, built a heap of stuff you’ve never heard of. The 23rd Letter, SpaceNinjaCyberCrisis, ZOMBI, Syncbridge, Rickshaw, Infurious Comics, Eagle Lake; stuff that was always ahead of the market and if I had been smarter, better connected, more business-savvy, more predatory then I might be talking to you from a private island.

My opinion is this.

CTOs are incredibly rare in Northern Ireland. And when you find them, chances are they will be working for a high five-figure salary with benefits within a secure FDI company doing work well beneath their ability. Their lifestyle will have grown to demand that salary and only inspiring friendship or a mid-life crisis will urge them to move. That will be a lot of risk for the aspiring CEO – because you’re banking someone’s life on the strength of your idea and using your relationship as collateral. And the money had better follow.

As you get older it will be more about the money and less about the relationship: so start young.

People Pay More For Design

Via Loopinsight: A Vogue piece on Jony Ive.

Design critics now look back at the birth of the Jobs-Ive partnership as the dawn of a golden age in product design, when manufacturers began to understand that consumers would pay more for craftsmanship.

This is something that many people have always understood but until it was widely appreciated by “the counters of the beans” within companies, products would always be poorly designed.

I was recently in talks with CME in Belfast and they were extremely proud of their efforts in design and user interface and user experience engineering. I found it heartening especially as the fact they acknowledge design makes them a standout among the large software companies in Northern Ireland.

1 in 5 people have never used the Internet.

13% of the UK have never used the Internet, though the number for Northern Ireland is actually 22%.

Looking at the map, however, I would question the methodology. NI is not one blanket region; we have cities and rural areas and differing degrees of digital transformation. The number may be much worse in rural areas even where broadband access is good and higher in urban areas where access is worse.