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.

Some things I don’t understand about the Knowledge Economy Report

And so maybe someone else can explain it to me.

I love the team down at Catalyst. For as long as I’ve known about them, they have been fighting the good fight in the face of overwhelming bureaucracy and mediocrity from government. Catalyst succeed in spite of government, not because of it.


Don’t ban scooters. Redesign streets.

[Read the article]

Of course, some of us have been saying this for years.

Remember when the Segway debuted? There was a reported conversation that everyone derided. Apparently Steve Jobs, on viewing the prototype Segway with Dean Kamen, said that we would design cities around this thing. It was backed publicly and financially by Jeff Bezos.

How the media laughed.

And now the media are calling for us to redesign cities to cope with new PEV (personal electric vehicles) designs. Of course, all of this is a little moot for the UK as the Tory government failed to deliver an election promise on licensing for LEVs and PEVs and of course, our government couldn’t do it because we don’t have one.*

But watch this space because things are afoot. They’ve extended the bus lanes on one of the busiest roads in Belfast. They’re introducing a new bus called the Glider which will, like this recently multi-million investment in dumb ticketing machines at major stops, will be utterly underwhelming. They’re going to close the area around Belfast City Hall to private traffic. They’re going to invest massively in the Westlink-M2 exchange yet not actually address the cause of queues in the morning. But that’s because …. I don’t know. I’m sure they have great reasons.

*and do you ever notice that when change is needed, politicians decide on whether it’s a devolved matter or not depending on how close it is to lunchtime.

Sustainable Electro-Motive

I’m attending the Eden Project Communities Camp this May and that’s where I hope to talk about Sustainable Electro-Motive.

This project ties several interests into one whole. One part is working with my friend Stuart and his extracurricular work with GreenPower NI. One part is my interest in maintaining our way of life without necessarily increasing our impact on the environment (and ideally, reducing our impact massively). My other interests are social enterprise, the democracy of community energy resources, the digitisation of energy and transport (which is more about the change in the economies than any real addition of technology).

I hope SEM to be a great example of a social enterprise, of “altrupreneurship.

Save the Day: 30th June 2025

Save the date, 9 years from now, when the last ICE (internal combustion engine) car will be sold in the UK.

This is what is being proposed by Norway and it’s being considered by other nations within the EU and beyond. A complete change in the way transport works.

Back in 1905, you could look at a photo of Times Square and not see a single car; the place was filled with horse drawn carriages. By 1913, the horses were outnumbered by the cars perhaps 100:1. That’s how fast a disruptive technology can take hold.
So what will happen here. We are already seeing Electric Vehicle sales rise (though they slipped slightly due to the brief drop in petrol and diesel prices over the last six months). And we will see them rise even more. On my Twitter feed (admittedly a self-selecting study of people interested in transport, innovation and renewables), I am able to see individuals who charge their home automobiles using a solar panel and wind combination to a domestic battery that then feeds their car.

This becomes the new normal. Where the cost of running a vehicle decreases to just the replacement of tyres and brake pads. Where the massive fuel costs dwindle to almost nothing. We aren’t there yet….or….more accurately, I’m describing the past, but it’s still the future for most of us.

My own car is up for replacement this year but there is no way I will replace it with an ICE vehicle – even though I might consider the vast majority of electric vehicles out there to be under-engineered, under-designed and under-inspiring. What we need a series of over-engineered, over-designed and absolutely inspiring cars.

At the moment only TESLA is providing that. Sticking a battery and electric motor into a Clio and calling it a LEAF just doesn’t do it for me. Making an eGolf or an electric BMW doesn’t do it. – especially as it’s beginning to look like all of the incumbent car manufacturers seem, without exception, to have been lying about their gas emissions.

It’s time we started thinking about this seriously.

What if we just stopped using Fossil Fuels. Today.
What if we replaced essential use of hydrocarbons with Renewable Gases?
What if we replaced inessential fuel consumption with solar, hydro and wind?
What if we circumvented the apocalypse by just taking action rather than just talking about it?

100% electric transportation and 100% solar by 2030

I don’t find just Tony Seba believable, I find his conclusions inevitable. While I am sceptical on driverless cars, it’s because of human nature not because of doubts about the technology.

When you add the variables of the efficiency of electric motors, the possibilities of software for improving how we drive and the virtually endless resources of renewable energies, the result is plain.

This is why I’m starting a new thing. This.

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.

A bit of linked-list triage.

Because I’ve been out of circulation, I’m kinda forced to triage some stuff here. If you don’t find anything interesting from this list then you’re at the wrong blog anyway.