Starting a business in Belfast: Photonic Measurements
Belfast's recently launched high-tech science business explains how the city's accessibility makes it easy to network and meet key government ministers....
Company name: Photonic Measurements
Founders: Vincent McCorry and Dr Connor Douglas
Description: We develop low volume, high value chemical analysers for export and use in the growing water quality industry. Within five years we expect to be manufacturing a portfolio of analysers measuring different components within the water quality sector and establishing Photonic Measurements as world leader in sales and technology.
What’s great about starting a business in Belfast?
Northern Ireland is a small country with a lot to prove, and a population overflowing with ambition. In a wee country everyone knows everyone else making networking easy. We went to school with the finance minister, and had our university research supervised by the founder of causeway sensors.
Belfast has a legacy of science and engineering with the invention of the bicycle tyre through to the three bar linkage to the development of the defibrillator all being developed in Belfast. The size of Belfast makes it too small for a scalable business and so the population instinctively look outwards to global export markets as a means to do business.
What business support in Belfast have you used?
We have used NISP connect as an accelerator, combined with Seedcorn and Springboard, which has allowed us to focus and refine our ideas while giving us opportunities to learn about markets and pitch in front of some of the leading business figures in technology from Ireland and beyond.
We have taken up residence in Farset labs, a hackerspace, in which we get access to internet some tools and floating desks for £25 per head per month.
Name the top three reasons to set up a business in Belfast:
- The two Northern Ireland brick universities produce a wealth of talent in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, with Queen’s being one of the UK’s elite Russell group universities.
- Belfast has many state agencies all with a focus on building the private sector, this includes Belfast City council, Invest NI and the all-Ireland Intertrade Ireland. In a small country these organisations can be nimble and respond dynamically to the needs of the start-up community.
- The top politicians are hugely accessible, and setting up a meeting with a government minister to discuss issues can typically be performed in days.
Where could Belfast be better/ what more does it need?
Belfast is on an island off the coast of another island on the edge of Europe, and this can complicate travel and shipping. Equally a lot of state aid is controlled by public servants, who are possibly not in tune with the needs of the entrepreneurial community as we would like.
How easy has it been to access finance to grow?
We are currently in our first year and in a pre-commercial phase, but have obtained EU funding through TechStart NI, we have won funding through the NI Science Park’s accelerator programme. We have also been given access to a pool of angel investors and venture capitalists whom we meet with and we are in the final of the seedcorn competition with a total prize-fund of €300,000; this will not only open up capital but also access to training and networking.
Where do you go to network in Belfast?
Belfast is unique, in that it the population is so small that family and friends have a huge reach into every sphere of public and industrial life, even bumping into people on the street has proved to give access to significant resources.
At Farset labs we meet all kinds of people, electronics engineers, accountants, start-up founders and social media personalities. The science park and learned societies organise events in which we can meet people and learn about other disciplines. I have started attending meetings of the chartered accountancy groups, and am learning to manage finance better.
Where do you take a client for a business lunch/ meeting?
Northern Ireland has a great tradition of producing and preparing quality food with chefs like Paul Rankin and Jenny Bristow all being locals, and the restaurant life in Belfast is buzzing.
The café culture is thriving in Belfast with botanic avenue being the place to stop for tea and a chat, right on the doorstep of the Queen’s university and Ulster museum. Some clients want to go to historical sites including the Titanic restaurant, Giant’s Causeway visitor centre, or the Ulster Museum.
Hot desks are available across the city at the council’s business hub, the science park, or even the central library.
Where’s great for a company night out?
There is always a festival on in Belfast with great international speakers coming to educate, at an Féile an Phobail, the Festival at Queens and even the Festival of Fools. The traditional Irish pub scene is thriving with a trad ceol session (Irish music) never too far away on any night out and is always a big attraction especially when friends are performing live.
Local sports teams include Ulster Rugby and the Belfast Giants Ice hockey who both play in the evenings and give an alternative to soccer and the GAA in the sporting arena.