Ryan Williams is founder of The AMP, the North West’s first privately funded business incubator and co-working space, which recently opened a new site in Derry’s Ebrington Square. He is also director of Connected Health, a tech-enabled homecare company with around 1,100 staff in the UK and Ireland. Originally from Armagh, Ryan has lived in Derry for 20 years and is also co-founder of the LAB Fund, which has supported more than 40 local businesses and projects.
You moved to Derry 20 years ago. How has it changed since then?
I think the biggest change in the city since I’ve been here was probably the City of Culture in 2013, when people really started to realise they could do great things. It’s not that Derry hadn’t done great things before then, but I think that year, people sat up and went, ‘We can be great’, and ‘Let’s celebrate what’s really good about Derry’.
And I think in the last four to five years that’s been turbocharged. The city looks amazing for a start. We went to Ebrington because we knew that it was the new Cathedral Quarter for Derry, a place where there’s going to be hundreds of people living and working, tourists in and out of the place, it’s really going to come alive and be a new hub for the city. We have 85% of the new AMP building full, with people in tech, digital marketing, digital media, and it isn’t officially opened yet. Entrepreneurs are springing up because they see confidence, and they see other people being successful.
Tell us a bit more about The AMP?
AMP’s not a single building, it’s a theme for how incubators should operate and create that local ecology of entrepreneurs who all think in similar ways and want the same kind of things out of their space or working lives. The Ebrington building has capacity for about 40 to 45 people. We’re already looking at AMP 3, so we’re already looking at where we might go with another building. We’ll hopefully have some news on that in the New Year.
The place is looking brilliant. We’ve a few murals going up shortly, which are all going to be about Derry slang and business motivational quotes. It’s going to be really cool. We’re not interested in celebrating Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, we wanted this to feel like a Derry-owned entrepreneurial tech hub.
Have you had feedback from people who want to move home?
There are people going, ‘the house that I’m looking at is three times the size and half the cost of what I pay in London’. We have one of the best school systems that you’ll see in any part of Europe, with award-winning educators. We’ve got Benone Beach and Donegal on our doorstep. Why would you not want to live and work here!
I think we need to tell our 17 and 18-year-olds that you don’t need to go to Liverpool or London, if fact your quality of life here will be better, your job opportunities will be better in many cases, don’t think that you need to leave. And we’ve got to keep that talent and that wealth locally where we can. Earning £40k a year in London and earning £30k a year in Derry, your lifestyle is completely different.
Where did the idea for the LAB fund come from?
Four and a half or five years ago, we came up with this concept called Your Derry to celebrate global success stories, individuals and businesses. There are now 16,000 people on that Facebook platform, including diaspora around the world. But what we realised really quickly was look, that’s all fine, but how do we help people to get going, create social enterprises, give them a few quid to do something positive in the city, help small entrepreneurs to get started? If you look at Elemental’s success story in Derry, the founders started with £500. Now it’s a multi-million-pound business. So, we thought, we really need a fund. What if we get £20.24 a month off local people and businesses, less than a gym membership, put it into a pot and we give it away every quarter? We’ve supported 42 SMEs, local entrepreneurs, social enterprises, community projects including the likes of Storefront NI streetwear and Devine Scents. It’s not a fortune, it’s between £500 and up to £2000. It’s also quite supportive, we can match people up with mentors. I think it’s a lovely thing. A small amount of money that makes quite a bit of difference.
The pandemic was a challenging time for homecare providers. How did Connected Health cope?
We grew by 30% during Covid. A lot of our competitors pulled the shutters down; we said, we’re actually going to recruit, because homecare is going to be one of the last bastions that older and vulnerable people have. We also came up with things like Covid dedicated teams. The incidence of Covid in homecare was miniscule in comparison with care homes. So if I looked at the peak 12 months of Covid, we had 52 staff infections out of 1,100 staff. We had really good PPE adherence. We got PPE in January 2020 knowing this was coming. We also had dedicated Covid carers who only looked after Covid positive patients. Our two Irish Carers of the Year [Limavady sisters Lauren and Chloe Kelly] moved in with one of our vulnerable clients for two and a half weeks, when she got Covid. That’s the kind of carers we employ and keep. That’s how staff step up.
What do you do in your spare time – if you get any!
I did an Ironman in September in Spain. I’ll certainly do more triathlons, but I wouldn’t be rushing back to do another Ironman. It’s just excruciating! Danny Quigley, who completed 10 Ironmans in 10 days for charity, was my coach, so you can’t get a better coach. Swimming is my favourite part of triathlon, so I swim a lot and do a lot of open water swimming. I call myself a failing triathlete and a marginally successful swimmer.
Find out more about AMP at https://ampincubator.com