Invest Northern Ireland and the Department for the Economy have announced a £16.3 million investment in a new state of the art Artificial Intelligence Collaboration Centre (AICC), to be based at Ulster University in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast. 

Pictured (L-R) are Archie Clements, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research and Enterprise, Queen’s University Belfast; Dónal Durkan, Executive Director of Strategy and Partnerships, Invest Northern Ireland; Professor Liam Maguire, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Research, Ulster University; Keith Forster, Director of Innovation, Research and Enterprise, Department for the Economy.

The Centre will focus on increasing business awareness and adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to boost competitiveness and productivity across all industries including logistics, finance, life-sciences, manufacturing and Agri-Tech. 

The AICC was formally launched at an event on Ulster University’s Belfast campus today. As well as speakers from both Universities and Invest Northern Ireland, attendees heard reflections from Brian Hills, Chief Executive of The Data Lab, on their journey to setting up a similar AI centre in Scotland. There was also a panel discussion on the opportunities and challenges for AI adoption in Northern Ireland with contributions from Kainos, FinTrU, Analytics Engines, Whitespace and both Universities.

“We are in the midst of an AI driven revolution and through this investment we will harness the transformative power of AI, ensuring its potential is diffused and applied to a broad business base which will encourage economic growth and be of great benefit to our people and society.

“This collaborative project, with bases in Belfast and Derry, will serve as a hub for innovation, bringing together research expertise and industry professionals to collaborate on cutting-edge projects and solutions.

“The centre, the people who work there and the important work it will deliver will be an important contributor to my wider economic vision as we aim to raise productivity, promote regional balance, reduce carbon emissions and deliver good jobs.

“As part of today’s announcement, the Department has offered almost £2.5 million to support additional AI and Data Science postgraduate qualifications to be delivered by Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast to expand the capacity of our talent pipeline to meet industry need.”

Economy Minister: Conor Murphy

The AICC, with bases at Ulster University’s Belfast and Derry/Londonderry campuses and Queen’s, will also encourage greater industrial innovation and collaboration with academia to increase both local and FDI investment. The provision of additional training and professional qualifications in AI will also be delivered through both Universities.

“Our support of £13.8 million over the next 5 years is to increase business knowledge and adoption of AI technology. AI is one of the most important technological developments of the modern era and has the potential to deliver important benefits such as R&D excellence, skills development and increased competitiveness. With some 100 local companies already currently using AI technologies in their operations we have an excellent foundation to build upon our capabilities locally.

“As a region we are already recognised as an area of excellence in the realm of Big Data and data analytics. We now have the opportunity to make our mark in the AI arena and to realise the economic benefits that will come from adopting AI right across our business landscape to improve productivity, deliver good jobs, reduce costs and enhance sectoral competitive positioning.”

Dónal Durkan, Executive Director of Strategy and Partnerships at Invest NI,

“As an academic institution we are proud to be leading the way in cutting edge research relating to the application of AI in business settings. The AICC represents a new resource of 25 dedicated staff who will use their existing knowledge and expertise to inform, educate and empower businesses to adopt AI, as well as stimulating new research and innovation for the responsible adoption of AI.

“In partnership with Queen’s University Belfast we will deliver 390 funded Postgraduate AI qualifications and also classroom-based or online skills training to thousands of workers across Northern Ireland over the next five years. 

“The AICC looks forward to working in conjunction with industry to increase adoption of AI while simultaneously creating the AI workforce of the future through the development of new qualifications.” 

Professor Brian Meenan, the Ulster University AICC Principal Investigator,

“AI and machine learning are evolving at an amazing rate and major developments are occurring at a monthly level. It offers enormous potential to transform business operations, so university-industry interaction is vital to ensure effective and fruitful engagement. Queen’s academics can provide insights into productivity improvements and help create innovative solutions for challenging problems using state-of-the-art AI approaches.”

Professor Roger Woods, the Queen’s University Principal Investigator

Local technology consortium Smart Nano NI, formed to further the development of smart manufacturing in Northern Ireland, has today launched the largest 5G testbed in Northern Ireland in Derry-Londonderry, marking a significant step in a five-year plan to accelerate smart manufacturing in the country. 

Led by consortium partner Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, the 5G testbed is the organisation’s latest innovation activity to bolster economic growth and investment opportunity in Northern Ireland. The investment by the Smart Nano NI consortium will create a valuable, open access facility and provide expert technical support to local start-ups and businesses through the Digital Catapult Smart Nano Accelerator Programme.

The ground-breaking testbed facilities will be delivered by the global IT and business consulting services firm CGI, in partnership with Digital Catapult Northern Ireland. The cutting-edge 5G and 4G private network is a first-of-its-kind smart manufacturing and education setting in Northern Ireland, providing access to the latest network technologies including 5G and NarrowBand-Internet of Things (NB-IoT), and will be instrumental in upskilling the next generation of innovators and experts across the country. 

William Revels, Managing Director at Digital Catapult Northern Ireland, said, “This is an exciting milestone for the project as we bring access to the latest 5G technology to both industry and academia and enable businesses to take advantage of the substantial market opportunities offered by 5G. Derry-Londonderry will be the ninth 5G testbed in Digital Catapult’s nationwide network and we’ve seen the opportunities that can be opened up from providing the equipment and in turn de-risking innovation.” 

RELATED: Smart Nano NI launches Smart Manufacturing accelerator programme to empower Northern Ireland manufacturers

The development of these facilities follows CGI’s opening of a new delivery centre in Northern Ireland as part of its commitment to developing skills and talent in the region. Volkan Pakoglu, Director Consulting Services at CGI, added, “The integration of this new 5G platform will demonstrate the value of creating mobile private networks within business by taking full advantage of the power, performance, and connectivity of 5G. We are committed to working together with Smart Nano NI and its partners to support and facilitate innovation, sustainable solutions and use technology for good.” 

The smart education site at the Industry 4.0 Centre in the Northwest Regional College’s Springtown Campus, will give both students and industry access to test and explore new use cases of the 5G private network, while the manufacturing site, hosted at Seagate’s manufacturing facility, will give businesses the opportunity to test the technology in a live manufacturing setting.

Dr Fergal Tuffy, Business Support Centre Manager at North West Regional College, said, “We are delighted to have the 5G testbed installed at our Springtown Campus, adding to our automation and robotics equipment at the Industry 4.0 Centre. This exciting collaboration will allow us to support students and businesses to gain skills and knowledge to take advantage of the opportunities that these cutting-edge technologies present.”

As part of today’s announcement, Digital Catapult have also launched an open call for the latest Smart Nano Accelerator Programme, giving businesses access to the 5G testbed for the first time. The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is inviting innovative Northern Ireland start-ups and SMEs to join the programme and submit ideas for new technology solutions to solve manufacturing challenges.

Following the completion of the programme, the participating Northern Ireland-based companies will have the opportunity to compete for a £75,000 grant from Techstart Ventures to continue to develop their business idea. Funded through Techstart’s Proof of Concept Grant Fund, this pre-commercial grant awarding fund supports entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland with grants to explore the viability and commercial potential of an innovative concept. 

Kathleen Garrett from Techstart Ventures said, “We are delighted to have partnered with Digital Catapult, Seagate and the Smart Nano NI consortium on this Manufacturing Innovation Challenge. We look forward to seeing the innovations develop through the accelerator programme and have no doubt that some exciting businesses will be formed during this process with the support & guidance of the accelerator and the £75k grant funding from ourselves.”

Jason Wiggins, Programme Manager for Smart Nano NI, added: “The combined investment in infrastructure, the Smart Nano Accelerator programme and the Techstart competition creates a supportive environment for companies to develop and test new technologies. This collaboration will deliver new business resources to Northern Ireland and will drive growth and innovation across many sectors”.

Members of the North West Strategic Growth Partnership met at the An Grianan Hotel in Burt Co. Donegal this week for a winter plenary session to celebrate and raise awareness of the hugely important work of the North West Strategic Growth Partnership, the North West Development Group and the North West Development Fund.

This high-level meeting was held between senior Government officials from both the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government and civic leaders and partners and officials from Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council.

A key element of the meeting was the launch of the North West Tertiary Education Cluster’s Memorandum of Understanding, showcasing the important vision of further and higher level education provision in the North West. This unique and innovative partnership between ATU, Ulster University, the NWRC and Donegal ETB assists with the growth of third level education places across the region. It emanates from the strong cross border working relationship over the years and the excellent work done to develop each institution’s capacities to achieve their respective missions through enhanced cooperation.

Members attending the meeting received a comprehensive overview on the achievements of the North West Strategic Partnership and the positive impact it has on the North West City Region.

There also was a series of detailed discussions by panels made up of key partners and representatives. Among the topics discussed were the Territorial co-operation of the North West City Region; Infrastructure and spatial growth and how to achieve Net Zero by 2045 and the potential of green growth with the Regional Energy Agency Investment Concept.

Delegates were also given the opportunity to hear at first-hand about the joint cross border Colmcille Arts and Culture Project from Donegal County Council project officer, Deirdre Harte.

The North West Strategic Growth Partnership is a unique structure that was first established in 2016 through the North South Ministerial Council, to provide support and discussion to the North West City Region.

Jointly led by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council, and chaired by the two Mayors, the meeting is supported by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD). The Partnership is established in conjunction with and supported by The Executive Office and The Irish Government.

Jointly chairing the meeting was Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Councillor Patricia Logue, who welcomed the innovative cross border work being taken forward by all partners.

She said: “This is a significant meeting that is attended by very senior officers from government across the island of Ireland who are doing a tremendous amount of work to look at the growth needs of the region. I was very impressed with the level of work that is taking place on important issues relating to further and higher education and was delighted to welcome the Teritary Education Partnership to the meeting to hear at first-hand about their ambitious and forward thinking vision for third level education provision across the North West City Region. The signing of an updated Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen their existing relationship will allow all four institutions to continue with their work in capitalising opportunities to improve third level education provision for all.”

Referring to the panel discussions, the Mayor said they highlighted the joined up approach being taken across all our partners to really develop and address the regional priorities for the growth and development across this North West City Region.

“It was also positive to hear about the achievements of the North West Strategic Partnership and about the success of the Colmcille project in creating greater awareness and appreciation of the life of St Colmcille. I was also glad to hear about the commitment to achieving Net Zero and putting green growth top of our agenda going forward.”

An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council, Cllr Martin Harley welcomed all participants to the meeting and highlighted the significance of this unique partnership.  He said that by working together the partners had successfully linked local and central government to work collectively to address regional growth and development.

Welcoming the signing of the updated MOU, he said: “The signing of the updated MOU formalises the existing strong working relationship between the four institutions to work together to enhance opportunities for students in research, innovation, education and training. Through this collaborative approach they can ensure the student pathway is enhanced to provide a quality further and higher education experience for all.”

He said: “It is also important that we acknowledge the achievements of these partnerships and the fund and how since 2016 we have been working collectively as a unique partnership to support the region’s commitment to growth.   I am proud of what we have achieved since this time and the leadership role we have taken to ensure there is a joined-up approach to everything that we do. It is important that we continue to focus on a collaborative cross border vision for the region in terms of spatial planning, transport connectivity, education provision and green transformation.

Extending a sincere thanks to everyone participating in the meeting, Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council John Kelpie said it was more important than ever that these strong links with senior government officials are retained and re-emphasised the importance of collaboration.

John G. McLaughlin, Chief Executive of Donegal County Council also thanked all participants saying the partnerships were hugely beneficial in further strengthening links between the two Councils, its partners and the two governments. Referencing the signing of the MOU between the education partners, he reiterated how collaboration is key to successfully develop a City Region that is thriving, sustainable and prosperous.

The newly inaugurated Lord Mayor of the City of London, Alderman Michael Mainelli, was in Derry and Strabane last week to explore the challenges and the opportunities for advancing trade, investment and civic connections for the two cities.

The 695th Lord Mayor and his delegation were welcomed to the Guildhall by Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Councillor Patricia Logue, who was joined by Council Chief Executive John Kelpie and senior officers to discuss priorities for the City Region.

Northern Ireland is his first visit as Lord Mayor, and Alderman Mainelli took part in a number of local engagements including a visit to Foyle College and lunch with local business leaders hosted by the Chamber of Commerce. He also took the opportunity to meet with representatives of the International Regulatory Innovation Supercluster (IRIS) including Atlantic Technological University, Catalyst, Donegal County Council, Ulster University and the Council. 

Elected annually, the Lord Mayor of the City of London is an international ambassador leading overseas business delegations to key international markets on behalf of the UK’s financial and professional services industry. He also heads up the City of London Corporation, the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City.

Derry and Strabane retains strong connections with the City of London and London Corporation, developed over recent years, with shared interests in the areas of Financial and Professional Services, technology, tourism and culture.

Welcoming the new Lord Mayor to the City, Mayor Logue said their meeting had been an opportunity to discuss building the ties that can generate growth in both our regions.

“The meeting with Ald. Mainelli was a great chance to discuss progress to date and our priorities going forwards,” she declared.

“The City of London is a global leader in the Financial and Professional Services sector. Our meeting today offered a platform to discuss some of our recent success stories, including the announcement by one of Ireland’s fastest growing fintech companies, FinTrU of plans to invest over £20m creating an additional 300 new jobs in Derry.

“As a Council we are committed to developing strong international business links, and will continue to explore opportunities for future investment and growth, building on the fantastic work that has already been done to develop our key industries, the emerging fintech cluster here, as well as shared interests in innovation, education and climate action.

During his term in office, Ald. Mainelli had pledged to promote his Theme of Connect To Prosper. This initiative is focused on harnessing the City of London’s vast knowledge ecosystem and will bring together thought leaders from the scientific, academic and business worlds to demonstrate the City’s strengths in solving global challenges.

On his visit he said he would continue to explore new avenues to collaborate with Derry and Strabane and opportunities for closer alignment between the City Region and City of London.

More than 100 of Northern Ireland’s innovative businesses were showcased to more than 100 global investors at the Northern Ireland Investment Summit held 12th – 13th September in Belfast. With more than 100 investors from the USA, Middle East, Europe and Asia Pacific regions in attendance. The Summit marked a significant opportunity to demonstrate Northern Ireland’s innovation and technological strengths across its internationally renowned sectors, including advanced manufacturing, software and technology, financial and professional services, and emerging health and life sciences.

Panel sessions at the event focused on why global investors should choose Northern Ireland with breakout sessions for each of the key growth sectors. In addition, An Irish Goodbye directors and youngest ever Oscar recipients Tom Berkeley & Ross White hosted a session on Northern Ireland’s thriving creative sector.

Companies selected to showcase and speak at the event from the Northwest City Region include FinTrU, TEREX, FAST Technologies, Seagate and AFLO (Respiratory Analytics).

Northern Ireland, boasting a cost-competitive environment, attracted £19.2 billion in inward investment in 2021. This makes it an enticing hub for businesses seeking strategic growth opportunities.

The Investment Summit precedes a substantial Global Investment Summit later in the year. CEOs, investors, and financiers will converge to showcase the entire UK as an optimal investment location. The inaugural event in 2021 catalysed significant investments and job creation in green energy and tech.

To find out more about the business opportunities available in the city region

A move back to Derry and Strabane isn’t just great for work-life balance; it could boost your bank balance too.

Our cost of living is much lower than in other major UK cities, with the monthly cost of a one-bed apartment, and full-time childcare, both more than three times cheaper than in London.

A monthly bus pass in Derry-Strabane is just a third of what you’d pay in London, and socialising is also more wallet-friendly: a three-course meal in Dublin costs more than twice what it would in one of our LegenDerry local restaurants!

With an average commute time of 30 minutes – compared to 70 minutes in London, and 60 minutes in Belfast – you and your family will have more time to savour the quality of life here: our beautiful beaches, great outdoor spaces, rich culture and friendly people.

It’s no wonder ‘cool, credible, cheap’ Derry was named one of the best places to live in the UK by the Sunday Times – and ranked first for remote working in Northern Ireland, and fourth in the UK.

Major employers think Derry and Strabane is pretty great too. You’ll find graduate roles, high-level jobs and remote, hybrid and flexible working opportunities in sectors including FinTech, software development, life and health sciences and advanced manufacturing and engineering.

There are now three daily flights from City of Derry airport to London Heathrow, and the newly opened A6 from Derry to Dungiven has also made the drive to Belfast quicker than ever.

The £250m City Deal will also give the region another valuable boost of investment, innovation, infrastructure and growth.

There’s never been a better time to come home – but don’t just take our word for it! Check out these money-saving stats:

The average monthly cost of a one-bed city centre apartment is £590 in Derry-Strabane, compared with £1860 in London and £1660 in Dublin

Full-day, monthly childcare in Derry Strabane costs £500 compared with £1,590 in London

A monthly buss pass in Derry-Strabane is more than three times cheaper in Derry-Strabane than in London

Hourly parking will cost three times more in Belfast than in Derry – and 15 times more in London

The average monthly salary in Derry-Strabane after tax is £1,950 – just £98 less than in Belfast

Basic monthly heating costs in Derry-Strabane are cheaper than Belfast, Liverpool, Edinburgh, London and Dublin

(Source: Numbeo Cost of Living Sept 2022)

For more information on living and working in the North West, visit

Derry has been hailed as the best place to live in Northern Ireland in a survey by The Sunday Times.

The newspaper praised the city as “cool, credible and cheap” in its annual UK-wide list, highlighting the benefits of “years of investment” and the millions of pounds spent regenerating the town centre.

Judges added: “Younger buyers are moving in, attracted by the city’s brisk outward-facing air and its closeness to the border with the Republic.”

The seaside villages of Ballycastle and Helen’s Bay also made the list of Northern Ireland’s top locations.

Meanwhile, Derry was also named as having the best community spirit in the region, in a survey from the retailer Spar.

The Maiden City came out on top of the NI communities, and placed seventh in the whole of the UK.

Around 64% of those surveyed described themselves as happy living in their community, with 53% of those from Northern Ireland – the highest in the UK – adding that their community gave them a sense of belonging.

Derry has been named regional winner in the UK’s Top Towns for Business competition.

Locations across the UK were shortlisted on factors including connectivity, dedicated space, retail space, networks and leadership in the competition, run by Enterprise Nation in partnership with Dell UK and Intel UK.

After a public vote, Derry came out as Top Town for Business in Northern Ireland.

The awards aimed to shine a spotlight on the UK’s towns and cities that nurture entrepreneurial spirit to make a lasting impact on local communities and the economy.

Thousands of manufacturers are set to benefit from a new £50m data innovation hub led by Ulster University.

The Smart Manufacturing Data Hub will support small and medium-sized manufacturers to capture and better utilise data, helping them increase productivity, growth and sustainability.

The hub is available to manufacturers in Northern Ireland before going live for companies UK-wide, supported by 12 delivery partners.

Around 10,000 manufacturers will be assisted in developing, testing and adopting the latest data-driven technologies thanks to the hub, testbed and grant funding; approximately 13,000 jobs are also expected to be supported.

The funding comes as part of the £300 million Made Smarter Innovation Challenge, a collaboration between UK Government and industry to support the development and increased use of new and existing industrial digital technologies, including artificial intelligence and virtual reality.

Pro Vice Chancellor, Research at Ulster University, Professor Liam Maguire, said: “Made Smarter is another important project in the broader realisation of the Derry and Strabane City Deal agenda, further enhancing the attractiveness of investment and driving economic growth.”

Passengers can now fly direct from City of Derry Airport to Edinburgh, on a new service launched by Loganair.

The 55-minute direct flight will run three days a week (Tuesday, Friday and Sunday), with additional Thursday and Saturday flights during the peak summer months.

Among the guests on the inaugural flight in May was Aidan O’Kane, president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce.

He said: “From tourism to trade, this new route will be a huge boost to the North West economy, strengthening our regional links across the Irish Sea.