£42.4 m has been awarded to Smart Nano NI – a Northern Ireland nano technology consortium to develop new technology for medical devices, communication and data storage. 

 The funding, which has been awarded by the UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund presents a game-changing opportunity for Northern Ireland’s nano technology and manufacturing sector and launches the necessary support to scale up capacity in device manufacturing, underpin and develop hundreds of jobs across the sector. The total project value, including leveraged funding from other sources is £63.9m.  

   Smart Nano NI is led by data company Seagate Technology in collaboration with Analytics Engines, Causeway Sensors, Cirdan Imaging, Digital Catapult NI, North West Regional College, Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster University and Yelo (the “Consortium”). The eight partners form a corridor of expertise from Derry~Londonderry to Belfast.  

  The funding award was made after a highly competitive process with projects from across the UK. It will further consolidate Northern Ireland’s position as a global leader for excellence in the field of nano technologies as well as delivering a significant and lasting impact on our local economy.  

  This is a once in a generation opportunity for Northern Ireland. The Consortium will accelerate the work of developing transformative advanced prototyping and smart manufacturing methods. This will allow for the delivery of new technologies as researchers and industry partners work together to develop new sensors for healthcare and optical communications leveraging the vast wealth of Northern Ireland’s research and industry knowledge. The Consortium will build capacity and new prototypes in the spheres of medical devices, communication, and data storage.   

  Northern Ireland has a unique cluster of expertise in this globally expanding field. The collaboration between all the members located along the Derry Londonderry / Belfast corridor will enable the establishment of a Centre of Excellence. This will enable advances in the Life and Health Sciences as well as exploiting the potential of photonics and nanotech in other high-growth sectors through knowledge transfer.  

  Smart Nano NI’s Dr Mark Gubbins said: “We are delighted and honoured to secure this investment which will deliver significant benefits for the economic growth of the region and the “corridor” of businesses from Belfast to Derry~Londonderry ensuring a levelling up of shared opportunities. We can now advance Northern Ireland’s niche capability around smart nano manufacturing and world-leading knowledge in photonics to create a self-sustaining local industry. It allows us to capitalise on the combined expertise of our companies and the availability of trained researchers and resources across our academic institutions”.   

  Economy Minister Gordon Lyons said: “I wish to congratulate and acknowledge the outstanding team behind this achievement. Securing this funding through UKRI Strength in Places is a major boost for our economy and our post Covid recovery journey and is a testament to the power of collaboration and the calibre of Northern Ireland companies. It will create new commercial opportunities, will drive economic growth and help tackle productivity challenges, and invigorate our manufacturing sector.” 

Further Information: media@smartnanoni.com or maria@mccannpr.com or mobile 07802934246 or 02890 666322 

A new webinar series has been launched to celebrate innovation in the North West.

The Innovation Stories webinars follow the signing of the historic Derry & Strabane City Deal in February, and also come as Northern Ireland embarks on a Decade of Innovation, set out in the recent publication of the Department for the Economy’s 10X Economy paper.

Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Derry City and Strabane District Council and Ulster University are collaborating on the series. Its first event, targeted at businesses and employees considering upskilling and anyone with a stake in the innovation or City Deal agenda, was held this month.

Rosalind Young, the Council’s investment manager, said: “Through the visionary Derry and Strabane City Deal, a whole new innovation eco-system will develop here in the region. The people behind the City Deal are inviting businesses to hear best practice and to leave with an idea of how they will play their part in the Decade of Innovation that is ahead.”

One of the academics and researchers behind the planned, Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation (CIDRA), Justin Quinn of Ulster University’s School of Computing Engineering and Intelligent Systems at the Magee campus said:

“With Industry 4.0 upon us, a new form of manufacturing is about to begin which will change the face of industry. It will bring about huge opportunities for the industries who embrace it and challenges for those who do not. Work is underway now to bring about a Centre for Industrial Digitalisation, Robotics and Automation in Derry. We are inviting businesses to consider how they would like to be part of the Derry City Deal. Covid-19 forced many a business to reconsider how they operate, so in many ways we have seen that rapid change is possible. We would like to help companies to begin their innovation journey now so as to be ready to take advantage of centres like CIDRA and CARL when they are in place. ”

Learning Pool has agreed to a new investment from Marlin Equity Partners which will support the e-learning company’s continued growth and create 100 new jobs.

Founded in Derry and currently ranked as one of the top 60 Large Best Companies to Work for in the UK, Learning Pool employs more than 260 people across the UK and US.

The Marlin investment will facilitate further job creation, with plans in place to hire an additional 100 Learning Pool employees across the group this year. 

As part of the investment, Marlin will acquire the shareholding of Carlyle Cardinal Ireland, who invested in Learning Pool in 2016. Since then, Learning Pool has seen revenue increase four-fold and made four acquisitions, most recently acquiring US-based Remote Learner. Marlin is expected to help accelerate growth both organically and through additional acquisitions.

Learning Pool Team with Marlin Equity Partners

Almac Group, the global contract development and manufacturing organisation, has today announced the launch of a recruitment campaign with a view to setting up a facility in Derry/Londonderry.

With over 5,600 employees located in 18 locations across the world, 3,600 of whom are based at its global Headquarter campus in Craigavon, Almac is planning to offer up to 100 new, highly skilled jobs specifically targeting the North West region of Northern Ireland over the next three years. The initial recruitment drive is underway and offers a mixture of project management and software engineering positions at all levels. Experience of the pharmaceutical industry is not an essential requirement for these roles as full on-the-job training is provided.

Alan Armstrong (CEO) Almac Group

Alan Armstrong, CEO, Almac Group, explains, “We are experiencing significant growth and have a need to support our many clients across the globe. With substantial advancement in technology, we are fortunate to be able to locate our employees anywhere we choose offering greater flexibility and access to our various range of services. Given the skills pipeline coming from Ulster University at Magee and Coleraine, combined with the excellent choice of workspace available in the Derry/Londonderry area, we have decided to explore this region as our next Almac location.

“We are proud to have our global Headquarters based in Northern Ireland and it is our plan to expand our reach and establish a base in the North West.  We are hopeful that, when word spreads about our expansion plans to this region, we will be able to obtain the required numbers and quality of job applicants who are keen to join us and support our mission to advance human health globally.

“Given the success experienced by many other companies in this area, we plan to employ up to 100 staff at this new location over the next three years.”

This announcement comes as the company continues to recruit globally, in particular for its Craigavon campus, as the company grows in response to increased client demand.

To find out more or to apply for a position, visit here.

Private equity investor Tenzing will partner with local cybersecurity firm MetaCompliance to accelerate the organisation’s growth and drive product innovation.

Founded in 2005, MetaCompliance employs more than 100 people, servicing clients in the UK, Europe and internationally with a mission to help customers keep staff safe online, protect their digital assets and avoid reputational damage.

Robert O’Brien CEO Metacompliance

Its award-winning technology and training content is used by over 900 public and private organisations to increase staff vigilance of cybersecurity threats and help customers demonstrate compliance to national regulators.

The business said its decision to partner with Tenzing was fuelled by the fund’s strategic experience in growing similar-sized companies, and a shared belief in MetaCompliance’s ability to become a global cybersecurity force.

Tenzing’s investment will help MetaCompliance continue to develop innovative products and expand its workforce. The existing management team, including founder and CEO Robbie O’Brien, will carry on in their current leadership roles and are investing further as shareholders in the business.

Local company Learning Pool has announced the acquisition of US-based Remote Learner.

Paul McElvaney Learning Pool CEO

Situated in Denver, Colorado, the LMS (Learning Management System) specialist has represented more than a million users for over two decades, with clients including recruitment giant Indeed, Royal Caribbean Group and Ultimate Kronos Group.

Remote Learner is the fourth firm to join the Learning Pool Group in recent years and the news follows strong 2020 annual results for the Derry-based e-learning business, which saw revenues up 32% to £18.1m.

Learning Pool CEO Paul McElvaney said: “This acquisition puts the Group in great shape to accelerate our already ambitious customer satisfaction and growth targets in the North American region and takes the global Learning Pool team to more than 260 dedicated and talented people.”

Alchemy Technology Services Diversity Mark

Derry-based Alchemy Technology Services have received a Bronze Diversity Mark in recognition of their commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

The Diversity Mark NI award came after the insurance technology firm submitted a three-year plan to advance gender diversity in the business.

The assessment panel praised Alchemy for their enthusiasm to build a more diverse company, and “their creative and challenging targets to address any barriers to unrepresented genders and build inclusive work environments”.

Alchemy’s CFO and Board Sponsor for Diversity and Inclusion, John Colwell, said: “We believe it is our duty to proactively ensure that our people come from a range of backgrounds and experiences. As a tech company it is particularly important for us to ensure women are encouraged and supported to pursue a career in what has traditionally been a male-dominated environment.”

Head of HR Anne O’Neill added: “Since our launch, we have been involved locally in programmes to support getting more women into tech and want to make this part of our diversity target as we recognise the importance of having more women in STEM subjects and going on to higher education to study Computer Science.”

A leading Magee-based Ulster University researcher will develop Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that could help people to communicate following serious brain injuries, thanks to a £20million government investment announced today.Professor Damien Coyle of Ulster University’s Magee campus has been awarded the prestigious Turing AI Acceleration Fellowship. The Fellowships will give 15 of the UK’s top AI researchers the resources to work with industry to bring their innovations to benefit multiple sectors.

Professor Damien Coyle who is currently Director of the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) at Ulster University’s Magee campus, said:“Everyone’s brain is different and many factors influence brain states so brainwaves are extremely complex and change and evolve from minute to minute and day to day. This presents an excellent challenge for AI in detecting specific brains states. “The AI R&D planned for this fellowship will be thoroughly trialed not only in the lab but also with end-users of the technology – patients and clinicians who can really benefit. The AI will be deployed in wearables developed in partnership with NeuroCONCISE Ltd, an Ulster University spinout. “New AI developed for neurotechnology during the fellowship will be translated across other sectors and industry led-data analytics challenges so the fellowship will impact widely within the city and region, Northern Ireland, the UK and beyond.”

The ISRC, where Professor Coyle is based will feature in the Derry and Strabane City Deal through the Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL). Its objective is to help NI industry across a broad range of sectors from health to financial technology to become world-leading in their use of Artificial Intelligence. The ISRC is already home to the Dr George Moore Chair in Data Analytics, a world-class academic position made possible with the philanthropic support of Mrs Angela Moore. This funding injection is another endorsement of Derry – Londonderry as a place where AI and Innovation thrives.

Science Minister, Amanda Solloway said:“The UK is the birthplace of artificial intelligence and we therefore have a duty to equip the next generation of Alan Turings, like Ulster University’s Professor Damien Coyle, with the tools that will keep the UK at the forefront of this remarkable technological innovation.“Northern Ireland is a hotbed for innovation and the inspiring AI project we are backing today could assist those who have experienced a serious illness or injury to communicate, transforming how they live, while cementing the UK’s status as a world leader in AI and data.”


The Derry and Strabane area has been ranked as the best place to work from home in Northern Ireland, and the fourth best in the UK.That is according to the Remote Working Index put together by uSwitch.com after research carried out ranking 106 of the UK’s biggest towns and cities on metrics including broadband speed, green spaces, air quality, crime rates, quality of schools, and GPs per 100,000 people.

The Derry and Strabane area ranked second overall for green spaces and low crime rates, and third for low air pollution.The result comes after Northern Ireland was voted as the happiest place in the UK to live earlier this month, according to the Lloyd’s Bank Happiness Index. Derry City and Strabane District Council’s business team have also been working to promote the area as a remote working destination for employees and businesses.When it comes to working remotely, connectivity is a hugely important factor, and Derry and Strabane has been found to have broadband which is fast and reliable. And for those who still have to travel, City of Derry Airport provides a centralised hub.With a unique combination of access to coastline and beaches, woodland, rivers and greenways Derry and Strabane provides a platform for the perfect work/life balance bringing such a positive impact on well-being.

Remote working in Derry and Strabane is also extremely attractive due to the cost of general living here making salaries go that bit further.Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Brian Tierney, said that the research showed that the district is attractive for remote working on many levels.”Working from home has become a much more significant factor in most people’s lives this year, and it’s fantastic to see that Derry and Strabane ranks as the number one spot in Northern Ireland, and within the top four throughout the whole of the UK.”Derry and Strabane ticks all the right boxes when it comes to working from home and working remotely, and that’s why we have ranked much higher than some of the largest cities in the UK, such as London (88th) and Manchester (100th).”Not only is there accessibility through strong broadband speeds, but the high scores on green spaces, low crime and air quality show that Derry and Strabane is a fantastic overall location for working and living.”

David Fleming works as a Future Trader for a large independent commodities trading firm and has recently returned from London to work remotely.”The main difference I find is the commute. In London, like many others, I cycled which would cost me an hour one way,” explained David. “Not having to take an hour out in the morning for the commute I found very beneficial as I deal a lot with markets in the Far East and the extra hour in the evening became an add on to family time.”David also explained that he was surprised at the infrastructure in place which has made connecting all over the world from his home base easy and convenient. “Broadband was the first thing I looked at and was surprised that actually the broadband speed I am getting is actually slightly better than what I was getting in London.”Phone signal hasn’t been an issue either and given that EU roaming has become significantly cheaper, crossing the border on a regular basis is not the same bank-breaking process it used to be.He continued: “Everything that I need is available, and when you factor in rent/mortgage costs at a much-reduced rate overall it has been really beneficial.”Looking forward to the future, David said remote working in Derry and Strabane could become much more of a factor.”In general, I think there has to be a balance as people need to learn, develop and share ideas which is more difficult to do remotely, and it is in the junior ranks that this would be felt most.”But losing the strict 9-5 attitude and moving towards a results-based approach which, in turn, would promote better time efficiency and a better work/life balance can only be a good thing.”

Kathryn Nicell, a commercial lead in a wound care company, and her husband Andy, who works in Talent Acquisition for a financial consultancy firm, have returned to live in Derry for the first time since Andy left in 2003. Having spent time working in Canada and the United States, they were most recently based in Edinburgh, with Andy travelling to his company’s head office in London monthly, and Kathryn doing a similar journey to Wales.17 years on from when Andy left, Kathryn said they are glad to be based in Derry which has all they need for remote working and a balanced family life.”We have considered moving here several times, but now that we have the opportunity to work remotely due to Covid-19 we decided that it would be a good time to do it as we have always had the desire to bring our daughter up here in the great schools,” said Kathryn.”Andy is happy to be back in familiar and comfortable territory but is amazed at how Derry has changed through more visible investment and growth. “When things go back closer to the old normal we plan to travel to Edinburgh, London and Cardiff when we need to. The duelling of the A6 is going to reduce my travel time significantly and the introduction of a Belfast to Cardiff route next year will also help. It is very convenient for Andy to fly from Eglinton, and his travel time to the airport would be less than it was in Edinburgh.”Kathryn also credited the green spaces, community spirit, low crime rates and affordability of living as factors in the family’s decision to work remotely from Derry and to plan their future here.”Since moving here in September this year we have enjoyed local walks in many of the parks and green spaces – we are spoilt for choice with outside space. We have enjoyed being within ten minutes out of the city centre as in Scotland we were 40 minutes from the city,” explained Kathryn.”We feel blessed to be able to bring up our daughter somewhere we feel very safe. Derry is also the most family friendly place that we have lived and is what we were in the pursuit of as we moved around to different countries.  We are happy to be surrounded by happy and welcoming people who are focused on the community and family.Kathryn continued: “We are lucky that we can work anywhere (close to airport links) and are confident that Derry was the best choice for us. We considered other parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland and were seeking greater affordability and quality of life.”There was nowhere that we looked at where we could get affordable property that met all of our needs, including home office space, had great schools within walking distance and had the transport links should we start to travel again. We feel that we have found our home for life if we are able to continue to work remotely.”

To view Uswitch’s Remote Working Index, visit https://www.uswitch.com/broadband/remote-working-index/

After a career in finance at Bank of Ireland and Deutsche Bank in Belfast and Dublin, Moville-born Louise McElvaney returned to the North West with her husband Paul in 2004. Soon after, the e-learning company Learning Pool was founded at their kitchen table. Louise looked after the new venture’s HR while holding down a day job with mortgage administration company HML, before formally joining Learning Pool eight years ago. As Director of People and Performance, she’s seen the company grow to more than 200 staff in six offices in the UK and USA, including Derry-Londonderry’s Old City Factory. Learning Pool has also been listed in the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For in the UK.

As the Covid-19 pandemic loomed, Learning Pool closed all its offices and switched to remote working, and is continuing to recruit new employees and hold virtual events for customers. To create an element of fun while working remotely, the company has held arts and craft competitions for the children of employees, weekly quizzes and virtual coffee breaks.


Louise McElvaney, Learning Pool’s Director of People and Performance

Why did you decide to return to Derry?

Paul and I were living in Dublin, both travelling with work and doing really interesting roles, but we chose to move back to Derry and have a family. We had lots of friends in Dublin, but our support network and family were here. Now, I can be in work in 20 minutes whereas in Dublin it’s an hour each way, each day. It was 7am starts and home at 7pm or 8pm. I didn’t want to do that with family life, but I didn’t want to compromise my career either. 

Has Covid-19 affected Learning Pool’s long-term plans?

We see COVID as more of a short to medium-term thing. Long-term we were seeing a real shift toward online learning in most workplaces and if anything, COVID has accelerated this dramatically. Longer term it seems clear that workplaces will be very different to what we’ve been used to and this should play to our strengths as a provider of online services.

Have you learnt any lessons from the past seven months?

I think all successful businesses going forward will demand effective leadership who can create agile cultures. We need leaders to not just be responding to needs as they arise but looking further out. They will need to provide support, role model empathy, compassion and inclusive leadership. We need to help our team adopt resilient mindsets and navigate uncertainty in a way that they haven’t had to before. We are seeing a huge intersection between home life and work lives and we really need to adjust to lead our teams through this. Compassion and empathy should be key attributes to any good leader. The most basic start to this will be developing robust flexible working policies and enabling our teams to be their best. Embedding this in our cultures as the new norm.

What qualities do you look for when recruiting Learning Pool staff?

We have three core values that we embed across the team: let’s build to grow, do the right thing, and we’ve got your back. It works for our team – we promise we’ve got your back, we’re building sustainable careers, and we’ll always do the right thing – and our customers too, in the products and services that we’re providing. We are looking for someone who’s curious and excited about being part of that engaged Learning Pool team. We’re serious about developing peoples’ careers because we know people are our best assets. If you look after your people, the rest will follow. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking of relocating to Derry and Strabane, or investing here?

I would say go for it. It’s a wonderful place to work. You’ve got all the beaches, it’s so friendly and there’s so much to do in the city these days – entertainment, restaurants, hotels. There are great schools and universities locally and in surrounding areas. Rush hour in Derry is 10 minutes. And there’s a serious pool of talent and opportunities. The more companies that come here and create sustainable jobs, the more talent we’re going to attract. There’s also a great support network; I find businesses here really do pull together and the Chamber of Commerce do a great job of providing training for businesses. There’s also the opportunity with the City Deal coming on board and the new medical school. 

What next for Learning Pool? 

We’re continuing to develop our product set and have developed an entirely new product function. We’ve also acquired a team in Boston. So, while we’ll continue to sell into the UK and European market, we’re also looking at the North American market. There’s huge opportunity there. We have 50 new roles across our six sites that we’ll hire in the next 12 months. We’re really excited about those creative minds that will come into the team and help shape the direction.