Ulster University gets £5m donation to boost data analytics

Ulster University is to boost its prominence in the field of data analytics and artificial intelligence following a £5 million donation.

The money is to be spent on the establishment of the Dr George Moore chair in data analytics. The late Dr Moore was described by the university as “one of the founding fathers” of the data analytics industry.

Professor Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor, Ulster University, with Angela Moore, who made the donation.

Professor Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor, Ulster University, with Angela Moore, who made the donation.

The donation was made by Dr Moore’s wife, Angela Moore. Recruitment for the role has begun and the selection process is ongoing.

“The chair will be a stellar, world-class academic, who will lead an innovative research team responding dynamically to the real-world needs of data analytics,” said Ulster University.

“In recognition of Mrs Moore’s gift, Ulster University will recruit an associated research fellow and three PhD students who will contribute to revolutionising global AI and data analytics research.”

Dr George Moore, born in Co Louth, left Ireland in 1972 and established Targus Information, a world leading data analytics service provider, whose technologies are used by many Fortune 500 companies.

Dr Moore predicted the explosion of information that would follow the creation of the internet and he recognised the commercial value of harnessing such information though data analytics.

Ulster University awarded Dr George Moore an honorary doctorate in 2005 in recognition of his “outstanding contribution to society” and his global impact on the field of data analytics.

Alchemy Technology Services has announced it is setting up a European Centre of Excellence in Derry. It will provide software implementation and technology consultancy to the UK and European insurance sector. The company will provide certified staff to System Integrators, Software Providers and insurance companies for the implementation of digital solutions across the insurance industry. To meet this demand the company aims to recruit 256 staff.

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Announcing the significant investment, Alastair Hamilton, CEO, Invest Northern Ireland said: “The Alchemy management team has extensive knowledge of the insurance sector and in delivering transformation projects. They have identified a gap in the market to provide a service to the insurance industry and believe Londonderry is the right place to find the talent to meet this need. “Alchemy is planning to create the new roles in software implementation and technology consultancy over the next three years. The majority of the roles will be customer facing with the opportunity to work on projects right across Europe. “With average salaries in the mid-£20k range, and good opportunities for progression, these are roles that will suit college and university students, as well as graduates. “Once the project is fully implemented it will generate over £6.5 million in annual salaries, a real economic boost for Northern Ireland, and the North West specifically.” The government has offered nearly £2.3m of funding to support the creation of the new roles and secure the project for Northern Ireland.

John Harkin, Director and Founder, Alchemy said: “Insurance companies in the UK, and across Europe, are making an unprecedented investment in the digital transformation of their core systems and processes to respond to the changing demands within their marketplace. There is a real shortage of specialist skills to respond to this upsurge in digital transformation projects across the insurance industry. We plan to help meet that demand by bringing new talent into the industry. “We look forward to working with the Department for the Economy’s Assured Skills Training programme to recruit business and technology oriented graduates and college students with good communication and interpersonal skills to fill these customer facing roles. “I am originally from Derry, and have made frequent visits here in recent months as we assessed different locations for this investment. I have met with the colleges and university, and numerous students and have been impressed. I am confident that this is the right place to set up our business and find the talent we need.”

Danske Bank creates 67 jobs in Londonderry

Danske Bank has created 67 jobs in Londonderry at a new customer protection centre.

The roles, 25 of which have already been filled, will include quality assurance managers and analysts.

Invest Northern Ireland has offered Danske Bank £234,500 towards the creation of the jobs.

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Once fully operational, the centre will generate nearly £1.5m annually for the local economy in salaries, according to Danske Bank.

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Stephen Matchett, Danske Bank’s chief financial officer, said: “This is exciting news”.

“We also had great support from Invest NI.

“The centre will be there for due diligence. How customers operate on their accounts is vital information that we need to be across.

“Cyber crime is very important to us. The centre will have direct contact to the customer.”

He said the typical salary would be in the region of £17,000 or £18,000.

Local tech entrepreneur wins UK Gamechanger of the Year Award

Robert O’Brien, CEO of leading cyber tech firm MetaCompliance, has won the UK Gamechanger of the Year Award at the ACQ5 Global Awards 2018.

Robert O’Brien, CEO of leading cyber tech firm MetaCompliance

Robert O’Brien, CEO of leading cyber tech firm MetaCompliance

Having successfully grown and sold a number of technology firms in the past, Robert is an excellent example of a modern entrepreneur, and his achievements have been recognised by the recent award win.

The ACQ5 Global Awards recognise the most outstanding organisations and professionals across the globe and celebrates the best in achievement, ability and performance.

MetaCompliance has been developing software and content for the Cyber Security and Compliance market since 2005 and is experiencing a phenomenal phase of growth as worldwide demand for its products increases.

The massive growth in cyber-crime has meant that cyber security and compliance have now become key priorities for organisations as they realise the massive implications that a data breach can have on their business.

MetaCompliance has created a product range that directly addresses the specific challenges that arise from cyber threats and corporate governance, and the company has helped over 600 organisations around the world stay cyber secure and compliant.

Clients of the company include BUPA, ITN, Jaguar LandRover, Vodafone, Volkswagen, ESB, Schroeders, Dentons, Top Oil, Jamie Oliver Ltd and one of the largest Banks in the world, with a network of over 360,000 staff in 172 countries.

Robert has been instrumental in driving the business forward and ensuring the company remains at the forefront of innovation.

With more than 30 years’ experience in the IT industry, Robert is a serial technology entrepreneur with a wealth of experience in executing and developing strategies for high growth businesses.

Robert commented on the award win and the plans for the business going forward: “I’m delighted to win the UK Gamechanger of the Year Award, it’s a real buzz!

“Our purpose is to help organisations keep their staff safe online and protect their brand and reputation.

“As disrupters in our industry, we recognise that Cyber Security is hard for ordinary people and we are relentless in our vision of making this palatable, whilst ensuring people are equipped with the skills to protect themselves online.”

The award win continues the winning streak for the company after it recently won the award for the Most Innovative Cyber Security eLearning solutions, by Corporate Vision Magazine.

To support its continued growth, the company recently announced a major recruitment drive of 30 graduates for its Derry office and is still welcoming applications across all disciplines including software development, software testing, sales, marketing, HR, support, design and motion graphics.

Derry company Blockception is taking the world by storm with its virtual creations for blockbuster game ‘Minecraft’. The Campsie-based company was recently honoured as ‘North West Creative Industries Business of the Year’ in recognition of its leadership in a global marketplace for Minecraft ‘maps’.

The business essentially creates sets of Lego-like virtual building blocks and items to enable Minecraft gamers to build different environments from their imaginations. “If you can dream it, we can make it,” explains 21 year-old Derry man Jonathan Black who, along with joint Managing Director Alex Bellavita (24), formed Blockception in 2015. The whizzkids hit the mother lode last year when their company was one of only nine pioneer Minecraft partners selected from around the world by Microsoft to launch its Minecraft Marketplace Programme.

Blockception’s limited edition creation, Lost Civilisation, was downloaded more than 1.1 million times over the Christmas period – with 850,000 in a single day. Jonathan explains: “Lost Civilisation was part of a 12-day marketing campaign by Microsoft around Christmas. Microsoft wanted to release a free product from one of their partners and ours was chosen. “It was a set based on a Machu Picchu-inspired world that the user could explore. For Christmas, we added snow to give it a festive feel.”

Prior to the approach from Microsoft, the business was being sustained by local projects including a virtual recreation of Derry’s Guildhall. “Culture Tech asked us to do a project on the ‘Four Wonders of Northern Ireland’: The Guildhall, Mussenden Temple, Harland and Wolff and Belfast City Hall. We also recreated 17th century Carrickfergus for Carrickfergus Museum. “But the jobs were not flooding in and we were putting a lot of effort in for very little return. A week before Microsoft approached us, we had agreed to hand over to another company. Just a day before the handover, Alex got the email about Lost Civilisation,” Jonathan says. Alex explains: “We were so close to moving away from Minecraft. It seems unthinkable now. We got an email and everything kicked off again.

After Lost Civilisation, Microsoft came calling once more. “We were asked to help launch a new programme – a completely new revenue model for Minecraft. The Minecraft Marketplace Programme would not launch until June 2017 and we were very privileged to get in at the start,” Alex adds. Blockception was registered as a limited company on March 2, 2017. Trading became very brisk after the Marketplace launch. Alex and Jonathan have themselves enjoyed playing Minecraft for many years and that now allows them to create maps that have real appeal for gamers. Jonathan explains:

“We’ve been playing Minecraft for a long time – I started playing it at 14. We’ve had a long time to learn things from a consumer point of view. We’ve now gone full circle – ‘players to providers’.”

Blockception has a Minecraft build team of more than 50 environment designers, programmers and field experts, in countries around the world. Jonathan says: “The vast skill of our team allows us to tackle all types of Minecraft maps and achieve the ambitions of our clients, however imaginative. “We create custom-built maps that include but are not limited to minigame maps, adventure maps, hubs, concepts and film sets. “Our aim is always to produce fun-filled, immersive content, which is distributed at affordable prices and enjoyed by millions globally, regardless of language or age.”

Blockception was invited to the world renowned Gamescom in Cologne last August to showcase a project named ‘Kingdom Assault’. Another of the company’s offerings, ‘Whiterock Castle’, topped the Marketplace Purchases League Table for four out of the first five months that it was first listed on the Minecraft Store in September, 2017.

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Meanwhile, Blockception shared the North West Business Awards honour for Creative Industries Business of the Year at last Friday night’s ceremony hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce and City Centre Initiative at the City Hotel. Jonathan said: “It is a great achievement for such a young company and wouldn’t have been possible without such a talented and dedicated workforce.” For more, check out blockception.com

Foods Connected Ltd is making a £1.7million investment and creating 20 new jobs to help it increase its export sales and keep up with the growing demand for its services.

The Londonderry based software firm provides a range of cloud-based software tools to help companies in the food industry manage processes and information across Supplier Approval, Quality and Trading, resulting in reduced costs and increased profitability.

Welcoming the investment, Des Gartland, Invest Northern Ireland’s North West Regional Manager said: “Foods Connected is an export focused company which is making a major investment in the North West and creating 20 new high quality jobs. The new team will be recruited over the next two years and once in place, will generate over £800,000 annually in additional salaries to the local economy.

Invest NI has offered Foods Connected support of £157,000 to help create the new jobs. Roles include systems developers and project management & business development roles.

Gary Tyre, Co-Founder and System Development Director of Foods Connected said: “This investment forms part of our long term growth strategy to become a market leader in management tools for the food sector. We’ve been delighted with the practical support and expert advice provided by Invest NI which we have used to redesign our brand through the Design Active Programme, and support our company expansion plans.

“Over the last few years, demand for our products has grown rapidly with projects well underway with major food processors and retailers in the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Recruitment for the new jobs is underway and will give us the resources to keep up with demand and ensure we are well positioned to take advantage of the wide range of growth opportunities we have identified over the coming years.”

Foods Connected currently employs 19 staff and is located in The City Factory, Londonderry with additional offices in Belfast and Sydney.

Beacon Broadband is creating 12 jobs in Derry~Londonderry.
A new wireless broadband provider based in the North West, Beacon Broadband is creating 12 jobs in Derry~Londonderry to help it increase its export sales and position itself for future growth in the Republic of Ireland market.

Beacon Broadband delivers high speed wireless broadband to homes and businesses.

Des Gartland, Invest Northern Ireland’s North West Regional Manager welcomed the expansion during a visit to the company’s premises: “Beacon Broadband was established in 2016 to exploit a gap in the wireless broadband market created as a result of the increased popularity in media streaming. These new jobs are great news for the local area and our support is ensuring the company has the resources in place to win new business in its target markets.”

“Helping small businesses and entrepreneurs to compete and grow in export markets is a priority for Invest NI. We are confident that this is only the beginning for Beacon Broadband and we look forward to building on our relationship with the company in the coming years. ”

Invest Northern Ireland has offered the company £48,000 towards the creation of the new jobs. Roles to be created include installers, sales support staff, an office manager and a technical engineer.

Managing Director of Beacon Broadband, Brian McCourt said: “Our company ethos is built on providing strong customer service backed by the provision of guaranteed service speeds and uptime. Using the latest technology, we offer speeds that rival fibre broadband in areas that have little or no broadband access. This is making us a very attractive proposition to many consumers across both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland.”

Pictured (L-R) are Brian McCourt, Beacon Broadband, and Des Gartland, Invest NI

Pictured (L-R) are Brian McCourt, Beacon Broadband, and Des Gartland, Invest NI

MetaCompliance plans to double Derry~Londonderry workforce

Pictured (L – R) are Robert O’Brien, MetaCompliance, and Jeremy Fitch, Invest NI.

Pictured (L – R) are Robert O’Brien, MetaCompliance, and Jeremy Fitch, Invest NI.


North West based technology firm MetaCompliance is recruiting 69 new jobs over the next three years to help develop its worldwide sales and market presence. The company develops software and creative content for the cyber security sector and is aiming to triple its turnover by capitalising on the demand for cloud based cyber security products. To deliver on its objective, MetaCompliance is recruiting a combination of sales and IT roles to implement a new sales model targeting prospective customers across Europe and the US.

Welcoming the expansion, Invest Northern Ireland’s Executive Director of Business & Sector Development, Jeremy Fitch said: “MetaCompliance is one of our most innovative technology companies with a long standing commitment to the North West. The company has used a range of Invest NI support to enhance its competitiveness in the global marketplace which has included support for research and development, skills development and marketing. This new investment will support its global ambitions and create valuable employment opportunities in the Derry and Strabane District Council area. The 69 jobs being recruited at the company, 29 of which are already in place, will generate £1.7million annually in additional salaries into the local economy and will see the company triple its workforce over the next three years.”

The market opportunities are driven by the growing global threat from phishing and ransomware, as well as the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) in May 2018 and the need for policy management solutions throughout all industries.

The company provides clients with cost-effective cloud first software which makes compliance easier for organisations governed by stringent legislative and regulatory requirements such as Data Protection, Privacy and Bribery laws. Invest NI has offered MetaCompliance £652,000 towards the creation of the new jobs.

Speaking about the expansion, Robert O’Brien, Chief Executive of MetaCompliance, said: “This is an exciting stage in our business’ growth, as we implement ambitious plans to double our workforce and triple our turnover. Invest NI’s ongoing support is central to the continued growth of our business. Invest NI’s ongoing support is central to the continued growth of our business and we are delighted with the progress of recruitment to date and also the calibre of talent available in the North West.

“Enhancing our market development team in Derry supports the targeted approach we plan to take to maximise the sales potential of our cyber security and compliance products. We are focused on expanding our customer base and will be working hard to engage prospective clients from both public sector and commercial industry throughout Europe and the US.”

The company’s product suite includes IT Governance, Risk and Compliance (IT GRC) solutions that enable organisations to automate, enforce and manage the key tasks associated with user awareness and employee engagement for information assurance. MetaCompliance’s recruitment drive will increase its workforce total to 102 by 2019. The company will be holding a recruitment day in City Hotel, Derry, on Friday 01 December between 09:00 and 17:00.

Ulster University one of eight UK universities in major data science partnership with the BBC.

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Ulster University has been announced as one of just eight UK universities to form a major five-year research partnership with BBC Research and Development to unlock the potential of data analysis in the media.

The Data Science Research Partnership will be at the forefront of machine learning in the media industry, helping create a more personal BBC that can inform, educate and entertain in new ways.

The partnership brings together industry experts from across the BBC and world-leading UK data scientists from Ulster University, with the Universities of Bristol, Manchester, Edinburgh and Surrey, Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, and University College London.

Ulster University will contribute its wealth of research and sectoral expertise from media and journalism, film and television to data analytics. The university’s advanced research into data driven journalism and viewer engagement will be of particular relevance to the partnership.

The partnership will also collaborate with media and technology organisations from across the UK, Europe and internationally on a range of projects. These will focus on the following four areas, all combining anonymised BBC data with cutting-edge algorithms and analytics. The aim is to create a body of research, insights and prototypes that can start making a real impact on the BBC and its audiences.

The research will assist with:

Understanding audiences: Use data to better understand what audiences want from the BBC, why they want it, and what impact these programmes or services have on them.

Understanding content: Explore what machine learning can teach the BBC about its programmes and services,and what it stands to gain from it.

Curation and personalisation: Create a more personal BBC, designing tools and algorithms to help programme makers with editorial and commissioning decisions.

Content of the future: Design future audience experiences, based on BBC R&D’s object-based broadcasting concept, and new forms of data journalism.

Alongside this will be a range of educational opportunities to help the BBC and its staff improve the skills they’ll need in a data-driven future. This will include the development of tailored courses ranging from entry-level to advanced, MSc Data Science apprenticeships, and secondments between the BBC and all the research partners, including Ulster University.

Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice Chancellor Ulster University said:

Ulster University continues to work at the forefront of data analytics, pioneering advances across multiple domains including health and medical research, financial technology, international finance, advanced manufacturing and energy and, media.

“With the launch of our Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory earlier this year, the first data analytics institute in Northern Ireland, Ulster University cemented its reputation as a global leader, a position which is now even further enhanced by this partnership with the BBC.

“Combined with our work in the broader creative industries and the development of industry-relevant courses, this partnership will see Ulster University play an integral role in shaping the future of broadcasting. It will ensure that one of the world’s biggest public service broadcast organisations can fully harness the power of data and computer systems with cognitive thought processes to deliver unrivalled audience experience.”

Matthew Postgate, the BBC’s Chief Technology and Product Officer, said:

“The BBC has always been at its best when it combines creativity with technology. As we reinvent the BBC, we can see the opportunities that data and machine learning are opening up for us, our creative talent and our audiences. This partnership will help us break new ground and ensure we continue giving audiences the very best in public service broadcasting well into the future.”

Samantha Chadwick, Head of Partnerships, BBC R&D, said:

“Machine learning is going to play an increasingly important role in the world. Together with our partners and funding bodies, we want to apply these advances in data science to the media industry, and to make a real difference to people’s lives. The partnership will also address the scarcity of data scientists in the UK, training a new generation of data scientists on real media problems, to create new audience experiences that don’t even exist yet.”

At the announcement Ulster University presented key aspects of ongoing research including work carried out through a recently formed Ulster University spinout, NeuroCONCISE. The firm develops technology that enables people to interact with technology and communicate by analysing brain waves. Although the research initially was developed for healthcare, Ulster University is now applying it to journalism and creative media as one method of predicting and understanding audience behaviour.

Padraig Canavan (Acorn Angels) and Oli Cavanagh (Flender)

Padraig Canavan (Acorn Angels) and Oli Cavanagh (Flender)

Irish-based company Flender has won a funding package including the first investment by the Derry/Londonderry Acorn Angel Group, which included Padraig Canavan, Liam Bradley and Paul McElvaney. Flender is an online platform that creates a marketplace for businesses and individuals in the Republic of Ireland to borrow and lend money safely and at better rates than those offered by the banks.

In a significant development following this investment, Flender was awarded full FCA authorisation to launch in the UK, a market nearly 300 times larger than the Irish Peer-to-Peer market. The Flender UK offering will launch in June.

Flender is the brainchild of Strabane born Oli Cavanagh and business partners Kris Koik and Jeremy Davies Betancourt. They have secured funding of nearly £1M to develop the opportunity. This marks the first investment by the Acorn Angels group, whose focus is on investing in the North West and who hope to attract more businesses to pitch for investment.

As well as the Acorn Angels, which was facilitated by Halo at Catalyst Inc, the funding package includes a number of private investors, including Mark Roden, cofounder of Esat Digifone (sold for over £1Billion) and founder of Ding, the world’s largest mobile top-up network. The company is also ‘backed by the crowd’, having reached their £500,000 funding target on crowdfunding platform, Seedrs, in January this year.

Flender enables businesses and consumers to borrow money through their existing networks of friends, family and customers. This market alone is estimated to be worth £2.9bn per annum and it is the aim of company to be first to formalise and automate it.

The platform has just gone live in Ireland and is launching in the UK in June. The company already has many businesses on their flender.ie site seeking a total investment of over €900,000 plus a pipeline of others ready to go onto the platform.

Flender’s Co-Founder, Oli Cavanagh, explains:

Flender lets people take advantage of a disruptive marketplace that is seeing triple-digit growth, making access to funds easier and generating better returns for lenders. It is a web and mobile offering that lets borrowers decide the amount they wish to repay over a period that suits them. They are quickly matched with lenders who also get the return they want. Borrowing and lending happens via a smartphone, in a paperless transaction, and with automated payments setup and digital contracts that provide a secure legal framework. It also lets businesses reward their customers by inviting them to participate, and directs the repayments to them rather than to a bank. The knock-on effect of this is increased loyalty from customers.”

Liam Bradley, Acorn Angels, commented:

“The ability of the Flender platform to engage lenders from within a business’ own social circles is what the group identified as a real gap in the market. Within an addressable market of over £5.4bn between the UK and Ireland, we believe that the company has an opportunity for massive growth. With our first investment under our belts, we would welcome more companies from the North West applying to the group for investment. ”