Local social prescribing firm Elemental has been named Best Small Tech Company of the Year at the 2020 Digital DNA Awards.

The Derry-based ‘tech for good’ company helps connect individuals, families and their carers with community-based programmes, services and interventions to make a positive impact on their lives.

Elemental Co-founders/CEOs Leeann Monk-Özgül and Jennifer Neff were also highly commended in the Founder of the Year category at the awards, which celebrate Northern Ireland’s best technology businesses and people.

This year’s awards were held online and featured more than 300 entries from over 160 companies.

“Myself, Jennifer and the entire team at Elemental are on cloud nine after winning the Digital DNA Small Tech of the Year award,” said Leeann Monk-Özgül.

“The calibre of finalists in each category of the Digital DNA awards is testament to how much the tech sector is thriving here and how much talent we have on our doorstep.”

FinTrU has been named in this year’s Sunday Times Virgin Atlantic Fast Track 100 as the 42nd fastest-growing company across the whole of the UK. The league table features the UK’s 100 private companies with the fastest growth over the last three years.

FinTrU Founder & CEO, Darragh McCarthy, said “This is a fantastic achievement and something that all our employees should be immensely proud of. Each and every member of the team has played a crucial role in FinTrU’s success so far and this national recognition is testament to their hard work and dedication during their FinTrU careers.”

The league table ranks businesses across the whole of the UK and FinTrU is the only company from Northern Ireland featured in the list.

FinTrU Chief of Staff, Katrien Roppe, also added “We are delighted that FinTrU has received this accolade. This is not only recognition for this year but for the past number of years in FinTrU’s short history. During this time, our employees have excelled professionally and demonstrated ambition with humility, whilst our company has undergone rapid growth. We recently opened our first US premises in New York, which demonstrates our commitment to expand our global footprint.”

Despite the pandemic, FinTrU has proven to very resilient during 2020 with a growth rate of 75% driven by operational excellence. The company has secured eight new client contracts and two additional Tier 1 Investment Bank clients during this period.

About FinTrU

Founded in December 2013, FinTrU is a multi-award winning RegTech company in the Financial Services sector that is committed to giving local talent the opportunity to work on the global stage with the largest International Investment Banks. FinTrU works with Tier 1 Investment Bank clients to find solutions to help them meet with their regulations in areas such as; Legal, Risk, Compliance, KYC, Operations, Consultancy and Technology. FinTrU employs over 700 people across Belfast, Derry/Londonderry, London and New York.

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.”


A Londonderry school has been named as the UK Secondary School of the Year at this year’s Pearson Teaching Awards.

St Cecilia’s College, an all-girls’ secondary school in Creggan, was announced as the 2020 winner on BBC’s The One Show on Friday.

The school was told they had won the prestigious national teaching award on a video call with presenter Alex Jones.

“I am so chuffed, I am so proud and I am so humbled,” principal Martine Mulhern said.

Another Northern Ireland school, Hazelwood Integrated College in north Belfast, was also shortlisted for the award and won silver.

In a tweet, Education Minister Peter Weir said: “Well done on a very deserved award St Cecilia’s.”

The Pearson Awards were founded in 1998 to celebrate excellence in UK education.

Mrs Mulhern nominated the school for the Making a Difference: Secondary School of the Year award because she thinks everyone who contributes to the school’s success deserves recognition.

Creggan is one of the most deprived areas in Northern Ireland, with over half the pupils in the school eligible for free school meals, which is twice the national average.

Mrs Mulhern said she did not want the past of the area, which was hit hard by the Troubles, to define the school.

“It is very, very important that we continue to march forward into the future and not allow anything or anyone to take us back to a place we don’t want to be.

“We create a pathway through our school that allows every single child – regardless of ability, regardless of socio-economic background – to achieve their absolute potential.”

Despite the challenges, the students excel academically with 97% of pupils getting A-C grades in at least five GCSE grades.

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.

Derry and Strabane’s fantastic eateries and artisan producers are taking centre stage with the unveiling of the LegenDerry food and drink brand.

The brand, launched by the local Food and Drink Network and supported by the Council, brings together our finest food-focused talent and puts the City and District firmly on the foodie map for locals and visitors alike.

Our innovative, authentic producers, growers, chefs, brewers and restaurateurs are celebrated on the new LegenDerry food website and in marketing material, including this video.

More than 50 online events took place in Derry and Strabane as part of the world’s first UNESCO Virtual Learning Festival.

(Photo – Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

Derry City and Strabane District Council, alongside funding partners North West Regional College and Ulster University, held the world’s first Virtual Learning City  Festival on Wednesday and Thursday.

Over 50 online events took place during the two-day programme in the form of information sessions, live presentations, short films and live chats exploring key areas such as Jobs & Skills, Health & Well-Being, Arts& Culture and Technology & Science.

In total, there were 40,000 engagement views on Facebook and other social media platforms during the two days.  

In addition, there was over 9,500 visitors to the bespoke Learning Festival website, including views on Youtube coming  largely from the UK and Ireland, but also due to the nature event and associated global conference which launched the festival, recorded traffic also came from Europe, Ukraine and Japan and Brazil. 

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Brian Tierney joined speakers from Colombia, Seoul, Bangkok, Cork, Hamburg, USA and Derry to open the festival, and he said he was delighted to see so many had enjoyed the programme on offer.

“Achieving the UNESCO Learning City status for the Derry and Strabane region was an important moment for our district, it was brilliant to see it celebrated in virtual format.

“The wide variety of topics covered meant that there was something to attract everyone’s attention, and it really captured the essence of what learning is about – picking up new skills and information.

“Thanks to our Council team, to North West Regional College and Ulster University, and to all those who delivered workshops and interactive sessions across the two days  without this collaboration we could not have run  a virtual event.”

Malachy Ó Néill, Provost at Ulster University’s Magee campus said: “Ulster University has been privileged to collaborate once again with our neighbours Derry City and Strabane District Council and North West Regional College to acquire UNSECO Learning City status for our city and to host the inaugural Virtual Learning Festival. Well done and thank you to all involved.

“It has been inspirational to see and hear so many people come together to learn. As our thoughts turn to enabling the cultural and tourism sectors in the North West post COVID-19, we look forward to building on this initiative in the future for the good of the people of the city and region.”

Leo Murphy, Principal and Chief Executive of North West Regional College said: “This was a fantastic festival and all at NWRC were delighted to be part of such an innovative event in this new era of learning through a virtual format.

“We continue to support career ambitions across the region and look forward to continued collaboration with the partners of the festival in the future.”

Padraig Canavan, Chair Learning City said: “It was an honour for us to attract so many distinguished speakers from around the globe to our opening seminar.  

“With ‘Lockdown Learning’ as the theme we heard about individual, community and nationwide learning initiatives like ‘Classrooms without Walls’ and the new libraries – ‘Smart Learning Civic Centres’.  A great first for Learning Cities and for Derry and Strabane.”

If you missed the festival over the last few days you can watch all of the LIVE Zoom recordings and premiered events at the Learning Hub.  Learning City’s is delighted that this Learning hub can be now used and shared.  It is a valuable resource for people of all ages to enjoy at any time, over and over again available at https://www.derrystrabane.com/LearningFest. 

A leading Derry/Londonderry-based financial services firm has enjoyed its best quarter to date, despite the global COVID-19 crisis.


Executive Director and Head of FinTrU North West, Greg McCann

Since the coronavirus lockdown, FinTrU has acquired two major new clients, and made 75 new hires for its bases in the North West and Belfast.

The award-winning company’s Financial Services Academies have also continued virtually, with the latest cohort having been trained remotely and now working in a variety of roles.

Executive Director and Head of FinTrU North West, Greg McCann, said the firm was looking forward to a “very healthy pipeline of new business opportunities”, and recommended the North West as an excellent location for other investors.

In mid-March, FinTrU took swift action and decided all 450 employees, including more than 120 staff in the Derry offices, should switch to remote working during the Covid crisis.

“It was a very busy few weeks getting everyone set up at home and making sure they had the right equipment, but the connectivity has been great in the North West, and we’re fortunate to work in a sector that has been quite robust during this period,” said Mr McCann.

“We’ve continued to grow, and keep doing what we do best. We haven’t had to avail of any government aid or furlough any staff.”

FinTrU was founded in 2013 and opened its North West site two years ago, attracted by the excellent pool of talent in the region, including graduates from local institutions such as Ulster University’s Magee campus and the Letterkenny Institute of Technology.

It plans to have 305 staff in the city over five years, and is ahead of track to meet this target. Hiring has also continued during the pandemic, with FinTrU working hard to ensure that new recruits working from home feel welcome, through virtual coffee breaks, ‘buddying up’ with existing employees along with other online internal networking activities.

“We aim to have 600 people working at FinTrU in Northern Ireland by the end of this year. We’re well on schedule, and Covid-19 hasn’t changed that,” Mr McCann added.

The Limavady native also praised the North West as a great place to invest.

“Every academy we’ve run, we’ve been oversubscribed and we’ve always been able to select the right people because there are a lot of high quality graduates from the local universities and colleges,” he added.

“We’ve had no technical issues during Covid-19; the connectivity has been good. I think after lockdown, people will be thinking more than ever about quality of life – which is excellent here, with beaches and beautiful scenery on our doorstep.

“This access to the outdoors in the North West has also been great for staff wellbeing during the pandemic – it’s something you just don’t get in more built-up cities.”

As well as a societal shift towards more home working, Mr McCann said the City and District may benefit from businesses deciding to ‘reshore’ outsourced functions back to Northern Ireland.

“We’re aware that clients have had issues in some parts of the world that haven’t responded as well to Covid,” he added.

“We’ve had lots of fantastic feedback from clients; we’ve had no drop off of our service to them, we’ve been able to respond rapidly, with great connectivity. We’re hoping to see the benefit of that going forward.”

The head of Northern Ireland’s largest IT company has paid tribute to hundreds of staff in the North West for helping ensure the firm’s continued success during the COVID-19 crisis.

Allstate NI, Managing Director: John Healy

Allstate NI was established in 1998 to provide high quality software development services and business solutions in support of its US-based parent company, the Allstate Corporation.

It employs 900 people in its Derry and Strabane offices, and a further 1500 staff in Belfast, and is one of a number of North West firms who have managed to thrive despite the challenges posed by the crisis.

The firm took the decision to move all 2400 staff to virtual working in mid-March. Since then, Allstate has managed to maintain productivity levels and a steady order book – an achievement Managing Director John Healy attributes to the talent, skills and connectivity found in the North West, and Northern Ireland in general.

“I’m hugely proud of how the workforce has responded to this,” Mr Healy said. “As I talk to the leaders back in the US, they are incredibly happy with what we’ve managed to achieve here.”

“We already have a culture within the business of people working from home; we have the infrastructure to allow that to happen, and we periodically test it. But whenever you’re doing it for real, to watch how people respond, now for over 11 weeks, it’s just been amazing.”

Staff from the Derry and Strabane sites were “incredibly busy” as Covid-19 unfolded, with part of Allstate’s technology helpdesk functionality run in these locations.

“During the initial weeks of the crisis, those teams in the North West helped our colleagues right around the globe to move quickly and safely to working from home,” said Mr Healy.

“The volumes have now come back down to normal levels, but definitely they were key to the success of the corporation as a whole as we all move to new ways of working.”

As a major centre for innovative software development, covering the full lifecycle from design to maintenance and support, the local wealth of talent and experience was a huge draw for Allstate.

Asked what message he would give to other investors who are considering the North West as a location, Mr Healy said: “The initial set-up of Allstate in the North West was around getting access to a deep talent pool, not just in Derry and Strabane, but also from hinterland such as Donegal.

“What we’ve managed to achieve over the years that we’ve operated out of the North West shows that decision was absolutely spot on. These are really talented individuals who are making a great contribution to the success of all of our businesses.

“And the innovation, the resilience, the ingenuity of the people who are making it work, from home, in recent weeks has been great.”

Mr Healy predicted longer term changes to working practices for many businesses, including Allstate NI.

“We’ll still have the office and we’ll still have people who are calling in to work with colleagues and interact with others, but I think it will definitely change our perception around how much we need to be in the office and how that space is used,” he said.

“Whenever you’re working in a hi-tech environment like ours, as long as you’ve got your laptop and a connection to the internet, you’re able to connect onto the Allstate infrastructure and do your job from wherever you find yourself.”

The broadband infrastructure in employees’ homes has been holding up “incredibly well”, Mr Healy added.

“We’ve had very few issues with connectivity for our employees when they’ve been working from home.

“It’s fantastic that we can have everybody at home, safe and secure, at a time of crisis.”

The firm have even recently completed another successful recruitment drive for Service Desk Analysts in the North West – initially working from home but based out of their Derry and Strabane offices when it is safe to return.

InterTradeIreland’s Fusion programme has awarded “Exemplar” status to five businesses across the island, two of which are Northern Ireland based.

The Fusion initiative supports business development by collaborating companies with a research institution and a graduate project manager, funded by InterTradeIreland.

The graduate then works directly with the business to deliver new products or improved processes over 12 to 18 months.

Operations manager Alan Morrow said: “All of these Fusion projects were in very different areas. However, all of the companies involved were open to new products and processes. This is what the Fusion programme is about – giving firms the tools to boost their business through innovative collaboration.”

The five businesses have reported sales of more than £2.2m between them and savings of over £150,000 during their Fusion projects.

They have combined anticipated sales upwards of £14m and savings of £400,000 over the next three years.

Belfast medtech Axial3D makes custom 3D printed replicas from medical scans, to improve outcomes for patients through better surgical planning. 

The company started its Fusion project to improve its capability of printing paediatric cardiac anatomy in 3D. It paired with Professor Kathleen Curran in University College Dublin and graduate James Fitzpatrick.

It has now developed new technology, entered a new market its staff has grown from 14 employees to 24. The company was also recently named ‘Health Technology leader’ in the 2020 Global Digital Health 100 list.

Hawthorn Heights in Eglinton, Derry/Londonderry specialises in the design and installation of play parks, sports pitches and landscaping.

It worked with Sligo Institute of Technology and graduate Ciaran Farren. The company said it has since doubled its turnover and has had to move to bigger premises.

Margaret Hearty, Director of Operations at InterTradeIreland concluded: “All of these companies have showcased the success and commercial benefits that come from collaboration. The results speak for themselves and we would encourage other SMEs who want to build innovation into their business to apply for our Fusion programme.”