During trade missions to Philadelphia and Boston 12th – 16th  November potential American investors were told that the North West is perfectly placed for an ‘investment hub for business and global companies seeking to establish a gateway to both the UK and EU markets’.

A number of focused engagements with industry specialists, FDI executives and venture capitalists took place throughout the week in both Philadelphia and Boston as part of the Trade and Investment mission led jointly by Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council, presenting the compelling investment proposition that the Northwest City Region has to offer.

Potential investors heard from leading global company DuPont, which has a longstanding commitment to the region, taking advantage of the unique combination of benefits that the Northwest region has to offer including an accessible, connected and business friendly gateway region with a compelling vision for greater international impact.

Investors learned that companies and businesses are attracted by a talented and educated workforce, the value balance, the superb quality of life and the supportive business environment.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council John Boyle believes that: “The strength of the region is underpinned by the strong collaborative approach which sees industry, government at both central and local level, and further and higher education institutions from both sides of the border working together to fuel further economic growth and prosperity. This is something that investor’s value greatly in terms of facilitating ease of access to supports in the region.”

Local businesses from a range of sectors across both Council areas also participated in the mission meeting with potential clients and business partners with a view to increasing sales and expanding their businesses.

Derry based Bridie Mullin Irish Linen Ltd. participated in the mission and brought her eponymous label of handcrafted quality Irish line to Boston in an effort to tap into the US market.

Bridie explains that the trade visit was an opportunity to build on her own research, and to visit stores and meet with potential clients gaining a deeper understanding of what exactly the customer is looking for. It also allowed her to get an insight into the potential costs associated with exporting and logistics assisting in finalising price points for trading.

The trade and investment mission also involved engagement with educational institutions with a memorandum of understanding being signed by the North West Regional College and Philadelphia Community College and the State of Pennsylvania during the mission that sees the consolidation of relationships developed over the last two years.

The week also saw the announcement by both Councils of an exciting research project with Harvard Graduate School of Design, exploring how the cross-border northwest city region can be shaped in light of the economic, political and social realities of Brexit. This project is being led by Assistant Professor Gareth Doherty in Harvard GSD, who is originally from Donegal.

Reaching out to the diaspora was also a key objective of the mission and this manifested in events in both Philadelphia and Boston, where members of the diaspora from across the region attended and shared with the delegation the opportunities and challenges faced by the diaspora and their commitment to continue to engage in a way that is meaningful and mutually beneficial.

The Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council also had the honour of accepting on behalf of Donegal Hospice a cheque of $14,000 raised by the Donegal community in Philadelphia. Speaking after the trip, Chief Executive of Donegal County Council, Seamus Neely, said: “This Trade and Investment Mission is part of the ongoing positive work being done by both Councils. We are committed to continuing with the positive work we are doing to drive forward our economy and to maximise the opportunities we have as a cross border gateway to both the UK and EU markets.

“We have longstanding connections with Philadelphia and Massachusetts and these connections transcend economic, cultural and political linkages. The Golden Bridges conference has provided the Northwest region with an important platform in the Massachusetts region allowing us to reach out, connect with and form meaningful relationships and collaborations with stakeholders in various sectors that have been instrumental in progressing growth and prosperity in the region.”

Reflecting on the visit, Chief Executive of Derry City and Strabane District Council, John Kelpie, said: “It takes time to make connections, develop relationships and build trust. Our ongoing positive engagement with Massachusetts has to date resulted in a number of exciting developments including the investment and success stories around One Source Virtual and Metaverse. “Results such as these are part of our key objectives in terms of strengthening the profile of the City Region as outlined in our Strategic Growth Plan and are evidence that our direct approach of travelling to the US, making those connections and building rapport, really works.”

 

An October trade mission to China as part of the 4th UK-China Regional Leaders Summit that was held in Dalian, has been hailed as a huge success by Derry City and Strabane District Council who led the delegation from Northern Ireland.  The local delegation accompanied by senior representatives from Central and Local Government, Invest NI, Queen’s University, Ulster University, the North West Regional College and other education and business partners had a number of meeting while in the host city of Dalian in the Liaoning Province.

Speaking following the five-day visit, the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr John Boyle said the visit was significant in terms of profiling our region and getting a unique insight into the Chinese tourism, business, technology and education sectors.

This is the 4th UK-China Regional Leaders Summit and Derry City and Strabane District Council was the lead Council as a result of its existing relationship with the host city of Dalian where it signed a Friendly Co-operative City Agreement last year to formally acknowledge the strong working relationship between the two cities and regions.

Speaking on his return from the visit, the Mayor said links with China are hugely important in assisting us to expand our business, tourism and education connections.

He welcomed news of the signing of an official MoU between the North West Regional College and Dalian College during the visit.

He said: “I was very impressed with the visit and the way in which we were so warmly welcomed to Dalian by officials who were genuinely interested in how we can work in collaboration for the mutual benefit of both cities and regions.

“The visit was extremely worthwhile in allowing us to get a real insight into their economy and culture.

“We are starting to see the outcomes from the signing of the Friendly Co-operative City Agreement last year and are delighted that our partners, the North West Regional College have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Dalian College.”

The Mayor added that the city of Dalian is hugely significant in China.

Based in North East China, the City of Dalian is a global financial centre with a population of over 6.5million and specialises in the Financial and IT sectors.

It is also home to some of the major players in these industries including Oracle, IBM, CISCO and Convergys.

“Derry and Dalian have a lot in common and we were delighted to be able to continue with the work done so far through our Co-operative Cities relationship so that we can encourage more investment, more international students and tourists to our city and region.

“It’s a very important part of our commitment set out in the Strategic Growth Plan and I am confident that as a result of this visit we can continue to bring positive connections and links between the two cities,” he concluded.

For further Information http://www.derrystrabane.com/Council/News/China-Summit-important-step-in-forging-business-an

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.

Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race: Sir Robin praises Derry-Londonderry

Legendary sailor Sir Robin Knox-Johnston has praised Derry-Londonderry as the Northern Irish city embraces the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race for a fourth consecutive visit.

Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race - Sir Robin, Ralph Morton from the Seattle Sports Commission, and the Visit Seattle team. © Martin McKeown

Clipper 2017-18 Round the World Yacht Race – Sir Robin, Ralph Morton from the Seattle Sports Commission, and the Visit Seattle team. © Martin McKeown

Sir Robin, the Founder and Chairman of the Clipper Race, has sailed into the walled city from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, where he was celebrating the 50th anniversary of when he began the epic voyage that would see him become the first person to sail solo and non-stop around the globe.

Sir Robin says: “It was lovely returning to Derry-Londonderry and heading up the Foyle, I’m just disappointed that I didn’t beat the entire Clipper Race fleet in!

“I think the partnership we’ve had with the city is why the public give us such great support. This is a place where the city got behind the event and when you get that combination of an enthusiastic city and the spectacle of the boats and crew, you can do so much more. And I think the result has been a major event – I give the city of Derry-Londonderry full credit for that success.”

Fresh from their win into Derry-Londonderry, the Visit Seattle team and Skipper Nikki Henderson cheered Sir Robin into the Foyle Port Marina. Nikki is the youngest ever Skipper in Clipper Race history and the victory means her Visit Seattle team is now in the box-seat to take out the overall Clipper Race win.

Sir Robin said: “Nikki’s performance was just fantastic, especially as I had Ralph Morton from the Seattle Sports Commission in my crew for the sail to Derry-Londonderry and he was following it avidly.”

This is the first visit to Derry-Londonderry and Northern Ireland for Ralph, who played a pivotal role in staging the successful race Stopover in Seattle earlier in the race. He said: “I’ve heard so much about the city and the Foyle Maritime Festival and it is so exciting to think about all the things I’m going to see. And when you go to a town you want to experience their culture and sailing is a big part of who Derry-Londonderry is.

“Being a Clipper Race Host Port is a great way to welcome visitors to your city but also gives you an opportunity to interact with other places around the world.”

Derry based online learning firm expands into Scotland

Londonderry-based firm Learning Pool has confirmed the acquisition of Scottish company MediaCorp for an undisclosed sum.The e-learning business, which employs 140 people in Derry, Belfast and Nottingham, will now incorporate 12 new members of staff at MediaCorp’s Hamilton office.

Paul McElvaney (left) of Learning Pool with MediaCorp’s James Marshall

Paul McElvaney (left) of Learning Pool with MediaCorp’s James Marshall

The Scottish online learning and e-portfolio provider was founded and is still run by James Marshall.

Learning Pool said that the move would strengthen the company’s footprint in Scotland and increase its presence in the manufacturing market, which it considers key to expanding its product offering.

In its latest accounts, Learning Pool reported turnover of £7.6m and pre-tax profits of £2.3m for the year ending April 2017.

Co-founder Paul McElvaney said the acquisition would push its user numbers past two million.

The takeover sees Learning Pool enter the apprenticeship training market, availing of the Scottish firm’s services, which help companies manage qualification and apprenticeship programmes.

Mr McElvaney added: “It’s a significant acquisition for us.

“It gets us past 550 customers and two million learners on our platform. Plus, the acquisition opens up the apprenticeship market, which in Great Britain is an exciting market and something a lot of our customers are interested in.”

He said his company was on course to grow by 20% in 2018, with further acquisitions in the pipeline.

“The business plan for Learning Pool is very much focused on growth,” he added.

“We intend to grow by 20% organically this year and we have a pipeline for acquisition that is pretty interesting, but there is nothing imminent.

“The next six months is about us bedding in the MediaCorp team and about integrating as a team.

“We’re delighted to welcome James and the MediaCorp team into Learning Pool.

“We’ve been impressed by what they have achieved and I’m delighted to be working with an extended team in Scotland who share our passion for customer service and creating positive business impact.

“The apprenticeship market is clearly a growth area and many of our customers are looking for solutions to help manage the complexity of delivering apprenticeship programmes.”

It is the latest acquisition for Learning Pool.

The company bought over Mind Click in Nottingham two years ago.

Executive Office opens the doors of £1.6 million state of the art office accommodation in Derry

The Executive Office today officially opened Building 104 on the Ebrington site which has undergone a £1.6 million transformation.

Speaking at the announcement in building 104, Dr. Mark Browne said: “The Executive Office is committed to the development of the Ebrington site for the benefit of the North West.

“Building 104 is an important element of the wider programme of work and this multi-million refurbishment, coupled with new tenants moving in immediately, is testament to the build quality of the work that we have carried out.

“Up to 16 new business start-ups, and employment opportunities for a minimum of 40 people can be accommodated in the refurbished building.

“I welcome the new tenants Enterprise North West who through their efforts will facilitate the growth of new SME businesses, increase employment and bring significant economic and social benefits to Ebrington and the wider North West. Enterprise North West have signed a ten year lease so we look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship in the coming years. I wish Brian O’Neill from Enterprise North West every success for the future.

“We are making considerable progress on the Ebrington site and although a number of discussions are at a commercially sensitive stage we hope to be able to announce more good news for Ebrington in the near future.”

Brian O’Neill, Business Development Manager with Enterprise North West said: “This is a proud day for Enterprise North West. From the early design stage our team have collaborated with The Executive Office to deliver what we feel is the best start-up space in this area.

“The Executive Office have been a pleasure to partner with and for us it’s now all about filling this space and creating jobs. We work very closely with Derry City & Strabane District Council, as well as many other stakeholders, to provide support and workspace for start-up and existing companies. 104 Ebrington Square gives us a vital footprint on the Ebrington site.

ALLSTATE EMBRACES THE ‘COGNITIVE ERA

Whatever the sector, all industries are facing disruption by digital technologies and
business models. This is presenting significant threats and opportunities for the
technology and insurance industry. Allstate Northern Ireland Senior Manager, Kathryn Harkin, shares how Allstate is embracing these opportunities to leverage the latest cognitive approaches in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) here in the North West.

“To maximise the opportunities big data provides, Allstate has created the new Allstate NI Cognitive Automation Incubator team to use ML technologies, transforming this data to provide meaningful insights. “ACAI, pronounced Ak-I, is Allstate Northern Ireland’s Cognitive Automation Incubator. It’s an immersive learning environment across a number of related disciplines, including Robotic Process Automation, Chatbots and Machine Learning. The initial focus will be on building up these much sought-after skills.

“ACAI will enable research in cognitive analytics and emerging technologies, running of proof of concepts, as well as incubating and developing prototypes to create innovative solutions for Allstate.

“Resources will stay in the ACAI environment for approximately 12-18 months working on real business problems before graduating. These teams will then lead the way in building a
community of citizen data scientists, expanding the influence of data science and analytics across the Allstate organisation.

“At a time of the 4th industrial revolution, the cognitive era isn’t about machines replacing humans. Automation will allow Allstate to introduce efficiencies and reduce repetitive, manual tasks currently done by our people.“An example of this is improving call centre efficiencies with the use of a Chabot interface using natural language processing. This will free up call centre staff for higher-value, more complex interaction.

“Using Machine Learning techniques to gain better insights from Allstate’s vast data reservoirs will ensure we make better data based decisions, focus on customer needs, offer personalised products, reduce claim time and improve the overall insurance experience,” concludes Kathryn.

US SPIRITS COMPANY ACQUIRES STAKE IN DERRY’S NICHE DRINKS
A US spirits company in Missouri has acquired a stake in a Londonderry liqueur firm as they look to build a distillery in the city.

Luxco in St Louis and Niche Drinks already produce Saint Brendan’s Irish Cream and global
brand, The Quiet Man Irish whiskey. In a statement, the company said it had spoken to the Strategic Investment Board to discuss building an Irish whiskey distillery in Ebrington Square in
Derry. Ciaran Mulgrew, managing director of Niche Drinks, said: “Luxco has impressive distillery experience, having built Lux Row Distillers and partnered with Limestone Branch Distillery, both in Kentucky, and is nearing completion of a Tequila distillery in Arandas, Mexico.

“This experience will be a tremendous asset as we proceed with The Quiet Man Craft Distillery at Ebrington Square.” Mr Mulgrew is to remain with the business
following the transaction.

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.

maxresdefault

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

Education alliance to benefit cross border education provision and opportunities

The North West Strategic Growth Partnership, in partnership with the Higher and Further Education and Training Institutions of the North West City Region, has announced a new agreement in education, training and innovation for the North West City region with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between education sector providers on both sides of the border.

The MoU is the result of years of successful collaborative working amongst the education sector providers – the Ulster University, Letterkenny Institute for Technology (LYIT), North West Regional College (NWRC) and Donegal Education and Training Board (ETB) – with the aim of improving access to higher and further level education and training to students living and studying in the North West City region.

The North West Strategic Growth Partnership is led by Derry City and Strabane District Council and Donegal County Council and supported by the International Centre for Local and Regional Development (ICLRD) in conjunction with and supported by The Executive Office and The Irish Government.

The Minister for Education and Skills Richard Bruton T.D. was in attendance at today’s signing and endorsed this historic Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) saying, “Today’s announcement is a fantastic development for the North West region. This new partnership will greatly enhance collaboration between the education and training providers in key areas such as research, innovation and education and training.

“Brexit will pose a significant challenge to our higher and further education institutions. Through our Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education system the best in Europe within a decade, we are preparing our education and training providers to respond to this challenge. Talent drives the success of any region and strong hubs will be the engine of regional development. Today’s partnership is a very welcome development, which will have a really significant impact on the North West region.”

An Cathaoirleach of Donegal County Council Cllr Gerry McMonagle said the signing of the MoU was hugely significant for the region. He said: “The MoU builds on the excellent collaborative work previously undertaken between the partners to support regional growth through delivering on the higher and further education needs of the North West. It will allow the partners to work together as anchors of the economy of the region and contribute to the advancement of the North West City Region growth agenda that investments in higher and further education can achieve with added value for everyone.”

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council Cllr Maolíosa McHugh said: “This is a significant event for education growth in our region and is in keeping with the objective set out by the North West Strategic Growth Partnership to promote cross cutting regional growth in the education sector. I am confident that the MoU will give the two governments the mechanism with which to engage with the education institutions to deliver on our shared further and higher educational ambitions and further enhance cross border co-operation.”

Professor Paddy Nixon, Vice Chancellor of Ulster University said: “This landmark agreement demonstrates our shared vision to create a regional strategic alliance for the North West, that drives innovation and investment and delivers co-ordinated cross border third level education to the people of this region and beyond. In practical terms, this consolidates the excellent collaboration that is already operating informally and embeds this partnership working model across our regional network. Today’s agreement will allow for a more co-ordinated approach to student pathway and progression and marks a step change in our approach to delivery of quality education in the North West.”

Paul Hannigan, President of Letterkenny Institute of Technology said the alignment of a cross border further and higher education cluster in the North West City region is essential if the region is to grow and develop its education offering and maximise the emerging potential for those who wish to live, work and invest in this region.

He said: “The signing of the MoU between the education providers in the region is very significant and is testament to the huge amount of positive work that has been done behind the scenes to really look at how we can develop education, research and innovation foundations for the North West region. This alliance will allow us to design and deliver new courses and programmes that will support economic and social development and improve efficiency through shared staffing and facilities on a range of programmes, teaching and research. Key to this alliance is the positive impact it will have on our students and the way it will open up new opportunities for them as well as encourage and facilitate wider participation in education programmes.”

Leo Murphy, Principal and Chief Executive of North West Regional College said the MoU will contribute greatly to the outcomes of the Further and Higher Education Strategy in the City and Region. “Anything that facilitates student mobility and participation in education is to be welcomed and this MoU will go a long way towards assisting us in facilitating further cross border co-operation in teaching, learning and innovation.”

Anne McHugh, Chief Executive of Donegal Education Training Board said she is confident this alliance will provide effective progression pathways for students and graduates to higher education. “This is great news for the education sector in the North West and a really positive collaboration between education providers on both sides of the border. The MoU will assist us in achieving many of the strategic goals set out in our Further Education and Training Strategy 2014-19 to ensure active inclusion, integrated planning and funding and quality provision.”