Plans have been submitted for the new high-tech Alpha Innovation Centre in Letterkenny.

The enterprise campus, which is estimated to cost €20m, is set to be built in the heart of the town on the former ESB premises on Pearse Road.

The development will include a seven-storey building of approx 1,625sq.m (17,500sq.ft) and office and research & development facilities – providing space and opportunities for new and existing businesses to work and network.

The campus will also incorporate a central civic space; pedestrian, cycle, accessibility and moblity infrastructure; landscaping; disabled and age friendly courtesy parking and emergency/service vehicle entry and egress.

The €6m Alpha Innovation Centre has secured €3.6m co-funding from Enterprise Ireland, and the €14m Beta
Business Centre, is being developed in partnership with Catalyst NI.

The project is being led by Donegal County Council in partnership with the Donegal 2040 Strategic Development Designated Activity Company (DAC). It is co-funded by Enterprise Ireland under the Border Enterprise Development Fund and will be delivered in collaboration with the key economic development agencies including, IDA and Donegal LEO along with Letterkenny Institute of Technology, Donegal ETB, Donegal Digital and ERNACT.

The centre is set to provide a bespoke pre-accelerator for early idea entrepreneurs as well as an extensive programme of wrap-around supports for businesses. The Alpha Innovation Centre will build on the latent potential of the emerging tech start-up scene in the Northwest, contributing to the region’s reputation as a great location to invest and do business.

Ryan Willams founder of The AMP

Ryan Williams is founder of The AMP, the North West’s first privately funded business incubator and co-working space, which recently opened a new site in Derry’s Ebrington Square. He is also director of Connected Health, a tech-enabled homecare company with around 1,100 staff in the UK and Ireland. Originally from Armagh, Ryan has lived in Derry for 20 years and is also co-founder of the LAB Fund, which has supported more than 40 local businesses and projects.

You moved to Derry 20 years ago. How has it changed since then?

I think the biggest change in the city since I’ve been here was probably the City of Culture in 2013, when people really started to realise they could do great things. It’s not that Derry hadn’t done great things before then, but I think that year, people sat up and went, ‘We can be great’, and ‘Let’s celebrate what’s really good about Derry’.

And I think in the last four to five years that’s been turbocharged. The city looks amazing for a start. We went to Ebrington because we knew that it was the new Cathedral Quarter for Derry, a place where there’s going to be hundreds of people living and working, tourists in and out of the place, it’s really going to come alive and be a new hub for the city. We have 85% of the new AMP building full, with people in tech, digital marketing, digital media, and it isn’t officially opened yet. Entrepreneurs are springing up because they see confidence, and they see other people being successful.

Tell us a bit more about The AMP?

AMP’s not a single building, it’s a theme for how incubators should operate and create that local ecology of entrepreneurs who all think in similar ways and want the same kind of things out of their space or working lives. The Ebrington building has capacity for about 40 to 45 people. We’re already looking at AMP 3, so we’re already looking at where we might go with another building. We’ll hopefully have some news on that in the New Year.

The place is looking brilliant. We’ve a few murals going up shortly, which are all going to be about Derry slang and business motivational quotes. It’s going to be really cool. We’re not interested in celebrating Elon Musk and Warren Buffett, we wanted this to feel like a Derry-owned entrepreneurial tech hub.

Have you had feedback from people who want to move home?

There are people going, ‘the house that I’m looking at is three times the size and half the cost of what I pay in London’. We have one of the best school systems that you’ll see in any part of Europe, with award-winning educators. We’ve got Benone Beach and Donegal on our doorstep. Why would you not want to live and work here!

I think we need to tell our 17 and 18-year-olds that you don’t need to go to Liverpool or London, if fact your quality of life here will be better, your job opportunities will be better in many cases, don’t think that you need to leave. And we’ve got to keep that talent and that wealth locally where we can. Earning £40k a year in London and earning £30k a year in Derry, your lifestyle is completely different.

Where did the idea for the LAB fund come from?

Four and a half or five years ago, we came up with this concept called Your Derry to celebrate global success stories, individuals and businesses. There are now 16,000 people on that Facebook platform, including diaspora around the world. But what we realised really quickly was look, that’s all fine, but how do we help people to get going, create social enterprises, give them a few quid to do something positive in the city, help small entrepreneurs to get started? If you look at Elemental’s success story in Derry, the founders started with £500. Now it’s a multi-million-pound business. So, we thought, we really need a fund. What if we get £20.24 a month off local people and businesses, less than a gym membership, put it into a pot and we give it away every quarter? We’ve supported 42 SMEs, local entrepreneurs, social enterprises, community projects including the likes of Storefront NI streetwear and Devine Scents. It’s not a fortune, it’s between £500 and up to £2000. It’s also quite supportive, we can match people up with mentors. I think it’s a lovely thing. A small amount of money that makes quite a bit of difference.

The pandemic was a challenging time for homecare providers. How did Connected Health cope?

We grew by 30% during Covid. A lot of our competitors pulled the shutters down; we said, we’re actually going to recruit, because homecare is going to be one of the last bastions that older and vulnerable people have. We also came up with things like Covid dedicated teams. The incidence of Covid in homecare was miniscule in comparison with care homes. So if I looked at the peak 12 months of Covid, we had 52 staff infections out of 1,100 staff. We had really good PPE adherence. We got PPE in January 2020 knowing this was coming. We also had dedicated Covid carers who only looked after Covid positive patients. Our two Irish Carers of the Year [Limavady sisters Lauren and Chloe Kelly] moved in with one of our vulnerable clients for two and a half weeks, when she got Covid. That’s the kind of carers we employ and keep. That’s how staff step up.

What do you do in your spare time – if you get any!

I did an Ironman in September in Spain. I’ll certainly do more triathlons, but I wouldn’t be rushing back to do another Ironman. It’s just excruciating! Danny Quigley, who completed 10 Ironmans in 10 days for charity, was my coach, so you can’t get a better coach. Swimming is my favourite part of triathlon, so I swim a lot and do a lot of open water swimming. I call myself a failing triathlete and a marginally successful swimmer.

Find out more about AMP at https://ampincubator.com

Plans for next year’s Enterprise Week programme have been rubber-stamped by Council’s Business and Culture Committee.

The popular business support event, which is delivered by Council in conjunction with a wide range of partners, will take place from March 7 to 11.

The programme will feature a blended series of online and in-person events, with a focus on opportunities for post-pandemic innovation and economic growth.

Council’s Head of Business, Kevin O’Connor, told the committee that Enterprise Week would provide a valuable forum for local businesses to share expertise and experiences after two years of significant challenge and upheaval.

He added that the changing economic landscape meant that flexibility and willingness to adapt have become key to business success, and said EW2022 would help local companies reimagine business models to make them more resilient for the future.

This year’s EW2022 programme features a series of business focused workshops, webinars, keynote addresses, panel discussions, start-up pitches and networking opportunities. Themes will include Digital Innovation, Funding, Start Up support, Leadership and Empowerment, and Skills.

Full details of the event are set to be confirmed in the New Year.

Female entrepreneurs have just one week left to apply for a spot on a new accelerator-lite programme from AwakenHub which aims to provide support for women who are interested in starting their own business. 

SheGenerate is open to women from across the island of Ireland who have recently started a new business venture or who have an idea but are struggling to access the tools, information and support needed to get the business off the ground. 

35 spaces will be available (15 of which are being targeted at women in Northern Ireland) and the programme will be made up of a series of workshops, tailored to meet the needs of those enrolled, along with access to community events and advice and signposting from the programme founders and a hand picked group of Big Sisters who are company builders, innovators, investors and serial entrepreneurs. 

SheGenerate is the latest in a long line of innovations delivered by AwakenHub which have all been aimed at driving and securing economic investment and opportunities in the North West. It’s founders include Angel Investor, Mary McKenna; Business Growth Enabler, Clare McGee; Leadership Consultant Sinead Crowley; and Entrepreneur, Mary Carty. The foursome bring a wealth of knowledge and real life experience of growing and starting a business to SheGenerate and can offer successful applicants hugely sought after mentorship opportunities. 

Co-Founders Mary McKenna and Clare McGee  urged anyone interested in learning more about the event to come along to an Expression of Interest event on Tuesday September 28. 

“We know that many women have been inspired or impacted by Covid-19 to start or grow a new business venture but noticed that many struggled to find the right level of support to help them take ideas to the next level. 

“SheGenerate is open to women from across the island of Ireland working in any background or sector who are prepared to take the plunge, do the work and get trading within the next 12 months. 

“Thanks to our programme funders, Ulster Bank and Rethink Ireland, we can offer a place to 35 female entrepreneurs who will have access to mentorship, peer support and workshops to get their business up and running and create all of the positive economic and social change which comes along with this.”

John Ferris, Regional Ecosystem Manager with Ulster Bank, which has supported SheGenerate through its Enterprise Funding Grants, said it was important these programmes were available to existing and potential entrepreneurs. 

“At Ulster Bank we are committed to supporting female entrepreneurs and providing them with the tools and networks they need to start or scale a business. This partnership with SheGenerate has the potential to deliver transformative change for women; particularly those in the North West, and we are pleased to have been able to play a role in bringing female entrepreneurs even closer to potential investors through the Enterprise Partner Funding grant. 

“We look forward to seeing the outcomes of the project and wish each of the participants well as they make the most of this exciting opportunity and take the next step of their business journey.”

Applications will close at 5pm on Friday October 8 and those unable to attend the Expression of Interest event can register their details here . 

For more information about the programme and it’s founders, visit www.awakenhub.com  

A new online support platform is offering free videos, articles and advice to anyone considering setting up their own business in Northern Ireland.

Rebel on Demand offers impartial advice on starting up without debt, making sales, and increasing confidence and motivation.

The on-demand service allows users to tailor their learning journey, record progress, and formulate an idea they are passionate about.

Once that creative spark has been found and developed, and is considered a viable career path, it can be explored in more detail with the Council’s Go For It programme and local Enterprise Agency.

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, said: “Launching any new business idea can be extremely daunting, and this has been a particularly challenging year for local companies. This new online resource is another tool for local Councils who have been working hard to tailor support to meet the wide-ranging needs of businesses across the spectrum.

For more information on Rebel on Demand visit https://www.derrystrabane.com/Business/Rebel-On-Demand For more information on Go For It visit https://www.goforitni.com/about-go-for-it/derry-city-and-strabane-district-council/

Individuals who are exploring the idea of creating their own business in Northern Ireland are to be offered access to a free online business bitesize support service following an agreement by all 11 of its local councils.  Rebel on Demand, an online support service for people who are exploring the idea of setting up their own business, is now available to everyone who is thinking of starting up. The service contains scores of videos and articles, offering free and impartial advice on topics such as starting up without debt, making sales and increasing confidence and motivation. The on-demand platform also allows users to tailor their learning journey and record progress.

Rebel on Demand can assist anyone considering a future in Entrepreneurship, by helping formulate an idea they are passionate about. Once that creative spark has been found and developed, and is considered a viable career path, it can be explored in more detail with the Council’s Go For It programme and local Enterprise Agency. It’s the latest product from the Rebel Business School which, earlier this year, won a prestigious Queen’s Award for Promoting Opportunity.  Rebel Business School co-founder and CEO, Simon Paine, says Rebel on Demand is designed for people with busy lives who want and expect everything to be a click away. “People are very busy and everyone expects services to be on demand 24/7. The difference is we don’t have a subscription fee and we never will. We know that Northern Ireland has had a hard 18 months due to the pandemic and there are a lot of big economic issues to work on. So we want to play a part, encouraging people to start up and contribute to the economic recovery.” 

Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, said the new online platform would complement the package of support already offered by local Councils. “Launching any new business idea can be extremely daunting, and this has been a particularly challenging year for local companies. This new online resource is another tool for local Councils who have been working hard to tailor support to meet the wide ranging needs of businesses across the spectrum.

“A strong entrepreneurial spirit is essential to any thriving local economy, promoting diversity, nurturing creativity and generating opportunity. I welcome any support for the up and coming new talents who will help shape the future of business and cultivate a strong economy.” 

About the Rebel Business School. Rebel Business School was founded in 2010 by Alan Donegan and Simon Paine and helps people from all walks of life to start their own businesses. Its mission is to change the way entrepreneurship is taught across the world. It has educated over 11,000 people in seven different countries through free events and helped launch 805 businesses in 2020 alone.  In 2021, the company won a Queen’s Award in the Promoting Opportunity category and its work has been backed by organisations including Google, Henley Business School and the Department for Work and Pensions.  

The Rebel Business School is the best business advice that money can’t buy – all of its events are free. For more information on Rebel on Demand  https://www.derrystrabane.com/Business/Rebel-On-Demand For more information on Go For It https://www.goforitni.com/about-go-for-it/derry-city-and-strabane-district-council/

Serena Terry, Mammy Banter

Serena Terry has more than a decade’s marketing experience with local companies including Learning Pool and social prescribing business Elemental, where she was appointed COO in 2019. But to over half a million TikTok fans, and more than 100,000 Instagram followers, the Derry woman is better known as her honest and funny alter ego, Mammy Banter. In May, Serena launched her own agency, Catchy Co, specialising in social media marketing, training and content production.

Congratulations on the launch of Catchy Co! Why did you decide to set it up?

I always wanted to do it, but what I found scary was that there are so many marketing agencies who can back up their work with testimonials and case studies from previous customers. Yes, I’ve got companies I worked for as an employee for 15 years, but as an agency I didn’t have the testimonials yet, so I decided to keep building up Mammy Banter.

For me, I think my credibility is that I practise what I preach. The proof is in the pudding. Every single one of my customers this month is from Mammy Banter. I did my first Instagram masterclass last week and was able to use her as a case study, talking clients through what I’ve done and the different demographics I focus on, as well as looking at the future of digital marketing in general.

How daunting was it to leave full-time employment and go it alone?

It was really hard. I was in a well-paying job, we have two kids, a mortgage. But lockdown was the turning point for me; I needed more flexibility and I needed a new challenge. Lockdown also taught me I was able to be productive working from home, so that myth was dispelled. And the more Mammy Banter was going up and up in engagement and followers, it gave me a bit more security to think, there’s bound to be at least five people in every 100,000 followers on Instagram that owns a company or knows a business that is struggling with social media.

I just said, ‘I’m going to do it. If I don’t do it, I’ll never know’. So I did my business plan, I looked at what I needed to earn, and I got a good accountant. It wasn’t about wanting to be rich. I just wanted to pay myself a salary, maybe work less hours and enjoy making more people laugh with Mammy Banter, but also have the flexibility to go and collect my son from school, for instance, and be able to close the laptop. I can dictate my hours, I can dictate how many campaigns or customers I take on, that is definitely one of the perks of being out on your own.

How has it been going so far?

What’s crazy about Catchy Co is I’m so busy at the minute and I haven’t even done any marketing for myself yet. I’ve got some bigger businesses I’m doing campaigns for, and then smaller businesses and lifestyle bloggers, who can sign up for a 1.5-hour course with a resources pack. Longer-term, I’d like to continue supporting all size of businesses, and really get my name out there as a growth consultant that can come into start-ups, scale-ups, or corporate organisations, become an extension of their team and help them with growth via digital marketing campaigns.

Do people expect you to be like Mammy Banter in real life?

Mammy Banter is my Sasha Fierce, my alter ego. I was worried at the start that people might be joining the course expecting a comedy session with Mammy Banter. But I got a couple of testimonials yesterday from people saying they have put into practise over the weekend what we went through in the session, and the resources I sent out, and their engagement rates have already shot up. 

Your Mammy Banter videos have racked up 14.5m likes on TikTok. Why has she resonated with so many people?

I think it’s the honesty of it. I hated Facebook and the whole fake world of Instagram picture-perfect mums and the Photoshopping and the ‘look, we’re rich’. TikTok was a platform for me where I thought, people are honest here, warts and all. That’s the kind of social media you want. You don’t want to go on and go, ‘Oh my god she’s a perfect parent, she’s sailing through lockdown, she looks great, she’s not putting on any weight!’ We want relatable, down-to-earth humour. Branding-wise, I’m going to be launching a merchandise range with T-shirts and hoodies and sweaters that go up to 5XL, again just to get that message across that the Mammy Banter brand is inclusive of everyone.

What do your children think of your new found fame?

My five-year-old isn’t really aware of it yet. My 12-year-old daughter only followed me last week when I got verified on TikTok and then unfollowed me the day after. She loves it when her friends talk about Mammy Banter and I’m sure she laughs with them when they’re talking about it, but then face-to-face she’s like, ‘Ugh, I just don’t think you’re funny’. The day she finds me funny my comedy career’s over, there’s something wrong!

How have you found the North West as a place to live, work and invest?

I joined both Elemental and Learning Pool at the start-up stage, so I was privy first hand to the opportunities and the challenges to scaling and growth in the city. And just seeing how many tech companies have scaled in Derry alone and are now providing services worldwide is great. Patrick St has become a complete software as a service hub. You can see those companies are constantly recruiting, and we’re seeing more start-ups come into the tech space too. Community-wise, I absolutely love Derry, I’ve always been a complete homebird. I’m looking forward to when the Clipper returns next year and we start to get more events back, and growth for Digital Derry. It’s exciting.

What would you say to someone thinking of returning to Derry or Strabane?

There’s huge growth and scale locally with tech firms if that’s something you currently work in, and room for you to grow within them. If you want to bite the bullet and start up on your own business, the pandemic has changed the rules around needing to be in a certain office and in a certain town. I’m sitting at my kitchen table and my clients are in America and all over the world, right now. Just go for it, is my advice!

Find out more about Catchy Co at catchyco.com and follow @mammybanter on TikTok and Instagram.

A new YouTube channel has been launched to help young people whose education and career prospects have been affected by the pandemic.

North West Regional College students joined forces with Enterprise North West and Startacus to create Week Gen-C, to inform people about the skills and tools they will need within the post-Covid economy, and the opportunities that already exist.

The channel, funded through the David Cross Young People’s Fund, features panel discussions and interviews with businesses including Learning Pool, Alchemy Technology, FinTrU, Hypixel Studios, UV Arts, Storefront and Ferry Clever, as well as support organisations such as Young Enterprise NI, Extern, NWRC Careers Academy, Derry Credit Union, careers and employment services and mental health charity AWARE.

Brian O’Neill, Director of Development and Enterprise, Enterprise North West, commented:

“The overall Week Gen-C project has exceeded our expectations and this has been mainly achieved through the hard work and creativity of the steering group of young people involved in the series of events right from the beginning. These events have been designed, produced and delivered by young people and have taken into account the negative impact of Covid-19 and the pandemic on young people’s prospects. We firmly believe that these series of events could be upscaled or replicated across NI to inspire other young people”

Alastair Cameron, Co-founder of Startacus, added:

“We’ve all been affected by the pandemic, but it has been even more challenging for our young people so it’s vital that we all do our bit to help them to look forward and to inspire and encourage them to reach their true potential. We’ve been delighted to partner with Enterprise North West on the Week Gen-C project and we have been hugely impressed by the creativity, commitment and dedication shown by the students from NWRC in bringing the entire project to fruition”.

The Week Gen-C recording are available to view on the Week Gen-C YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqLRGRr1jo5LF56hDH6tN0Q )

A hospitality pop-up incubator has been selected from 12 Northern Irish start-ups to be named overall winners of LEVELUP 2021.

Delivered by Startacus in partnership with Derry City and Strabane District Council, LEVELUP 2021 was a two-day hybrid event which took place on 21st and 22nd April, looking at innovation, ideas and inspiration from around the world.

The event was part of the programme for Enterprise Week Derry Strabane and explored how people, both locally and internationally, have created opportunity, economic growth and initiated real change.

Hill Street Hatch are a pop-up space in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter offering a creative partnership for entrepreneurs in the local hospitality scene to test and launch new concepts and ideas.

Co-founders of the start-up, Ema O’Kane and Ryan Crown, scooped the £2,000 cash prize after their virtual pitch impressed a panel of industry professionals and investors during Derry-Strabane Enterprise Week in April.

LEVELUP judge Judge Naomi Timperley praised the winning pitch: “Love love love this concept – great pitch and passion.

“A great idea to ‘try before you buy’ for the hospitality industry. So many restaurant concept ideas crash and burn and this is a way of trialling the concepts first and building an audience.”

Hill Street Hatch

Catch-up on LEVELUP and other Enterprise Week events here.

A selection of early-stage businesses and entrepreneurs have taken part in a start-up boot camp to help grow and scale their business.

The one-day virtual event, delivered by Ignite NI, saw 15 participants with scalable and technology-enabled ideas learn more about the key factors involved in building a start-up, receive one-to-one support, and take part in challenges and themed sessions.

They also heard directly from successful CEOs who shared their experiences growing their own companies, and were introduced to representatives from boot camp partners from the Council, Ulster University and Invest Northern Ireland, who supported the event.

Kevin O’Connor, Council’s Head of Business, said the boot camp was a massive success in showing entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses why the district is a good location to take their first steps.

“The start-up boot camp was an excellent opportunity for us to engage with entrepreneurs and explain that we have a support ecosystem within Derry and Strabane to support founders on their journey and to help them to grow.

“If we build supportive communities then the start-up density will increase and the number of successful companies will increase, which then leads to higher job creation and a thriving region.”

To contact Council’s business team, call 02871253253 or visit derrystrabane.com/businesssupport .