Software development company AquaQ Analytics has praised the North West’s “great pool of talent” as it progresses with plans to open a new Derry office.The Belfast-based specialist software, consulting and data services, which employs more than 250 people globally, is recruiting around 40 roles for the new location.AquaQ’s Chief Technology Officer, Jonny Press, said the Derry branch would give staff a flexible mix of home and office working.“Covid has torn up the rule book a bit for businesses.

It’s shown that staff don’t have to be in the office five days a week, and you don’t have to set up in those huge capital cities to attract great people and clients,” he said.“We’ve already got a number of staff from the North West, we know that their tech scene is thriving, and there’s a great pool of talent up there to tap into.“

It opens us up a bit more to those people who want to stay close to family and keep that work-life balance, people in the border counties too, and existing employees who don’t want to have to travel to Belfast.”Founded in 2011, AquaQ Analytics is one of Northern Ireland’s fastest growing companies. It provides specialist consulting, software and data services, cloud solutions and more, to clients working in sectors including capital markets and Tier One investment banks. In November, AquaQ held an insight event in Derry’s City Hotel to help potential employees and new graduates find out more about the business and speak with staff.

To find out more about vacancies at AquaQ Analytics, visit

Alastair Cameron is the Derry-based co-founder of @iamstartacus, a company which informs, inspires and connects startups and entrepreneurs. He is also Head of Startup Programmes at Digital DNA HQ, and he and the Startacus team recently organised BIG IDEAS, an in-person and live-streamed business event as part of Derry and Strabane Enterprise Week 2022.

Originally from Suffolk, Alastair moved to the North West in 2004 and worked in recruitment before redundancy led to a change of career path. A champion of the startup community, he was previously named as one of the UK’s game-changing entrepreneurs in the Sunday Times Maserati 100 list.

How did Startacus come about?

Startacus aims to make startup life easier, better and more connected. We do that by reporting on the startup news that matters, by partnering with brands and organisations that also care about startups, and by organising, arranging and hosting events, startup programmes, pitch competitions, and networking socials that bring all those good people together.

The Startacus concept was actually born out of redundancy. I had been working for Reed Recruitment in London and as they were expanding rapidly and my wife is from Derry, I put together a business plan for them to open a service office in the city. They agreed and I moved to Derry in 2004, eventually opening a city-centre office and growing a team of 5 staff. However, the economic recession of 2007-8 and a company restructure led to us unfortunately being made redundant.

In the final week of work, myself and Leigh, my Reed colleague and Startacus co-founder, got out a whiteboard and started brainstorming. There was some trial and error along the way, but we eventually came up with the concept of Startacus. Now, looking back, redundancy was actually a blessing if I’m honest.

How has Startacus evolved over the years?

As we’ve grown in the startup space, we’ve created more and more ‘offline’, physical events – from mini-conferences to pitch competitions. In the past few months, we’ve been working on a number of different projects – Enterprise Week, Exporting Founders, a programme helping early-stage founders understand more about cross-border and international sales and growth, and an exciting STEM project with the NI Science Festival. We’re also collaborating with Derry’s Revolve Comics to teach school children about local tech champions through the visual medium of comics.

There are typically no charges or fees for startups to work with us and that, I think, is where our true value lies.

We’re really interested in supporting entrepreneurs, linking them to people, joining the dots. The thing that’s often most challenging for business founders is knowing what support is actually available to them, finding the time to do something about it and building the right network. That’s where we can help and by partnering with brands and organisations that can enable us to help support founders on their journey.

Tell us about your involvement in Enterprise Week; what do you think it achieves?

As a city which is relatively small in terms of size, I think we have the potential and inherent desire to show real ambition. I think that’s what we deliver well at Enterprise Week. It allows people to think really bravely about what they would really like to do, to listen, learn, be creative and come up with good ideas for businesses.

How has Covid impacted the startup space?

There aren’t many positive things about Covid of course. However, just as remote working has opened up opportunities to work from home, and work across different time zones, the same applies to startups. Even though we did occasionally use Zoom etc before all this, there was definitely more of an obligation to be in certain places and meet people in-person much more. Now, you don’t have to get on a plane or a bus, you don’t have to travel to Belfast or Dublin –  there are fewer barriers.  So, I think in that sense, it’s given equality to people and for that reason the entrepreneurial scene should become more diverse.

In-person meetings are still hugely important though. To win business, you need to have that trust with someone, and I think that a face-to-face meeting helps to build that trust.  I just think that 80% of the stuff you have to perhaps do before that – the Skypes, the Zooms, the calls, the Google Hangouts – all that can happen online.

What’s the best thing about living in Derry?

Once people visit Derry, they generally always want to come back – which tells you a lot about a place really. Ultimately, I think the people make this place. As a whole, the people here are so welcoming, outward-looking and inherently caring. I think there’s still an opportunity to be further ahead in terms of equality and inclusion, sustainability and environment and become a leader in those things. You don’t need to be a big city to be leaders in change. I think that’s where Derry has a unique opportunity because of the passion of the people here and the history they’ve been through.

And of course there’s the quality of life. I love the beaches – I wish I could say I’m a surfer, but I’m not! As a family, myself and my wife and three kids love being out and about. I think that’s one of the things lockdown has taught us: how much we should value where we live.

An exciting new opportunity for local entrepreneurs goes live today, with the launch of the RE:IMAGINE Pop Up Shop initiative, which will be delivered by The Fashion & Textile Design Centre (FTDC) in Derry and BID in Strabane. The initiative is part of the new Start Up Accelerator Programme being delivered by Derry City and Strabane District Council, Enterprise NW and Strabane Enterprise Agency, who have secured £240,000 to assist individuals who have participated in the Go For It Programme, to take their business ideas further and develop their business skills. The programme is funded by the UK Government through the Community Renewal Fund, which aims to support people and communities by investing in skills, local business and supporting people into employment. Applications are now open, and local entrepreneurs will be in with the chance of pitching their products to secure one of six places to trade their merchandise in two top retail locations in Derry’s Foylside and the Pagoda, Strabane. The Pop Up Shops will run until June, with five spots available in Derry and one in Strabane. The wider package of support also includes bespoke mentoring, promotional marketing campaigns and technical assistance. 

  Speaking ahead of the launch, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Alderman Graham Warke, welcomed the support for local businesses. “This is a fantastic opportunity and one that will appeal to many of our budding local entrepreneurs. It has been a period of unprecedented challenge for commercial businesses, and the package of practical support on offer through the Pop Up Shop Initiative will make a huge difference to any new enterprise trying to get off the ground.”There is a wealth of entrepreneurial talent here in Derry and Strabane and this is a great incentive to showcase some of the creative new product lines that are being developed locally.” Deirdre Williams, Business and Development Manager from the Inner City Trust’s Fashion and Textile Design Centre, will be bringing her creative expertise to the scheme, and said it would enhance the commercial potential of local brands. “There is a strong creative community here in Derry and this initiative will open up opportunities for designers and creatives to tap into new networks and establish a strong customer base. It’s also a great opportunity to utilise our city centre retail space, opening it up to local entrepreneurs and rejuvenating our high streets, putting our local businesses front and centre.”I’m looking forward to working with these new businesses to help them make the most of the commercial opportunities on offer through the new Pop Up shops, and bringing their brand and ideas to new audiences.” In Strabane the initiative will be led by the BID, and Chair, Kieran Kennedy, said today that he looked forward to working with the successful candidates. “We are proud of the progressive business network here in Strabane and the successful candidate in this initiative will have the opportunity to become part of this network at an early stage in their business journey.”We appreciate the many challenges faced by fledgling entrepreneurs but the expertise will be on offer through mentoring and one to one support to help progress their plans and become established as a successful and recognised brand. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and it will be great to welcome a new business to Strabane town centre.” 

The scheme is open to anyone who is self-employed, working in fashion, textile, homeware and lifestyle and operating within the Council area. Applications must be submitted by Thursday January 6th and participants must be available to pitch on Thursday February 3rd 2022, with the shops launching at the beginning of March. Applicants must also have completed the ‘Go For It Programme’ with Strabane Enterprise Agency or Enterprise NW within the last six months, or be willing to go through the Go For It Programme.To find out more about how you can apply for the RE:IMAGINE Pop Up Shop Initiative, and more about the Start Up Acceleration Programme go to

Version 1, the global IT services company currently recruiting remote working staff in the North West, has teamed up with mental health charity Aware NI to help ensure that its employees are fully supported during COVID-19.     Invest Derry Strabane – which recently launched the Work Life Balanced campaign in association with Version 1, aimed at promoting the North West as a premium remote working destination – has welcomed the company’s initiatives which also include supporting the local community where their staff are based.  

Version 1 took the decision to support a mental health charity when the consequences of the pandemic became overwhelmingly apparent during the last 18 months. People were forced to adapt to significant lifestyle changes, such as working from home and limiting social interactions. This in turn led to an increase in people experiencing isolation, anxiety, stress, and grief at losing loved ones.   Additionally, the tech firm’s commitment to supporting the local community is a critical element of its core values. Community First is Version 1’s main Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and is driven locally by the employees. The aim of this scheme is to improve employment opportunities in communities by supporting awareness, education, and access by leveraging technology and skills.  

Community First is locally driven, enabling each Version 1 office to support causes they care about in their particular area. Some of the Community First initiatives include mentoring, helping local schools, grinds, tackling youth homelessness and community engagement.   Version 1 has also been officially recognised as a Healthy Place to Work. This was achieved by engaging employees in the completion of a robust survey covering four pillars – purpose, mental resilience, connection and physical health – which gathered insight into their experience of work. From the results, the company was able to put together a plan identifying paths to improvement, which subsequently led to the prestigious certification.   Lorna McAdoo, Director of Operations and Business Development NI at Version 1, said: “Our support for Aware NI stemmed from a wish to highlight the mental toll that the pandemic has been inflicting on so many people. The charity helps people realise that it is okay not to be okay, and this service has proved to be invaluable. We have also benefitted from online sessions held by Aware NI to help us all with various tools to use during this time to reinforce resilience and ensure we have been adapting well to the working from home model.   “We are also extremely proud of the visible efforts the company has made to reach out to local communities, and our Community First activities have enabled many people to access education and skills that drive employment opportunities.   “In addition, Version 1’s recognition as a Healthy Place to Work in Northern Ireland was a significant milestone for our company.

Being spread across five countries presents its own set of challenges and it has been absolutely critical to ensure our employees are happy and healthy. We have been able to benchmark our progress through the data provided during the process and are now updating and creating initiatives and strategies across our operations to ensure our workforce is the healthiest it can be.”   Rosalind Young, Investment Manager at Derry City and Strabane District Council, said: “Version 1’s approach to dealing with the impact of COVID-19 is exemplary. The company’s commitment to providing mental help and support is evident through their partnership with Aware NI, and their track record of maintaining a community-focused approach is also welcomed as they expand their workforce in the North West.   “I would also like to congratulate Version 1 on their official recognition as a Healthy Place to Work. With the company bringing many highly skilled new jobs to the Derry City and Strabane District Council area, we are delighted that their staff will benefit from our Work Life Balanced campaign.”  

For more information on the Version 1 roles available in the North West and to apply, visit the Invest DS jobs portal at