Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the first stop on my European listening tour in the summer of 2019. It was a brilliant visit, which included spending an hour at lunch with the strategy leaders of Danske Bank UK, individual mentoring sessions with four intrepid fintech entrepreneurs, a presentation to the Belfast community, and a drinks reception, all followed by our trademark Fintech CEO Roundtable dinner, hosted by our friends at FSCom.
It was said at the roundtable, “Great companies emerge from hubs,” because hubs promote less of I’m doing this on my own and more of We’re all in this together. This sentiment was echoed several times on my visit to Belfast.
And what a hub they have!
Thanks to the visionary leadership of David Allister and the support of his forward-thinking Dankse Bank, the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub is a work of genius. Belfast’s very own fintech hub has a clean, open, Scandinavian design and owns a quiet, more-serious-than-playful vibe. It’s a place that I would love to come to work. Less of the frenetic Plug-and-Play Tech Center feel that you get in a building that’s trying to replicate all of Silicon Valley in 10,000 square meters, and more of a purposeful, well-executed design. The most innovative aspect of the hub is that it is co-located with Danske Bank’s downtown branch on Donegall Square with no obvious physical barrier between the branch — where traditional banking takes place — and the co-working hub, where fintechs are busy reinventing traditional financial services. It’s brilliant. Again, hats off to David Allister, Vicky Davies — who heads strategy for the bank’s UK division — and the whole Danske Bank team. Do more of these, please.
Raising the next generation
I was impressed and excited to hear that Ulster University in Belfast will begin offering a BSc Hons Financial Technology degree this coming Fall Semester 2019. This fintech degree will incorporate learning from the Computer Science & Finance departments, plus a work-study that allows graduates to learn in the classroom, contribute in the field and graduate without student debt. Booyah. This is a thoughtfully-designed four-year programme that will no doubt contribute well to the fintech community in Northern Ireland. Together with Creighton University, in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, Ulster is one of only two universities in the world that currently offer degrees in financial technology. Welcome to this elite club, Ulster!
I love it when a plan comes together
During one of my mentoring sessions I learned that a US-based fintech is enabling Esther, a fintech startup in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to develop a novel solution that uniquely alleviates poverty on a peer-to-peer basis. This US-based platform is a longtime LendIt Fintech supporter whose CEO has appeared on stage at our events on several occasions. To see the downstream benefits of this company’s brilliant innovations was exciting and gratifying. Props to both companies for rocking it, together.
This is not a call center play.
At our Fintech CEO Roundtable, one of the questions we asked ourselves was “what’s the £100 million idea, founded in Belfast, that should be pursued today?” While there were many good and interesting answers to that question — which will remain confidential, of course — one answer was clear: there are already several fintechs in Belfast on their way to the £100 million valuation milestone.
The quote of the day goes to one of our roundtable guests who said, “we are not a call center play.” And he’s right. Northern Ireland is home to world-class people, and they are building world-class technology.