Tech ‘exiles’ bring boost to Belfast entrepreneurs

Leading tech figure Sarah Friars with Adrian Doran of Barclays and Ormeau Baths co-founder Jon Bradford
Leading tech figure Sarah Friars with Adrian Doran of Barclays and Ormeau Baths co-founder Jon Bradford

A leading player in the US tech industry has been back on home ground to give a boost to Northern Ireland’s entrepreneur community and a new life for Belfast’s Ormeau Baths.

Originally from Strabane, Sarah Friar is chief financial officer with Square, a business established by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

Along with a number of other tech ‘exiles’ she is behind the relaunch of the Baths as a hub for start-ups in the city.

The development has come as the result of a bid by several members of Northern Ireland’s “digital diaspora”, who have found success in the technology industry overseas.

“I’m delighted to be supporting the Ormeau Baths and innovation within the city,” she said during a visit to the refurbished space.

“The Ormeau Baths is a fantastic initiative because not only does it provide entrepreneurs with a physical office to work from, but it also offers them the opportunity to tap into a network of expertise and experience from professionals here Northern Ireland and internationally.

“That network is a critical part of any startup’s success and something I’m proud to be part of.”

The founders of Ormeau Baths, which opens this month, aim to create an entrepreneurial campus that helps the brightest and best indigenous tech start-ups gain access to new networks, funding and expertise and give them the tools to flourish in global markets.

Jon Bradford believes the diaspora are an untapped resource that could help more local tech entrepreneurs succeed on the world stage if their expertise and networks are utilised properly.

“For well-known reasons many of the exceptionally talented entrepreneurs from this part of the world have had to go elsewhere to achieve their full potential. But there is a real willingness among the diaspora to help build the indigenous tech community. In many cases, yes, that means investing their money, but they are also prepared to open up their contacts books and share their expertise, which could be far more valuable to Belfast start-ups.”

Other high profile tech founders and leaders from the province’s digital diaspora who are backing the project include FanDuel’s Nigel Eccles, Dave Singleton, VP of Engineering at Google, Thought Machine CEO Paul Taylor, who previously exited to Google, and Lystable founder Peter Johnston.

The project is also being partnered by Barclays which will be introducing its Eagle Lab concept to the province through the Baths.

“We’re delighted to be bringing the Barclays Eagle Lab concept to Belfast alongside the vision of the Ormeau Baths team and look forward to welcoming more businesses into the space,” said NI head of corporate banking Adrian Doran.

“We can help link local businesses to our Eagle Lab UK network of events, workspace, mentors and entrepreneurs across our other sites including London, Cambridge and Salford. We will also bring on the spot business and financial advice and access to specialist funding.”