NI hoping to nurture next generation of innovators
BELFAST BRIEFING:EVER WISHED when you are running late and frantically searching for a set of keys that someone, somewhere would invent a device to help you magically find them?
One budding Co Down entrepreneur might just have the answer to this perennial problem.
John Neill’s Key Caller device has been designed to help find misplaced keys using mobile phone technology. He has pitched his idea to high-tech giants Broadcom and Fujitsu so it might yet become a reality.
Like all good ideas it has broad appeal. Everyone has a mobile phone and everyone has a set of keys, so it is not a difficult leap to put the two together.
But will Neill be able to make the leap from ambitious inventor to successful entrepreneur?
He has, if nothing else, time on his side because Neill is just 15 years old.
The Down High School student is a member of Northern Ireland’s new Generation Innovation – an elite club for “high-potential” young people. They have been identified as some of the North’s best young talent from across a variety of backgrounds and interests. There are only 100 members at the moment but that is just the beginning.
Generation Innovation was dreamed up by NISP Connect – the Northern Ireland Science Park-based, non-profit body that promotes entrepreneurship – and local business leaders. The aim is to create a space – physical, social and online – for the North’s most innovative and potentially entrepreneurial students.
Generation Innovation aims to be the place where like-minded young people can come together and get support, advice and access to leading business figures. It ultimately wants to be the type of community that produces the North’s answer to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Is it too ambitious a concept?
Not at all, according to Steve Orr, director of NISP Connect.
“There is one thing that we know about Northern Ireland: we have the nerd gene. We have the ability to solve complex problems and create new technology, that is not in doubt. But what we need to do is create the right environment for creative ideas and talent to flourish and succeed,” says Orr.
“In the past there has been lots of money thrown in this direction but the needle has never moved. Why has there not been more business start-ups? Why is there a sense of frustration? Why do our school-leavers go to university elsewhere or our university graduates leave to find new opportunities?”
Orr says these are the questions to which NISP Connect aims to provide solutions. Its vision is to create a “leading entrepreneurial knowledge economy” by 2030, which will generate an extra £6.2 billion (€7.7 billion) of “gross value added” for the local economy.
How did it arrive at these targets? NISP Connect brought together about 35 businesses, entrepreneurs, academics and government officials, who wrote a blueprint for an entrepreneurial, knowledge-led economy.
As a baseline they started with data from 2009, which showed that the North at that time had 30,600 “knowledge-economy” jobs and an estimated £10 million of venture capital invested locally.
The total spend in research and development (RD) was estimated to be £500 million.
To make NISP Connect’s vision a reality by 2030, the target is to create 71,250 jobs in the knowledge economy and secure £90 million of venture-capital investment. Targets for local RD spend would jump to £1.05 billion.
The NISP Connect team also came up with an equation for economic success based on three key variables: talent, culture and risk capital.This is why initiatives such as Generation Innovation and other key programmes which NISP Connect has developed are so crucial. The organisation wants to be a catalyst to link researchers and entrepreneurs with investors, institutions and advisers.
NISP Connect is actively helping to develop a new ecosystem to steer entrepreneurs in the right direction. It has done this by getting everyone on board: the private sector, government and local universities.
Next month the organisation will host a meeting of Generation Innovation at Titanic Belfast. Who knows what might come out of it. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg should keep an eye out.