Ormeau Baths reopens as tech start-up co-working hub

Idea is if you ‘put smart people together, businesses get better and create more ideas’

Brexit presents a “massive opportunity” for the financial services sector in Dublin, a venture capitalist from Co Antrim has said at the launch of a new tech start-up project in Belfast.

Jon Bradford and the investment team behind the £500,000 Ormeau Baths co-working space in Belfast city centre is linking up with a Dublin counterpart, Patrick Walsh's Dogpatch Labs, to allow freelancers and small businesses access to both sites.

Plans are also being lined up for an affiliate link up in Cork.

Around one third of the 144 desks available for rent at the entrepreneurial campus in Belfast have been filled, and community space for the public to drop in will include a Root and Branch coffee shop in the refurbished Victorian listed building which was last used as a gallery.


The aim of Ormeau Baths, which opens next week, is to help the “brightest and best indigenous tech start-ups” access news markets, funding and expertise, because when you “put smart people together, businesses get better and create more ideas,” Bradford said.

London-based Bradford, originally from Ballymena, Co Antrim, told The Irish Times Brexit is naturally a huge area of conversation in the business world but that he was "schizophrenic on the topic" as he sees it as "a massive opportunity" for Dublin.

Dublin has clearly has had its handcuffs taken off and can go and do whatever it likes, Belfast is going to have to sit on its hands for a while

“In my day job I do a lot of stuff around financial services and I see the opportunity in Dublin around financial services as being huge – a really, really good place to go,” he said.

“Dublin has clearly has had its handcuffs taken off and can go and do whatever it likes, Belfast is going to have to sit on its hands for a while to figure out what is next.”

Bradford, Steve Pette and Aaron Taylor have founded the Belfast project along with corporate sponsor Barclays and Sarah Friar, the chief finance officer of San Francisco-based payments company Square, which has just launched in the UK and has an office in Dublin.

Square was co-founded by Twitter creator Jack Dorsey and listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 2015 with a valuation of $2.9 billion.

Friar, a Silicon Valley tech executive, originally from Strabane, Co Tyrone, has invested in Ormeau Baths because she likes to get involved in projects “at home” and will be back and forward from the US to visit family in Sion Mills and support start-ups using the new co-working space. She spoke of the American business community response to Donald Trump’s presidency as “keeping it business as usual”.

“The good news is the US economy is really vibrant now, confidence is high, so that is good for Square,” she said.

She added: “Brexit from a macro perspective is a big shift, a big change, but for Square’s business we are focused on the UK right now, Brexit or no Brexit.

“The UK is a really big market with 5.4 million small businesses and half of them don’t take debit or credit cards so it’s a very fertile market for us, [one] we are excited to get into and Brexit doesn’t really impact that.

“From a broader European standpoint we are building a global company so we look to big economies when we think about what is next.

“We have a footprint in Dublin right now that we think will be our shared services organisation for the rest of Europe and I am excited to see us growing on both sides of the pond so to speak.”

Friar, described by her Belfast investment partners as “way more successful than any of us” is hoping her involvement in the Ormeau Baths project will encourage more women entrepreneurs into tech start-ups.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she said.

“For women, there are not a lot of role models out there but the great thing about Square has been just how diverse our executive team is.

“Over 60 percent of Square employees report up through a woman to Jack’s [Dorsey] executive team and it’s areas like engineering, finance, legal, hardcore areas and I think that is wonderful vibe to put in the market.”