Blockchain is big business and, in Belfast at least, corporate clusters are emerging. Rakuten is on the lookout for talent.
Last August, e-commerce company Rakuten bought Bitnet, a start-up built by former Visa executives, to help in the creation of a new Belfast blockchain hub for the company.
In the months that passed, rumours of a focus on blockchain in the city emerged, with Seamus Cushley, director at PwC, particularly adamant that Belfast was primed for a shift.
“Blockchain is regarded by many as the second generation of the internet, and it can be just as disruptive as the invention of the internet was,” said Cushley.
“Today, Belfast is known as a cyber hub. In the near future, it will be a blockchain hub for multiple industries.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Rakuten has now revealed the hub it has created on the back of the Bitnet deal, with 20 new hires expected for Belfast.
The lab, based on Ormeau Avenue, will provide internal IT services for Rakuten’s global business and customer base. Almost half of the new roles have yet to be filled.
“Northern Ireland is fast becoming a global hub for cybersecurity professionals and we are keen to leverage the expertise [that] exists here to drive growth across our businesses,” said Yasufumi Hirai, Rakuten’s CIO.
“Invest NI’s support, combined with the availability of local skills and talent, made Northern Ireland our preferred location to establish our unique blockchain lab.
“The engagement and work ethic of the personnel we’ve recruited locally is impressive, and we’re confident the team in Belfast will be an invaluable addition to the Rakuten Group.”
VP of engineering at the lab, Fergal Downey, recently said: “There’s a lot of hype about how blockchain will cause disruption.
“Given Rakuten’s diverse global business portfolio, there’s an opportunity to create blockchain-based solutions that will add real value to the ecosystem.”
Elsewhere, Ballymena-based Wrightbus is investing £5.5m into its Northern Ireland operations, to develop and manufacture electric zero-emission vehicles for international markets, and to train and upskill staff.
Mark Nodder, chairman and CEO of the Wrights Group, said this marked an “exciting new stage” in the company’s future.
“Our ambition is to grow as a world-class designer and manufacturer of public transport vehicles and, in the process, evolve into a major international supplier to the worldwide bus market.”