16 brilliant Belfast start-ups to watch

15 Mar 2018

Titanic Belfast museum on the site where Titanic was built. Image: James Kennedy NI/Shutterstock

Belfast has its eye on the future and is bubbling with entrepreneurial promise as these 16 young start-ups demonstrate.

As cities go, Belfast has always had an air of business about it. A lot of this has to do with its aerospace and shipbuilding heritage but also local tech prowess with local companies such as Kainos and Aepona putting it on the global map.

The city is kept on the cutting edge of science and innovation chiefly thanks to two universities – Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Ulster University – producing high-quality graduates.

This graduate output is highly attractive to multinationals such as Citigroup and Allstate, but also provides fuel for a feisty and growing start-up community.

According to the UK Tech Nation 2017 report, 128 start-ups were formed in Belfast last year. Across the city, the tech ecosystem supports more than 9,000 jobs and Belfast boasts 17pc of the UK’s high-growth firms.

Belfast has a growing base of venture capital investors, with key players including Crescent Capital, Co-Fund, Kernel Capital and Clarendon Fund Managers. Invest NI offers support to early-stage start-ups while access to finance is improving through the work of local angel network Halo and funds such as TechstartNI and the Invest Growth Fund.

Last year, Catalyst Inc (formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park), unveiled its 10-year plan to develop 1m sq ft of office space and to create 5,000 jobs.

Notable workspaces in Belfast include Innovation Factory, Farset Labs and The Foundry while accelerators include Start Planet and Entrepreneurial Spark.

Meet-ups to attend include Digital Circle, Belfast Startups Hub and the Internet of Things Alliance.

Here are the 16 Belfast start-ups that we believe you should watch in 2018.

Analytics Engines

16 brilliant Belfast start-ups to watch

Austin Tanney, head of life sciences and healthcare at Analytics Engines, pictured at a recent Virgin Media event in Belfast. Image: Luke Maxwell

Analytics Engines is a QUB spin-out specialising in accelerating applications for databases and big data. Its products are designed to offer significant benefits to companies that need to run faster, more accurate analytics on large volumes of data – such as those in the finance, genomics, utilities and database sectors. Analytics Engines was declared the winner of the Silicon Valley 2013 Best Emerging Technology award from the Irish Technology Leadership Group. Founded by Dr Scott Fischaber, the company has raised £1m in funding to date in a round led by Crescent Capital.


AppAttic develops connected health tech solutions. It creates mobile health interventions that collect clinical data and evoke prolonged behaviour change, including a mobile app for ADHD and a VR game for stroke rehabilitation. At SXSW 2018, the company unveiled Magic Moovr, a movement-based mobile VR product that was developed in partnership with patients and clinicians. The company was co-founded by Carley Morrow and Dr Rachel Gawley.


Image: BrainWaveBank

BrainWaveBank builds tools for analysing brain health, especially dementia. The company says its machine-learning techniques detect cognitive decline at an early stage. It has created a wearable that pairs with a user’s smartphone and monitors their brain activity while playing video games. Founded by Brian Murphy, Ronan Cunningham, Siggi Saevarsson and Urs Streidl, the company has raised £1m so far in seed funding from the Angel CoFund and TechstartNI.


B-Secur is exploring the next generation of biometric authentication, having patented a technology solution that uses a person’s ECG rhythms for secure and convenient user authentication. The company was named a Gartner Cool Vendor for 2016, was one of just 16 companies invited to join the London Stock Exchange’s Elite programme and was named as a prominent vendor to watch in the global biometrics market in the Technavio report EEG and ECG Biometrics Global Market 2016-2020. B-Secur has raised £6m in investment so far from investors including Kernel Capital, British Business Bank, Wharton Asset Management, Rudolf Wolff and ADV.

DisplayNote Technologies

DisplayNote builds technologies that are designed to make it easier for people to present, share, connect and collaborate in real time across large-format displays, desktop and mobile devices. The company, a previous Start-up of the Week, achieved a major breakthrough when it inked a deal with NEC to have its screen-sharing technology installed on PCs that will be sold across Japan. DisplayNote has raised €1.3m in investment from investors including Kernel Capital.



The Evy team. Image: TechWatch

Evy is the creator of a smart tracking bag that registers items such as books, bags and keys using inexpensive, disposable RFID stickers. Evy was founded by QUB electrical engineering students Niamh Tohill (CEO), Andrew Cunningham (COO), Vince Kearney, Nathan Steenson and Matthew Whiteside.


Hug produces wearable heat packs that help relieve common ailments such as back pain, menstrual pain or even conditions such as endometriosis. The brainchild of product designer Fiona Bennington, Hug is now selling directly via its own site and on Amazon for £19.99. Since 2015, Hug’s retail deals include Cara Pharmacy in the Republic of Ireland and Clear Pharmacy in Northern Ireland and the wider UK.


Hurtlockers provides step-by-step audio and visual guides guidance so that anyone – even if they have no training – can be reassured when confronting a first-aid scenario. The company won the student category of the Invent Awards 2017.



Pictured: Peter Johnston, founder of Kalo. Image: Kalo

Belfast and London-based Kalo, previously known as Lystable, was founded by entrepreneur Peter Johnston. The company is behind a piece of software that allows large companies to more effectively manage a freelance workforce and its vendors. Kalo’s clients include Google and The Economist, with recent additions including Airbnb, MTV and CNBC. It has more than 60 enterprise clients managing more than 20,000 contractors and vendors on a weekly basis. Kalo has raised $25m so far in funding from investors that include Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, Goldcrest Capital and Spring Partners.



The KegoMatic team. Image: TechWatch

Automated beer keg solution KegoMatic is the brainchild of six electrical engineering students from QUB – Connor McGurk, Connor Carville, Donovan Campbell, Patrick Devlin, Bryan Murphy and Aaron Rath. KegoMatic enables multiple kegs (two, three or four) to be tapped at once, and it switches the line automatically when the keg runs out. The technology not only prevents the problem of changing a keg during service times, it also provides critical data analytics to the business. The system includes hardware, packed with LED sensors and weight scales, plus a tablet app to manage the influx of data.


Belfast’s IoT revolution begins: Neurovalens to disrupt weight loss business

From left: Jason McKeown, co-founder and CEO of Neurovalens, with Invest NI director of innovation, Dr Vicky Kell. Image: Invest NI

Neurovalens is the creator of a pioneering electronic headset used to tackle the growing obesity problem worldwide. Founded by Dr Jason McKeown, the company’s Modius product is a small headset-like medical device that targets an area of the brain known to suppress appetite, and induces a metabolic shift within the nervous system. Last October, the company announced 10 new positions in software engineering, hardware engineering and marketing after raising £1.2m in a crowdfunding round on Indiegogo.

Phion Therapeutics

Phion Therapeutics’ new drug delivery technology is the result of 11 years of painstaking research involving protein fragments called peptides. Founded by Prof Helen McCarthy, the company’s technology could have a significant impact on the pharmaceutical industry and revolutionise how drugs are delivered to parts of the human body.


ProtectBox is a pioneering search and comparison engine to help businesses find the right cybersecurity products. Founded by cybersecurity star Kiran Bhagotra, ProtectBox was a finalist in Techweek LA’s Launch and WiSTEM’s pitch competitions, as well as a finalist for the Human Factor award in the Computing Security Awards 2016. Last year, it was selected for the StartPlanetNI accelerator. The company also won the prestigious Wired Magazine Security 2017 Start-up Showcase. The company has also been short-listed for the People’s Choice Awards at the Pitch@Palace competition (votes close on 25 April).


Sensum is a solutions provider to multiple industries looking to capture, understand and act on emotions. At the heart of the company’s offering is a unified emotion AI powered by its Synsis engine. Founded by Gawain Morrison and Shane McCourt, Sensum has raised £1.2m in seed funding. Clients include Jaguar, Ford, BBC, Unilever and Cisco.


Uleska builds cybersecurity into web applications while they are being made, rather than after they’re in use. Uleska’s flagship product, SecureDesigner, automatically inserts cybersecurity protections into your software, handling compliance with security regulations. The brainchild of Gary Robinson, the platform was born out of issues and delays that he experienced as a security architect in the financial services sector.


YoMo empowers millennials to smash through the debt barrier

Yomo CEO and founder Gavin Shields. Image: Yomo

A recent Siliconrepublic.com Start-up of the Week, fintech player Yomo wants to help millennials achieve financial stability. The London and Belfast-based company has devised a savings and investments app designed as a solution to combat this relentless cycle of spiralling debt. Yomo is currently in the process of raising £1m in funding.

Titanic Belfast museum on the site where Titanic was built. Image: James Kennedy NI/Shutterstock

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years