Report finds start-ups are ‘main driver for tech sector job growth’ in Belfast

30 Sep 2019

Belfast City Hall. Image: © Madrugada Verde/

According to Tech Nation, Belfast’s thriving digital tech sector employs more than 60,000 people, which equates to a fifth of the city’s workforce.

This morning (30 September), UK entrepreneur network Tech Nation revealed new figures relating to the Belfast tech sector at its Bright Tech Future roundtable event.

The roundtable, which brings together local high-growth tech companies, universities, policy makers, venture capitalists and investors, aims to solve the talent challenges faced by tech companies through collaboration and skill sharing.

Tech Nation plans to gathers details on the skills shortage that companies in tech are facing in Belfast, and use the findings to inform recommendations to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The findings

According to Tech Nation, Belfast’s thriving digital tech sector currently employs 60,041 people, which equates to a fifth of the city’s workforce. Last year, there were 16,853 jobs advertised for tech roles in Belfast.

Between 2011 and 2016, there was a 143pc rise in the number of new digital businesses in the city. Tech Nation also found that in Belfast the median salary in the tech sector is £40,000, compared to £34,000 across all sectors.

The city, which is historically associated with shipbuilding, textiles and aerospace, is seeing its economy being “transformed” by the expanding digital sector. Tech Nation is now discussing ways in which the city can nurture its digital skills base, encouraging local entrepreneurs and investors.

The report found that for developers in particular, Belfast is the best place to live in the UK when an individual’s income is compared to the cost of living.

It claimed that start-up companies are “the main driver for tech sector job growth” in the city, although there is also an increasing demand from more traditional companies that are undergoing digital transformation

Tech Nation said: “Belfast’s experience demonstrates that the benefits of innovation economy growth are being enjoyed in every region – not just in well-publicised hubs such as London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol.”

Belfast’s ecosystem

Tech Nation’s report said that the majority of the Belfast cluster’s digital businesses are start-ups, which are “having an important economic impact on Northern Ireland’s economy”.

“Belfast’s new generation of technology businesses and entrepreneurs are being supported by a range of initiatives, started by the public and private sector. In addition to the province’s two universities – Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University – Northern Ireland is home to a number of programmes created to directly support digital innovation,” the organisation added.

These programmes include the Government-sponsored Immersive Technology Catapult, as well as innovation labs and co-working spaces such as the Pixel Mill, and the Catalyst Springboard programme. Barclays has also set up an Eagle Lab innovation centre, while Ulster Bank runs its own accelerator for entrepreneurs.

Nicky Morgan, digital secretary of Tech Nation, said: “Belfast has established itself as a leading tech hub in the UK, employing over 60,000 people in well-paid, highly skilled jobs.

“I’m thrilled that the Bright Tech Futures tour is bringing together so many of the region’s experts to discuss how we can help further strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading player in the global technology sector.”

Head of insights at Tech Nation, George Windsor, added: “What is apparent from our Bright Tech Futures report is that the digital sector is transforming the UK economy. That’s true in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Bristol, and it’s also true in Northern Ireland.

“Belfast is a city often associated with traditional industries, but today one in five workers are employed in tech and that number is growing. The city’s digital tech sector may have started with back office and customer-focused work, but it is rapidly becoming home to fast-growing start-ups and scaling businesses that have emerged from the vibrant ecosystem.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic