10 scaling start-ups set to find their spark in Northern Ireland

11 Mar 2021

Image: © ink drop/Stock.adobe.com

This year’s picks for the Ignite NI programme have been revealed. Get to know the 10 start-ups set to spend three months getting guidance from the Belfast accelerator.

The Ignite NI accelerator for growing technology companies has announced its latest cohort.

Supported by Invest NI, Ignite NI selects start-ups that can demonstrate traction and significant potential for future growth.

Ignite NI alumni have gone on to raise £15m in pre-seed and seed stage funding. Cloudsmith, for example, went on to raise £2.1m in seed funding shortly after completing the three-month programme.

Launched in Belfast this week, the programme will run until late May 2021. Participating companies will receive mentorship and equity-free funding of up to €32,000 all towards scaling their business. They’ll also benefit from access to Ignite NI’s global network of entrepreneurs and investors.

More than 1,000 start-ups from 35 countries applied for this year’s accelerator. The selected 10 are primarily from the UK and Ireland spanning sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, fintech and enterprise software.

“Year on year, the quality and approach of start-ups is getting better,” said Ignite NI programme director Chris McClelland. “We’re confident that each of the start-ups chosen for this year’s Ignite NI Accelerator will make enormous contributions to the economy and society, both in Northern Ireland and further afield.”

Breathe Happy

London start-up Breathe Happy has been bringing yoga lessons online since before Covid-19 made it cool. This is a step up from YouTube follow-alongs as Breathe Happy delivers live classes with a qualified instructor who can see and interact with participants. The platform also uses computer vision to better assess postures and suggest adjustments.

Last year, Breathe Happy and the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Ageing were awarded more than £250,000 to apply this technology to the recovery of older Covid-19 patients. Along with Newcastle University, they will design a remote platform using AI to assess both physical and emotional wellness.


Belfast start-up CropSafe was founded by Micheál McLaughlin and John McElhone when they were secondary school students in Magherafelt, Co Derry. Coming from agricultural families, they saw first-hand how devastating the results of crop disease can be. This is why they built CropSafe, an application that uses satellite images to detect diseases in crop fields.

The CropSafe app can detect abnormalities using an online dashboard, which is continually improved by machine learning algorithms. With this information, farmers can pinpoint their chemical sprays, meaning less expense along with a reduced impact on the environment.

Eolas Medical

Also out of Belfast, Eolas Medical is a previous participant in Ignite NI’s Propel pre-accelerator, which came with a £15,000 grant. This early support went towards developing its knowledge-sharing technology for medical teams.

Founded by Dr Declan Kelly and Dr Rob Brisk, Eolas Medical is built by clinicians for clinicians. Its aim is to support decision-making in acute medical care and to ensure healthcare is equitable around the world, all through the sharing of knowledge using its information management solutions. Eolas also intends to apply AI and natural language processing to this knowledge bank in order to build a ‘medical knowledge model’.


Gerard Rubio has been around the world with his idea for a low-cost, compact digital knitting machine. Think 3D printing, but with wool.

What began as a passion project built in Barcelona grew into a business idea when Rubio moved to London and teamed up with Tom Catling and Triambak Saxena to found Kniterate. This trio and their digital knitting machine then packed up and went to China for a four-month hardware accelerator.

After generating interest in the machine at the 2016 San Francisco Maker Faire, Kniterate launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2017, which raised more than $600,000.


Based in Berlin, Konvi was founded just last year. Targeting the topical market of retail investors, this start-up has coined a new phrase in investment: crowd-owning.

Through the Konvi app, users can become one of many investors in an expensive luxury item such as a rare watch or designer handbag. These high-end items are selected by Konvi’s partners as those with the highest likely returns. After the item has appreciated, it will be sold and the profits distributed to its many owners. Konvi also plans to launch a ‘let and earn’ programme, which will insure and let all investment items.


Cork company LegitFit provides software for fitness businesses. Its tools have been specifically built to lessen the hours these business owners are dedicating to admin. With LegitFit, users can manage bookings, scheduling, billing and payments. The platform also includes a client messaging system.

The SaaS offering has a tiered subscription model and the company is targeting small businesses and independent fitness professionals for whom big-brand enterprise tools are out of reach.

Founded in 2018, LegitFit has been supported by Enterprise Ireland through the Competitive Start Fund and the company has international expansion in its sights.


Belfast start-up MedAll is already seen as an Ignite NI success story. The company was previously selected for the Propel pre-accelerator and has since gone on to raise pre-seed funding from European venture capital fund Seedcamp.

Founder and CEO Dr Phil McElnay was inspired by his experience as a doctor. He saw the need for equitable access to a high standard of healthcare training and so set about building a digital platform to deliver it. With MedAll’s software, healthcare organisations can build and implement digital training and certification without having to delve into any complicated coding.


Also from Belfast and also a Propel graduate, PulseAI is a health-tech start-up founded and led by Dr Alan Kennedy. Its flagship product is the cloud-based PulseAI ECG analysis platform, known as PACE.

PACE uses AI to improve the detection of abnormal heart rhythms or arrhythmias. Developed in partnership with academics and cardiologists, the platform is built on top of a database of more than 600,000 ECG recordings. Plugging AI into this data enables automated analysis of long-term ECG recordings from wearable devices. All of which comes together to help clinical staff detect arrhythmias more efficiently.

Respiratory Analytics

Derry-based Respiratory Analytics is the company behind Aflo, a next-generation smart inhaler. Fitted with artificial intelligence and sensor technology, Aflo is meant to teach patients how to inhale their medicines correctly. It can also aggregate patient data with air quality information to warn against any risk of exacerbated symptoms.

Respiratory Analytics has received more than £300,000 in funding from Innovate UK to develop this device. Potential users include those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, COPD and cystic fibrosis. This R&D project is expected to produce a device ready for UK clinical trials by the summer.

X-15 Data Systems

The last member of this year’s Ignite NI cohort has already secured one of the accelerator’s previous successes, Cloudsmith, as a partner. Other key partners include IBM and Nokia.

X-15 Data Systems offers enterprise asset management software for highly regulated asset classes such as aircraft and weapon systems. Its suite of products includes a maintenance management information system, an operations planner and a distributed data synchronisation system. The company also offers custom software engineering services.

Founder and CEO Andy Carson has been working on X-15 since 2009. Up to 2018, he also served as a non-executive board member at Cloudsmith.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.