Igniting the start-up spark in Northern Ireland

31 Jan 2018

Peter Edgar, Ignite NI. Image: Ignite NI

Ahead of the Ignite NI accelerator programme, Peter Edgar has some key tips for those embarking on the entrepreneurship journey.

Peter Edgar is programme manager of Ignite Northern Ireland (NI), an accelerator programme for tech start-ups.

Edgar previously worked at Catalyst Inc as programme manager of Invent, an annual competition that showcases innovative start-ups. He also is part of the Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum.

‘You may not be the only one doing it, but you can be doing it better’

The 12-week accelerator programme at Ignite NI is offering companies from around the world the opportunity to grow their start-up in Belfast’s thriving tech community.

Successful applicants will benefit from a €17,000 loan, with an additional €5,700 available to any companies taking part from outside the UK. The programme also includes nine months of free co-working space at the Ormeau Baths tech hub as well as access to mentoring and practical advice on offer from start-up experts and investors.

Applications for the accelerator programme are now open, with aspirational tech start-ups from outside of the UK encouraged to apply for the first time. The deadline for applications is 14 February 2018, with the programme beginning on 26 March.

Describe your role and what you do.

Our team enables start-ups in the Ignite accelerator programme to scale, raise investment and get traction. We spend a lot of time scouting for innovative teams of people working on industry-disrupting technology that can make a positive impact on people’s lives.

In your opinion, which areas of science and technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

One of biggest opportunities is in AI and machine learning. Creating smarter robots and the ability to analyse big data will create ventures that will automate and disrupt industries such as banking, insurance, transport and healthcare.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

Entrepreneurs can be made if nurtured in the right innovation ecosystem. At Ignite NI, our teams will be housed within the Ormeau Baths, which is a space bringing together investors, innovators and corporates to incubate emerging start-ups. It will give them space to hone their skills and improve their business models.

Of course, there are some people who are born with an unwavering self-determination, and those natural instincts will help make them good entrepreneurs. They do what they say they’re going to do, make things happen and bring others along with them.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

Adaptable, opportunistic and grounded. Good founders will be willing to take guidance. Companies change as they grow and develop, so a founder needs to be able to adapt with those developments and not hold on to their own assumptions too tightly.

A good founder should also be opportunistic and isn’t afraid to take risks, shows trust in their team’s ability and creates a product that people want.

Finally, a good founder is grounded and confident in their venture making a positive impact.

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Do what you say you’re going to do. We’re all guilty of putting things off, or making commitments we can’t keep. Your time is a valuable entity – use it wisely.

Prioritise your tasks for that day and be realistic with the timeframe. That doesn’t mean make a to-do list. Making a long list of tasks that you realistically won’t complete can have a negative effect on your productivity.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

Take advantages of grants and funding that are available to you, even in places that you wouldn’t expect.

In Belfast, the best resources are the people. You’ll have the ability to tap into the lively hub of start-ups, including the technology network of NI alumni now situated around the world. Plugging into Belfast’s close-knit technology community is a fantastic way to learn, to be inspired and to be supported in your start-up journey.

How do you assemble a good team?

Every good team needs three main components: a creative, a builder and an enabler.

The creative makes the idea look good; this person is usually a designer. The builder is creating the technology behind the product, ensuring it works. And the enabler is the person who makes sure the trains run on time; you’ll find this person at the front of the room pitching and securing the investment.

I would definitely consider doing a project, any kind of project, with your team before going into business. A good team is built on good relationships and trust.

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Competitive advantage. You may not be the only one doing it, but you can be doing it better. A large element of that is knowing the value proposition of your product, so spend your money well. I’ve seen people put an ill-proportioned amount of money and time into areas of their product that aren’t valuable. You need to constantly be referring to the end-user’s experience, ensuring you’re building a product that you would buy. 

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Waiting to perfect their product before putting it out there. Again, understanding a user’s experience with the product is an essential part of the development process. Some of the best technology out there has been developed to its full market value by putting out prototype after prototype.

Ignite NI is an excellent opportunity to develop your product, hone your skills and take your company to the next level in a supported, innovative environment.

Who is your business hero and why?

Harry Ferguson (not just because he was born in Dromore, Northern Ireland, just down the road from my home). He was the first person in Ireland to build and fly his own plane in 1909. He developed the first four-wheel drive Formula One car.

He invented a piece of agricultural equipment that transformed an industry: the tractor. His name still lives on today through the world-renowned Massey Ferguson company. He created a quality product at the right time that has lasted generations.

What’s the one piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. An objective opinion, financial support or a change of environment may be the step you need to take to cultivate your company.

Starting your own business can may feel like you’re taking a leap in the dark but, if you’re passionate about your product and have a good support network, the journey will be worthwhile.

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