Steve Harper
Executive Director, International Business, Invest Northern Ireland

Tech culture propels FDI growth in Northern Ireland

The harnessing of industry, academia and government in building solution-focused ecosystems, allows Northern Ireland to offer inward investors a unique proposition especially in technology sectors.

When BT announced the opening of the new £28.6 million BT Ireland Innovation Centre (BTIIC) in Belfast, Northern Ireland last November, it served as further proof of this UK region’s burgeoning global reputation as a leading location for advanced technology research and development. Working in collaboration with Ulster University, BTIIC will undertake more than £7 million worth of joint research focusing on the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence and data analytics for customer experience, cyber security and 5G. Invest Northern Ireland (Invest NI) is contributing £9 million towards the initiative.

This news is emblematic of the region’s commitment to bringing industry, academia and government together to strategically nurture industry-specific clusters in which research and innovation can flourish in Northern Ireland. It also enables high-potential technology sectors to take root and grow, attracting more businesses and creating jobs. Invest NI actively works with a wide range of tech sectors to facilitate and support collaborative networks, connecting academia and industry, helping companies access new markets, technologies and research opportunities. This model has been a critical component to our success in attracting FDI before and after the Brexit referendum and is demonstrated through the emergence of our internationally renowned, and expanding, cyber security cluster.

Cyber Security

Northern Ireland has developed a global reputation for cyber security and indeed, it stands as the number one global destination for U.S cyber security development projects. (FT FDI Markets). The key to establishing our global position in cyber security has been ensuring a ready, sustainable supply of specialized talent and the resources required to provide our people with unique skill-sets to help plug the global skills shortage. Clusters of like industries naturally facilitate positive collaboration and the greater the ranks, the stronger the ecosystem and the individual companies that inhabit it. The steward of this culture of collaboration is Queen’s University’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT). As the UK’s center for cyber security research, CSIT has been the catalyst that has sparked Northern Ireland’s international emergence in the sector.

Growth Sectors

Whilst cyber security is thriving so are other areas of technology and business. Not only is Belfast Europe’s leading destination for new software development projects, but it is also the number one destination city globally for fintech development projects (FT FDI Markets). A host of financial services giants including Citi, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Visa, Vela and Tullet Prebon, have well established operations there. There is also a thriving cadre of home-grown companies such as First Derivatives and Kainos.

Another area of notable growth for Northern Ireland is the legal sector. The region’s offering of cost competitiveness combined with legal technical excellence has attracted investors such as Baker McKenzie, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allen & Overy, and Axiom Law. Their technology-enabled, globally-integrated Northern Ireland operations are central to a range of responsive, innovative, alternative solutions for their exacting international clients seeking quality-assured, cost-effective legal services.

Regardless of the sector, the attractiveness of Northern Ireland rests on the availability of a well-educated, skilled and loyal workforce. When this is combined with cost-competitiveness, superb infrastructure and culturally-compatible climate, it becomes a compelling proposition for U.S. investors. Northern Ireland has experienced another strong year in terms of new investors setting up in the region. This provides instant benefits but also a significant, additional pipeline for future growth as 80 per cent of new investors who come go on to reinvest.

To find out more, visit