Belfast has been working hard to create a new future but the region’s productivity gap remains, with Belfast’s productivity standing at 6% below UK levels, and the gap rising to almost 20% for Northern Ireland as a whole.
For the last few years Connected Places Catapult has been at the heart of initiatives that are bringing real change to the city and region. The area is home to an internationally recognised cyber security industry, with Northern Ireland now the number one international investment location for US cyber security firms and financial services technology inward investment projects.
Between 2016 and 2018, Connected Places Catapult supported place leaders in Belfast to grow in confidence and create new opportunities for businesses, leading to a successful bid for a Belfast City Region Deal that will deliver £2 billion in additional GVA and 10,000 new jobs.
Earlier in 2016, Connected Places Catapult worked with Belfast City Council to run an innovative procurement call (SBRI) to identify new ways for the city to maximise business rates capture. The project saw the creation of innovative tools by two UK firms, and the identification of more than £1 million additional annual revenues for the council. From this foundation, Connected Places Catapult and the Council created the Smart Belfast Framework. This outlined a further set of city challenges and opportunities from tourism to environmental services, transport and more. 300 firms took part in the launch and 75 businesses are now involved in this growing market.
Building on this trusted relationship with the city council, Connected Places Catapult was then invited by the city to drive development of an ambitious, robustly evidenced plan for the economic development of the region.
Connected Places Catapult’s CEO, Nicola Yates OBE, chaired the digital and innovation workstream, bringing together six councils, two universities and a range of private sector allies, to develop the Belfast Regional City Deal. Significant effort was needed to bring the region’s diverse assets and actors into alignment around a shared vision and set of propositions.
The deal which emerged secured £500 million of investment in the region’s digital and innovation economy, comprising the largest City Deal investment to date and over £150 million of private investment from the likes of Catalyst Inc, Caterpillar, Ryobi, Bombardier, GSK, Belfast Harbour, BAE Systems and others.
Today many of the region’s major employers, working under a ‘collaborate to compete’ ethos, are using the ecosystem to position Belfast as a hub for new and emerging technologies and sectors, including RegTech and digital twinning.
And the Catapult’s relationship with Belfast continues. Recently it helped secure a Memorandum of Understanding linking the innovation ecosystems of Belfast and Sejong, South Korea as part of the Innovation Twins programme which aims to create high potential city pairings between countries to inspire collaboration across government, business and academia to drive real outcomes for the Smart Cities agenda.