Northern Ireland Digital Circle

From Wall Street to Hollywood – everyone wants to be in Northern Ireland


Last week I was lucky enough to be at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC to listen to the great and the good pitching Northern Ireland as a business destination.  I was in Washington as part of the St Patrick’s Day government delegation and my role was to be part of the team promoting and celebrating Northern Ireland’s many treasures for businesses and tourists alike.

The on-the-road double act conducted these days by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is an impressive effort.  Both Ministers competently and in a single voice extol the benefits of starting or basing business in modern day Northern Ireland listing our young and well educated workforce, the fact that 60% of our population is under the age of 40, our good transport links with the rest of the world, our cost effective operating environment, our focus on the important emergent digital sectors, our high speed connectivity (especially to the US) and our soon to be highly competitive corporation tax rate.

The photo above is of Jay Roewe (Senior VP of Production from Santa Monica based HBO).  Also speaking at the event was Brian Conlon (CEO of highly successful indigenous company the Newry based First Derivatives).  Although Brian’s story is a great one, it’s Jay that I’m going to focus on in this blog – as I thought everyone might be interested in knowing the reasons he gave for selecting Northern Ireland as the place where HBO based and filmed their new series “Game of Thrones”.  Some of his reasons may come as a bit of a surprise to you.

Jay was at pains to point out that HBO is first and foremost a business and that all decisions the company makes are carefully considered in terms of the business benefits they generate.  These were the reasons why HBO selected Northern Ireland ahead of any other location:

  •  Our senior politicians were willing to travel to HBO on the US West Coast to make the case in person and this helped Jay “sell” Northern Ireland to his senior team
  •  The Northern Ireland film industry workforce is young but keen and very willing to learn quickly
  •  Belfast gave HBO easy access to UK & European crew and actors
  •  Belfast is a small city and this made the logistics of moving 200+ people around on any given day very straightforward
  • The cost analysis exercise carried out by HBO showed Northern Ireland provided the best value for money
  • Belfast’s Paint Hall in the Titanic Quarter (where ship components were once painted) is a unique venue with extraordinarily high ceilings.

There were a few more points that to me were less predictable or expected:

·         HBO liked the fact that Belfast has great restaurants and comfortable lodgings for its West Coast staff.

·         Jay also added that the warm spirit of the Northern Ireland people and the warm welcome given to HBO was a positive factor.

I’m sure HBO was also swayed by the availability of Martin McGuinness’s brother as an extra for Game of Thrones.  Martin described his brother as having long grey hair and standing on the back of a cart – we’ll all keep an eye out for him Martin.  I know I for one can’t wait to see Game of Thrones and it makes it even more exciting that it was filmed here.


A blog about appreciation


Today’s blog is an appreciation blog.  Often we find ourselves just taking people for granted and not giving them enough appreciation for what they do for us – so this is an attempt to redress that balance in some small way.  I’d just like to say a big thank you on behalf of all of us who work in Northern Ireland’s emerging digital and online content sector to Matt Johnston (@cimota) for the tireless work he does on behalf of us and to promote our sector and our companies. 

I’ve spent the last two days in London with Matt.  We decided it was time to go and tell a few more people about the many talented people and small businesses that work in our chosen space in Northern Ireland.  Over the course of those two days we’ve promoted Digital Circle and its companies to:

·         The Technology Strategy Board

·         A group of social entrepreneurs

·         The Royal Society of Arts (RSA)

·         Everyone present at Friday’s Tuttle Club in London’s Centre for Creative Collaboration

·         The gathering of entrepreneurs and start up companies at Dominic Campbell’s City Camp London get together at the Hub King’s Cross

We’ve been blown away by the amount of interest there’s been in Digital Circle and at every event Matt’s had a stream of people wanting to ask him about the workings of the Digital Circle, how it started out, what the future plans are and what the Digital Circle members have gained from being part of the community.  It appears that what we have in Northern Ireland is quite unique in terms of small and micro businesses actually engaging, collaborating and helping each other out.

So this is my way of saying we appreciate you Matt and all you do for us.  The non-stop networking, the liaison with our government departments and Invest NI, the constant promotion of our companies, the search for opportunities for all of us and the signposting, the bright ideas you have, the introductions you make, the tweeting you do (I couldn’t believe how many people at Tuttle nodded when you revealed your Twitter name – they’d all come across you), the sheer volume of stuff you wade through so that we don’t have to and the dry good humour with which all of the above is delivered.

Please join me in appreciating Matt and post up your story in the comments of how he’s helped you or your company.

If you’d like to know more about the Digital Circle or join our community, you can do so via this link