In 2007, industry, academia and government worked together to produce the Northern Ireland Digital Content Strategy – a timely document that paved the way to the Digital Circle collaborative network and several years of rapid growth in our local industry. Timely because it arrived just before a sea change in the market – the advent of the smartphone for everyone and the emergence of the App economy. With a steering group made up of industry professionals and solid support from the IT industry trade body, Digital Circle grew rapidly and was able to respond to changes in the market – from apps, to games, to augmented reality (it’s a big deal now but we had active projects in AR in Northern Ireland in 2011.)
The project officially ended in 2011 but continued to work until 2015 but after the demise of the IT industry trade body, and policy changes in government, practical support waned. Meanwhile, the skills shortages predicted in the strategy proved to be conservative. Salaries for developers have soared, leaving many to outsource their development to other countries – and with that, the opportunity cost in money flowing out of the region and skills and intellectual property being domiciled elsewhere.
With the ending of the Creative Industries Innovation Fund (and fewer interventions like HoneyComb, Creative Marketplace, Games on Film) there was a massive loss in terms of finance. This investment hadn’t always been a runaway success but there were some properties created which, in terms of value, exceeded the entire investment of the fund over its lifetime and all because of an initial £10,000 grant.
And one of the other pillars of Digital Circle (and the strategy) was internationalisation and access to markets. With the impending uncertainty over Brexit, investment has declined and we still don’t know what we have to prepare for. At the time of writing, we haven’t had a government in Northern Ireland in 1000 days. In the face of impending uncertainty and adversity, we feel there’s a need to invest.
Digital Circle is very pleased to announce an ongoing partnership with RAISE Ventures to give the network a home. RAISE brings a physical space, relationships, a programme of events, and a mechanism for private finance to the deal. We are working with RAISE for representation in government programmes (like the Digital Skills strategy, Future Screens NI) as well as championing startups and high potential startups within the region.
See you at the RAISE on Wednesday 16th October.