Why Belfast is forging a brighter tech future


THE announcement of Belfast as host of MIT Technology Review’s prestigious EmTech Europe Conference is the latest boost to our city as a growing hub in the global technology scene.

Today, around 60,000 people work in our tech sector in a range of businesses covering areas like fintech, artificial intelligence, health tech, and cyber security.

Our city is home to some of the most brilliant minds and leaders of the industry, which last year saw Belfast ranked in the inaugural top 10 “Tech Cities of the Future” for 2021/2021 by fDi Intelligence. This ranking is testament to the incredible talent and infrastructure we have in place to sustain emerging technology. This includes support by a strong network of world-class academic institutions and government investment programmes, with innovation and creativity strongly encouraged in the sector.

Our most attractive asset is our intellectual talent pool. Belfast is home to some of the most gifted and skilled professionals in Europe. Some 26 per cent of all job openings here in 2019 were in digital technology – the highest in the UK (Tech Nation).

This is due in part to a younger population of digital natives, as well as the close proximity to top universities and research centres at Ulster University and Queen’s University. Our six regional colleges also upskill and retrain people for careers in the tech sector at a time of great opportunity.

This access to a skilled workforce is crucial for tech businesses and means that Belfast becomes even more attractive for those looking to invest.

There is no doubt that now is the time for our city to capitalise on this and not only encourage inward investment, but also encourage those who live here to resist the urge to pack up and head to some of Europe's other digital hubs.

Belfast’s rising star has been recognised in the international market, and the city being selected to host EmTech Europe over the next three year’s further highlights that. The significance of high-profile speakers on July 1 & 2, including chief strategic officer of Darktrace Nicole Eagan and Kenneth Chien, who co-founded vaccine company Moderna, cannot be underestimated as the global tech industry throws its support behind Belfast for this year’s conference.

With core themes of green tech, health, AI and ethics, EmTech Europe will focus on areas that our sector excels in and will allow international leading experts to join in the local conversation of how to use tech to grow and rebuild post-pandemic.

The past year has highlighted the robust nature of our tech sector. The acceleration of the use of emerging technologies such as cloud-based services and artificial intelligence has enabled many companies to continue operating remotely with staff working from home, which in turn ensured continued economic outputs and people remained in employment.

As businesses and governments are looking at what economic recovery will look like over the next few years, the tech sector in Belfast will play a greater role in driving forward economic growth. We have already heard news in 2021 of over 700 new tech jobs from international firms, and the three City Deal projects comprising funding packages of £1 billion-plus all have a technology focus.

By continuing to build on the success our city has already had, we know that we can nurture the skills and talent which will see us remain at the forefront of the global tech sector long into the future. EmTech Europe is the perfect opportunity for us to showcase this talent on an international stage.

:: Dr Jayne Brady is Digital Innovation Commissioner for Belfast