Startup stories: AppAttic and the Belfast tech scene

Think tech startups in the UK, and it’s likely that you’ve already got a mental geo-tag placed somewhere around Shoreditch. As London grows ever-more expensive, however, an increasing number of these companies are looking elsewhere, often to one of the Big Bs – Birmingham, Bristol or Belfast.
At MAF, we’re always keen to hear stories from our friends and colleagues around the country, so this week we sat down with the guys at AppAttic, an app design and development company based in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter.

My Accountant Friend online accountants

Can you tell us about AppAttic and what you do?

At AppAttic, we design and develop games to engage users with their wellbeing, provide health insights, and promote positive behaviour change. We build games and provide gamification solutions for corporate wellness programmes that integrate with wearable devices such as Fitbit.

How much support and help have you received in terms of advice, business planning, investors, and who were the best people to talk to at the setting up stage?

Northern Ireland is a great place for an early stage startup, in terms of the available support. AppAttic have a great relationship with InvestNI, without whom much of our progress would not have been possible. InvestNI fund many initiatives that assist startups – there are too many to name, but a few programmes and support groups for other startups to look out for include Propel, NIScreen and Invent (NISP Connect). From there you will gain substantial advice, including contacts for investment and funding options such as Halo and TechStart. In addition, Belfast – as a city – provides support in kind for cash-strapped startups. It offers a great standard of living at relative low cost with quick and easy access to multiple locations, most notably London.

Is there a large freelancing and small business community in Northern Ireland?

It has grown a lot over the past five years or so, and certainly accelerated recently. For it’s size, Northern Ireland has a lot going on and a lot of community support. #BelfastHour is one bustling community you can search for on Twitter, and there are similar hashtags springing up for other towns throughout the country. A quick search on Twitter or one of the event sites will reveal a number of communities, most of which will be in or around Belfast.

Blick Studios, Belfast

If I were looking to meet other likeminded freelancers, independent contractors or self-employed people in Northern Ireland, are there any hubs I could go to, or perhaps get-togethers or seminars?

There’s plenty, depending on what you are looking for as a small business, freelancer or tech startup. Again, most of them will be in and around Belfast. AppAttic are based at one of the Blick Studios in Cathedral Quarter, and Blick offer a variety of working spaces, from desks to offices in a quirky environment. They also host regular courses, classes and social events for networking. StartPlanetNI on Donegal Street is bustling with startups and NISPConnect offer lots of high quality free workshops, as do many of the niche support such as ScreenNI (games and film).

There’s lots going on and too many vertical ‘hubs’ to list; meetups for bloggers, designers, developers, testers, animators, gamers and so much more, alongside multiple general business networking events. Lunch, breakfast and dinner, coffee or beer – you’ll find something to suit you. A few places to check are Twitter, EventBrite and Meetup.com. Once you attend a few events, you’ll often find out about more through word of mouth and your network.

What would you say Northern Ireland is strongest in, in terms of the industries that self-employed people are launching themselves into?

For self-employed and micro-businesses, I’d have to say the creative industries. The umbrella of ‘creative industries’ covers a lot of skillsets, many of which offer great global potential, especially when they come together. Northern Ireland is full of talented creatives from across the spectrum of music, film, gaming, design, crafts, photography, writing and even programming. The great thing about the creative industries is that it is very supportive of freelancers, micro-businesses and collaboration.

Established, Hill Street. Belfast’s best for coffee and wifi

As a groundbreaking online accountancy business, we’re obviously interested in how the tech side of things is working out. Are there any exciting developments within AppAttic that you could share with us?

Our latest project is a clinical trial with the South Eastern Health Trust for medicines management. The project is based around an app for mobile devices that rewards medicine management through gamification techniques and a real game. Additionally, the app utilizes data from wearable devices, in this case Fitbit, to allow the clinician to remotely monitor the patient’s progress. It’s exciting to be part of a clinical trial that has the potential to really benefit health, wellbeing and the economy as a whole. We’re looking forward to the results next year and expect a public version of the app to be available on the various app stores later this year.

Lastly, where’s the best place to get a cup of coffee and a decent wifi signal in Belfast? We’re all about helping freelancers find decent coffee shops!

We’re rather spoilt. Established, over on Hill Street, is just around the corner, and that’s possibly the best for both.

If you’re a freelancer, tech startup or independent contractor and you’re looking for an online accountant that can look after the financial side of things while you get on with what you do best, drop us a line.