Northern Ireland lagging behind national average, with just 1% rise in tech company start-ups

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25th Mar 2024

The number of new technology companies incorporated in Northern Ireland increased by just 1% last year, in contrast to the UK figure which jumped by nearly a quarter (22%), a record high.

The data from leading audit, tax and consulting firm RSM UK shows that in Northern Ireland, there were only 377 new tech incorporations in 2023, a rise of just 1% on 2022 figures.

Richard Gardiner, managing partner of RSM Belfast, said: ‘The importance and strength of the tech sector in Northern Ireland is well recognised, so these figures are surprising. Innovation was a central plank of the 10x Economy Vision set out for Northern Ireland in 2021, and more recently comments by our new economy minister again focused on ‘good jobs’ of which tech forms an important part. Northern Ireland appears to be lagging behind tech sector growth elsewhere, and both national and local government have an important role to play in adequately supporting the sector here to ensure this trend is urgently addressed.

‘Making valuable resources, including AI computers, accessible for universities and early-stage entrepreneurs is critical. Funding and policy changes, including innovation reliefs, that ensure a world-class tech workforce are crucial both in terms of aiding education and skilled immigration. For those businesses working in AI, clarity on future regulation will assist the ability to forward-plan.’

Nationally, a total of 51,017 tech companies were incorporated in the UK last year, up from 41,972 the year before. Key sub-sectors that saw significant growth included software developers, data businesses and IT consultancies.

Ben Bilsland, partner and technology industry senior analyst at RSM UK, said: ‘Our research is testament to the resilience of the UK’s tech sector despite global challenges. The rise in tech incorporations nationally shows there is cause for optimism in this key industry. Whilst it’s impossible to ignore AI as a driving force behind UK tech incorporations, especially for businesses working in data, there will be other factors to consider. London projects itself as a leading global authority in tech. That strength is reflected across the UK by a vibrant and energetic sector that consistently supports early-stage businesses. But the sector has, and continues to be, marked by layoffs, so it may be that these members of the workforce have been confident enough to go it alone, thereby fuelling incorporation growth.’