By Stefan Nandzik, VP of Communications at Signifyd
Stefan Nandzik, Signifyd’s vice president of corporate communications, was present in Belfast for the initial opening of Signifyd’s research and development centre and as the company’s main liaison to the local community will return for Digital DNA in June. At a previous company, he was responsible for aligning marketing strategies around the world to corporate goals while considering local resources and cultures. He believes business is a creative pursuit that requires a relentlessly agile approach.
The road to becoming the next Silicon Valley is littered with the carcasses of failed economic development marketing campaigns: Silicon Glen in Scotland, Silicon Prairie in Illinois, Silicon Gulch in Texas, Silicon Tundra in Canada and Wisconsin. Not to mention Silicon Alps, Bayou, Beach, Fen, Freeway and Forest.
Belfast figured out something the Silicon wannabes didn’t — and that is at the core of why Signifyd decided to open its global R&D centre in Northern Ireland’s capital. What Belfast knows, is that it isn’t what you call yourself that’s important; it’s what you are.
Belfast is a building culture. Throughout the city’s history, it’s been known for building and producing, whether it is linen, rope, whiskey or ships. You know it by its skyline, punctuated by the enormous cranes of Harland and Wolff. You know it by its world-class museum, The Titanic Experience, which chronicles the construction of its namesake ship — in its time, the largest human-made moveable object on Earth.
So, what does all that has to do with Silicon Valley startups arriving in Belfast to do work that is core to their futures? It has everything to do with a common culture. Silicon Valley is a building culture. It embraces creativity, curiosity, agility, industry and a hunger for scale.
Speaking for Signifyd, when we went looking last year for the place to locate our global research and development centre, we were looking for a building culture. A building culture is a culture that thrives on tackling problems that have never been solved in ways that have never been tried. Think of what it took for the innovators of Harland and Wolff to build the Titanic and its sister ships.
It’s not just the physical construction of the 52-tonne passenger liner that’s amazing. It’s the vision and determination to design the ship and the audacity to believe you can build it. It’s the flexibility to change course when things don’t go as planned. It’s the awareness and persistence to accept failure and learn from it.
Building cultures are not simply manufacturing cultures. Manufacturing is about repeatable processes and scale. Nothing wrong with that. But building cultures are about pioneering; about finding a new way — and not just in theory.
There is no need for Silicon Valley startups to sour the world to find the next Silicon Valley. Those companies have already been molded by Silicon Valley; they have Silicon Valley in their DNA. What they need is a complementary culture. We see that in Belfast.
Why Belfast? The tangible benefits are easy to list:
- Top universities: Queen’s University is a global leader in cybersecurity and home to the UK’s prestigious Centre for Secure Information Technologies. Ulster University offers its world-renowned Computer Science Research Institute.
- Eager investors: Belfast is the top investment location for U.S. cybersecurity development projects, according to fDI Intelligence, a foreign investment analytics organization.
- Tolerance for failure: The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was a terrible tragedy. But the scale of the vision and the scale of the engineering required to build and launch the ship was a triumph of the human spirit that serves as an inspiration even today.
- Dissatisfaction with the status quo: Belfast is filled with thinkers and innovators who know there is a better way.
- Cooperation coexisting with competition: Incubators like Ormeau Baths, the burgeoning meet-up and hackathon scene and a roster of hundreds of startups that allow for cross-pollination as workers move between jobs, creates a culture of constant learning.
- Critical mass of skilled employees: See top universities and hundreds of startups above.
And while those attributes are generally measurable, Belfast also includes some intangibles that appeal to the builders, to the startups that endeavor to solve a problem in a unique way. In a lot of ways, Belfast itself embodies the characteristics that are vital to the success of any startup.
Throughout its history, it’s a city that has shown itself to have vision, a killer work ethic, optimism, perseverance, purpose, a firm grasp on reality and a willingness to take big chances.