Posted on Wednesday 16 November 2011 by Ulster Business

Tech sector continues to thrive

Derry-based Learning Pool claimed the top spot for Northern Ireland at this year’s Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Ireland Awards with an impressive growth of 1100%. Pictured from left are: Ian Coulter, Managing Partner from sponsor Tughans; Paul McElvaney and Mary McKenna, Learning Pool and Glenn Roberts, Senior Partner, Deloitte Belfast.

The 12th annual Deloitte Technology Fast 50 Awards were a true celebration of the diversity, confidence and innovation which underlines the technology industry on the island of Ireland.

Ranking the fifty fastest-growing technology companies, the Deloitte Fast 50 awards brought together a mix of experienced and next generation technology professionals to applaud, recognise and celebrate those companies which have grown in the face of the on-going recessionary backdrop.

Northern Ireland once again put in a robust performance on the night with 14 indigenous companies claiming a place in the coveted Fast 50 ranking.

The top Northern Ireland winner in the Fast 50 was Learning Pool; the Derry-based e-learning provider which had featured as the 2009/2010 Rising Star winner – awarded to younger companies with the fastest growth in turnover over the past three years. In its first year as an eligible contender for the Deloitte Fast 50, Learning Pool registered stunning growth of 1,100% to claim the number six spot and lead the pack for the Northern Ireland entries.

The second highest entry from Northern Ireland was from Export Technologies, ranking at number 12 and third place was claimed by Leaf Consultancy, featuring at number 20.

The Rising Star award for Northern Ireland was presented to Belfast-based Sixteen South, who develop, create and produce children’s television. Since inception in 2008, the company has produced and worked with some of the biggest names in children’s TV including Jim Henson, the Sesame Workshop and the BBC. They are now ranked as one of the UK’s top indie producers.

Seasoned names such as Novosco, Andor Technology and Texthelp Systems Limited proved innovation and growth could be sustained whilst newcomers included Belfast-based software development and web design business Etain, and price comparison engine builder Seopa.

The gala event was held in Dublin’s Convention Centre – a fitting venue given its state-of-the-art fit-out and innovative design. The theme of the evening was ‘Connect. Grow. Inspire’ with speakers Maurice Mortell, CEO of Telecity Group Plc and Regina Moran, CEO of Fujitsu delivering presentations alongside Deloitte’s leading technology experts and visionaries.

Leading the field in 2011 was RoI company Populis, one of Europe’s fastest growing digital media companies. The company, which was established in 2004 as GoAdv and rebranded as Populis in October 2010, achieved an aggregate growth rate of 7,982% over the last five years to claim the top spot.

2010 supremo Software Asset Management Ireland (SAMI), a leading supplier of software and information technology solutions to the education and voluntary sector in the South, achieved second place with a growth rate of 6,899%.

REGIONAL WINNER: NORTHERN IRELAND

Case Study: Learning Pool

The training industry has been transformed more than most by the internet, with online learning materials now available in virtually every workplace.

One of the leading providers of online learning in the public sector is Learning Pool, a company that was originally created as an internal project in the Local Government Association.

Today, Learning Pool is an independent company that works with 300 councils across the UK, offering e-learning content and management platforms together with software tools to make the most of online learning.

The company employs around 50 people and is completely self-funded, explains Paul McElvaney, a director of the firm. Despite a period of unprecedented budget pressures in the public sector, the company’s growth has remained strong – probably because online learning provides organisations with a way to save large amounts of money without compromising on service quality.

“We are constantly trying to innovate, using open source technology to provide products that will meet the needs of clients, and can be customised easily,” says McElvaney. “Getting to market quickly is a real priority for us and it works, in that we’re beginning to see a lot of referral business, as organisations realise that our products are doing a better job than our competitors.”

Learning Pool is based in Derry, in Northern Ireland, and location hasn’t been a barrier to growth, says McElvaney. “There are always challenges if you’re in a peripheral location but we are near to the university, with a young, skilled population, and as a city we have brilliant connectivity, and there’s a real buzz here around the digital space.”

McElvaney isn’t surprised that software companies like his are booming all over the UK. “With the technology available to new companies today, in terms of cloud services and infrastructure, you can literally take an idea from concept to live in six or eight weeks, change them, and go back to market again,” he says. “There is huge innovation and because companies don’t need to buy servers or storage to get started, the barriers to entry have never been lower allowing companies to compete and win on the quality of their service.”

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