Help the Flight for Sight

April 27, 2015

On 26th April our team joined up with a team of 25 trekkers and walked 4 peaks over 15 miles, in just under 9 hours in the beautiful Mourne mountains. photo 3The equivalent of walking up and down 350 flights of stairs, in 35,000 steps taking in the way both Slieve Lamagan (704 Mtrs) and Slieve Binian (747 Mtrs), on paths and tracks more suitable for mountain goats. It was a fantastic day, and of course all in typical Irish weather of wind, sunshine, hale, slight mizzle, low cloud – 4 seasons in one day.

Every 5 seconds someone in the world goes blind, and millions of adults and children struggle with the effects of eye conditions.

To help our CEO Diane Roberts cousin raise money to secure help for his granddaughter who is battling a chronic eye disease. To support Fight for Sights research into Reis Bucklers Corneal Dystrophy and Genetic Eye Conditions to ensure that everyone suffering form RBCD and other corneal Diseases receive the best treatment possible, as early on in diagnosis as possible.

Xcell Partners are sponsoring this local charity effort, which will also includes a 500 mile cycle by Francis Rooney and son Conor in May.

Please donate by visiting our JustGiving page.


Get ambitious, think international…and work hard

February 25, 2015

Diane Roberts of Xcell Partners shares her best advice for startups in Northern Ireland.

Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts

I’ve been working with startups for almost 15 years and unfortunately there is one piece of bad news for anyone looking at starting a new business: it isn’t easy! It’s probably one of the most difficult things you can do.

Whilst you need passion and drive, you also have to combine that with patience and tenacity.  The world isn’t waiting for you and your new product or service to come along; you have to get it out there, either in person or online.

The Northern Ireland economy is small – very small. Tidy and successful businesses can be built serving a local market, but to build something sustainable with investment and government support, you’re going to have to think international from day one. Don’t park that task for ‘year two’ – it has to be in the DNA of your business plan from the offset.

Selling outside the region for the first time can be daunting – don’t let it be.  The rest of the UK and Ireland are close, immediately accessible markets for us, with most key cities accessible by flight within an hour. The east coast of the USA is as near as 7 hours away, with numerous flights from Belfast and Dublin.

Here are the core pieces of advice I give startup companies we work with at Xcell Partners – and remember: building a small business takes as much effort as building a big one… READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON NIBUSINESSNOW HERE.

  • Get Ambitious. Set out a plan that includes export objectives from day one. Critically, your own personal ambitions have to be authentic. Too often we work with startup companies with limited desire and if you are the CEO or Founder, you are the only person who sets your company’s goals – no advisor or consultant can do this for you. It has to be in your belly and be your plan. Set your aim high.
  • Internationalise your Team. Get people involved in your business with international experience and track record. They can be employees or mentors and advisors. If you are leading a new business, you will benefit greatly from building experienced, export focused people into your team.
  • Build a gang around your business. Network. Network. There are simply more people out there who have connections, expertise and track record in developing international businesses than you will typically have.  It’s an invaluable resource that you need to harness. Build a gang of people around your business who can help reach your vision – and remember they don’t have to be on your doorstep, they can be anywhere. Our local startup scene is beginning to look a lot less local and increasingly more international. Often the best advice and help you can get is from fellow entrepreneurs.
  • Get over there. Wherever there is, get over there. Travel to your target markets. Seek out partners as well as customers. You will have to know the landscape of your export markets, particularly for physical products. More often than not you will need to partner with either distributors or resellers to get traction. But always remember, any trade visit will cost your business, so see where and how you will get return on this investment. You might want to consider engaging a PR company with connections in your target market. Get in touch with Invest Northern Ireland to see if they can help and look at what initiatives UKTI may be running – both run high quality missions across the globe.
  • Prepare, plan, be ready. Prepare. I’m no girl scout, but I know you have to be prepared. Before you travel, get on the phone or Skype. Telephone charges are down, Skype is free, conference call tools are low in cost. Who doesn’t have email? There are no barriers to have a call. Don’t just turn up in your market without research and making connections expecting a red carpet. Set up meetings and calls before you head off and be sure you have researched your market. Reach out to anyone you feel can help your business grow.
  • Learn from mistakes. No one sets out to make a mistake. Messing up seldom feels good, but to quote Henry Ford, ‘the only real mistake we make, is the one from which we learn nothing’. If you are setting off to new markets, you are bound to have a few hiccups – just make sure they are not expensive ones.
  • Don’t ignore the paperwork. On the practical side of things, make sure you can take and deal with foreign payments, ensuring payment to you is as painless as possible. Get early advice on potential tax and customs issues – you don’t want to end up with any nasty charges or admin headaches. First stop is Google; all the information you need can be found online.

 Xcell Partners works with agencies to deliver economic development programmes aimed at the startup community. Since its foundation in 2007, Xcell has gone on to deliver the Invest Northern Ireland Propel Programme and the Enterprise Start programme for Enterprise Ireland.



Propel 2014 Awards

January 23, 2015
Propel Company of the Year Winners

Inflyte, Propel Company of the Year

We saw another programme cohort finish up with a number of key successes in 2014, and to mark the achievements of the participants the annual awards evening was held on 15th January at Crumlin Road Jail.

Launched last October, he said Inflyte already has 5,000 users across Europe and 180 independent record labels using the platform. The company was one of 25 start-ups, from 180 applicants, accepted onto the 2013/14 Propel Programme.  The accelerator programme is aimed at developing export focused business ideas with high growth potential.

Propel has gone from strength to strength over the past 5 years, with the creation of 250+ jobs and companies seeing over £7m in equity investment.

As well as Inflyte, two other awards were picked up.  Ruach Music, led by 18 year old Stephen Henderson, picked up the ‘Best Go To Market’ award and Debbie Craig and her company Limejar picked up ‘Breakthrough Company of the Year’ award. As well this award Stephen also rounded off 2014 with a successful Kickstarter campaign.

You can find out more about the programme here.


Lean Start Weekend – Global Entrepreneurship Week

October 13, 2014
We will be working with Belfast City Council to deliver this entrepreneurial weekender in November.
This will be a FREE intensive workshop taking place over 24 hours and aimed at giving entrepreneurs the tools to help validate business ideas. The workshop will use the lean methodology to discover which products will succeed in the marketplace and which won’t. The Lean Start Weekend is an innovative, immersive and creative 24 hour educational experience. If you’re thinking about starting a new business or launching a new product you can’t afford to miss it!
This programme is suitable for a wide range of business ideas. Throughout the weekend you’ll work in teams on a business idea and then have the opportunity to go out and about to speak to potential customers about your idea. Through this you’ll validate or invalidate your assumptions, applying the ‘Lean Methodology’.
Date: Friday 21 Nov 2014 –  Saturday 22 Nov 2014
Time: Friday 5pm – 9pm and Saturday 9am – 5pm
Venue: The Hive, Grosvenor Road, Belfast

For more information on this and a host of other free events taking place as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, go to  

How to Register

The Lean Start Weekend is open to any budding entrepreneur in the Belfast City Council area. If you’re interested in applying please email Cathy Keenan for an application form at or call 028 9050 0512.


Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum

October 13, 2014

We were delighted to be invited to take part and address the attendees at the 2014 Asia Pacific Irish Business Forum, held this year  in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The general theme of the event this year was ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovation’.  Diane Roberts CEO addressed the forum highlighting the current state of the startup scene in Ireland and in particular to the continued success of the Invest NI Propel Programme.

Special thanks goes to Ron Anderson (APIBP) and Michael Garvey (Invest NI) for their hospitality and support.


Winner at #Biz50 2014

September 29, 2014

We were honoured to take part at the Belfast Business Top 50, 2014.

The awards ceremony held at the Titanic Drawing Offices in Belfast and was hosted by Simon Hamilton MLA, Minister for Dept of Finance and Personnel and heard from Marty Walsh, Mayor of Boston.

Organised to highlight the strength and breadth of the economy, the organisers put on an event to showcase some of the regions leading new businesses and movers and shakers.  Well done to all who were involved and who attended.


Proud Sponsors of Lean Startup Machine Belfast, 20-22 June

April 15, 2014

So what exactly is it? Lean Startup Machine (LSM) is a three-day workshop on building a successful business. Most new ventures fail because they build something no one wants. LSM teaches you a process for discovering which products will succeed in the marketplace and which won’t. LSM is an immersive, 48-hour educational experience, NOT a conference and NOT a hackathon. In 2014 there are 300 LSMs taking place across the globe, from Sydney to San Francisco, from Berlin to New York.

We’re sponsoring the Belfast event, which takes place Friday, June 20th 6:00 PM to Sunday, June 22nd 7:00 PM. To buy tickets go here. And use discount code ‘xcellpartners’ to get 30% off the ticket price


Microsoft BizSpark Network Partner

April 11, 2014

Microsoft® BizSpark™ gives you fast, easy access to current, full-featured Microsoft development tools and production licenses of server products; professional technical and expert business support; plus global visibility to new markets.  To join BizSpark, Microsoft recommends you be sponsored by a BizSpark Network Partner, such as Xcell Partners. You’ll find more program details here. When you’re ready to sign up, contact us about sponsorship and how to get your enrollment code. Once you have your enrollment code, joining BizSpark is fast and easy. No payment or credit card information is required.

Get your Startup fired up! Visit the Microsoft BizSpark Website to learn more!


Female enterprise alive & kicking at Queen’s

March 10, 2014

We were proud to be part of the recent InnovateHER programme in Queen’s University of Belfast.  The programme run by the QUB Students Union Enterprise team takes a group of wanna be entrepreneurs on a skills and development journey from October through to March, providing one-to-one advice, direction and business plan development.

Mark joined Roseann Kelly CEO WIBNI, Darina Armstrong, CEO of Progressive Building Society and Helen Kirkpatrick of Invest Northern Ireland on the final pitch judging panel.  There was a great variety of business ideas and creativity shown by the participants.  The three best business ideas included tailored lingerie, agri-tech and Asian food.  Well done ladies! To find out more about the programme get in touch with Lynne Weir, Enterprise & Development Officer


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