Northern Ireland

Belfast entrepreneur helps young chase their dreams

Entrepreneur David Kirk
Image caption David Kirk is helping young people chase their dreams

BBC Radio Ulster's Cameron Mitchell talks to the man from Belfast who has led some of the world's largest software companies.

Belfast-born entrepreneur David Kirk may consider himself retired, but the former Silicon Valley executive is keeping himself busy with a homecoming tour of business meetings and guest appearances.

On Tuesday, he is due to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Ulster.

"I only arrived last Tuesday, and have been to Limerick and back. Yesterday, I spent the day making a documentary and today I have been at the launch of the Belfast software company AirPOS," he said.

Mr Kirk, 60, grew up off the Ravenhill Road, before going to America and beginning to work in the technology sector.

He now lives in San Francisco. In his career, he has held some of the most senior positions in the telecommunications and software industries. He was vice-president of American Online (AOL) and Interim CEO at Telepost, Inc.

"I started off as a computer programmer for Rolls Royce and, by the very end of my career, I was working as a senior vice-president at Cisco Systems.

"It was a company of 40,000 people and I was in the top twenty-five. This was at a time when it was the largest company in the world in terms of market capitalisation".

Looking across the Belfast skyline from the top floor of a Belfast hotel, he is amazed by how much his childhood city has changed,

"I love coming back here. It was my first home and it gets better every time I come back. I'm constantly blown away by the changes".

He is also impressed by Northern Ireland's up and coming software developers.

"The set of talent and ideas here are world class. It is amazing to see".

"I have just invested in the Belfast-based company AirPOS because I really believe that their point of sale software is going to be a game changer for retail. It is a potential global business and a great opportunity for Northern Ireland".

However, David says that Northern Ireland needs to take a fresh approach in promoting the industry.

"Even though the talent here is fantastic, nobody knows about it. Northern Ireland needs to focus on what it is good at and how to sell those values across the world. The industry needs rebranded".

David also says that young developers here need more encouragement.

"Could the next Google come from Belfast? Yes, but only in talent and ideas. The guys who started up Google were 26-year-old drop-outs with no business experience. If you took that formula and put it in Northern Ireland, it would never fly.

"There is nowhere for young people with brilliant ideas to go to and get credibility. They are young, many don't have business experience and don't have patents. And if they try and go to the regular places here, their ideas would be scrutinised through a very risk averse eye".

David is now offering his own expertise to local developers through a project called StartVI.

"We have just put together an incubator in Belfast to give these people a chance to chase their ideas. And I believe there is now a willingness in young people to make a go of it."

"My advice to young people is: 'Don't let anybody talk you out of your dreams'. In 20 years from now, I would love to see somebody from Northern Ireland having the same success as I have had".

More on this story