Firstly, may I say that I have loved this whole journey. People are the peaks in the ever-growing range of mountains that represent our knowledge economy; political events are the valleys of despair.
It started with the late Ernest Shannon, the true founder of the NI Science Park Foundation Ltd. He had had a stellar career as an engineer and represented the values we now hold so dear. I loved working with him and together we won over the hearts and the pockets of the politicians and civil service (it is a delight to have Noel Lavery back in the orbit of the knowledge economy; he was so key to the start). Belfast Harbour Commissioners were positive allies at the beginning and our relationship has just continued to grow. Entrepreneurial academics like Sir John McCanny formerly of Queen’s University Belfast & Professor Jim Mclaughlin from Ulster University, who had kept the fires of invention going through the Troubles, rallied. My early team of the two Michaels, Lamont and Graham acted as stout bulwarks.
The first serious nadir was the collapse of the first assembly. Having just got going with serious funding in June 2002, the collapse in October that year threatened to sink the fledgling Science Park in the political turmoil. Fortunately for us all, Ian Pearson appeared as our Secretary of State. He was well regarded by the business community, but by none more than me. He set us up again; so we went quickly from trough to peak and got much of our course in Belfast established.
The NI Science Park had been imagined as serving the whole of the region but this was hard to do in one bound. Our first attempt failed but Aideen McGinley drew us into a partnership with Letterkenny Institute of Technology (LYIT), Ilex and the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The outcome was the Catalyst Inc Innovation Centre at Fort George in Derry/Londonderry and the LYIT CoLab Expansion to full science park capability. This led to a prize for the best Interreg Programme of the year and further European funding of £8M for the NW Centre for Advanced manufacturing (NWCAM), itself likely to be award-winning. The best results of all were new colleagues of distinction and life-long friends in the NW, a region in which all the most potent friendships will be needed to manage the place where the rubber of BREXIT will hit the ground hardest! We are not going to allow it to fail, now we’ve got it pumped up.
During this period, there was another peak; the introduction to Steve Orr, now the new CEO of Catalyst Inc. With Steve’s passion for the whole of the north of Ireland, his understanding of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur, his relationships throughout the international CONNECT movement and his entrepreneurial vision and gift for designing imaginative and successful interventions, he and Catalyst chairman, Dick Milliken, will find the way through the current nadir of no assembly!
Despite the politics, this is my lifetime zenith, thanks to Dick and his Board, all the staff and stakeholders of Catalyst Inc, especially Steve, Philip, Mervyn, Joanne, Alan and (most of all) Shauna. They said they would mark my retirement with a bang; and so they did, a sequence of events that had me and them in tears or with near permanent lumps in throats.
They eased my retirement by each personally pledging to achieve the dream, a world-class innovation economy by 2030. Thanks to all of them and all of you, my loyal readers. Please support the team at Catalyst the way you have supported me.
As for me, I shall not go gently into the night; my aerials are up and I begin again, helping our friends in other regions and in other countries, find the route to their own knowledge economies; ultimately to form a new world business order in the age of 4IR*, the 100 year life* and the “age of Plenty”* in 2050!
*if you don’t know what these are read older articles!
Dr Norman Apsley OBE was CEO of Catalyst Inc from 2000 to 2018.