John Ferris Explains Ulster Bank Accelerator

Thinking of setting up a business? In the early days of your company? Discover inspiration, advice and startup support know-how through our interview with Ulster Bank business specialist John Ferris.

It’s the dream of many aspiring entrepreneurs – coming up with a breakthrough idea, launching their own startup, and growing it into a massively successful business. But the harsh reality is over 90% of startups fail within the first 5 years, whether due to lack of funding, not finding enough customers, internal team conflicts or being outmatched by competitors.

Running a startup is tremendously hard work full of uncertainty, long hours and tight budgets. However, with thorough planning, tapping the right resources, constantly adapting and unwavering persistence, it is possible to defy the odds. Many founders have turned scrappy ideas into billion dollar unicorns with the help of intentional strategies around product-market validation, fundraising, hiring key talent and accelerating growth.

John, who is the bank’s Entrepreneur Development Manager, works with newer businesses to help “open doors” for owners at the crucial, initial stages of their company’s growth.

Startup Essentials: Growth Mindset, Entrepreneurship, Mentoring & Business Growth With John Ferris

How Can Business Startup Support Help You?

He explained that the Ulster Bank’s Accelerator support programme attracts a wide range of companies.

Business Startup Support with John Ferris

“Our Accelerator isn’t specific, it isn’t a tech Accelerator and it isn’t a FinTech accelerator. It’s for any business that wants to grow and scale their business.

“That puts me in touch with a wide range of businesses. You don’t know what’s coming next and you don’t know what kind of businesses you’re going to get in.

“There’s that massive mix of all types of businesses that we work with from food and drink businesses to the tech startups of this world. So it does keep you on your toes.”

John explained how the Accelerator programme works and how it helps local businesses in Northern Ireland and beyond.

“We have an intake every six months and people will stay with us for up to 18 months. Everything we do is free.

“What we’re trying to do is drive entrepreneurship. It’s not about making money, it’s about how we create an entrepreneurial culture here and in Cardiff, Scotland and England.”

See also: How to Build a Spin-Out Company

He also outlined his own career background, outlining a “weird” route to becoming an entrepreneurship specialist!

“I started off as a coder and spent some time in Pittsburg coding for a healthcare company who had an office on the Falls Road.

“I’d been a coder from 11 years old on a Commodore 64, and went through university, but once I had a job working on it in the real world I thought to myself ‘I don’t like it!’.

“A newspaper asked me to come and do some graphic design for a couple of days, I took those couple of days and it turned into nearly 15 years there. I became the Editor of a newspaper on that journey.

“I think journalism gives you that insight into the everyday world, which is where I am now working with entrepreneurs. It can be radically different from one hour to the next, never mind one day to the next, so being in the newspaper industry where you experience that a lot was a good test bed for me.”

After being part of the newspaper industry during what he described as an “interesting” time, due to trends such as the decline of print ad sales, John also had a chance to experience starting a business for himself.

“When I left that I went out and started a tech startup, which was equally interesting.

“It was a Wi-Fi software business, it was fun for a good couple of years but as I’ve noticed working with entrepreneurs if there isn’t that passion and drive behind an idea it is a struggle to keep going after a while.

“After three years it was time to move on to something else.”

How has this business experience translated into something John can share with fledgling businesses today?

“The one thing that brought me into this business? I’d been on the Accelerator programme previously with my own startup.

“I think as I was figuring out that it wasn’t really for me, the opportunity to work with other startups seemed really exciting as I still had that entrepreneurial drive in me.

“For me, it was about getting on the other side of the table to discover what would make a startup work, what was I not doing well enough in my last business. It was getting into understanding what makes a great founder and what makes a great business.”

John pointed out that his newspaper experience also helps when dealing with new businesses.

“You need to know a lot about a lot of things, which journalism helps with, because when you’re going to interview someone you have to have a base level of understanding so you know what to ask them and how to question them.

“So for me, it’s the same thing with Accelerator. You have to know a lot about a lot of different businesses.”

Discover more insights from John by watching our full video interview.

Comparing Programs for Your Startup Success

Starting a business is thrilling, but choosing the right launchpad can make all the difference. With a plethora of startup accelerator programs out there, each promising unique benefits, picking the one that aligns with your venture’s specific needs can feel overwhelming. Here’s a crash course on comparing different programs to find your perfect fit:

Focus & Expertise:

  • Industry Specificity: Do you operate in a niche field (e.g., fintech, healthcare)? Prioritize programs with dedicated resources and mentors specialized in your industry.
  • Stage of Development: Are you just starting out or scaling up? Choose programs geared towards your particular stage (e.g., seed-stage vs. growth-stage).

Support & Resources:

  • Funding: Compare offered funding amounts, equity stake taken, and investment terms. Does the program provide follow-on funding access?
  • Mentorship & Networking: Assess the quality and connections of mentors. Do they have relevant experience and access to investors and industry leaders?
  • Workshops & Training: Evaluate the program curriculum and offered workshops. Do they address your key weaknesses and desired skills (e.g., pitching, marketing, etc.)?

Additional Considerations:

  • Location & Flexibility: Consider program location and virtual options, depending on your team’s needs and geographical reach.
  • Alumni Network: Analyze the program’s alumni network strength and their post-program success. Can they provide valuable connections and ongoing support?
  • Program Reputation & Track Record: Research the program’s success rate, media mentions, and awards. Ask past participants for their honest feedback.

Remember, the “best” program is subjective. By prioritizing your needs and carefully comparing various offerings across these key factors, you can confidently choose the accelerator that propels your startup towards impactful growth and lasting success.

Here are some tools and resources to help you compare programs:

  • AngelList: Browse a massive directory of accelerators globally, filtered by focus and location.
  • F6S: Discover and connect with investors and accelerators, with detailed program information.
  • Startup Accelerator Database: Explore a comprehensive list of programs categorized by industry and stage.

Additionally, consider reaching out directly to program directors and alumni for more personalized insights. The more informed you are, the better equipped you’ll be to make the right decision for your startup’s future.

arketing Essentials for Startups: Launching Like a Rocket

Taking your fledgling startup from a garage-borne dream to a market-dominating force requires more than just a brilliant idea. You need a solid marketing strategy, built on a foundation of essential principles. Let’s explore some key elements to ignite your startup’s marketing journey:

1. Embrace the Lean Startup Methodology:

This iterative approach emphasizes rapid experimentation and learning over elaborate product planning. Build an MVP (minimum viable product), test it with real users, gather feedback, iterate, and repeat.

Think of it like launching a rocket prototype before building the entire spaceship. By learning from early, real-world feedback, you can refine your product and marketing message for a perfect market fit.

2. Craft a Compelling Value Proposition:

What makes your startup unique? What problem do you solve better than anyone else? Your value proposition should be a clear, concise statement that articulates the unique benefits your product or service offers to your target customers.

Think of it as your elevator pitch in one sentence. Make it memorable, relevant, and focused on customer needs, not just features.

3. Identify Your Beachhead Market Segment:

Don’t try to conquer the entire ocean right away. Start by identifying a small, well-defined segment of the market where you can gain traction and establish a strong foothold. This “beachhead” allows you to learn the market, refine your product, and build a loyal customer base before expanding to broader audiences.

Think of it as landing on a small island before venturing out to the vast open sea. Choose a segment with readily identifiable needs and pain points, where your value proposition resonates clearly.

4. Master the Basics of Startup Branding:

Your brand is more than just a logo and tagline. It’s the essence of your story, your values, and your promise to customers. Develop a consistent brand identity that reflects your unique selling proposition and resonates with your target audience.

Think of it as your startup’s personality. Consider your brand voice, visual language, and how your brand interacts with customers across all touchpoints.

Remember, marketing for startups is not just about shouting the loudest. It’s about telling a compelling story, understanding your customers, and iterating your approach based on real-world data. By incorporating these essential elements into your marketing strategy, you can set your startup on a trajectory for sustainable growth and success.

Bonus Tip: Leverage the power of digital marketing! Utilize social media platforms, content marketing, SEO, and analytics to reach your target audience and build a community around your brand. The online world is your launchpad, so use it wisely!


  • Startup boom? Not quite. After an explosive 2021, global startup funding declined sharply in 2022 and 2023. In H1 2023, funding reached $144 billion, a 51% drop from H1 2022 and a 10% decline from H2 2022.
  • However, certain sectors still show promise. Healthcare startups saw record investment in 2021, with 324% growth in venture capital. Digital health startups focusing on diabetes alone raised $1.8 billion in 2021.


  • Fewer mythical creatures emerging. The rate of new unicorn creation (companies valued at $1 billion+) has slowed down significantly. In 2022, 542 new unicorns were minted, down from 910 in 2021.
  • Existing unicorns facing reality check. Many highly valued startups are seeing their valuations slashed as investors become more cautious.

Hot Industries:

  • Tech still reigns supreme. Fintech, AI, and cloud computing remain popular destinations for venture capital. Companies registered as AI raised $25 billion in the first half of 2023, representing 18% of global funding.
  • Emerging trends to watch: Climate tech, Web3 (including blockchain and crypto), and the creator economy are gaining traction.

Top Challenges:

  • Funding slowdown is the biggest hurdle. Securing funding has become significantly more challenging, especially for early-stage startups.
  • Talent wars continue. Hiring and retaining skilled talent remains a major pain point for many startups.
  • Economic uncertainty adds layers of stress. Inflation, rising interest rates, and potential recessionary fears further complicate the startup landscape.

Additional points to consider:

  • Focus on profitability is increasing. Investors are placing more emphasis on sustainable business models and revenue generation, rather than just chasing growth at all costs.
  • Remote work continues to reshape the startup world. Geographically dispersed teams are becoming increasingly common, offering both challenges and opportunities.
  • Social impact and responsible business practices are gaining traction. Sustainability, diversity, and ethical considerations are playing a larger role in startup evaluations.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Startup Marketing Questions

Q: How much should I budget for startup marketing?

A: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, but it’s crucial to spend strategically. Consider your industry, target audience, and chosen marketing channels. Start with a lean budget and scale up based on results.

Q: What are the most effective marketing channels for startups?

A: It depends on your target audience and market segment. Social media can be powerful for B2C startups, while content marketing might work better for B2B businesses. Experiment and track results to find what resonates best.

Q: How can I measure the success of my startup marketing efforts?

A: Track key metrics like website traffic, lead generation, conversions, and customer engagement. Use analytics tools to understand how your audience interacts with your brand and marketing campaigns.

Q: What are some common marketing mistakes startups make?

A: Trying to do too much at once, neglecting branding, ignoring data-driven insights, and failing to adapt to changing market conditions are frequent pitfalls. Stay focused, iterate based on data, and be flexible.

Q: How much funding is typically required to launch a tech startup?

A: Most successful tech startups raise at least $500,000 to $2 million in initial seed funding from angel investors and accelerators to build and validate their MVP. Total funding needs vary widely by product complexity, growth ambitions and rate of iteration.

Q: Should I seek investment right away or wait until after launching?

A: Unless fully self-funding is an option, most experts advise raising initial capital prior to product launch. This enables focusing resources on development and testing rather than fundraising amidst launch.

Q: What metrics should founders track during the early stages?

A: Key early metrics are product adoption/usage rates, learner feedback, market testing response levels, referral rates indicating organic growth potential, conversion percentages across funnel stages and churn rates.

Q: When should startups focus on monetization?

A: Startups should implement basic tracking of revenue & margins from day one. However, prioritizing scale over profits initially is advisable to prove growth potential based on a working business model.

Q: What are the biggest reasons tech startups fail?

A: Top reasons are lack of market need for the product, running out of cash and investor backing, failing to assemble the right founding team, lack of business model evolution based on user feedback, inability to keep up with competition.

Conclusion: Igniting Your Startup’s Marketing Engine

Launching a successful startup requires more than just a great idea. By embracing lean methodologies, crafting a compelling value proposition, finding your beachhead market, and building a strong brand, you can lay the foundation for a winning marketing strategy.

Remember, it’s not about shouting the loudest but about telling a compelling story, listening to your customers, and continuously adapting to the ever-evolving market landscape. With the right approach and unwavering dedication, your startup can ignite its marketing engine and soar towards lasting success.

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