Building our Digital and Innovation Capability

The Belfast Region City Deal (BRCD) is a catalyst for a step change in the digital and innovation capabilities of our region.  It will drive investment in research and development and help embed a culture of innovation to act as a driver for increased productivity.  We’re focused on driving investment towards growing and resilient sectors such as health and life sciences, advanced manufacturing and digital and creative industries. 


Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University have collaborated extensively to develop proposals for global centres of innovation excellence.  Investments in innovation will be targeted to build upon the research strengths of our local universities, aligned to sectors that are demonstrating the potential for exceptional growth.   

To read about our innovation projects, go to Belfast Region City Deal (link opens in a new window)

Digital Programme 

Technological Innovation is one of the most powerful drivers of increased wealth and productivity as well as improved well-being.  Our Digital Programme of Investment will play a critical role in contributing to economic inclusion and sustainable growth.  In recognition of the pace of technological and societal change, a challenge-led, long-term, flexible Digital Programme has been developed which will maximise the parallel investments in the universities’ centres of excellence and together focus on those areas where the region can be distinctive and competitive.  

The key interventions of the Digital Programme include: 

  • The Belfast Region Innovation Challenge Fund  
  • Enabling Infrastructure 
  • Regional Innovation hubs 

Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) 

The Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) will provide the springboard for manufacturing innovation in NI, providing a specialised environment for Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering sectors to access the very latest manufacturing technology and Industry 4.0 smart automation, supported by experienced, professional engineers and a state-of-the-art Factory of the Future. 

Global Innovation Institute (GII) 

The Global Innovation Institute (GII) is a unique combination of expertise, combined with a ground-breaking partnership approach to delivering scalable computing solutions. GII is aiming to transform Northern Ireland’s digital economy by substantially increasing both the volume and range of digital innovation taking place within the region, and developing skill sets to meet industry needs, focusing on health and agri-food. 

Institute for Research Excellence in Advanced Clinical Healthcare (iREACH) 

The Institute for Research Excellence in Advanced Clinical Healthcare (iREACH) an integrated clinical research centre of excellence, iREACH is an NHS, industry, and research facility. It will transform the region’s ability to test new drugs, medical-technology, care pathways and societal interventions. It will leverage the opportunities that exist at the interface of medical research and digital transformation. 

Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology (CDHT)  

The Centre for Digital Healthcare Technology (CDHT) will provide a world-class space for academia, industry and clinicians to innovate and boost the productivity of the life and health sciences sector by accelerating the development of medical technology devices and diagnostics.  Technology, Community and Clinical Living Labs will be based beside the Ulster University Belfast campus and at the Royal Victoria Hospital. 

Studio Ulster (formerly Screen Media Innovation Lab (SMIL)) 

Studio Ulster will provide a large-scale Virtual Production studio complex to include world-class commercial Virtual Production stages, fully supported by an integrated research, development and innovation centre of excellence in real-time and Virtual Production. Studio Ulster will drive a revolution in production pipelines across converging sectors with application in film, broadcast, commercial, animation, games, immersive and visual effects. 

The Belfast Region Innovation Challenge Fund 

£55 million fund will provide an agile funding environment to address the emerging needs and unique characteristics of the region and be designed to stimulate collaborative innovation and investment. 

The fund will stimulate innovation to address the region’s ‘Grand Challenges’ of (i) artificial intelligence and data, (ii) health and wellbeing and (iii) sustainability and resilience. 

Funding opportunities are likely to include a range of financial instruments including capital grants, small business research initiatives, challenge prizes and equity/debt investments. 

Enabling infrastructure 

£40 million of funding in enabling infrastructure will stimulate the conditions for innovation and business growth by targeting investment in digital connectivity (including advanced wireless), data infrastructure and other enabling infrastructure to support the Belfast Smart District and wider regional innovation. 

Regional Innovation Hubs 

£30 million of investment will deliver a series of Innovation Hubs across the region. The Hubs will build upon and leverage existing sectoral strengths including cleantech and creative industries in order to promote innovation activity and new business growth across the region via local hubs. 

i4C Innovation Centre at St Patrick’s Barracks, Ballymena 

The i4C Innovation Centre at St Patrick’s Barracks regeneration site, Ballymena, represents the first of these Hubs which will provide a physical base and support to increase levels of SME innovation and commercialisation activity. It will also provide skills and training solutions in the cleantech sector including the Hydrogen Training Academy.