A new Queen's University programme benefiting financially-stretched students is to get a boost from a virtual fundraiser championed by Belfast's tech community under the umbrella of the Belfast Tech Alliance. 

Proceeds from the city's first wine zoom dinner on 11 December will go the Pathway Programme at the university which is being championed by new Vice-Chancellor Ian Greer — in less than two years, he has increased the number of young people receiving support from the scheme from 12 to 105.

Serving up the sumptuous fare will be celebrity chef Niall McKenna of James St while the wines will be travelling half-way around the world from Hunter's Winery in New Zealand which was established back in 1979 by Ernie and Jane Hunter from Belfast. The couple's nephew James McDonald will be 'Zooming' into the dinner from the New Zealand vineyard to chat with dinner guests. 

Sponsors of the fundraiser include Belfast tech pioneers Unosquare, Aflac, Hanweck Technology, Anaeko and Options

UNIVERSITY BURSARY ON THE MENU: Queen's University Belfast

UNIVERSITY BURSARY ON THE MENU: Queen's University Belfast

Said Guadalajara, Mexico-based Giancarlo Di Vece, CEO of Unosquare, "we think it's crucial to give more young people the opportunity to pursue a career in tech and through the Pathway Programme, Queen's supports the student while still at school, gives them academic assistance when they go to uni and provides a bursary through every year of their study. That's the sort of transformative help which can make it possible for someone from a household under economic pressure to get a degree in tech."

That view was echoed by Mark McCormack, Head of Technology with Aflac NI: “Aflac Northern Ireland is delighted to be involved in this initiative driven by the Belfast Tech Alliance to raise funds for the QUB Pathway Opportunity Programme. This is a great way to support education for all, during these challenging times.  We look forward to this exciting event.”

The Community Foundation NI has agreed to match funds raised from the dinner if it  reaches its £10k target, providing a £20k fillip to this vital fund.

Danny Moore, CEO of Options, is one of the tech leaders raising a glass to the new initiative. "There is no shortage of tech vacancies in Belfast for talented, motivated young people so making it possible for greater numbers to access a tech degree makes sense for the tech sector, is great for Queen's and is a boon to Belfast. That's why we're delighted to back this unique fundraiser."

Already a phenomenon in the US where Belfast Ambassador and restaurateur Francis Schott has pioneered the concept, the Zoom Dinner brings guests together from their homes to enjoy their meal in the company of the chef and winemaker. Meals and wine are delivered to each guest on the day of the event. Tickets are now available online with a VIP ticket including a bottle of Hennessy Cognac, courtesy of Northern Irish expat in the Big Apple Jim Clerkin.