Irish companies will face their first real Brexit tests in 2018
Despite the challenge and uncertainty created by Brexit, Irish companies have continued to grow their global exports, supporting strong job creation in every region and county across Ireland. The results are positive, but it is imperative that businesses continue to build on the strength of their 2017 performance and implement robust plans to prepare for the impact of Brexit.
Last week, we announced the creation of 19,332 new jobs by Enterprise Ireland-backed companies in 2017 at the headquarters of our client company Ding. This represents a net increase of 10,309 jobs for 2017, taking account of job losses, and is the highest on record with Enterprise Ireland.
The strong 2017 performance by Irish businesses can be attributed to the continuing growth of an entrepreneurial climate for start-ups, allied to strong jobs growth in all sectors, though construction, engineering and life sciences saw the highest growth, with an 8pc increase each.
A key focus for us was investment in the regional ecosystem to support the continued development of regionally-based companies.
We invested €23m in technology centres, introduced four new regional start-up accelerators and awarded €30.5m to 21 regional enterprise projects.
While we are pleased to report these positive results, as the phase-two Brexit negotiations commence, significant challenges remain for Irish companies.
With a potential slow-down in the UK economy and possibly further currency volatility, we expect 2018 to be a challenging year for Irish companies.
Enterprise Ireland has undertaken a significant level of activity to help companies to prepare for Brexit and I urge companies who haven't already done so to put a plan in place to identify and mitigate potential risks facing their business arising from Brexit, particularly in the immediate term, in the area of currency risk-management.
It makes good business sense to have a robust strategy in place to ensure that your business is more innovative, competitive and diversified into key markets, whatever the eventual outcome of the negotiations.
Another key concern is the lack of sustained investment in innovation by many Irish companies. In response to this, we have introduced a new Agile Innovation Fund to give companies rapid fast-track access to up to €150,000 in innovation funding to help companies respond more quickly to market opportunities and challenges by developing and adapting new products.
Another strategy to mitigate the risks posed by Brexit is for Irish businesses to expand their global footprint into new markets to reduce their exposure to the UK.
In the coming weeks, a new Market Discovery Fund will be available to Irish business.
The new fund will support companies to undertake the groundwork and preparations necessary to enter a new market.
This will include funding for in-market accelerators, attending at trade shows for the first time and market research.
There are three levels of funding available to companies: up to €35,000, up to €75,000 and up to €150,000.
As we enter 2018, our focus on helping companies to innovate, compete and diversify into markets will be intensified.
We will also continue to invest in start-ups, which are the life blood of the economy, and the second phase of our €60m Regional Enterprise Development Fund will be launched in March.
Indigenous Irish companies are often the unsung heroes of the Irish economy and I would like to recognise and congratulate these companies and their employees right across the country for their contribution to the Irish economy and look forward to working with them in 2018 to further build the scale and expand the reach of their businesses across the world.
Julie Sinnamon is the CEO of Enterprise Ireland
Sunday Indo Business