New beginnings: Increase in start-ups taking advantage of Enterprise Ireland funds
As market conditions take on a rosier hue, Enterprise Ireland expects to see a marked increase in the number of start-ups taking advantage of its various funds and programmes
THE recession may have been a difficult period for budding entrepreneurs, but as the upswing in the economy gets under way there should be a significant rebound in the numbers wanting to start or develop new businesses.
Tom Hayes, head of Enterprise Ireland's micro enterprise and small business unit, says as more funding becomes available and as markets begin to move again, businesses set up during the recession are in a prime position to take advantage of the upturn.
"Right through the recession those people who had innovative ideas and innovative products and services, as well as those businesses that had an export dimension to them, were still doing well," he says.
"We have quite a sophisticated ecosystem here; we would like to think we're approaching best in class."
A common theme runs throughout these pages: the vast majority of shortlisted candidates in the SFA National Small Business Awards received assistance at one stage or another in their lifetime, whether that was from County or City Enterprise Boards (now Local Enterprise Offices), banks, angel investors, the Small Firms Association, bodies such as Bord Bia, or through Enterprise Ireland.
Hayes says it is important that new businesses tap into the appropriate supports available.
"The first port of call for new businesses should be their Local Enterprise Office (LEO), which will then signpost them for other supports available," he says.
Thirty-one LEOs were launched in April 2014 in an effort to provide greater support to micro enterprises and small businesses throughout Ireland. Enterprise Ireland provides back-up support and training to the LEOs at its Centre of Excellence in Shannon.
Enterprise Ireland itself supports individuals, teams and companies from very early-stage start-ups right up to export stage and beyond. In 2015, it invested in 102 high potential start-ups (HPSUs), with associated job commitments of in excess of 1,500. Over 180,000 people were employed, both full and part-time, in Enterprise Ireland client companies in 2014.
Regional entrepreneurship and enterprise development is an important focus for Enterprise Ireland. Through its Competitive Feasibility and Start funds it works with the local third-level colleges to enhance their connection with local businesses. Some 81 companies were awarded early stage funding under the Competitive Start Fund, which is run on a regional basis, last year. Two new funds were launched to help stimulate start-up business activity in the aviation and manufacturing sectors.
The funds provide support for those looking to "investigate the viability of a new growth-orientated business proposition, which has the potential to become a HPSU". The Competitive Start fund sees Enterprise Ireland take a €50,000 equity investment in the very early stage start-up. To date the body has invested in almost 300 companies.
Delivered locally through the Institutes of Technology, the six-month New Frontiers programme provides training in all areas of business. It assists in the development of ideas and acceleration of business development, and provides training in such things as financial management, market research and patenting. In 2014, 137 entrepreneurs went through the programme.
Participants receive mentoring from experienced business advisors, office and business incubation facilities and a €15,000 scholarship so that they can participate in the course full-time.
Very often small business owners are deterred by the application process of some programmes. Hayes says that while there is always room for improvement, Enterprise Ireland's application process is "no less onerous than in many parts of the world and in fact helps the promoter better think through their business proposition".".
Those firms with an eye on exporting their goods will particularly benefit from looking to Enterprise Ireland for support, he adds.
The body provides export workshops and support programmes for those firms looking to explore exporting avenues.
Through its market research centre, businesses can access business intelligence on various countries and markets.
Enterprise Ireland's international offices are often a huge assistance to firms as they go into the new markets, helping companies both win business and grow their export figures.
The Graduate for International Growth programme, meanwhile, brings a company and graduate together to work on executing exporting strategies.
Hayes believes Ireland's exporters have been "amongst the real heroes" since the economic downturn.
"Exports have grown significantly since 2009, and Enterprise Ireland firms are now exporting €17 billion worth of product annually, right across sectors from engineering to electronics to medical devices and services exports."
Hayes says entrepreneurs looking to build companies of scale should have exporting on their horizon right from their initial business plan.
"We need to ensure entrepreneurs are well prepared and positioned, and can take advantage of whatever opportunities are there."
He points to the recent success of Combilift in Monaghan, which announced the creation of 200 jobs over the next five years, and the construction of a €40 million new facility. The firm exports to 75 countries, and plans to double its turnover to €150 million within five years.
"When you see what a company like Combilift can contribute to a region, both as an employer but also through the multiplier effect, in terms of the people who supply Combilift with equipment, parts, transport, logistics and more, you can see the real power of exporting," says Hayes.
"It's a massive multiplier effect because Combilift has gone out and sold this wonderful product around the world. The people who started that business are now role models that others will try to emulate."