Monday 11 December 2017

We need to foster role models

The news on the business pages this week continues to be unrelentingly bad. It is about bailouts, IMF, the struggles of fellow European countries. The language is negative, the stories are all about what is not working, all of the problems we and others are facing.

As I travel the country on my listening tour visiting small businesses and communities it reinforces what I have been saying for the past 15 years, first with the Louth County Enterprise Board and secondly as an entrepreneur and employer -- we have got to move away from assessing the problems and focus on what we can do to create change.

We must shift our focus away from what's not working and recognise and acknowledge what is. I continually ask those small business owners, entrepreneurs and unemployed people I meet to focus not just on our problems but on solutions, options and possibilities.

The future of the Irish economy will be driven by small businesses setting up and creating jobs as well as those created through Foreign Direct Investment.

This is not foolish optimism. Over the past three years I have travelled the country, mentoring, encouraging and advising small business owners, entrepreneurs, those who are unemployed and others.

What I have witnessed are heroes in the small business sector where survival is the new success. One such hero I met recently is Oisin Concannon in Claregalway. From being unemployed two years ago he has set up an innovative new enterprise, Organic Weed Killer. Oisin has just announced 15 jobs for his company, in addition to the five people he is already employing.

Other role models are members of the Kilkenny Business Women's Network who have come together to share knowledge, motivation, skills and support. They told me how they work together as they face many of the same challenges despite the diversity of sectors they operate in, including, food, tourism, crafts and health.

I want to recognise the leadership of those who are working in enterprise centres around the country, such as the one I opened recently in Donegal Town where space, resources and expertise are offered to budding entrepreneurs and start-ups.

If we are going to put enterprise at the heart of what we do we need to foster a culture of entrepreneurship. That is why I am also inspired by the work of many schools in setting up mini-companies during transition year. This experience at an early age is invaluable as when these young people find a product or service, create a company structure or work as marketing manager or MD, they are building skills for the future. When I was a professional youth worker, we had the mantra 'learn by doing' and I believe nothing can compensate for this kind of development.

I am particularly encouraged by the links between the universities and institutes of technology and business start-ups such as the ones I have witnessed at the Innovation Centre in IT Sligo or the Rubicon Centre in Cork Institute of Technology. Competitions such as the Young Entrepreneurs and groups like Young Social Innovators, both of which I have been involved in, are launch pads for success.

No one is going to come in and save our communities, our businesses or our country. It is up to all of us to work together. Schools have to lead. Entrepreneurs have to inspire other entrepreneurs. The State needs to support small business, get the credit flowing and make the environment more competitive.

We need to find that sense of confidence and self-determination to shape our own destiny and create our own future.

Sunday Indo Business

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