2023/24 – supporting future economic growth

During the financial year we monitor our activity and outputs against operational targets. These in-year targets help us measure our progress towards our Business Strategy.

In 2023/24 we offered £93m of support to companies to help them with a wide range of projects. Our support included assistance to develop new products, invest in energy and resource efficient technologies, improve skills, create jobs and export to new markets.

93 per cent of our offers were made to locally owned businesses.

76 per cent of companies supported were outside Belfast.

For example, we have worked with Armagh based food manufacturer, Davison Canners, over the last 15 years. and we have helped it develop a sustainable and profitable business.

Most recently we’ve provided support towards the company’s £6m investment in a new manufacturing facility outside Portadown. This new facility will improve efficiency, reduce the company’s carbon footprint and make it more competitive. As a result, Davison Canners expects to see its turnover double in the next three to four years.

Driving up Innovation, Research & Development

Investing in R&D and innovation is a necessity to achieve sustained growth and competitiveness. This is why we have a range of different types of support available to encourage smaller businesses to carry out innovation. During 2023/24 we helped 520 businesses to invest £111m in R&D and innovation.

Our £5,000 Innovation Vouchers are a great entry point for micro and small businesses. In 2023/24 we issued 161 Vouchers with a total assistance value of £805k.

Through Innovate NI we awarded over 330 companies bronze, silver, gold or platinum recognition for their innovation efforts in 2023/24.

We also supported companies with detailed technical advice on trade marking and on CE Marking/UKCA Mark which show products meet high safety, health and environmental protection requirements. This ensures smaller businesses have credibility and confidence to trade in international markets with the right intellectual property protection.

Some R&D and Innovation projects supported in 2023/24 will be part-funded by the UK Government through the Shared Prosperity Fund.

Growing Northern Ireland Exports

Our Go Further Grow Stronger campaign has successfully encouraged more businesses to explore exporting and in 2023/24 we helped 129 companies export for the first time and 403 clients to expand into new markets.

In 2023/24 we supported companies to attend sector trade shows including: BIO International in Boston, US; the Paris Air Show; and organised dedicated trade missions including a Sports Tech mission to the US and a Net Zero Exchange visit and Green Innovation trade mission to Malaysia and Singapore. 

As a result of our trade support this year we’ve helped companies generate over £240m of new external sales.

Supporting entrepreneurs to start and scale

Our Ambition to Grow programme, launched in late 2022, is specifically designed with regionally based micro and small business in mind. In 2023/24 we had over 270 applications to the programme.

This support will help these companies create new jobs, explore new markets and develop skills or new products. Projects supported through Ambition to Grow Supporting Women and Ambition to Go Green calls will be part-funded by the UK Government through the Shared Prosperity Fund.

Newtownabbey-based NovoGen Engineering Solutions is one of Ambition to Grow’s most recent success stories. It used the support to recruit six new people to its team and invest in building its brand and connections in export markets. The company directly relates this to its recent success in securing a £400,000 contract with Louth County Council to act as project managers for the construction of a power plant in Kilshane, County Dublin.

We also launched a new £5m programme in 2023/24 called FounderLabs. It is targeted at tech start-ups and will provide support to 40 high growth Innovation Driven Enterprises. Technology-based companies are crucial to our economy. They grow our R&D base and have high-growth potential which can lead to above average salaries and enhanced living standards for all.

Attracting businesses to Northern Ireland

The NI Investment Summit in September 2023 was a collaboration between the Department for Business & Trade, NIO and Invest NI. It provided a platform to promote what NI offers to inward investment to over 200 international investors.

The Summit generated significant media coverage, which was overwhelmingly positive. Our investment teams are now progressing negotiations with existing prospects and arranging follow up investment visits back to NI.

We also played a significant role in hosting a senior US business delegation to Northern Ireland, hosted by Joe Kennedy III, President Biden’s Special Economic Envoy to Northern Ireland for Economic Affairs; and organised a US investment visit programme for our new Minister, Conor Murphy, meeting with existing and potential investors in New York and Washington.

In 2023/24, 15 companies chose to locate in Northern Ireland for the first time.

During the year we announced investments from companies such as Vertiv, a global provider of critical digital infrastructure and continuity solutions. Its decision to invest in a manufacturing facility in Campsie, Derry~Londonderry will create approximately 200 skilled jobs and make a significant contribution to the local economy.

We also attracted New York fintech company, DailyPay to Northern Ireland in its first ever investment outside the United States. Over two-thirds of the 300 jobs in DailyPay are hybrid working providing great opportunities for employment for people located anywhere in Northern Ireland.

In some cases, we secured investments through ‘soft’ support such as outlining what Northern Ireland can offer, introducing investors to colleges, our universities and other businesses in their cluster and helping them with some of the logistics of opening their office, including locating office space.

Going Green

At a strategic level, our Green Economy Development Team is actively involved with the Department for the Economy to shape Northern Ireland’s green investment and decarbonisation proposition.

On a more operational level, we help Northern Ireland companies secure new supply chain opportunities emerging from the global drive to net zero; and help position Northern Ireland to attract Green investment. The team organised a highly successful five-day NI Net Zero exchange to Malaysia and Singapore, with 10 companies and eight stakeholders including government and academia. The visit provided a platform to highlight our expertise in engineering and technology, abundance of natural resources and Northern Ireland’s unique trading position established by the Windsor Framework.

Through our support we secured £73m of green investment in Northern Ireland. An example of such an investment was the new £47m factory by Biopax Limited. Opened in West Belfast, the factory is producing packaging and labelling with certified green solutions using the latest European, US and Chinese technology.

We also provided assistance to businesses to invest in low carbon technologies themselves; and offer a matching service to turn one company’s waste into another company’s raw material helping to support a circular economy.

Accessing Finance

Our suite of Access to Finance funds attracted £79m of investment for 145 Northern Ireland businesses, providing access to much needed private and equity investment for early-stage and SME businesses. These funds were part-funded from the European Union Investment for Growth and Jobs Programme 2014-2020.

Advice & Guidance

While we might be better known for providing financial assistance, this is only one small part of how we work with and support local companies. Our sector teams, technical advisors, ICT specialists, business advisors, leadership, skills, trade and innovation teams provide a wealth of professional, expert advice to businesses.

We also offer free access to information, guidance and training either through workshops or webinars, or via our business resource www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk. This site, which received 2.6m visits in 2023/24 houses over 1,100 information guides and 5,500 factsheets.