Entrepreneurship and us...

As winter rolls around, gardeners begin to prepare for spring; planting seeds and bulbs, preparing the soil….in anticipation for a bright splash of colour; they are preparing the ground to get a good harvest in the months that follow.

Our economy requires the same care and attention; businesses, like each of the seasons, have a lifecycle and a robust economy needs new entrepreneurial shoots entering the ecosystem to keep it alive. Invest Northern Ireland has been putting in the ‘groundwork’ for over two decades, supporting entrepreneurs by providing advice, support and assistance to ambitious, young businesses to continuously revitalise and reinvigorate our local economy.

And, our strategy has paid off, of all the UK nations Northern Ireland has the highest share of start-ups reaching £1million turnover and the second highest rate of businesses scaling to £3million. But we need to continue investing in our entrepreneurs and small business to put new ideas into practice and grow our economy further.

How we support Entrepreneurs

Our support for entrepreneurs is a priority for us; supporting entrepreneurs has featured repeatedly as key driver for economic growth in our annual business plans.

Over the past three years we issued over 2,000 offers of assistance to young businesses that were less than 5 years old, accounting for 30% of all the offers made during this time. This represents almost £57m or 22% of total assistance offered by Invest NI, a total investment of £280m in the economy and will lead to the creation of almost 2,000 jobs. We estimate that these young businesses account for 18% of both total economic investment and new jobs generated in Northern Ireland during this time.

Several of these offers were made to High Potential Start Up businesses (HPSUs) which are young, early-stage companies, with ambitious management teams. During that same timeframe, we provided assistance of £8.28m to 34 HPSUs which led to the creation of 117 jobs.

Here is a snapshot of some of the ways we have supported entrepreneurs since over recent years.

Local Economic Development (LED) Programme

From 2017 – 2022, with funding from Invest NI and ERDF, 11 local councils delivered 41 entrepreneurship programmes, collectively investing £22m in local micro and small businesses. As a result of these programmes, over 650 businesses were referred to Invest NI and we continue to work with over one-third of them. Find out more on how we are supporting ambitious young companies across Northern Ireland.

From Student to First Sale

We have funded 22 From Student to First Sale businesses over the past 5 years; working with university and students’ union enterprise support services we have provided £15,000 grants to viable, young businesses to help them develop and grow.

These businesses are highly innovative and present great growth potential, evidenced by the fact that 14 of original 22 businesses are still on our books, including the highly innovative Born Maverick and movetru.

Ambition to Grow

As businesses evolve, the type of support they need also changes. To ensure support was available to young, innovative enterprises we developed our Ambition to Grow Programme last year. This programme is specifically designed for businesses that have not previously benefitted from Invest NI support, but are generating sales, or are about to start selling.

So far almost 100 companies have successfully joined the programme; more than half of these companies had a turnover less than £250,000, a quarter had a turnover of less than £100k and more than one in every eight successful applicants started from a base of zero turnover. We have provided each of these companies with a grant of up to £45,000 to grow their workforce and exports. They are also benefitting from training and advice on new product development, productivity and skills.

To ensure the programme is as inclusive as possible, it can be adapted on a call-by-call basis to specifically target marginalised groups, for example ringfencing a particular audience, partnering with representative groups or employing geotargeting techniques. We recently worked in partnership with Women in Business to offer the programme to female led businesses and now were looking forward to welcoming a new cohort of female entrepreneurs to Invest NI in 2024.

Grant for R&D

Over the past three years we issued more than 40 grants to help businesses less than 5 years old to invest in research and development activities – these grants amounted to almost £6m, supporting a total investment in R&D of just under £20m, leading to the creation of 69 new jobs locally.

Clinical Entrepreneur Programme

We fund healthcare professionals working in Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland (HSCNI) to participate in the NHS Clinical Entrepreneur Programme. Over the past year, we have funded 12 entrepreneurs from this sector to introduce new ground-breaking treatments and diagnostics which have the potential to transform healthcare.

The programme is open to hospital doctors, GPs, nurses, social workers, dentists, and clinical psychologists and has led to significant impact in attracting additional funding and new collaborations in health innovation in the region.

Recognised both regionally and nationally, the programme continues to be a catalyst for start-up entrepreneurs. It is hoped that continued engagement between HSCNI and the Clinical Entrepreneur Programme will inspire others to be more innovative and participate in the programme.

Access to Finance

One of the toughest challenges for an innovative enterprise is accessing the cash they need to fund their business. Invest NI provides both loan and equity funds to help new and emerging businesses source finance. Our Access to Finance funds have invested over £80m in approximately 600 businesses, which has leveraged a further £377m in external investment. Moving forward, our aim is to invest £40m - £60m in IDEs to fund their future growth from early-stage conceptual businesses to established innovation driven enterprises.

Innovate NI

We also deliver Innovate NI, a Department for the Economy initiative which provides a framework for businesses to follow to complete the necessary steps for successful innovation.

Innovate NI launched its Innovation Recognition Programme and four step Innovation Framework in 2019, and since then almost 1400 businesses have achieved innovation recognition.

The Framework is designed to help entrepreneurs through the steps required to commercialise or implement an idea efficiently and promotes new product, service and business development. 

Get in touch

Our Business Support Team can respond to enquiries from businesses across Northern Ireland, ranging from start-ups to established export businesses.

If you are an entrepreneur, with a business idea, please contact us. We can direct enquiries and find solutions from both Invest NI and local economic development partners, such as local councils, enterprise agencies and chambers of commerce.

Entrepreneurs should call us on 0800 181 4422 or email enquiry@investni.com for advice and support.