Small businesses are the backbone of our regional economy. More than 120,000 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operate there, contributing three quarters of all revenue generated by the private sector. Whether it’s a new cafe, a car dealership or a new technology start-up, entrepreneurs are working hard to make their business a success in a booming Northern Irish economy. growth.
In our current climate, settling down has never been so daunting. The pandemic has subsided, but businesspeople are now in the midst of a perfect storm of skyrocketing costs that are shaking consumer confidence. The cost of living crisis is also a cost of doing business crisis. Entrepreneurs need investment, but with the future of economic development funding facing post-Brexit uncertainty, their growth ambitions could be stifled in the years to come.
Our network of local business agencies are the first line of support across Northern Ireland, providing start-ups with the tailored support, flexible rentals and advice they need to help them transition from idea to launch through growth. Simply put, any loss of resources would mean fewer successful entrepreneurs.
UK Shared Prosperity Funds and Leveling Up Funds offer exciting prospects and, with the right approach, can provide a thriving support model for our local pre-entrepreneurs, start-ups and growth businesses. Making this funding work at the local level requires leadership. A new community-based and co-designed approach is needed to ensure that every pound spent delivers the best service and support to individuals and businesses across Northern Ireland.
Our proposed solution is simple. By working closely with local government, central government and Invest NI, we can create the powerful business support service that aspiring entrepreneurs need. Meeting ongoing challenges means working together – in tandem, not in our silos. We can ensure that the best parts of our entrepreneurial ecosystem become more effective.
We propose the creation of a new ‘Primary Care Network’ in Northern Ireland so that local entrepreneurs receive the right support at the right time. The service will provide immediate diagnosis, targeted local assistance, informed signage and connection to the right support across the business ecosystem, to aspiring business owners who will truly make a difference in our villages and town centers. .
The coming months of the new year will be extremely difficult for small and micro businesses across the country. These are some of the most hostile trading conditions in living memory, and a weakened pound only complicates matters further. A looming financial cliff for start-ups and small businesses could spell the end of budding entrepreneurs.
The stakes are high. Failure to act in a constructive and concerted manner will be a dereliction of duty to the thousands of aspiring business owners across Northern Ireland and to the local communities where they are based.
Through a joint approach of the Enterprise Northern Ireland Network, Councils, Stormont and key development agencies, we can create a new, efficient and cost-effective way to deliver business support. All we need now is action.
:: Michael McQuillan is CEO of Enterprise NI